Sermon for Ascension Day, Luke 24:44-53 May 21, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

44Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Ascension Day is a major festival in the Christian calendar, but it usually doesn’t get much attention in our churches in the United States. In some places in Europe, Ascension Day is still a national holiday – but people there who get a day off work and school are probably not paying much attention to the religious significance of this holy day either. So, what’s this day all about? In brief, today we celebrate Jesus’ return to his Father, his ascent into heaven, the logistics of which I chalk up to mystery.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 14:15-21, May 17, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s Gospel reading is a portion of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, when he attempted to give them a sense of what was coming next for himself and for them.

For the disciples, this discourse prepared them for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and his return to the Father. For us, coming as it does in the latter part of Eastertide, this passage prepares us for the remembrance of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, which we will celebrate this coming Thursday with additional Home Worship resources.

Either way, Jesus prepares the followers for the reality of his departure, at least in terms of their experience of how Jesus walked this earth as one of us. In order to set the stage, what Jesus gives the disciples and us is more mind-bending teaching about who he is and what comes next.

But the moment in today’s passage that most draws me in is this, when Jesus says: “I will not leave you orphaned.” When I hear these words of promise from Jesus, tears often come to my eyes. The words tap into primordial fears – common to humans – of being left behind, abandoned, alone. These precious words give some relief, or maybe a sense of safety to grieve those occasions when I have felt let behind.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, John 14:1-14 May 10, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s gospel passage begins well with beloved, comforting words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” This is a perfect statement of promise for where we find ourselves amidst global pandemic when there are so very many troubled hearts for so very many good reasons.

But then right after this reassurance, Jesus launches into some very confusing prose about where he is headed – back to his Father – and what is in store for Jesus’ followers.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, John 10:1-10 May 3, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday which features the beloved 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…” Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a major feature of John’s Gospel and is included among the many “I am” statements that appear in John. For example, Jesus says: “I am the vine.” “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” “I am the good shepherd.”

There’s another “I am” statement of Jesus in John, and it’s the one that takes center stage in today’s gospel passage. Jesus says, “I am the gate.” It’s interesting that on this Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus as Good Shepherd is only implied in the passage chosen as today’s gospel.

Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35 April 26, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. The Road to Emmaus is absolutely my favorite story in the whole Bible. I remember my discovery of the significance of this narrative when years ago I had the “aha!” moment of realizing that Jesus was made known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread.

My epiphany was that the risen Christ is finally recognized when he shares in the Holy Supper with his disciples. It’s the same way we recognize our living, risen Savior in Holy Communion. This, then, establishes an unmistakable continuity between the first Easter two millennia ago and our sacramental practices in our own day. Wow! I still marvel at this.

Second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31 April 19, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Listen again to how this passage from John’s Gospel begins: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews….”

I love John’s Gospel, but I am deeply troubled by the numerous polemical references to the Jews throughout John. Sadly, tragically, this Gospel has been used throughout the centuries to advance the scourge of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

Concerning the intended meaning of this verse, it might be more accurate to say that the disciples feared the religious leaders and authorities, not all Jewish people. In fact, the disciples were themselves Jews.

Easter Sunday, Matthew 28:1-10 April 12, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia. We make this song, even as the chaos of pandemic wreaks havoc all around us. Still, Christ is risen indeed.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Because we’ve been awash in words throughout Holy Week (this is my fifth sermon in the space of a week!), I’m going to preach on one word from Matthew’s account of the resurrection. The single word in the New Revised Standard Version is this: “Greetings!”

Easter Vigil, John 20:1-18 April 11, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” This simple phrase conveys a defining moment of the account of the resurrection in John’s Gospel. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (cf. John 20:1ff.)

There’s something profound about hearing your name, especially from the lips of someone near and dear to you.

I very much look forward to learning your names, especially when I can be in ministry with you in person. Learning your names is one of my top priorities as I begin my pastorate at Resurrection Church, because there is something powerful about knowing and being known by name, especially by people who care.

It’s very different from the many occasions when computers can mine data to figure out our names, allowing people anonymous to us to be on a first-name basis with us on junk mail and during sales calls, all the while trying to convey a sense of familiarity when there is none. Using our names in such ways is offensive as ever larger, anonymous, impervious organizations intrude on our lives.

All of this in our tech-based experience is very much in contrast with those precious times when the beloved other names us by name. That’s sweet. Hearing our names from family members and friends, people with whom we are close, can make all the difference.

Good Friday, John 18:1-19:42 April 10, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Perhaps you’ve just had the fortitude to read through and engage the two heavy chapters that comprise the Passion according to John.

It’s a lot of words in a very dramatic story. Amidst the interweaving features of the narrative of Jesus’ last hours before his crucifixion, I listened for prompts of the energy of the Holy Spirit as I read the Passion, and was drawn to and captivated by Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?”

Jesus had just told Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

That’s when Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

It’s a compelling question in our day in the life of the world. Consider Stephen Colbert’s comic explorations of “truthiness.” Or the whole Post-Modern, De-Constructionist movements in the academy that call into question the possibility of truth that is not historically and culturally contextualized such that truth is thus always relativized.

Think of “fake news” and the erosion of trust in science and the word of experts. And on and on.

“What is truth?” – it’s abundantly clear that’s a salient question in our age.

Maundy Thursday April 9, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Greetings in Christ on this holy, Maundy Thursday as we begin our worshipful engagement from home during these Three Days, a high point of the liturgical year in our Christian life together.

Let us pray. Gracious God in Christ, as we again share in the drama of Holy Week, but this year from our homes, take us nonetheless deeply into the mysteries of our salvation through your Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From the Gospel of John, appointed for Maundy Thursday (cf. John 13:1ff.): Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

In other words, Jesus did not practice safe social distancing.

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