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 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
This is my final Midweek Message to you as your pastor. What started as an outreach effort to make possible some form of contact with you as members during the pandemic shut-down when we could not meet much at all in person has continued for these two plus years as a regular weekly offering. I am glad to have had this occasion to engage in an epistolary form of ministry, which has its own roots in the letters of the New Testament. Now some final words.
This has been a most unusual time, to say the least, to have been in ministry together. I could be tempted to reduce this call to having been the “pandemic pastorate,” given how heavily the global health crisis has weighed on us all and colored so much of what we have been doing in all aspects of our lives. But that kind of reductionism would not be a fair and complete picture of what we have shared. For we have had, in my estimation, many very lovely occasions indeed which express the richness and fullness of Christian community when we are gathered around Christ in word and sacraments.
It has been a privilege to have proclaimed the gospel to you, first via video and then eventually in person on Sundays. You are attentive and engaged hearers of God’s word, and you have kept me on my toes, as it were, as a preacher, because I know from your feedback that you truly have been listening. And we have worshiped so faithfully together, employing a full range of the many resources available to us from our wider church in the service of the praise of almighty God when Christ in fact ministers to us through the word and the sacraments. Likewise, it’s been a joy to have been a teacher in your midst, for again, you are engaged and thoughtful participant disciples, students of our Lord. In many settings we’ve had rich conversations indeed, learning together and growing thereby in faith. These experiences have been a two-way street, for I have learned a great deal from you even as I have attempted to serve as your teacher! Moreover, it’s been a privilege to have walked with you in times when you’ve been in need of pastoral care and of prayer. I have truly enjoyed hearing stories of your life’s journeys and adventures when we’ve been in holy conversation together. Resurrection Church has remarkably gifted and dedicated lay leaders and staff members. I have consistently been impressed with the expertise you have brought to our life together pertaining especially, for example, to the administrative concerns of the church. I do believe that Resurrection Church persists in being an attractive and compelling congregation for qualified pastors seeking a call, even as this setting also presents challenges, as do most all congregations these days, given the tumultuous and ever-changing circumstances in nation and world.
What is left for me to say but thousand, thousand thanks? Thousand thanks to you and to God for the privilege of having served in this season as your pastor. In this mortal life, we never know what time is allotted to us. That’s true in all of our comings and goings, and it’s certainly true also concerning longevity in ministry. The fact that we have only been together for two years and some months does not detract from my cherishing our time together. Words begin to fail at moments like these. I pray that I have been faithful in upholding my side of the bargain in preaching the gospel, in presiding at worship, in teaching, and in offering care and leadership for such as time as this.
I know that it’s also true that I will not have occasion to say goodbye to many of you in person given the nature of summer travel and commitments on your parts. May these words, then, serve as a heartfelt goodbye for those whom I will not see this coming Sunday when our worship will include a rite for the conclusion of this ministry call and when we otherwise say personal goodbyes during the social time following in the parish hall.
Turning now to matters of transition, I have put into the hands of congregation leaders a document that lists particular matters that I had attended to as pastor so that it will be clear going forward who will do what in the coming season without my presence and before there may be an interim or another called pastor to lead and to serve. This document is offered in the service of making the transition as smooth as possible and so that matters of concern have less of a chance of falling through the cracks.
Also, please know that a call committee is being constituted even now and that preparations are being made in the bishop’s office to provide names of pastoral candidates as soon as possible. And Gordon Lathrop has devoted significant time and energy to lining up pastors to preach and preside each Sunday well into the autumn season. It’s also true that other pastors are at the ready to be on call for pastoral care needs. All of this will be further described in the weekly announcements messages that will continue to go out via Constant Contact.
You will note, if you’re present this Sunday for the rite for the conclusion of a call at the end of worship, that my first name will be employed in that rite, and not the title pastor. Beginning at that moment, I should be known to you as Jonathan, a baptized child of God, and not the one who serves as your pastor. It will be essential going forward that appropriate boundaries be maintained in the service of making the way for whoever next will be known to you as pastor. Which is to say, beginning with the end of worship this Sunday, I will no longer be available to you to serve in any pastoral capacity, and I will be steadfast going forward in maintaining those boundaries, again for the sake of honoring the leadership of the one who will succeed me as pastor in this place.
In conclusion, I will forever hold you and this place close to my heart as I give thanks to you and to God for this particular call which now becomes part of the richly textured fabric of my three decades of leadership and service in public ministry. And I will be praying for you as a congregation, especially for the Spirit’s guidance in soon bringing to you your next pastor as you are led into God’s promised future.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thanks be to God.
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
In last week’s message, I shared a summary of that which I believe we have accomplished together in mission and ministry with special attention to: getting through the initial crisis of the pandemic; the nature of worship during this season; and faith formation at Resurrection during the time that we have shared. This week, I will focus on our responses to other crises in our wider society and how we addressed them in our congregation’s witness as well as calling attention to our shared visions for mission and the faithful stewardship of our building in welcoming The Village School as a tenant in much of our educational wing.
Before I turn to these themes, though, I want to return to the matter Christian education and faith formation to report to you that as part of the whole fabric of transition at Resurrection Church, our Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, will also be departing in early August as a member of our staff. Amanda has done excellent work with creative programming for our youth, including confirmation instruction. Amanda has also been especially effective in heralding a vision of faith formation that is intergenerational and holistic, and she consistently called our attention to matters of social justice that are integral dimensions of our life of faith. Amanda and I have worked together effectively as a team and I thank her for her work here and dedication to this congregation.
During the summer of 2020, amidst the pandemic crisis, our wider society was also riveted by concerns about racial justice. In response to this wider public outcry, our Congregation Council voted to place Black Lives Matter signs on church property as a public witness in support of anti-racism and toward promoting racial justice. Because of concerns about the BLM organization, the placing of signs provoked a critical response among some members of our congregation. I believe that ultimately, we used this crisis as an opportunity for learning and growth on more than one front. One dimension is that we did in fact take up the matter of racial justice in our life together, when a group of committed members of the congregation devoted over a year to the study of Pastor Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. Our working through this book, under Amanda’s leadership, became the occasion to really begin to grapple with racism. Over the course of these many months, those who participated began to learn more fully how to engage controversial issues thoughtfully and with a sense of personal vulnerability. I pray that this time together will continue to serve as leaven for how Resurrection may continue to engage matters of social controversy as an expression of our public witness.
An outgrowth of the Duncan book group was the emergence of the Social Justice Learning Group, led by Charlie and Judy Hughes. Once a month, between ten and twenty members gather after worship to discuss various matters of social justice, facilitated by our own members who have expertise on what is being examined. I find this development very encouraging, and I pray that the Social Justice Learning Group will continue to meet to bear fruit not just in learning but also in taking action to promote a vision of God’s justice for the world.
Another fruit of our beginnings with more directly taking on matters of justice is our new Creation Care Team, under the leadership of Monica Hirschberg, which also meets monthly to promote habits locally in our congregation that make for more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices.
Still another outcome of the crisis concerning the Black Lives Matter signs is the insight that we do well as a congregation to be more widely collaborative when engaging matters of controversy. Members were concerned that the Congregation Council did not consult the wider membership before making the decision to place the BLM signs on church property. Since that time, we have endeavored to widen the circles of conversation when responding to concerns that could provoke controversy.
Yet another fruit of all of this was the decision to replace the BLM signs with a new set of banners above the Washington Blvd. entrance to the church focusing on Micah 6:8 and the charge to “Do justice; love kindness; and walk humbly with God.” Most assess that this witness, rooted in scripture, expresses commitments most can agree on even as it gives words to the kind of identity this congregation aspires to.
Moving on to the stewardship of our building, Resurrection is blessed with a substantial campus that is well-maintained. Like many ELCA congregations, our building was built during an era which called for more space than we currently need. In fact, much of our educational wing is not just underutilized, parts of it are not currently utilized at all. It has been sad to say goodbye to our preschool which had operated in our facility for over twenty years. Likewise, the Clothes Closet was a casualty of the pandemic and this season when volunteers are oversubscribed at home, at work and at church, diminishing our capacity to offer programs. Moreover, the Finnish Language Schools now operate in large measure online. Thus, our facility is crying out for faithful, fruitful utilization. Therefore, it was a gift when The Village School approached us about the possibility of renting a large portion of our educational wing to host their pre-K through 8th grade independent, non-profit, private school. In addition to providing needed rental income to the congregation and making faithful use of our facility which is ideal for this school, The Village School’s presence in our building holds promise to increase the visibility of our congregation in the wider community, an important feature of our public witness which I pray will bear fruit for Resurrection under the leadership of the pastor who will be called in the coming months to lead and to serve toward God’s promised future.
A side benefit to The Village School’s coming was that preparing our spaces for the school inspired a major “Spring Cleaning” of our whole building. A dedicated team of member volunteers expended huge amounts of “sweat equity” in going through our many rooms and storage closets to remove items that we no longer use or have no use for. Many items were donated to other schools. Much also found its way to Goodwill. And even after new homes were found for many things, still when it was all said and done, there were four truckloads of things that simply had to be discarded. As I have written previously, the dynamics of purging our spaces – at home and at church – have the effect of renewing our relationship with our physical surroundings. I believe that such spring cleaning has set the stage for discerning and deciding how Resurrection’s building may in the future serve this congregation’s mission and ministry.
When it’s all said and done, there is a sense in which my pastorate of two plus years has been an “unintentional interim pastorate,” which I believe has further prepared the congregation for whatever is next in mission. Certainly, the pandemic inhibited forward movement into God’s promised future. But our time together has not been wasted time. Another feature of this season focused on crafting the shared statements of vision related to most aspects of our life together. These vision statements emerged in part from the consultant-led congregational study that was undertaken during the interim period after Pastor Ickert’s retirement. While these vision statements may change in the future under the leadership of a new pastor in discerning conversation with congregation leaders, having such statements gives you all a sense of direction and focus, a sense of what is aspired to in Christian community here. Many congregations undertake their activity in a rather ad hoc manner without much attention to where they actually feel called to end up. The shared statements of vision provide a much-needed sense of direction during these tumultuous times in church and world when we are otherwise prone to be blown about by the many crises and opportunities that claim our attention.
To be sure, there was much on my “to do” list as Resurrection’s pastor that was not accomplished. However, our time together has been intense and fruitful in many ways as we have sought to be faithful with the mission and ministry God has entrusted to us for such a time as this. I pray that this message and that from last week provide a good sense of the big picture of what we have in fact accomplished together under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
With abiding appreciation yet again in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
As my time with you as your Pastor begins to draw to a close, I believe it is important for us to consider what we have accomplished together in the mission that God entrusted to us over the course of these two years and some months.
This season of the church’s history that we have shared has been marked and marred by the realities of the global pandemic. The pandemic was declared shortly after I accepted the call to Resurrection Church in March of 2020, and the pandemic continues even now midway through 2022. While the pandemic’s strictures have inhibited and even prohibited anything approaching a normal churchly routine, certainly one of our major accomplishments is that we have in fact creatively endeavored to be and to do church amidst all of the unprecedented upheaval of these years. This is no small achievement!
While our routines were severely constricted by the pandemic, we nonetheless managed to engage in the usual dimensions of congregational life – worshiping, enjoying occasions for socializing, offering pastoral care, doing the administrative work of the church, and attending to social ministry through generous giving to local and national and international organizations which seek to help those most in need. These expressions of congregational life were not in the fullness of what we are used to, but they did not totally disappear amidst the pandemic.
Central to our life together, of course, is the Sunday worshiping assembly. From March of 2020 until July of 2021 – 16 months – we did not meet for worship in person in our nave, which removed the foundational pillar of what it is to be and to do church. And yet, we found our way, first with the creation of resources for worship at home, not seeking to replicate remotely what we do in the nave on Sundays, but promoting worshipful devotion at home among those with whom we live. This also soon included the crafting of videos intended to complement worship at home, featuring sermons which I recorded often from the dining room of the parsonage, and members reading the appointed lectionary passages and leading prayers from their homes, and Barbara and choir members leading congregational song, even choir anthems which were woven together digitally, creating a unified sound from multiple individual voices, and all of this edited into a seamless whole by our youthful videographers.
Then there was our worship outdoors in conjunction with the bi-weekly gathering of food items for the hungry and food insecure. What started as brief, informal prayer evolved into more complete forms of worship outdoors offered weekly. We started on the Potomac Street side of the church, where our Memorial Garden became a focal point, for example, for abbreviated liturgies during the Three Days of Holy Week. We eventually moved to the Powhatan Street side of the church where the parsonage deck served as chancel, the new brick patio as choir loft, the fence between the parsonage and church yards served as altar rail and the church yard became a nave surrounding our community garden. Here we celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in over a year on the Day of Pentecost in 2021. Finally, on July 4, 2021 we moved back indoors for Sunday worship, masked and physically-distanced, practices which we maintain to this day.
The move indoors also began the initiative of live-streaming our Sunday worship for those unable to be with us in person, increasing our presence in the world of cyberspace. Before the pandemic, Resurrection Church’s footprint in the digital world was modest, focused on our website. Because of the various worship videos which are still available on YouTube, our congregation’s presence online is now more substantial. Some, in fact, have begun to find their way to our congregation because of that presence.
Additionally, our worship and music practices did not remain static during these pandemic years. We engaged in a discernment process which resulted in hiring as our regular Director Music, Barbara Verdile, who had served as our interim organist and choir director. We also purchased, through the generosity of anonymous donors and Memorial funds, and are regularly making use of the new supplement to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, All Creation Sings. Resurrection Church remains uniquely current among other ELCA congregations in my experience in its full use of the many resources for worship available from our wider church. This is truly a hallmark of our life together.
Moving on to other aspects of our life together – who would ever have predicted before the pandemic that Zoom would become such a feature of our congregational life? And yet it has. Even as we have returned to worshiping in person in doors on Sundays, so much of the rest of our congregational life is still undertaken via Zoom – committee and Council meetings, and even our annual meetings, bible studies, as well as midweek worship during Advent and Lent. Such Zoom practices don’t seem to be going away. It may be that Zoom is now a feature of our life together. The Zoom platform has arguably increased numbers who attend bible study and midweek worship. It’s not the same as being in person, but increased participation because of Zoom is a dynamic that we should not discount. Zoom also makes life easier in terms of commuting to and from church, especially for brief meetings. We’ve even begun experimenting with hybrid forms of gathering, with some in person at the church and others participating at home.
Another central aspect of church life is Christian education and faith formation. What started as a pandemic-induced attempt regularly to reach out to members, these weekly Midweek Messages have become one of the significant expressions of my teaching ministry as a pastor. Early on when I began crafting these reflections, I wondered if I would have topics enough to write about each week. But as time wore on, I have found it a marvel that I have never lacked for topics and themes of various sorts to address! I pray that those who have read these messages have found them to be edifying, helpful, and perhaps sometimes inspiring and important to our life together.
Then there have been the various bible studies via Zoom, addressing several different topics over the course of our time together. A major focus of our faith formation efforts has been our attempts to convene all ages together – for bible study via Zoom, and then also monthly outdoors at the parsonage for various creative programs. Children’s Ministry Director, Angie Brook, and Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, have continued creatively their ministries, again, largely online in these years. My prayer is that approaches to Christian education and faith formation which include all ages of people together would continue in future months and years, for one might argue that it takes a village to raise up mature persons of faith.
I could go on, and in fact, I will next week when I intend to summarize other hallmarks of our life together as a congregation during my brief pastorate. But I pray that these summarizing thoughts begin to give you a sense of the bigger picture of what we have accomplished together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
With abiding appreciation in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
At our recent meeting, the Congregation Council and I engaged in discerning conversation to determine together my last Sunday with you as pastor. Taking into account the multiple and often competing variables here, with the congregation in Phoenix, and with the complexities of a cross-country move, Sunday, August 7 was decided upon as my final Sunday. This day will come upon us quickly, but it is considered best practice in the church for pastors who announce their resignation to depart sooner rather than later. I announced that I had received a call from the congregation in Phoenix during the week of June 19 and then tendered my resignation as pastor on June 29. Approximately six weeks will have transpired between my resignation and my last Sunday. The common wisdom of current practice is for a resigning pastor to depart within a month or at most two months after the announcement of resignation. Thus, our timeline is in keeping with current practice in the wider church.
Also at our Council meeting, we agreed on a “to do” list of that which I and we will endeavor to accomplish together here for the sake of an orderly departure, efforts which will at their best prepare the congregation to receive its next called pastor. I pledge to do my level best to attend to the many details that will help set the stage for as smooth a transition as possible. Included on the to do list: working with other staff members and committee chairs on any outstanding items; the pastor’s exit interview with the bishop and her assistant for congregations in transition; my drafting a document listing pending matters which will be helpful to Council, an interim pastor, and the next called pastor; making certain that the church records are up to date; arranging for lay members to take on some of the administrative duties in the absence of an office administrator; crafting instruction documents to assist these lay members in their administrative efforts; attention to who will plan and lead worship and attend to pastoral care needs in my absence and, if needed, prior to the arrival of an interim pastor. Of special concern, of course, are the details related to the arrival of The Village School in our educational wing rooms. I am working closely with officials from the school and with our leaders to help to ensure as smooth a transition as possible into this new reality.
Moreover, the Council and I agreed that should need remain for me to be involved in administrative concerns even beyond the date of my formal departure, provision can be made for me to offer administrative help even remotely via Zoom, email, and phone calls until the end of August. There may be some poetic irony to that possibility, because I began my ministry among you remotely from Phoenix even before I moved to Arlington. How curious in these difficult pandemic days that I may also potentially conclude my ministry among you remotely and from Phoenix. The coming four weeks will reveal whether or not such involvements may be warranted.
Also at our last Congregational Council, Bishop Ortiz and her new assistant, Pastor Sarah Garrett Krey, were present via Zoom to outline a likely transition process toward calling a new pastor. The Bishop indicated that the current transition would not require a lengthy interim period. In fact, a new call committee will be convened prior to my departure, and work will begin on updating the congregation’s Ministry Site Profile also before my leave-taking. That timeline sets the stage for the possibility of receiving names of pastors to be interviewed perhaps beginning this fall.
As I mentioned in last week’s message, occasions of pastoral transition make for anxious times in congregational life. I hope that my outlining what is before us and the timelines will alleviate some of that anxiety, especially in my reporting that our leaders and I are committed to attending thoughtfully to the matters before us to make this transition as smooth as possible.
Further word is forthcoming about the events of Sunday, August 7 and how we will mark together at worship and following the conclusion of my pastorate at Resurrection Lutheran Church.
May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us through these days together in the power of the Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
Perhaps the initial shock of the announcement of my resignation as pastor at Resurrection to take another congregational call has begun to wear off, and the realities of this transition are now beginning to sink in more deeply. Even if there is general acknowledgement that my taking a call in Phoenix to be in close proximity to my son is understandable, that does not stop the human reality that this transition nonetheless evokes and provokes a wide variety of reactions and responses. The termination of my call here makes for significant upheaval in the life of our congregation. Understandably, many may be experiencing a full range of responses – shock, disappointment, sadness, anger, a sense of betrayal, anxiety, perhaps for some even relief, and more. It may also be that it would be appropriate to invoke some of the classic stages of grief in relation to our shared time of transition – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Please know that I am still available to you for conversation about all of this as you desire. In fact, I am eager to have such holy conversation for the sake of making the most of our remaining days together. Further information is soon forthcoming about the actual date of my leave-taking and what the transition process will look like.
Resurrection Church has been in a state of transition for several years now. And just when life together seemed to be settling in to a new era of stability, my leaving reignites another period of transition. This is made all the more difficult by the realities of the pandemic and the upheaval it has caused for two years and counting. Moreover, national and international crises persist beyond the pandemic. Given so much change in nation and world, perhaps the last place we want still more change is in the church, which we yearn to be an oasis of stability amidst the storms of life.
It is also true that times of pastoral transition disrupt equilibrium in congregational systems. The pastor, as shepherd, has a coordinating role in creatively managing the natural tensions among members and groups within a congregation. When that coordinating role is removed from the system, then it’s natural for there to be some re-emergence of anxiety and perhaps even conflict. That’s true of every congregation, and of every human system.
Thus, the coming weeks and months call for renewed commitments to attending to the qualities that make for healthy Christian communal life. May the words of Paul guide our life together as we engage the rigors of this season of transition: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
Please know that you are not alone in whatever sense of upheaval my leave-taking is provoking. Many other congregations are in similar boats, even as the whole ecosystem of the wider church is amidst an era of far-reaching change. And I, too, am not immune from these realities. I have not known consistent circumstantial stability in my life since at least late 2017 when the bishop of Metro New York Synod, my then boss, had to resign because of misconduct. Since that time, it’s been one significant crisis-related transition after another, most especially Nathan’s stroke. I, too, yearn for a return of stability. But the current nature of our world simply may not provide it.
How we are moved to frame this time is crucial for our creatively and faithfully living through it. Thus, I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to see the time before us, when the circumstances of stability and predictability and good order seem to be or are in fact taken from us, as an invitation to still deeper faith in Christ, trusting that in Christ all shall be well, that all is well, recalling the wisdom of Julian of Norwich. May we all be drawn to falling anew into the loving, merciful arms of God in Christ by the nudging of the Spirit, whose embrace is the source of our ultimate stability, a foundational reality that cannot be taken from us, even when the stormy seas of life seem to prove otherwise.
Trustingly – even if haltingly so – in Christ,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of the First Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
I had hoped to gain greater clarity at our Synod Assembly about the controversies within the ELCA concerning events in our Sierra Pacific Synod in northern California. Unfortunately, I don’t have many new insights to share that shed definitive light on what is happening there, as the situation continues to unfold.
I risk mispresenting the circumstances and perhaps overstepping my bounds in offering reflections, given that I do not have first-hand knowledge of what is occurring in the Sierra Pacific Synod. That said, I believe that some attempt at a summary is in order. But please know that this is a very complex situation which my summary cannot ultimately do justice to.
Here is a summary: Allegations of the misuse of pastoral authority were made against a pastor who was a mission developer in the Sierra Pacific Synod in an emerging Spanish-speaking ministry. The Bishop of that Synod, who also happens to be the ELCA’s first publicly-known transgendered Bishop, removed the mission developer pastor from his ministry, and did so on a festival day that is dear to Hispanic Christians. This action was received as extraordinarily insensitive and racist in the ELCA’s Hispanic community. Our Presiding Bishop called for an investigation into the actions of the Synodical Bishop. When the investigating team offered their report, our Presiding Bishop declined at first to bring charges against the Synodical Bishop. This decision on the part of the Presiding Bishop was deemed as woefully inadequate by various constituencies in our church, including our Conference of Bishops. Meanwhile, the Synodical Bishop resigned from their ministry as Bishop. However, new concerns about the Synodical Bishop have emerged, and our Presiding Bishop has now decided to engage in disciplinary action against the Synodical Bishop. This decision to pursue disciplinary action has the wide support of the Conference of Bishops. That’s basically where we are now as this controversy unfolds in our church.
Should you wish to engage in further reading about all of this, see the many links below at the conclusion of this message.
Now on to my reflections. This matter is a perfect storm of the conflicting confluence of various realities in our church engaged as we are in mission in a particularly divisive time in our current society. Here is a listing of these complicating realities: the concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community; the Hispanic community within the ELCA and certainly the local mission site; governing documents and policies and procedures of our church which may have embedded within themselves instances and dynamics of systemic racism; the extent to which these policies and procedures were carefully followed or not in these matters; the interdependent, often messy, but still laudable, polity of our church which seeks input from many constituencies – locally, synodically, and nationally – for discernment and decision-making; how all of this affects the nature of the exercise of authority in our church; and finally, how the realities of human sin find their expression in the church at various levels when we inevitably fail institutionally to live up to the theology we proclaim.
One thing that did come out of our Metropolitan DC Synod Assembly was a memorial to advocate for the establishment of a process to review the polity, procedures, and structures of our church through the lenses of diversity, equity and inclusion to discern how the ways we organize ourselves as church inhibit our aspirations to be a more fully welcoming and safe place for all of God’s children. This memorial will be sent to our Churchwide Assembly in Columbus, Ohio in August of this year for consideration there.
As a potential silver lining, this perfect storm holds promise for all of us in the ELCA to take a good, hard look in the mirror to recognize and acknowledge the various ways in which we fail institutionally to live up to the mission of gospel proclamation that God has entrusted to us. Our Lutheran theological sensibilities give us what we need to engage in this kind of reality therapy, to acknowledge fully, forthrightly, honestly, and courageously our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our total reliance on God’s grace to be led to ways of enacting our life together that nurture greater justice, welcome, and safety for all people. If only we as the ELCA would draw fully on our own theological tradition as we move forward together in coming months in response to the pain and suffering in the Sierra Pacific Synod and the reverberating effects throughout our church.
Our Synod Bishop, Leila Ortiz, recounted at Synod Assembly the circumstances of her conversion to the Lutheran theological way, having grown up in the Pentecostal tradition. Bishop Ortiz’s theological transformation, which also had profound existential effects on her, occurred in the seminary classroom while studying the Lutheran Confessions. Indeed, it was the discovery there of God’s unconditional, boundless love, mercy, and grace which was life-changing for Bishop Ortiz. Which is to say that we have theological riches to share with the wider world. Moreover, we have theological riches, which by God’s sovereign grace, give us what we need to navigate these stormy waters currently in church and world. By the Holy Spirit’s guidance, may we as a church in our local, synodical, and churchwide expressions, draw deeply on these riches for our healing and for the healing of the nations.
With hope in Christ Jesus via the leading of the Holy spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Sierra Pacific Synod Background Information
A Message from Presiding Bishop Eaton (English) / (Spanish) RE: Disciplinary Process Initiated
Sierra Pacific Synod: Bishop’s Report to the Church
Presiding Bishop Eaton Listening Session Statement (English) / (Spanish)
From Sierra Pacific
A Letter from Synod Vice President, Gail Kiyomura
Bishop Rohrer Resignation Post (Facebook)
Council Response to Churchwide (Facebook)
Open Letter to DE-MD Synod
Letter from Bishop Rohrer after External Review
From the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos de la ELCA
O Lord How Long Shall I Cry for Help - Response (Facebook)
What Happened In the Sierra Pacific Synod - Compiled Resource Page
Washington Post Resignation Article (6/7/2022)
Pastor David Hansen Summary Post (Facebook)
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Response
Bp. Bill Gohl's Statement at the DE-MD Synod Assembly
Bp. Bill Gohl’s Letter to the DE-MD Synod
Bp. Mike Rhinehart’s Blog Post
The Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson Letter to the Elders of the ELCA
Week of the Festival of Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
Many of you have read and are wondering about the recent article in the Washington Post concerning the controversy in one of our ELCA synods in California. I plan to write about this next week when I know more after having attended our Metro DC Synod Assembly this coming weekend.
Meanwhile, we will celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity this coming Sunday, the First Sunday after Pentecost. Thus, I am moved to offer reflections this week on our Trinitarian understandings of God.
First off, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the teaching that there is one God, and three distinct persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – does not explicitly appear as a concept in the bible. That said, there is plenty in the scriptures which point in the direction of Trinitarian understandings and which formed the foundations for the evolution of Christian thought toward Trinitarian doctrine.
Here are some of the important biblical passages which suggest Trinitarian possibilities:
John 1:1-18, the Prologue to John’s Gospel, proclaims that the divine Word who was made flesh in Jesus Christ was at the beginning with God and was in fact God.
Genesis 1:1-2, the first creation story, speaks of a wind or spirit from God that swept over the face of the waters to bring created order from chaos. When this story is read in connection with John’s Gospel, we may begin to see hints of the Trinity.
Then there are a number of other passages in the Gospel of John appointed for Eastertide in Lectionary year C which are suggestive of Trinitarian understandings. John was written perhaps three generations after Jesus’ earthly sojourn, thus offering us the vantage point of seeing the evolution of theological thinking among early Christians. So, there’s John 10:30, where John reports that Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” And there’s John 14:9-11 where John reports Jesus saying to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Moreover, there’s John 16:12-15, which we’ll hear this coming Trinity Sunday, which concludes with these words of Jesus reported by John which described for the disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit: “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Finally, there’s the Pentecost event recorded in John 20:21-23, “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’” John’s Gospel is, thus, rich with evocations of the beginnings of Trinitarian thought.
Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission, gives us the Trinitarian words we use to this day at baptism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
Then there are Trinitarian aspects of the stories of Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan. Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, and Luke 3:21-22 variously report God proclaiming Jesus as a favored Son while the Holy Spirit from God descends on Jesus.
Acts 2:32-33, a moment in Peter’s first sermon proclaiming God’s deeds of power in raising Jesus from the dead, offers Trinitarian hints: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear."
Then there are the Pauline greetings that are liturgically quite familiar to us which are suggestive of the Trinity. 2 Corinthians 13:13, which concludes that letter, has these well-known words: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Ephesians 2:18 offers this insight: “for through [Christ] both of us [Jewish and Gentile believers] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Here, like many New Testament passages, the three persons of the Godhead are mentioned.
A great Christ hymn in Colossians (cf. 1:15-17) echoes themes found in the prologue to John. There in Colossians it reads, Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:19 concludes, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to do dwell.” In this hymn, which also sounds creedal, we see perhaps the beginnings of explicitly Trinitarian thinking.
Finally, salutations to believers recorded in 1 Peter 1:2 offer Trinitarian themes as it is there written: “To the exiles… who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.”
This review of the scriptural witness, which arguably contributed to what would later be understood as the Trinity, is not comprehensive or exhaustive. There’s more in the bible that we could point to and explore in relation to Trinitarian themes. And it is essential to say that none of these scriptural passages add up in a simple kind of math equation to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons. That nuanced and paradoxical understanding would evolve over the course of the next decades and generations of Christian history as the church itself came to be and to develop. But I believe it is true that the scriptural witness laid a solid foundation for what would become our Trinitarian understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Thus, we have the Athanasian Creed (likely dating from the 5th Century) which arguably articulates best, at least in authoritative creedal form, the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Here is a portion of that ancient creed: “Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity is unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another. But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.” And on and on this creed goes, exploring the many paradoxical convolutions of our Trinitarian understandings.
The evolution of Christian thought and understanding is itself a work, I believe, of the Holy Trinity. John reports that Jesus said (and we’ll likewise hear this later this week on Trinity Sunday):
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak out of the Spirit’s own authority, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:12-13) Teaching about the Holy Trinity is one such truth into which we have been guided.
As has been the case throughout Christian history, the Holy Spirit, whom we confess proceeds from the Father and the Son, continues to guide us into all truth, including the truth about the Trinitarian nature of the God who creates, redeems, sanctifies, and more and more – all in a wonderful, sometimes baffling, paradoxical mystery and wondrous dance.
How can we respond and conclude but in words of poetic praise of the Trinity, here in a text of unknown source, translated by Clarence Walworth, the concluding stanza of “Holy God, We Praise Your Name” (ELW 414): “Holy Father, holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name you, though in essence only one; undivided God we claim you and, adoring, bend the knee while we own the mystery.”
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of Easter Seven
Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:
Please note that beginning on June 6, we’ll shift back to our Monday evening Bible Study format with sessions beginning at 6:30. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sundays, viewing the readings in relation to each other to see what new horizons of meaning emerge.
“At Pentecost, Thoughts on the Discernment of Spirits”
Dear Friends in Christ:
Since we are on the cusp of celebrating the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ followers as recorded in Acts 2, and since we have been living and serving for two millennia in what we might consider the epoch of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, we do well to consider what we mean by the Holy Spirit.
First off, it’s important to recognize that there are all manner of spirits, and not all of them holy. The Apostle Paul acknowledged as much when he wrote about powers and principalities of the world (cf. Ephesians 6:12). We aren’t talking about ghosts and goblins here. Rather, we might have in mind communal energies that transcend particular individuals, as in “team spirit.” Scholars write about zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times. Or some colloquially talk about the “vibe” in the room. The word “ethos” also comes to mind, as in the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community. In these ways, spirit, and perhaps even spirituality, inhabit the realm of quite common and ordinary human experience.
The generic reality of spiritualities invites us then to discern and identify the qualities of the Holy Spirit of the Trinitarian Godhead in the specifically Christian tradition manifest in the church and world. We are not left without help for these considerations. The witness of the Christian scriptures gives us criteria for understanding the dimension of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. These same scriptures also give us lists of qualities which are not of the Holy Spirit of the God made manifest in Jesus Christ. Paul, for example, writes in Galatians that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is marked by the following qualities: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). In contrast, Paul lists in that same passage qualities which he believes are opposed to the Holy Spirit, namely: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21a).
With such criteria in mind and at hand – and there are other such listings of qualities of the Holy Spirit elsewhere in the New Testament – we are called to engage in the discernment of the spirits of our age, in the church and elsewhere in the world. Etymologically speaking, the Greek word that translates discernment implies a kind of discrimination, making judgments about what is of the Holy Spirit and not. This is not discrimination in terms of injustices against people, rather the identification of what is and isn’t of the Holy Spirit, as in discriminating tastes.
So, with such listings as Paul’s in Galatians, we are given quite clear criteria with which to judge the spirits of our age, again, in the churches and in the world. When it comes to the spirit or ethos or vibe given off by some churches and pastors and preachers today, I think it is abundantly clear that some churches are not living according to the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit identified by Paul. Many churches today, including Lutheran, but certainly others, embody and express a communal spirit that is more suggestive of idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, and factions than Holy Spirit qualities of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When Christian leaders lead by cultivating and stoking people’s anger, fear and grievance, that is simply not of the Holy Spirit. It’s that clear and straightforward. There is no ambiguity. I believe that we are called upon in our day to be more courageous in proclaiming that some churches and Christian leaders are simply not living and teaching and proclaiming according to the dimensions of the fruit of the Holy Spirit as identified in our scriptures.
Then consider the zeitgeist of our wider culture and society. Much of what we endure in the news and on social media and more is held captive by the powers and principalities, the qualities that are opposed to the Holy Spirit, as Paul identifies. “Impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy” – do these qualities not prevail in our current popular social and cultural climate? Do we – even secular persons who are not Christian – not long in our hearts for the humane qualities of the Spirit, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? While these are features of the Christian ethos according to Paul, this listing is also in keeping with secular philosophies which may point to more universal human aspirations.
A lot of what troubles us in current popular culture and society boils down to an ethos that pursues and fetishizes the ways of death in contrast to a culture that promotes life abundant and holistically understood. And I am not reducing this consideration to the pro-life vs. pro-choice controversies surrounding abortion. It’s a far broader and more comprehensive orientation. We as a society seem to be captive to ways that make for death, and actively resist that which makes for life understood as comprehensive, holistic well-being for all.
The Day of Pentecost in the church’s calendar falls on the fiftieth day of Easter. Thus, there is an intimate connection in the Christian tradition between the Holy Spirit’s coming and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is to say, the Holy Spirit’s advent occurs in the context and because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christian spirituality, thus, cannot be separated from Jesus Christ and what God, the Father, accomplished in and through Christ. What were the proclamatory utterances of Peter and the others at Pentecost, when empowered by the Spirit, but the preaching in the languages of the nations of God’s deeds of power in raising Christ from the dead (cf. Acts 2:11; 22-24; 32)?
To conclude this reflection, then, may the Holy Spirit embolden us to nurture in word and deed a culture of resurrected new life in Christ as a countervailing witness to the ways of death that prevail in so much of society and in too many churches. May the Spirit of God in Christ nurture in us the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit for the healing of the nations.
God in Christ help us through the encouraging and emboldening guidance of the Holy Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of Easter Five
Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:
“Meditations on the Lectionary”
Dear Friends in Christ:
A major focus of our time together during Sunday worship involves hearing three readings from the Bible and singing a psalm. Once we are assembled and settled, having confessed sin and received forgiveness or having remembered baptism, and having sung the hymns and canticles and having prayed the prayer of the day, we turn our attention to the appointed readings.
Take a moment to reflect on how counter cultural it is for us to sit there – or stand in the case of the gospel reading – to listen carefully to texts written and incorporated into the canon of holy scripture centuries ago. These are ancient texts, far removed from our time and place, and yet we attend to them living as we do in an age obsessed with innovation and saying new things in ever changing ways. Thus, we listen to ancient texts not always easily understanding what they have to say to us in our day.
Questions about this practice may arise. Why so many passages? Why not just narrow it down to focus on one or maybe two readings? And why do we consent to using passages chosen by teams of scholars far removed from our own congregational circumstances? And just what is the lectionary anyway?
These are important questions, and we are blessed to have in our fold a scholar, Gail Ramshaw, who has devoted a great deal of her professional life to studying and to helping craft the lectionary that we use. Beginning this coming Wednesday, May 18, Gail will teach us about the Revised Common Lectionary and its essential place in our life together. And she’ll address the questions we have about the lectionary, thus helping to form us in our enhanced understandings that we may worship with greater intentionality to and with heightened awareness of the grace given to us via the word of God, and the Holy Spirit speaking through that word.
In anticipation of the coming Wednesday evening Zoom sessions on the lectionary, I offer here some of my own thoughts about its importance in our Sunday routines.
First off, the lectionary is a great gift to you, God’s people in this place, because it spares you from me as your pastor imposing on you my favorite Bible passages, passages of my own choice and whim and, at worst, prejudice. In churches that do not employ a lectionary of appointed readings, local preachers have the freedom to choose the Bible passages they preach on, which gives to the local pastor a great deal of power to attempt to shape the theological convictions of people in the local assembly. In contrast, with the lectionary of appointed readings, we are all in this together, you and I as your pastor, as we sometimes struggle to make sense of the divine word for us in the givenness of the lectionary readings. Thus, the lectionary helps to keep preachers humble, since they are not in control of choosing given passages for a given Sunday. In this way, I would argue that the lectionary has a democratizing effect on life together in congregations, even if the lectionary is chosen by others whom we do not know and who are not accountable to us. But those scholars are accountable to the wider church in its many expressions. The appointed lectionary passages do not come to us willy-nilly, but with a great deal of consultation and deliberation, sometimes approved by voting assemblies of God’s people. Again, I believe that the use of the lectionary is more democratic and participatory than local preachers choosing their own favorite Bible passages.
Moreover, the discipline of using the lectionary, particularly the Revised Common Lectionary, gives us the gift of hearing and working through large portions of the Bible than would otherwise be the case if left to singular readings or the limited scope of the proclivities and choices of the local pastor. With its three readings and the psalm, we end up hearing the multiplicity of voices in the Bible and its rich variety of types of literature. The Revised Common Lectionary works on a three-year cycle, with different readings appointed for each different year. We hear readings appointed in an orderly fashion from the Old Testament, from the Gospels, and from other types of New Testament literature. Again, this helps us to get a sense of the Bible as a whole, but not just as a book, but as a compilation of different types of literature set within our worship of God in Christ with attention to its particular liturgical calendar and seasons. As you know, the appointed readings relate intimately and importantly to the themes and events of the church year. So, with the appointed readings alongside our liturgical enactments, we receive Christ himself, who is present in word and sacraments in the gathered assembly of God’s people. The lectionary and its readings help make Christ known to us by God’s grace in the power of the Spirit.
Another gift of the lectionary is that its use becomes a concrete enactment of Christian unity each and every Sunday. We Lutherans like the fact that we are ecumenically oriented. Yet, explicitly ecumenical efforts in which we actively cooperate with other churches are often occasional and tangential to our life together. Except when it comes to the lectionary! The appointed readings we use on Sundays are the same readings used in other Lutheran churches. Moreover, you could visit churches of other Christian traditions on any given Sunday and hear the same or similar readings to the ones we are using. These churches include: Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Moravian, various other Reformed churches and more. Thus, the lectionary and its use become an expression of often elusive visible Christian unity, helping to give some fulfillment to Jesus’ prayer that we might be one so that the world might believe (cf. John 17:20-21).
Speaking now as a preacher, as one who obediently submits to the discipline of attending to all of the appointed readings for Sunday, I love the challenge of the lectionary, for there are readings appointed for any given day that I myself would not have chosen! And yet, I trust that there is a word for us in our day in the givenness of the appointed passages. It’s been my experience that the lectionary never fails to give that needed word. Thus, I love attempting to rise to the occasion of proclaiming God’s gospel word via what the lectionary puts before us week by week.
You who hear me preach will note that I attempt to address each of the appointed readings in my sermons, the first, the second, and the gospel readings, and sometimes even the psalm. In the discipline of having returned to preaching every Sunday again as a parish pastor, I delight in the new horizons of interpretation and meaning revealed when the passages are set alongside each other. Even if my main preaching focus may be the gospel reading, inevitably portions of the first and second readings will help illuminate the meanings of the gospel – and vice versa in relation to the gospel passage and its power to illuminate the other readings as well. In the course of the many months of my current preaching ministry, even after three decades of doing this work, I am still discovering new meanings of old, old stories in large measure because of the call to give attention to each of the appointed lectionary passages on Sundays.
So, you can tell that I am sold on the lectionary! Please join us this Wednesday as Gail Ramshaw takes us still deeper in our understandings of and appreciation for the Revised Common Lectionary. Gail’s efforts in the next three Wednesdays will set the stage for a return to our Monday evening Zoom Bible Studies in June when we will begin to look together at all three of the appointed readings for each upcoming Sunday. Our engaging these passages in communal Bible study will undoubtedly end up informing what I preach on Sundays, giving you all a voice in the proclamation of the gospel which is at its best a community effort.
With thanks to God for the gift of the lectionary that makes Christ known,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of Easter Four
Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:
“Reflections on Worship Livestreamed”
Dear Friends in Christ:
There have been some curious silver linings to the clouds of my Covid convalescence, one of which was having occasion to experience first-hand our Sunday worship livestreamed. While I’ve shared with others in the responsibilities for livestreaming our Sunday worship, I’ve obviously not had occasion to participate live online because of my calling otherwise to lead our worship in person. So, on the Third Sunday of Easter, when seminary President Guy Erwin preached and presided on my behalf, I shared in our worship life from a distance – not far at all geographically speaking, namely, next door in the parsonage.
For those in need, I am glad that we make this option available. Some, out of ongoing concern for coronavirus vulnerabilities, still cannot be present with us indoors and in person for worship. Others have temporary circumstances of one sort or another that keep them home or away on Sundays – recovery from illness or surgery, travel for business, generally being homebound, and other sundry reasons that may keep us from church. Worship livestreamed is a point of contact with our life together. It is a connection among our small diaspora of those who for whatever reasons cannot join us in person for worship. It’s not nothing.
Thus, especially as a ministry for our most vulnerable members, I am glad that we livestream our worship. And I am especially thankful for the team of members who expend a great deal of time and energy to make this happen. And given our limited resources and our desires to protect the privacy of those who worship in person in not having their identities revealed to the wider public of cyberspace, the production quality, in my experience, is quite reasonable, especially the quality and clarity of the audio aspects of the livestreaming. Thousand thanks to Steve Black, Paul Bastuscheck, Chris Smith, and their team for their work in providing this current outreach ministry in our pandemic life together.
All of this said, livestreamed worship is no substitute for our worship together in person, in the flesh, together in our nave. I would not want a steady diet of only the tangential participation that livestreaming affords. Especially at the time of Communion, when the video feed was turned off to protect the privacy of communicants going forward to share first-hand in Christ’s presence, I was reminded of those occasions when, as a young child before I was of age to receive the sacrament, I would sit alone in the pew as my mother and father and older brother went to the chancel to receive Christ’s body and blood. I recalled my longing to go up there myself (this was before the now common practice of giving blessings to the little children), but was instead left behind. That’s the memory of experience that came flooding back a week ago Sunday when I could not be present with you, the body of Christ next door, as the church, to receive and to abide with and share sacramentally in Christ! I was filled with desire for incarnate presence of the full sacred body of our Lord made known in the breaking of bread in the in-person community. My consolation prize at that moment was Steve’s beautifully rendered slide images of our building’s compelling stained-glass windows. Engaging those images meditatively helped redeem that moment from the pangs of longing to be present with you – and with Christ – in the flesh.
Worship livestreamed made for me at best a sense of tangential participation, largely as an onlooker from the back of the room – which is literally where our cameras are located up in the balcony. Even if our cameras were located more centrally in the nave and even if I could see all of your faces on the screen, it still would have been the experience of looking on from afar.
Moreover, sitting at home on my sofa with my laptop before me on a coffee table, I found it challenging to participate in worship, singing and speaking the words in the bulletin by myself in the parsonage living room. Maybe that’s just me, but it took some effort to do more than just view the screen. It didn’t seem natural to sing and speak all by myself. It might have helped if others were there with me. And I also found myself easily distracted by other things in the house – for example, what my two cats were up to in their usual playfulness with each other before their lunch. It was better than nothing, and I’m glad I viewed the livestream, but it was still not the fullness of the divine happening that was going on next door.
Still further, livestreamed worship, even at its best, is but another experience online in front of a screen when so much of the rest of our lives is undertaken online in front of screens. Which is to say, think about how comparatively countercultural is our habit of being assembled in person together each and every Sunday morning in a place apart from our homes. Fewer and fewer people do such things together these days on a regular basis, week after week. Yes, many folk attend sporting events in person, or go to the theater, or to concerts, but usually only on occasion and not as a regular, weekly habit. And worship of almighty God at its best and as intended is so much more than a concert or sporting event, which themselves are experiences of being spectators together but not active participants in the drama of what is going on in the room.
My absence a week ago Sunday underscored for me in renewed ways the central importance of the Sunday assembly in person, in the flesh. Worship on the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection, is the centerpiece and organizing principle of all of Christian life. It is the focal point of our whole week as people of faith, people of Christ. Sunday serves as I imagine how a gyroscope functions – as that which stabilizes our life and helps to maintain equilibrium in forward missionary movement in and for the sake of the world. As such, as THE organizing principle of Christian life, the Sunday assembly best happens in person and together. Livestreamed worship is at most a thin approximation of the fullness of the incarnate reality of what we habitually do on Sundays.
Think of the multiplicity of gifts available to us when we are gathered in person by the Holy Spirit at our beloved Resurrection Church. We’re together in a three-dimensional space and not the comparative two-dimensionality of the experience of the screen. Our building becomes an extension of our embodiment and focuses our attention on the central things and places – the place of the baptismal bath, the place where the word is proclaimed, and the table at which we gather for the meal. Together as the body of Christ, even if our faces are covered with and obscured by masks, we nonetheless give to each other the gift of body language where so much communication takes place, communication that is largely impossible or confusing online. We sing together, we speak together, voices blending in unity in an increasingly divided, compartmentalized, isolated world. We may get wet by dipping our hands into the waters in the font in thankful remembrance of our baptism into Christ. We share the peace, even if it’s in truncated form still because of pandemic safety precautions. We get up out of our seats, making our offering in the plates provided as still more profoundly we move to the place of the table to eat and drink of Christ’s real presence in, with, and under the gifts of bread and wine. We benefit from the discipline of each other’s presence which helps us to stay focused on the central activities of the liturgy. We get to hear and enjoy the live music of our choir and the sounds of the pipes of the organ and sounds of the piano in a space with fine acoustics – in contrast to recorded music which is our more usual norm in life these days. Before and after worship, we enjoy the privilege of one-on-one conversations or holy conversation in small groups which contribute greatly to our well-being in Christ with each other, drawing us palpably together in community. Again, this is all so very counter cultural. It’s a dedicated hour and more away from the screens which otherwise dominate us in our contemporary daily lives. In short, our Sunday routine in person is an astonishing gift.
I know that I am preaching to the choir, as it were, as the vast majority of you reading this prefers what we do on Sundays to occur in person over against the lesser, but not insignificant-in-its-own-ways-option of worship livestreamed. Given the immense benefits of being together in person, I don’t understand the churches which expend undue energies, in my opinion, on attempts at doing church more and more online. What we do by way of livestreaming or other online video recordings should serve to point to and ultimately draw people to the in-person assembly. The tail of a complementary ministry initiative in livestreaming should not wag the dog of the centrality of Christian assembly in person. Anything short of this incarnate gathering is not ultimately faithful to the core principles of the Christian tradition. May livestreaming serve those in occasional, circumstantial need, but more importantly, may these efforts increase in us the desire, as it did for me, to gather in the flesh in Jesus’ name each Sunday.
In thanksgiving to God in Christ for the grace given us week after week on the Lord’s Day,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of Easter Three
Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:
“Personal Reflections from Quarantine”
Dear Friends in Christ:
For two full years, I had managed to dodge the Covid-19 bullet. No longer. As I write these words, I have shown improvements each and every day with the diminishment of what from the beginning were comparatively mild symptoms. General fatigue persists with energy levels waxing and waning through the day. And while I currently have tested negative for Covid, erring on the side of caution, I maintain for now the discipline of quarantine for the sake of the health and well-being of our wider community.
Even with a mild case of Covid, I have a sense that the coronavirus is not something to be trifled with, particularly when it comes to its general systemic effects on my whole body’s energy levels and capacities. In a renewed, first-hand way, I am thankful to God for the work of scientists who developed such effective vaccinees and boosters and antiviral medications which likely kept my case mild.
But how did Covid catch up with me? Throughout the pandemic, I have consistently persisted in my discipline of wearing masks in all indoor settings and circumstances, from church to grocery shopping, and have limited my participation in large group activities. What the reality of my infection reveals to me is that guarding or promoting public health is not reduced to a matter merely of individual, personal choice. I chose to err on the side of caution, and yet I still got sick. As individuals we are inevitably participants in a wider community culture, namely, one that has currently chosen to relax safety protocols such as mask-wearing – and this during a phase of the pandemic when a variant of the virus that is even more transmissible than omicron and its first subvariants is increasingly widespread throughout the nation, especially in the Northeast. I’m not engaging in a blame game here, but just observing that we are all in this together, whether we like to admit that or not. What we choose to do or not do together as a society has real life effects and consequences, all up and down the line, on individual lives and on the quality of our life together.
Of course, I cannot determine or isolate the particular set of circumstances that resulted in my exposure to the virus sufficient that I tested positive and became symptomatic. Which is to say, even as I acknowledge the power of our whole communal contextualization, it is still a matter of my individual particularity that resulted in my current illness. I marvel at the fact that during the pre-symptomatic time when I was likely most infectious, my son, Nathan, and my college friend, Chris, and I were together in the parsonage, un-masked and interacting in close quarters. Yet, neither one of them has gotten sick or even tested positive. The body, with its immunities and complicated, interacting systems, is full of wisdom and mystery.
Which is to say, stress and its effects have a lot to do with what we, our bodies, are able to withstand or succumb to. I find it fascinating that I began to experience symptoms the moment that Nathan got on the plane at Dulles Airport Sunday a week ago to return to Phoenix. It’s as if my body was waiting to get sick until my fatherly duties for his visit concluded. Nathan’s spring break time with me happened in the context of the busiest time of the year for pastors, namely, Holy Week and Easter – and this on top of what has already been a stressful two years with the pandemic. I’ve long been wondering when my body would eventually tell me, essentially, “you have no choice now but to take a break.”
It’s noteworthy that past periods of particular stress in my life have commonly resulted in my being on the receiving end of one form of illness or another, at this point, consistently on the milder end of things. Each occasion became its own kind of grace to allow a cessation of stressful circumstances in order to open up horizons for rest and healing and restoration. I am claiming my current case of Covid as one such expression of grace. Clearly not everyone who catches Covid would name it as an odd kind of grace. If my episode were more severe, I wouldn’t either. But in this particular case, I do see the grace – and the warning sign to listen to my body and its wisdom in always seeking a restoration of balance and well-being.
I often joke after Easter Sunday that Jesus vacated his tomb in resurrected new life at least in part so that pastors and other busy church people can enter that womb of the tomb for their own few days of rest toward new life…. So it is that I have claimed my bout with Covid as such an occasion for needed rest, hopefully also toward renewal in this Eastertide for the sake of the work entrusted to me as pastor here.
Enough about me. Thanks for your various expressions of concern. Thanks for your indulgence in reading these personal reflections. I pray that they may provoke you to reclaim a renewed passion to promote and nurture public health in our wider communities. And I pray that my reflections may also inspire you, without first getting sick, to claim your own needed occasions of rest and renewal for restoration in the midst of your busy lives and routines, and perhaps to see moments of God’s grace in unexpected places and circumstances. And I pray that you all may stay well.
I trust that I will be back in your midst soon. Another graced moment in all of this is that I also had the occasion to share in Resurrection’s livestreamed worship for the Third Sunday of Easter, obviously a new experience for me – more on that in next week’s Midweek Message. Meanwhile, my thanks to those who covered for me in my absence – especially Council President, Glen Mason, who took on some additional duties in my absence, Pastor Amy Feira who officiated at the funeral of Malcolm Stark, and Pastor and Seminary President, Guy Erwin, who preached and presided on Sunday.
With ongoing prayers in Jesus’ name for your health and well-being and that of our communities,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Week of Easter Two
Dear Friends in Christ:
Have you ever wondered how traditions and rituals of Christian worship came to be, and what are the biblical origins of our worship practices? And how about the lectionary with its three appointed readings for each Sunday along with psalm – why do we use the lectionary to ground our time together on Sundays in the scriptures? These and other questions concerning the Bible in Christian worship will be addressed over the course of six weeks in a new Bible Study via Zoom on Wednesday evenings, beginning this Wednesday, April 27 at 7:00 pm. This series will be led by our own members, Gail Ramshaw and Gordon Lathrop, two of our wider church’s foremost scholars concerning worship who have devoted their whole careers to the very questions I have posed here. Even in their retirement, Gordon and Gail continue active lives of scholarship, producing books and other publications and resources to promote the understanding and faithful practice of Christian worship. In fact, both have new books available to us and to the wider church. Gail recently published Much Fine Gold: The Revised Common Lectionary (Church Publishing, 2021), a work which explores the logic and importance of the lectionary for worship and Christian faith formation. And Gordon just put into my hands his new book, The Assembly: A Spirituality (Fortress Press 2022), which explores the Sunday assembly as the foundation for Christian spirituality along with heralding the central importance of gathering in person together in this age of virtual realities which keep us apart and tied to our various screens.
In my own engagement with the scriptures over the course of three decades of public ministry as both pastor and professor, I have marveled at how key biblical passages, in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, reveal the patterns of worship which we continue to practice to this day. Gordon will devote three sessions to exploring some of these foundational texts, namely, Isaiah 25 (a passage of praise for deliverance from oppression with the promise of feasting), Nehemiah 8 (a passage that reveals how God’s people engaged the holy word and feasted together in response to God’s gracious generosity), and Luke 24 (which records resurrection appearances of Jesus, centering on the Road to Emmaus where the risen Christ is made known in the breaking of bread).
Likewise, I have a longstanding devotion to the church’s lectionaries, and I marvel at how the appointed passages never fail to offer a needed word for us in our day. Returning to the practice of preaching every Sunday after an eighteen-year hiatus from such regular preaching on Sundays, I am currently experiencing a renewed delight in the discipline of attending to each of the three main appointed readings for Sundays. Seeing and engaging the passages alongside each other consistently opens up horizons for interpretation and understanding the scriptures in new ways. Gail, in her sessions, will explore how our lectionary uses the Bible on Sunday morning, centering her presentations on some of the appointed readings for the Sundays closest to our Wednesday sessions.
Gail and Gordon’s classes will involve their making presentations, followed by discussion and questions among participants. Have a Bible available for each session. For Gail’s sessions (May 18, May 25, and June 1), you should also have available a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. This might be a good time to buy one if you do not have your worship book at home. You could also borrow one from church, as long as you return it. ELW includes the lectionary for Sundays in its three-year cycle, along with daily lectionary resources. There is also a section on Scripture and Worship which provides some of the scriptural foundations for our orders of worship for Holy Communion and for Holy Baptism (ELW pew edition, pages 1154-1159).
In short, this new series is a great opportunity to renew and deepen our understanding of why we do what we do each and every Sunday morning, grounding such understanding in the scriptures themselves, the norming rule of our life together.
In Jesus’ name,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Dear Friends in Christ:
Holy Week and Easter 2022 were simply splendid in my estimation. And what a privilege and joy, even amidst the gravitas of the days, to have assembled in person and in doors for the fullness of the holy days, from Palm/Passion Sunday to the Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter – and then through to Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day. It is commonly acknowledged that the pandemic, with its upending of routines, has interfered with our sense of time. Thus, it is remarkable for me to realize and now to observe to you that this year’s Holy Week with Easter was in fact my third observance of these days with you as your Pastor. The first year we undertook the observances together but remotely when I was still in Phoenix before I even moved to Arlington. Last year, our observances and celebrations were a combination of worship videos and abbreviated and partial gatherings outdoors. At last, third year’s the charm, we could return to more normal liturgical routines even as our faces were still adorned with masks. I am sure you agree with me that it was wonderful at last to be able to do what we do during these holy days with far fewer impediments. Thanks be to God.
Now that I have experienced the worshipful traditions for Holy Week and Easter first-hand and in person at Resurrection Church, I marvel at the enthusiasm our faithful visibly express in worship, especially during the Three Days. First off, attendance at each of the liturgies was quite respectable for a church our size these days – 34 on Maundy Thursday, 54 on Good Friday, and 35 for the Vigil of Easter. In my experience of other Lutheran congregations, people tend to be a bit shy about sharing in the dramatic re-enactments of the Three Days. At Resurrection last week I experienced worshipers who put their all into gathering outdoors for the blessing of palms and the procession into the church on Palm and Passion Sunday, and who read Luke’s Passion with attentiveness to the word, and who were not shy about having their feet washed on Maundy Thursday, and who lined up for the full length of the center aisle to place lit votive candles before the roughhewn cross on Good Friday, and who with gusto gathered again outdoors for the new fire and blessing of the Paschal Candle and another procession into the church with individual candles lit for the Easter Proclamation, and who rose to the occasion with full assembly participation in the reading from Daniel, and who didn’t mind getting wet during the Affirmation of Baptism at the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. That was quite the run-on sentence, but it is purposively so to reinforce the seamless unity of the Three Days, when one day flows into the other. Then Easter Sunday morning was a grand culmination in resurrection victory, made all the more meaningful in relation to each of the liturgies during the Three Days. It is clearly evident to me that you have been well-formed over the course of many years to be able to share so deeply in the drama of Holy Week and Easter, and for this I am thankful indeed as your Pastor.
When congregations offer the full complement of liturgies during Holy Week and Easter, it is a major undertaking for all hands on deck. Thus, I want to offer thousand thanks to the many who gave generously of their time and talents as a congregational team to plan and execute the liturgical and other events of the past week:
- Our Worship and Music Committee under Cindy Reese’s leadership, along with others who helped plan the liturgies.
- Heidi Dech, who did extra work in securing worship leaders for all the services.
- Rosalie and Heidi Dech who tended to the production of the hard copy bulletins.
- Our assisting ministers, readers, communion assistants, and other worship leaders who went the extra mile this past week during multiple liturgies.
- Gordon Lathrop who preached for the Vigil of Easter.
- Our team of ushers under the direction of Maggie Mount who had extra work to do to make the ceremonial enactments go smoothly.
- Our altar guild under the leadership of Jeanette Barkley for her and their many extra efforts as well.
- Patti Mugavero and her team of helpers who painstakingly assembled the floral cross, an annual tradition at Resurrection.
- Our team who makes Sunday livestreaming possible, Steve Black, Paul Bastuscheck, Chris Smith, and our youth who help with the videography.
- Tom Mugavero and the Fellowship Committee for arranging Easter Breakfast – how wonderfully normal it felt to eat together at tables indoors on Easter Day.
- Angie Brooke who oversaw logistics for the Easter Egg Hunt.
- Our Music Director, Barbara Verdile, our choir, cantors, and other musicians who offered splendid music to mark each of the week’s liturgies.
- And anyone else whose roles or names I’ve inadvertently omitted!
Many hands make much lighter work, and I thank God for all of you, even as I offer at the same time my thanks to each of our leaders. Liturgy is colloquially understood as the “work of the people.” God’s people were indeed hard at work at Resurrection last week, a very holy week indeed.
As Eastertide continues, this coming Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, we will also mark Earth Day under the planning sponsorship of both our Creation Care Team and Education Committee. Our Sunday worship will conclude with a Litany of Praise for Creation. We’ll adjourn outdoors for the blessing of our community garden – our Plot Against Hunger – even as we pray for our volunteer gardeners. Coffee Hour will be mainly outdoors, and there will be creation care activities for all ages during that time. Please join in!
With thanks to God and to all of you for your faithfulness in worship and in our life together,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Dear Friends in Christ:
Over the years, commitment to attending services during Holy Week has waned. Yet, the Three Days that are the centerpiece of this week are the crown jewel of the church’s whole liturgical calendar when we participate dramatically and sacramentally in the mysteries of salvation fully revealed in scripture. In our worshipful participation we engage not just the stories, but come to know the very sacred realities to which the scriptural stories bear witness.
The Three Days – consisting of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday – are best understood as one seamless sacred drama enacted over the course of three different days. Hence, we are producing one worship booklet to cover the Three Days.
I urge you, for your edification and spiritual well-being, to come to worship on each of the Three Days beginning at 7:00 pm each evening. Those who participate fully have routinely told me over the years just how powerful it is spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and existentially to be immersed in the richness of the Christian gospel in these liturgies which communicate to us salvation in Christ.
For your prayerful consideration, here again is a summary of what you can expect this week:
The Three Days Commence, Maundy Thursday (April 14): Worship at 7:00 pm, Confession and Forgiveness, Washing of Feet, and Holy Communion with Stripping of the Altar.
The Three Days proclaim and re-enact the drama of Jesus’ last days of public, earthly ministry culminating in his death and resurrection.
Worship on Maundy Thursday begins with confession and forgiveness, and also features footwashing. In obedience to Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, those wishing symbolically and literally to enact such servant love will wash each other’s feet. We continue with Holy Communion, the institution of which is remembered on this night. Worship concludes as the lights in the nave and chancel are dimmed and the altar and chancel are stripped of their adornments as Psalm 88, a psalm of lament, is sung as we recall Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden. We will then depart in silence.
Good Friday (April 15): Worship at 7:00 pm, with sung Passion According to John and Adoration of the Cross.
We assemble again on Friday evening, continuing the Three Days, where the focal point of our time together in worship is the Passion According to John, which will be sung by our choir. After the sermon and Hymn of the Day, worship continues with bidding prayers in the context of which your silent prayers are invited for the church and world. Then a rough-hewn cross is carried in procession into the nave as we sing of our adoration of Christ who was crucified on that lifegiving tree. Solemn Reproaches are said and the Trisagion (“Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us”) is sung while members of the assembly come forward for various expressions of devotion at the cross, including placing lit votive candles around it. When worship concludes in a darkened church, and all depart in silence.
The Three Days Conclude, Resurrection of Our Lord, Vigil of Easter (April 16): Worship at 7:00 pm, new fire, procession with Paschal Candle, Easter Proclamation, service of readings, affirmation of baptism, and Holy Communion.
We assemble once again on the third of the Three Days outdoors on the Potomac Street side of the church to begin the Vigil of Easter. The new fire is lit, from which the Paschal Candle, is also lit and blessed. The whole assembly follows the Paschal Candle into the church, through the hallways and into the nave where worshipers will receive their own individual candles with light taken from the Paschal Candle. We will gather at chairs surrounding the baptismal font as the Easter Proclamation is sung. A series of readings, recounting major stories of salvation history, is read followed by prayer. Still at the font, we’ll affirm our baptism, confessing anew our faith as we are sprinkled with water from the font. Then the lights will come on, and we’ll sing “This is the Feast of Victory for our God” as we take seats in the pews in the nave for Holy Communion, concluding the Three Days, having run the gamut from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light, from death to new life in Christ.
Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday (April 17): Worship at 10:00 am. Easter Breakfast begins at 8:30.
We’ll assemble yet again on Easter Sunday, Resurrection of Our Lord. An Easter Breakfast of egg casseroles and breakfast breads begins in the parish hall and outdoors at 8:30 am. At 10:00, we’ll assemble in the nave for a festive celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the manner of our usual Sunday Assembly, but with the volume of celebration turned up a bit in honor of the resurrected Christ who is our light, our life, our salvation.
Your share in the joy of Easter Day will be all the more enriched by your having also attended liturgy on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and at the Vigil of Easter!
Again, as your Pastor, I urge your full participation in each of the Three Days.
God in Christ take us together into these paschal mysteries in the power of the Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman