Spiritual Reflections

Since we cannot assemble weekly in person for a full range of experiences of Christian community, I am endeavoring in the first weeks of my pastorate at Resurrection Church to offer weekly spiritual reflections in addition to my Sunday sermon videos. I see these mid-week written reflections as an exercise of my teaching ministry as a pastor, especially during this time of global pandemic and necessary sheltering at home and social distancing. Resurrection Church has a rich tradition of substantive adult Christian Education. These weekly reflections seek to fill, in some measure, the void created by the absence of our Sunday morning adult educational experiences. I long for the return of those Sunday morning offerings in person which feature the substantial gifts of our own members, but for now, I give you what I can in these weekly reflections. These messages also serve to nurture a sense of our Christian community during this time when we are apart.

May God in Christ bless your engagement with these pastoral offerings in the power of the Holy Spirit for your ongoing Christian formation for your journey of faith for such a time as this.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Discerning Meaning in this Desert Sojourn”

Dear Friends in Christ:

This is dragging on and on, our sojourn in the desert wilderness of sheltering at home during the pandemic. I had anticipated the possibility that by now we would see less ambiguous light at the end of the tunnel and have greater clarity about when we would assemble again for worship and other church activities in person. However, given the pandemic’s severity now in other parts of the country and the unpredictable twists and turns of the coronavirus and its ravages, along with the ever-shifting responses to the pandemic by authorities and the populace, it is impossible to predict what will happen next and when. Our congregation’s Reopening Planning Group has carefully set the stage and made detailed plans for when we would again assemble in person, but we do not yet know when we will be in a position safely to implement these plans for reopening.

Each and every time I pass by the nave of our church building on my way to my office, I feel a twinge of the pain of sadness that the only time I have yet exercised leadership as a preacher and presiding minister in that room and with you assembled there was on the Sunday you voted to call me as pastor, March 1. Given the experience of such aching void, I was curiously heartened when Michelle Obama revealed her experience of low-grade depression during this time. Each of us has our own experience of this pandemic and its effects on our lives. As our Bishop Ortiz has said, we may not be in the same boat, since our circumstances vary, but we are in the same stormy sea – or in the same desert wilderness.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Ecumenism is Not an Extra”

Dear Friends in Christ:

These midweek reflections serve as a vehicle for my teaching ministry on various topics, but they are also a good way for you to get to know me as a person of faith, and as a pastor. The topics I address inevitably express my priorities in ministry and in mission.

In that spirit, this week I want to address ecumenism, the effort to seek greater Christian unity among the churches. For many Christians today, the ecumenical movement is passé. Many have moved on to other commitments, for example, interfaith dialogue (also a crucial endeavor in our multi-faith world). Others have resigned themselves to the apparent reality that decades of theological dialogues have resulted in disappointing results when it comes to greater visible Christian unity. Still others recognize that new fissures have developed among churches leading to new and renewed divisions. Finally, too many, in my opinion, see ecumenism as extracurricular, a nice and occasional add on to ministry initiatives if one has extra time and energy.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “A Brief Introduction to Lectio Divina

Dear Friends in Christ:

A few weeks ago during my Sunday sermon concerning the seeds sown in various soil conditions, I said that I was eager to introduce you to a way of engaging – or being engaged by – the scriptures called lectio divina, or sacred reading. I said that this practice was a great way to really hear and to understand the biblical word, thus, nurturing in the power of the Holy Spirit the conditions for bearing the fruit of the word in our lives for the sake of the world.

In the absence of being able to introduce you to lectio divina in person – far preferable – I want to offer a brief narrative introduction this week so that you can begin to dwell with God’s word in your own devotions at home employing the patterns that characterize lectio divina.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Doing the Work of an Evangelist”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Toward the conclusion of the second letter addressed to Timothy, this instruction is given: “do the work of an evangelist.” The wider exhortative context of the passage is this: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching…. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5) While there is a lot to explore in these brief exhortations, today I want to focus on doing the work of an evangelist.

It is common that many Lutherans are shy when it comes to doing the work of an evangelist. Many of us come from Lutheran traditions rooted in the state churches of northern Europe where evangelism was not much of an issue, where birth and baptism made for citizenship and church membership automatically. Certainly, missionary Lutheran pastors were active in planting the church here in North America, but for many Lutherans of northern European descent, the new churches on this continent relied on a steady stream of immigrants to expand the membership rolls of congregations. It is also true that these same churches were passionate about sending missionaries abroad to other countries to do the work of evangelism, of making disciples elsewhere. But for many Lutherans, little attention has been given to evangelistic efforts here at home, resulting in membership losses when streams of Lutheran immigrants from Europe stopped arriving on our shores. Thus, doing the work of an evangelist is not necessarily part of the spiritual DNA of many Lutherans.

It is also true that many Lutherans want to distinguish themselves from other Christian denominations for whom evangelism, even a kind of strident, aggressive proselytism, is central to their self-understandings. Think of people representing these traditions who shamelessly go door to door, or stand on street corners, proclaiming the message of Jesus, but a version of that message that often focuses on hellfire and damnation, biblical literalism, guilt trips, and often particularly conservative social agendas. Many Lutherans understandably may want to distance themselves from such Christian groups.

Meanwhile the apostolic exhortation persists: do the work of an evangelist. How do we do this work faithfully? What methods do we employ? How do we form shy Lutherans in such a way that they are more comfortable talking with others in sharing their faith stories? Once we are able to return to routines that allow us to meet again face to face and in person, I look forward to introducing you to uncomplicated, straightforward formats for holy conversation in the context of which you can grow in your capacities for and comfort levels with sharing stories of how God is present and active in your lives. But how do we engage in evangelistic effort now when we are apart from each other and our social contacts are limited?

To address these questions about evangelism, let us distill it all down to some basics. Doing the work of an evangelist ultimately centers on making a simple invitation, namely, to come and see. Here’s the essential biblical foundation for doing the work of an evangelist: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” (John 1:45-46)

‘Come and see’ may involve inviting someone to church with you. But since we are not meeting in person, how can we do that? Actually, we have a great opportunity before us born of the crisis of not being able to assemble in person on Sundays. The need to worship at home has presented Resurrection Church with the opportunity to establish a more prominent digital footprint with our weekly Home Worship resources and accompanying videos which are crafted for each Sunday. We now have edited watch-through worship videos that generally last a bit over thirty minutes. We also have the individual video files of sermons and hymns and psalms. Likewise, there are the text format documents of the Home Worship order of service and my weekly sermons. Moreover, our local Synod and our ELCA churchwide organization both produce some compelling videographic resources. There are also occasions when our bishops and other ELCA leaders are interviewed in the national media and links are made available to us.

Each of these resources is a potential tool to help you do the work of an evangelist. In our current physically distanced circumstances, the invitation, ‘come and see,’ may mean sharing links to our weekly worship and other resources with friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members and more. It’s a perfect opportunity for shy Lutherans to become evangelists, for it’s as easy as sending an encouraging email with a link to our resources, a great way during the pandemic to make the classic evangelistic invitation, ‘Come and see.’ Some of our members have reported to me that they are sharing links to our resources which proclaim the gospel. If you are not one of those people, I urge you to go and do likewise – do the work of an evangelist!

It is interesting to note that some ELCA congregations are reporting increased levels of engagement and participation via their digital presence. In many ways, our website and our congregation’s presence on other digital formats have become the new front doors of our church. How do we make the most of these new realities in this time of pandemic-induced sheltering at home as we nonetheless endeavor together to bear witness to Christ? That’s the evangelistic question that presents itself for mission-centered opportunity in this challenging and difficult season of our life together. May God in Christ lead us in faithful and appropriate ways as we respond to the mission opportunities before us.

For Jesus’ sake and in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Missing Coffee Hour”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Many Lutherans commonly joke that their devotion to church coffee hour makes that social time a third sacrament. It would be easy to dismiss this as mere joking around and reduce the quip to one’s love for coffee. But I believe the attraction to events like coffee hours goes much deeper than the beverage. Casually gathering and lingering in person after the liturgy is an expression, an incarnation of Christian community, of communal bonding, that contributes to our sense of holistic well-being in Christ. Such koinonia – or fellowship as it has been called – occasions our getting to know each other better as we exchange information that reveals who we are to each other. This is in no way superficial. Even talking about the weather can have a certain gravitas in these days of climate change.

While coffee hour certainly cannot be considered a sacrament strictly speaking, such events may nonetheless have sacramental overtones and qualities, especially when gospel words are spoken, implied, or embodied when we gather in person and when we live out the grace-filled command of Jesus to love one another.

So it is that I dearly miss coffee hour at church, and other occasions for communal bonding and getting to know each other – lingering at the church doors in conversation, the casual conversations that typically begin and conclude church meetings in person, and the like.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Parsonage as Priory?”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Those who pay attention to the background scenes in my sermon videos have noticed more things appearing on the walls in the parsonage dining room and kitchen area where I make the video recordings. Indeed, I am at that point of moving in where I am placing beloved pictures, icons, crosses, and more on the walls, a clear indication that I am making my home out of the house that is this congregation’s parsonage.

Having moved from a 500 square foot railroad apartment in Manhattan (which I viewed as a glorified dorm room) to a four bedroom house that is about six times the size of that New York domicile, I am delighting in all of the space and breathing room. I cannot imagine sheltering in place in what had been my New York City apartment. Needing to stay home here is comparatively agreeable indeed! I am thankful to God for my new home, and I am thankful to you in our congregation who expended the effort and resources several years ago to renovate and expand the parsonage.

But how does a single person, who is generally frugal and modest when it comes to his surroundings, make sense of and perhaps justify living in such a large house, which I have come to refer to as my palatial hermitage?

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “On Christian Freedom in Lutheran Accents”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Independence Day approaches, a national holiday on which we celebrate freedom from the tyranny of rule by a monarch. The Fourth of July gives us a good opportunity to contemplate what we mean by freedom.

Oh, there is much discourse – civil and uncivil – about the nature of freedom these days. We hear about freedom of speech, and freedom to assemble and to protest. There are movements to generate free markets and free trade, as in efforts to de-regulate businesses, for example. Then there’s academic freedom. And the freedom to choose in relation to reproductive rights. There’s also freedom of religion, as in the right to follow one’s own conscience and to practice one’s faith without the state establishing an official church or tradition. Religious freedom is also taken up in relation not just to worship, but to other practices as well, in health care and commerce, for example. Then there are those who advocate freedom from religion.

It all quickly becomes very complicated with lots of strong feelings and opinions on one side or the other and in between. One person’s exercise of freedom may infringe on the freedoms of others. It is common to hear the phrase, “It’s a free country,” which usually is a retort that essentially means that “I can do anything I darn please.” Thus, we have freedom from the constraint of any rule or regulation. This is freedom as licentiousness.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Third Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Beautiful Danger of Christian Community”

Dear Friends in Christ:

As I write this reflection, an ad hoc planning group tasked with discerning when and how our congregation will assemble again in person has met twice. We have read guidelines provided by our Synod and the ELCA Churchwide organization, along with a set of ecumenical proposals for coming together again. Our discernment is also aided by protocols of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Centers for Disease Control, and more. Our conversations and reports from planning group members have been thoughtful and well-considered. What is overwhelmingly clear is that there is no easy, uncomplicated way to undertake gathering in person for worship and other church-related activities as long as the pandemic continues.

But what is perhaps most striking to me is that many of the activities that we cherish and which are central Christian faith practices are some of most dangerous things we can do in terms of the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Second Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Our Holy Conversations”

Dear Friends in Christ:

As routines begin to emerge in my ministry now that I have been in residence in Arlington for few weeks, I find that I need to remind myself of my own admonition which I introduced in one of these early mid-week reflections – to see the glass of my pastoral life simultaneously as being half full and half empty.

On the emptier side of things, I tend to be preoccupied with what we cannot do together because of our love-of-neighbor response to the pandemic. When I walk through the nave of the church, I grieve that we cannot celebrate the Eucharist, that I cannot preach in person with you who would gather in that space, and that we cannot sing hymns and intercede for the world together. I want to be able to visit you in your homes, and to have meetings in person and without face coverings. In short, I long for more people time and less screen time!

It is very important to give voice in prayerful lament over what we have put into dormancy out of care for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. But such acknowledgement of grief should not come at the expense of also attending to what we can do in this season of fasting from our usual churchly routines.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of Holy Trinity Sunday 2020: “Another Look at Home Worship”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Our worship at home continues and will continue for the foreseeable future. Only this past week did we have the first meeting of a re-opening working group. Discernment, decision-making and planning for when and how we will assemble again in person for public worship is in its earliest phase. Meanwhile, another working group has been meeting for the past few weeks to make plans for a single watch-through worship video alongside individual video files to accompany and complement the Home Worship resources that we make available each week.

Here is some of what you can expect as our efforts to support worship at home evolve. First and foremost, we do not intend for you to passively watch the video as you might a TV show or movie. No, not at all! What we wish to encourage is your active participation from beginning to end in ways appropriate to your circumstances and routines at home.

The video will begin with a welcome from me as your pastor, inviting you to individual reflection if you are alone or to be in conversation with others at home concerning that which is on your heart and mind as you enter into the time for worship. This will lead into a meditative musical prelude offered by Barbara to accompany and inspire your active reflections.

The order of service in the video and its content are that which is provided to aid Home Worship each week. We are not producing an alternative worship service to that which we otherwise provide. No, the worship video seeks to complement those resources. Which is to say, your active participation can be enhanced by following along with our resources during the video. I will offer the opening acclamation and greeting. Lay readers will read the lessons. You can join with Barbara in singing the psalm. I will, as usual, proclaim the Gospel reading and offer a sermon.

Following the sermon is another opportunity for your active engagement – an invitation to reflection and conversation at home based on the themes of the readings for the day and the sermon. You may even wish to hit pause on the video to allow for that reflection and conversation. After that you, too, can share in gospel proclamation by singing the Hymn of the Day at home, led by Barbara’s accompaniment and a familiar voice among congregation soloists.

Your active participation continues with the prayers of intercession led by Resurrection members. In the pauses, pray your own prayers. The service draws to a close with another hymn, a closing prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer led by another lay member. Before the final blessing, I will invite you to turn your hearts, minds, and attention to your anticipated ministry in daily life in the coming week. Let the reflections and conversations continue into the day as the video concludes.

So, you see, there will be opportunity for active engagement from beginning to end. The ideas for encouraging dialogical engagement in worship emerge from a book that I wrote several years ago, Holy Conversation: Spirituality for Worship (Fortress Press 2010) in which I apply to the shape of the church’s liturgy the movements of lectio divina, or sacred reading, a meditative and prayerful spiritual practice to engage the scriptures. As my book’s title suggests, dialogue or conversation with ourselves and with each other and with God speaking through the scriptural and liturgical word is an important dimension of worship.

The weekly worship video will be crafted and edited by member, Carson Brooke, whose passions and studies focus on videographic creative work. While there will be sights and sounds from our church building, where we long to return with each other in person, you will also see and hear people helping to lead our worship in their own homes. I will continue to offer my sermons seated in the living room of the parsonage, my new home. Hence, worship at home, an extension of the church as intended and practiced by Martin and Katie Luther and their family.

This weekly worship video is a servant tool, an aid, to nurture your active worship at home. The video is not that worship! It’s simply a tool, a resource that serves to complement the other resources we provide online and in print which all lead to your worship. Please engage these resources in ways that are appropriate to your circumstances and routines at home. We aim to be flexible in what we offer, knowing that your domestic realities are not uniform, even as our resources also seek to nurture our common worship when we are apart.

Please make the most of our resources, again in ways that make for your active, reflective, conversational, worshipful and prayerful presence at home. As I have said before, true worship of God is not a spectator sport!

Worshipfully and conversationally in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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