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.

Week of the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost 2020
Prayers for Such a Time as This

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am drawn to call attention to what’s on the minds of most: Election Day is almost upon us, and many may feel like they are on pins and needles. The intersecting crises coinciding with this particular presidential election may seem too much to bear, especially when we have endured so much for so very many months. Given these realities, we need prayer more than ever. Bishop Ortiz invites you to daily prayer, as do I as your Pastor. Our Synod has crafted resources for our prayer during the days prior to and after the election.

Additionally, you may also be drawn to sing if you have a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship at home. Sing or pray through the texts of hymns such as "All our hope on God is founded" (ELW 757) or "God bless our native land" (ELW 891).

Here are excellent collects which I commend for your use at home, again from our Evangelical Lutheran Worship – pray these prayers even as you read them now:

God, our refuge and strength, you have bound us together in a common life. In all our conflicts, help us to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, to listen for your voice amid competing claims, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant peace and reassurance. Where impossibilities close every door and window, grant imagination and resistance. Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination. Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. All these things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lord God, you call your people to honor those in authority. Help us elect trustworthy leaders, participate in wise decisions for our common life, and serve our neighbors in local communities. Bless the leaders of our land, that we may be at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pew edition, pages 76-77)

Our individual prayers may be quite particular and for specific outcomes. But all of our prayers are ultimately most faithfully rooted in the fundamental sacred utterances which emerge from the pages of scripture, to paraphrase them – “Your will, not mine, be done, O God;” “Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our spirits;” “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

Remember also that when we do not know what to pray or how, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (cf. Romans 8:26ff.). The Spirit’s prayer is the source of all of our other prayers.

With many heart-felt prayers for our life together in church, nation, and world in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

The crisis of the pandemic wears on, continuing to lead us to refrain from gathering for worship in person. As Covid cases surge in many places throughout the country, including the Northeast which had the virus under control for a time, and as colder weather will keep people indoors, raising the specter of further outbreaks of illness, it’s hard to imagine in-person, in-door gatherings anytime soon. Perhaps the novelty of our home worship video resources has worn off, for viewership among members of the congregation has decreased steadily in the months we’ve been offering the videos. I am concerned about the devotional well-being of you, God’s people, at home. But every crisis holds promise also for opportunity. Thus, I want to revisit the theme of encouraging worship and prayer at home, in the domestic church, by calling attention to a particular treasure that is readily and literally at hand, namely our book called Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

To be sure, we will continue to provide the varied resources to assist weekly worship at home, resources which draw from the treasury which is Evangelical Lutheran Worship. But there is so much more to discover in the book which can serve your devotion at home.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

In our nation’s current hyper-partisan environment, many find it exhausting to talk about church and politics. So, let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about the church and money instead! Another not so popular topic…. Concerning things financial, for those not always actively engaged in the life of congregations, a common lament is this: “the only time the church contacts me is when they want my money….” This is a sad reality that reduces themes of stewardship and financial giving to meeting the church’s institutional needs.

Autumn is generally the time to gear up for stewardship campaigns, and so it is with Resurrection Church as well. Even amidst the pandemic and its strictures, we will engage something resembling our usual stewardship emphases this fall.

Actually, I don’t, in fact, want to talk about money. Rather I’ll tell a story of generosity. It’s a story that has led me frequently to offer the phrase, “generosity begets generosity.”

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

The decision by our Congregation Council to place signs – “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate Has No Home Here” – on church property continues to generate energies of response by members, those supportive of the signs’ placement and those opposed. Underneath the particularities of the issues which the signs address is the larger question of the relationship between church and state from a Lutheran perspective. Some believe that the church has no place in politics, that the separation between church and state is absolute, that the church should not preach politics. Others believe that the church has a legitimate role in the political arena.

We live in a time of particularly strident partisan divisions, a time of hyper-heightened political tension, a time when people are absolutely exhausted by all the partisan vitriol. Can’t the church simply be an oasis from such toxic energies? But we also live in a time of intersecting crises – pandemic, social unrest around racism, economic woes – which cry out for some concrete responses from the church beyond charitable giving which seek to address the underlying systemic sources of today’s woes. Our day may be an occasion when not speaking out has the quality of a “sin of omission,” which allows injustice to continue untrammeled. The decision to remain quiet and uninvolved is its own kind of political stance. Which is to say, we cannot ultimately avoid or escape politics as individuals and as a church.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

What is prayer? Now, that’s a huge question and an enormous topic that cannot be fully addressed in a comparatively brief message. But here are some initial thoughts.

Lutherans have not listed prayer as a distinct means of grace, a way in which the gospel of Christ is made known to us. Lutherans name as forms of the gospel baptism, the Eucharist, preaching, absolution, and sometimes mutual conversation and consolation. But this certainly doesn’t mean that Lutherans don’t pray. Rather, I would suggest that we are called to engage the means of grace prayerfully.

But what is prayerful engagement? For me, a foundational biblical statement on prayer is found in the letter to the Romans, where Paul writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) Some ancient authorities add to this verse “for us” – “that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Insofar as the Holy Spirit is given to us at baptism, and that our bodies are thus “temples of the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19), and insofar as the church is the body of Christ through which the Holy Spirit breathes and is active, there is a palpable sense in which the Holy Spirit both prays in us as individual members of Christ’s body, and prays among us communally as the church. Seeing this reality as foundational, prayer as a faith practice serves to call our attention to and perhaps makes us increasingly aware of the prayerful intercession of the Holy Spirit going on all the time within us and among us. Only by the Holy Spirit’s action can we achieve the apostle’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

In short, the Spirit’s prayer for us and in and among us and our own attempts at prayer are a common thread running through the means of grace, binding them together as manifestations of the effective, saving gospel for us and for the world through the power of the Spirit. Thus, we preach prayerfully, and prayerfully engage the sacraments and confession and forgiveness, and engage in prayerful, holy conversation.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

If you’ve been to the church or driven by recently, you will have noticed signs on our church property: “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate has No Home Here.” The placement of these signs was the result of a vote by our elected leaders who serve as members of the Congregation Council. Not unexpectedly, these signs have stirred some controversy among some members, as well as some in our neighborhood community. There are those who support the placement of signs, and those who oppose our church making such visible statements.

But they are signs of the times. I cannot speak for the Council either as individual members or as a body, but my sense is that the intertwined crises of our days in our nation evoked significant energy to say something, to begin to address the concerns of our day.

I have written before that we live in apocalyptic-seeming times – especially when you consider the etymology of the word apocalypse, which has to do with uncovering, unveiling, revealing. The crises of the pandemic, of protests resulting from a long line of people of color dying at the hands of police officers, and of economic hardship of Great Depression proportions for many – these crises have in common that in each case, persons of color often suffer the most. This set of realities reveals that racism in many forms persists as a deep and abiding problem in our nation. It is time to confront racism head on and to seek racial justice in ways faithful to the gospel.

Dear Friends in Christ:

Given all that’s going on in nation and world, it can be challenging to maintain one’s healthy perspective on our current circumstances in life. In fact, with all the roiling news stories that clamor for our attention, I find it easy to lose perspective on the bigger picture, getting lost also in the details and daily demands of to do lists. My vantage point can too easily narrow to the point where I miss seeing things from the perspective of a more divine vantage point.

How can we seek to keep a healthy and sacred perspective on our lives and all that is happening in world? Let me share with you some of what I do to try to maintain perspective. I offer this in the spirit of Martin Luther who wrote a letter about his prayer life to his barber, “A Simple Way to Pray,” where he told Master Peter, the barber, this is how I do it.

Dear Friends in Christ:

A week after I took up residence in Arlington in mid-May, I devoted my midweek message to listing the various activities going on at Resurrection Church even amidst the pandemic’s necessary, love-of-neighbor inspired restrictions on congregation activities in person. We’re still in that same boat, largely sheltering at home.

Now that we are on the cusp of beginning what would normally be a new church program year, I want to revisit the question, “What’s happening at church?” I offer this for your encouragement and to proclaim that we continue to be and to do church, even if it’s still in limited ways.

Dear Friends in Christ:

Martin Luther was a prolific writer. He wrote about an astonishing array of topics. Unlike another major reformer, John Calvin, Luther did not compose volumes of a systematic theology. Rather, Luther’s writings were more ad hoc, addressing concerns of his day in church and world in the form of treatises, letters, pamphlets, sermons, and more. Quite germane to our own day, Luther wrote a piece on “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” in 1527, ten years after he posted the Ninety-Five Theses. This writing was a response to a pastoral colleague who enquired about what a faithful response to plague may be, for an epidemic was ravaging parts of Germany at the time. Then as now, persons of means could escape the more urban epicenters of virus to rural enclaves.

Some of what Luther has to say in his writing on the plague is quite dated, for example, reflecting medical knowledge of his day that does not accord with our current-day scientific understandings. We might also object to Luther’s conclusion that the plague is part of God’s judgment on humanity. Nevertheless, there is much wisdom that still rings true today. Here is what I learned from Luther in re-reading his reflections on faithful responses to deadly plague, wisdom that continues to be instructive for us in our own time of pandemic. [Quotes from Luther are from “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” found in The Annotated Luther, Volume 4, Pastoral Writings, Mary Jane Haemig, ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016) – available in our church library, and page references below are in parentheses.]

Dear Friends in Christ:

I’ve written on at least a few occasions that there is no single, universal experience of the pandemic. Each of us endures the rigors of this extended time of crisis in unique ways, according to our varied circumstances and personalities. In the truthfulness of self-disclosure, my biggest struggles personally are the social isolation, since I live by myself, and also wondering when next it will be safe for travel so that I can see my son. Not knowing when that will be is unsettling to say the least.

Professionally, again to be honest with you, my struggle centers on my vocational identity as a pastor – what the word pastor means – in relation to our current circumstances. Pastor is from the Latin, meaning shepherd. A shepherd has a flock, a gathering of sheep, together in a place, the sheepfold or the grazing pastures. It is deep in my vocational DNA to want to tend those in my care, not just one on one, but as a community. That we cannot gather, that we cannot assemble as has been usual custom throughout the Christian millennia on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, persists in being unnerving to me, especially since I have no history with you at all as a gathered flock! A congregation congregates, it gathers. The church is ecclesial, from the Greek and Latin, meaning more or less to call out for the calling together. We cannot now safely undertake this basic Christian practice of assembling in person. To preclude such a fundamental Christian reality is like removing the foundation of our household of faith. I cannot tell you how disorienting this is to me as a pastor.

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