Spiritual Reflections

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

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

Week of the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

January 18, the Confession of Peter, begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2022. What started as a small prayer movement among Episcopal Franciscans and Catholics in the Hudson River Valley north of New York City in 1908 has over the decades become an international observance embraced by millions and sponsored by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an octave encouraging daily prayer observances, begins on the commemoration of the Confession of Peter and concludes a week later on the day of the commemoration of the Conversion of Paul, an octave bracketed by the celebration of two major figures of the Christian tradition who represent different strands of our faith tradition. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples who was among the first-hand, eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection, and who became one of the twelve original apostles, and a central figure among the twelve. Paul, on the other hand, as Saul, a persecutor of the early Christian movement and its believers, had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and thus came to this new movement in a way very different from the twelve original apostles. Paul struggled to have his apostolic authority accepted during the days of his public ministry.

These differences could have taken Christianity in very different and divided directions. But the basic rapprochement between Pauline and Petrine factions in the early days preserved early unity in the emergent church even amidst its sometimes-conflicting diversity. There is an icon in the offices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the Vatican that features Peter and Paul embracing each other. That is an image which captures the unifying spirit of the ecumenical octave of this week. It is indeed appropriate that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity should begin and conclude with commemorations of Peter and Paul, a celebration of and aspiration for unity in diversity.

Each year materials for marking and celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are developed by different ecumenical councils in various regions of the world. Materials for 2022, published nationally by the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute in New York, were crafted by the Middle East Council of Churches in Beirut, Lebanon. This year’s theme is based on Matthew 2:2 – “We saw the star in the east, and we came to worship him.” Here is further elaboration on this theme from the website of the Graymoor Institute: “Today, more than ever, the Middle East needs a heavenly light to accompany its people. The star of Bethlehem is a sign that God walks with his people, feels their pain, hears their cries, and shows them compassion. It reassures us that though circumstances change and terrible disasters may happen, God’s faithfulness is unfailing…. The journey of faith is this walking with God who always watches over his people and who guides us in the complex paths of history and life. For this Week of Prayer, the Christians of the Middle East chose the theme of the star that rose in the east for a number of reasons. While many Western Christians celebrate Christmas, the more ancient feast, and still the principal feast of many Eastern Christians, is the Epiphany when God’s salvation is revealed to the nations in Bethlehem and at the Jordan. This focus on the theophany (the manifestation) is, in a sense a treasure which Christians of the Middle East can offer to their brothers and sisters around the world.”

Here is a link, should you wish to participate in a live, online observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It begins at 12:00 pm (Noon) Eastern on Wednesday, January 19.

And here is a link to official Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022 materials to support your daily prayers for greater visible unity in the church.

As I have written to you before, I am a devoted ecumenist and am committed to promoting the greater visible unity among Christian churches, and this for the sake of our witness to the world rooted in Jesus’ prayer recorded in John’s Gospel: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21) I, therefore, see ecumenical work as central to the mission of the church and not as an optional, extra thing to engage in if we have time and inclination.

Ecumenical involvements, ranging from local to national and even international initiatives, have consistently been key features of my public ministry for over three decades. Thus, it’s been a disappointment to me that Arlington has no apparent current, active, formal ecumenical association of churches and church leaders. I would otherwise be an active participant in such a group. Thus, I will continue to endeavor informally to reach out to colleagues in neighboring congregations in future months, pandemic permitting, seeking to build some meaningful ecumenical relationships locally. Nationally, I continue to serve as the Lutheran co-chair of the Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion Coordinating Committee.

Additionally, I am heartened by Resurrection Church’s own history of and current expressions of ecumenical commitments. My predecessor, Pastor Scott Ickert, is a committed ecumenist, well-known for his involvements synodically and nationally. And we have a number of members whose current professional and personal passions include involvement in various forms of ecumenical work.

Meanwhile, Resurrection families, like many Christian families today, embody their own versions of ecumenical commitments and realities. We have several mixed church families, especially Lutheran-Catholic, and it gladdens my heart that these families find ways of honoring the other spouse’s own churchly commitments by participating in activities of their spouse’s churches. And it’s especially delightful to me that some of our most active participants at Resurrection are officially members of other churches!

This is perhaps an expression of what is known in ecumenical circles as “spiritual ecumenism,” that is, when commitments to the greater visible unity of the church are lived out in personal and practical ways at local levels.

Thanks be to God for such witness to the unity we in fact enjoy in Christ Jesus, an embodied fulfillment in part of our prayers for Christian unity this week and throughout the year.

Praying along with our Lord that we may all be one – for the sake of the world,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the First Sunday after Epiphany, Baptism of Our Lord

Dear Friends in Christ:

A number of persons have recently asked me why we use the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer in our public worship on Sundays. There’s been sufficient energy around this topic that I am moved to write about it in some significant detail to offer a fuller rationale for using the translation of the Lord’s Prayer that we do on Sundays.

First off, I want to recognize and affirm the power of language that we know by heart. Most of us are more familiar with the older translation of the Lord’s Prayer that continues the use of “thy” and “thine,” more archaic expressions in English that do not generally appear in everyday speech. Knowing the Lord’s Prayer by heart in the version we have grown up with speaks to the power of particular language expressions to form us and to carry deep spiritual and theological meaning for us. We may embody decades of associations and experiences with particular formulations of language that continue to speak powerfully to us. Thanks be to God for the power of God’s word in our lives in the particularities and perhaps peculiarities of language expressions.

But God’s living word is not limited to particular translations. In fact, as you well know, the Lord’s Prayer did not come down from on high in King James Version English. The origins of the Lord’s Prayer date back to traditions prior to Jesus, namely, the Kaddish, a prayer of praise in the Jewish tradition that hallows God’s name. In Jesus’ day and in the very early days of the church, the Lord’s Prayer would have been offered in Aramaic, then the common vernacular. Even the New Testament gospels (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) render somewhat different versions of the Lord’s Prayer in English translations from the Greek, and the biblical versions of the prayer in English bibles are not exactly what we pray on Sundays.

Moreover, the Lord’s Prayer has come to Christian people also in the languages of the nations throughout the centuries. My forebears prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish. Your ancestors likewise would have prayed the prayer in their various mother tongues. All of this variety in translation adds to the richness of God’s living word; it does not detract from or diminish the power of sacred meaning.

Which is to say, human languages are not stuck in time. They change and evolve over the course of generations. Continuing to pray the Lord’s Prayer using a translation that continues some archaic expressions does not robustly acknowledge the fluid nature of human language. More significantly perhaps, continuation of older forms also does not fully acknowledge and honor that God’s word continues to be living and active, such that the timeless truth of the divine word is also expressed in new and renewed ways that make sense to speakers of ordinary language in our own day.

Recall that Martin Luther was passionate about proclaiming the gospel in the vernacular of ordinary people. Hence his turn to use German as the language of liturgy and not Latin. Likewise, passion for making the gospel available in everyday language informed his translation of the Bible into German. Our use of the version of the Lord’s Prayer that is more in keeping with current speech continues the Lutheran passion for vernacular expressions of the gospel, trusting that God’s voice is indeed living and active in the ordinary language employed in liturgy and in prayer.

To get to the particular points of the contemporary vs. traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer, the differences in the translations center on the following points: your vs. thy/thine; sins vs. trespasses (or debts if you’re a Presbyterian); trial vs. temptation. Otherwise, the versions of the prayer are quite similar. On the question of your vs. thy/thine, I’ve already raised the question of the continued use of archaic expressions in the liturgy. The evolution of liturgical expressions in English was such that a more King James style of liturgical language was modified already at least half a century ago. For us Lutherans in North America, that focused on the introduction of the Lutheran Book of Worship in our circles in 1978. Which is to say, the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer, developed by an international, ecumenical consultation on liturgical texts in English, has been around for fifty years. So, referring to the translation as contemporary is something of a misnomer. Many have been using this translation for the majority or all of their lives. Lutheran Book of Worship gave the option of either version of the Lord’s Prayer, the last hold out when all other liturgical language was revised from its more King James style orientations. Evangelical Lutheran Worship also gives the option of either version. At Resurrection Church, as your Pastor exercising my pastoral responsibility for the public worship life of the church and exercising my teaching office, I desire that our liturgical language be consistently in a vernacular of ordinary speech. Hence my decision as Pastor for our public use of the version of the Lord’s Prayer in ordinary but nonetheless dignified and sacred speech.

But there are other important points to be made to illustrate the importance of the common usage of terms. Let’s take up sins vs. trespasses (or debts). Most people arguably associate the word “trespasses” with transgressing property boundaries, as in “No Trespassing” signs. That’s not quite what we generally have in mind when we ask to be forgiven in the Lord’s Prayer. Likewise, if it’s “debts” and “debtors,” we associate those expressions with financial obligations. Thus, “forgive us our sins” is more immediately understandable to most people, especially those new to the faith, who may not have grown up in the Christian tradition, precisely the folk we would hope and pray will also populate our worshipful gatherings.

Now, quite significantly, consider the theological implications of trial vs. temptation in Lord’s Prayer translations. Asking God to “lead us not into temptation” has very different theological meaning than pleading that God would “save us from the time of trial.” First off, I believe that we would affirm together that a loving God whose will is for our well-being would not intentionally lead us into temptation. Luther himself acknowledges this in the Small Catechism and his exposition of the meaning of this petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Luther’s explanation is this: “It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.” If the meaning of this petition of the Lord’s Prayer is as Luther suggests, why not use a translation that more clearly expresses that meaning? Thus, “save us from the time of trial” is the more compelling and theologically faithful translation. “Save us from the time of trial,” also more faithful to the Greek, additionally roots the Lord’s Prayer in the eschatological concerns of both the early and contemporary church, acknowledging that we live and serve in the latter days between Christ’s first and final comings, a period marked both in the Bible and in our historical experience by the faithful enduring various trials for the sake of Christ and our Christian witness. Christians for centuries have questioned the translation “lead us not into temptation.” It’s noteworthy that Pope Francis has also recently asked that Christians not use the translation that prays “lead us not into temptation.”

So, this has been an exploration in some significant detail of the rationale for my decision as Pastor to use the vernacular translation that we do in public worship on Sunday mornings. You may be moved in your own devotions to employ the older translation. But our public use of the more current, vernacular version of the Lord’s Prayer, in sum, is in keeping with Lutheran sensibilities for proclaiming the gospel faithfully and in the vernacular; it’s an expression of our ecumenical commitments in that the newer version was developed in ecumenical consultation; and its use also has an evangelistic thrust in the spirit of loving our neighbors in making good news in Christ more accessibly intelligible to those who may not yet know the old, old story. I invite your generosity of spirit to acknowledge and celebrate the power of God’s living word in the varieties of ways and translations it comes to us.

Seeking to be kept steadfast in God’s word,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Second Sunday of Christmas

Evening Prayer via Zoom on the Day of Epiphany, January 6

Join us for Evening Prayer via Zoom on the Day of Epiphany this coming Thursday, January 6, at 7:00 pm. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. Here is a link to the bulletin for the service that you may actively participate in worship – consider printing this out or having access to it electronically along with Evangelical Lutheran Worship if you have a copy at home.

pdfEpiphany Evening Prayer for January 6, 2022

“Still Planning to Worship in Person, Indoors”

Dear Friends in Christ:

In response to the skyrocketing number of Covid cases in our region because of the Omicron variant, our congregation’s Reopening Planning Group met last evening to discuss the status of our current routines for assembling in person for worship indoors.

Ours was a long and thoughtful discussion, but the group reached near consensus to continue to worship on Sundays in person indoors with some modifications to our current practice.

First, here’s elaborating word on the rationale to continue worshiping in person even amidst the current surge in Covid cases. In terms of the dynamics of the pandemic, we are not where we were a year ago. That is to say, with vaccinations and booster shots and the promise of anti-viral pharmaceutical treatments, most vaccinated people (which seems to include the vast majority of our congregation membership) are not as vulnerable to serious cases of Covid that require hospitalization and may end in death. Moreover, the Omicron variant seems to result in comparatively mild cases of Covid for most people, affecting mainly the upper respiratory system and less-so and less dangerously, the lungs. Epidemiologists are now recommending that we pay more attention to hospitalization rates and numbers of deaths with less attention paid to the sheer number of cases of Covid reported. Thus far, hospitalization and death rates in relation to the Omicron surge are not yet catastrophic. These realities informed our resolve to continue to worship in person on Sundays.

Another dynamic that led to the decision to continue to worship in person is that attendance on the Second Sunday of Christmas (January 2) was 55 when many of us expected attendance in the 20’s or 30’s given the current Omicron-related surge in case numbers in our area. That suggested to our Reopening Planning Group that there is a critical mass of Resurrection members resolved to claim and continue our current routine of Sunday worship in person. The numbers of those committed to worshiping in person are such that the theological principle of Sunday worship reflecting the comparative fullness of Christian community is sufficiently honored, at least in our estimation.

Clearly, whether or not one worships in person in church on Sundays has a lot to do with one’s tolerance for risk at this point in the pandemic. Which is to say, we wish to honor those committed to risking worship in person. But we also want to honor those whose tolerance for risk, dependent on any number of complicated variables, precludes their worshiping in person on Sundays at this time of the Omicron surge. That is to say, no one should feel pressured to attend worship on Sundays, even those who may have leadership responsibilities for worship, including ushers, altar guild members, assisting ministers, readers, choir members, and more. Please know that we respect and honor decisions to refrain from attending worship at this time, and we’ll make due with those who are present on Sundays to lead our worship, even as we seek new volunteers to step forward to assist in leadership. If you’re with us in person on Sundays, consider yourself invited to offer yourself for various leadership roles!

If you happen to be unvaccinated, we strongly suggest getting vaccinated. If you have not yet had a booster shot, we encourage you to get one if you are eligible. Doing so indicates your commitment to the common good. If your moral discernment has led you not to be vaccinated, you may wish to refrain from public worship in person at this time, again, to honor the wider common good.

For those who must refrain from worshiping in person at this time, the livestreaming of our services remains an option (though there will be occasion on some future Sundays when we may not have the personnel to attend to the livestreaming needs). If you are in need of pursuing the livestreaming option, we ask that you at home participate as fully as possible in the worship, reading and singing the assembly’s responses, and not just watch a video.

So, that’s a summary of the rationale for continuing to worship in person at this time. Please know that the Reopening Planning Group will continue to monitor the most current news about the pandemic. We are poised to modify our responses and practices according to our understandings of the most current realities on the ground.

Here now is a summary of what will be our modified approaches to worshiping in person on Sundays:

Masks are still required. Moreover, we ask that you wear an N95 mask or double-mask with a cloth mask atop a surgical mask.

Please be mindful of the occasions when you need to remove your mask, especially during Communion, limiting the length of time that the mask is off. For example, you may consider receiving the bread and then the wine only to consume both with mask off when you step aside from the Communion ministers.

Physical distancing remains in effect. In fact, you’ll note that every other pew is again roped off to promote appropriate distancing. Please be especially mindful of maintaining space between each other.

Singing will largely be limited to the hymns for the time being.

Alas, coffee hour in the fellowship hall is suspended for the time being. While it is wonderful to socialize with each other, that has been the time when interaction has been physically closest and masks have been off when eating and drinking, a particularly risky combination. When the weather becomes more accommodating, we may consider having coffee outdoors.

We are hopeful that all of these modifications to our practice will be short-lived, as medical experts are at this point predicting the Omicron surge may reach its peak in mid-January, tapering off after that point. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, may God in Christ continue to lead us in ways faithful in this challenging season in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom on Wednesday, December 22

Join us for Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom this coming Wednesday, December 22, at 7:00 pm when Grant Aldonas will offer reflections on hopefulness. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. The bulletin is below. Consider printing this out or having access to it electronically along with Evangelical Lutheran Worship if you have a copy at home

pdfAdvent 4 Evening Prayer for December 22, 2021

“Luther and the Meanings of Christmas”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Recently in these midweek messages, I’ve been drawn to returning to Martin Luther to help shed light on the varied meanings of Advent. Now our focus is on Christmas as we endeavor to distill reasons for the season faithful to our inherited biblical and theological traditions. So, here comes more Luther. Returning to the theological charisms of Luther in these messages to reveal meanings of the Christ event is one of the ways I am living into one of our shared visions for mission in our congregation, and that is to proclaim gospel messages in unashamedly Lutheran accents intelligible to our 21st Century context.

We’ve explored Luther on the “your kingdom come” petition of the Lord’s Prayer in relation to Advent. And we’ve looked again at Luther on Mary, with particular attention to the Hail Mary. So, what does Luther say about Christmas? What follows are passages from some of Luther’s sermons which he preached on Christmas. After each passage, I’ll offer observations and elaborations.

In a Christmas sermon, Luther proclaimed: “When they [Mary and Joseph] arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised…. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. God lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink, and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. O what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows utter disregard for what the world is, has, or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has, and does.” (Sermons for Advent and Christmas Day, Martin Luther, Hendrickson, 2017, p. 94)

This passage from one of Luther’s Christmas sermons reveals his characteristic “theology from below,” which calls us to look for God’s activity in ordinary places and people and occasions where, in whom, and when we least expect divine activity, at least from common human understandings. This “theology from below” – and also Luther’s “theology of the cross” – contrast with “theologies of glory” which direct attention to the more extraordinary and spectacular. In short, Luther might say that if you want to see God most active, look where you least expect the sacred, namely, that which and those who seem to be most humble, if not to say, apparently godforsaken.

When Luther uses the word “world” in this sermon passage, he is using the term in the sense of John’s Gospel to refer to ways of thinking and ordering human society which are antithetical to divine ways and wisdom. It’s not that Luther is constructing a “heavenly holiness up there” and “profane down here” never the twain shall meet kind of reality. Not at all. Luther is very much interested in affirming God’s work in the thick of earthly people and things right down here in the muck and mire of places like a stable with all its animals and feed and even animal waste. God in Christ is deeply present and finds a home in the child, God’s very word made flesh, in the feeding trough which we call the manger. That’s what the incarnation of our Lord at Christmas is all about, Emmanuel, God with us in the apparently lowliest of places and people, perhaps especially those most marginalized and oppressed.

Here’s another sermonic Luther passage for Christmas: “We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and absorbs it in his birth, and grants us his, that in it we might become pure and holy, as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth as much as if they had themselves been born of Mary as was Christ.” (ibid., 98)

That God deigns to take human flesh in Jesus, son of Mary, son of God, and to be born in the way that all human babies are born has the effect of sacralizing all human birth, all human beings as children of God, created in God’s image. This view is consistent with the happy exchange articulated in Luther’s treatise, “Freedom of a Christian,” where Luther observes that in faith all that Christ is and all that Christ offers becomes ours in a kind of grace-full, nuptial exchange, the two becoming one shared flesh – even as Christ takes on everything that is human. Such a happy exchange also finds expression in Jesus’ birth to Mary, which makes holy, not by our merit, but by Christ’s, our human ways, including natural childbirth. Thus, by grace, we rejoice, even as Mary and Joseph rejoiced, pondering all these wonders in our hearts during the Christmas holy days.

This view that sacralizes, makes holy, human ways has enormous implications for Christian ethics in Lutheran accents. Which is to say, because Christ, born of Mary, makes us and our human ways holy, we are called to acknowledge and honor the holiness of all people, indeed, all creation, even and perhaps especially those most vulnerable to abuse and oppression, those most forsaken, those most despised.

Here’s yet another Luther quote from a Christmas sermon: “That there were shepherds, means that no one is to hear the Gospel for themselves alone, but everyone is to tell it to others who are not acquainted with it. For they who believe for themselves have enough and should endeavor to bring others to such faith and knowledge, so that they may be shepherds of others, to wait upon and lead them into the pasture of the Gospel in this world, during the nighttime of this earthly life.” (ibid., 106)

Luther suggests in this passage that proclamation of the gospel is a community effort, it’s not the sole domain of the heavenly angels. Indeed, the common shepherd folk share in the announcement of good news for all people that a savior is born to us. Which is to say, preaching the gospel is not just the responsibility of the pastors, the preachers, specially called to that ministry. Indeed, all of God’s people share in gospel proclamation – by standing to proclaim God’s word in song through the hymns of the day, in mutual conversation and consolation with siblings in faith, and by good deeds done in loving service of our neighbors. For when it’s all said and done, we are all beggars showing each other where bread can be found. In short, good news is meant to be proclaimed and shared in many and various ways by many and various people.

A final Luther Christmas sermon quote: “Thus Christ has always been the Life and Light, even before his birth, from the beginning, and will ever remain so to the end. He shines at all times in all creatures, in the holy Scriptures, through his saints, prophets, and ministers, in his word and works; and he has never ceased to shine.” (ibid., 133)

Here Luther makes reference to the prologue to John’s gospel which is featured as a gospel reading for Christmas Day – “In the beginning was the Word…” (cf. John 1:1-18). What is significant here, again in keeping with the sacralization that occurs in creation because of the incarnation of Christ at Christmas and for all time, is that the Light and Life of Christ are not limited to Jesus, but can be identified in all creatures (not just humans!), in the pages of the Bible, in the witness of all saints and prophets and ministers (not just those ordained!), all giving expression to Christ in word and deeds, God’s work, our hands. So it is that the Christly light of Christmas shines during these holy days, and always and forever.

With these hopeful, encouraging, and grace-filled thoughts in mind, may you all have blessed Christmas holy days indeed!

To keep some of the sabbath of these days, there will not be a midweek message from me during the week between Christmas and New Year’s when I’ll be spending time with my son and our family in North Carolina and Georgia.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – in Christ Jesus, God’s word made flesh,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Third Sunday of Advent

Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom on Wednesday, December 15

Join us for Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom this coming Wednesday, December 15, at 7:00 pm when Deacon Mitzi Budde will offer reflections on hopefulness. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. The bulletin is below. Consider printing this out or having access to it electronically along with Evangelical Lutheran Worship if you have a copy at home

pdfAdvent 3 Evening Prayer for December 15, 2021

“In Advent, When Our Eyes are Turned to Mary: Luther on ‘The Hail Mary’”

Dear Friends in Christ:

As the church’s season of Advent deepens and draws closer to Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord, the appointed lectionary passages turn our attention from John the Baptizer to Mother Mary, both of whom ultimately point us to Christ. This coming Sunday’s Psalmody on the Fourth Sunday of Advent features the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, and the gospel reading recounts the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptizer. It’s in the exchange between Mary and Elizabeth where we see part of the biblical foundation for the Hail Mary, long a popular devotional prayer especially for Roman Catholics in the Christian West. When Mary appeared at her house, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42).

Here is the whole text of the Hail Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” The first phrases of the Hail Mary derive from the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation, when the angel said to Mary, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) The second part of the Hail Mary, as stated above, comes from the exchange between Elizabeth and Mary. The third section of the Hail Mary consists of the request for Mary’s intercession for us.

Lutherans generally don’t have a strong devotion to Mary. Thus, Lutherans typically, in my experience, don’t say the Hail Mary. Indeed, much of the Lutheran reforming impulse from five hundred years ago involved the simplification of Christian piety and practice, stripping away layer upon layer of Medieval complexities, including praying to saints for their intercession – all of this for the sake of revealing the centrality of Christ, the essential embodiment of God’s mercy and grace. Thus, Lutherans, with laser focus on Christ, also tend to minimize devotion to Mary.

That said, Luther and Lutherans still hold the mother of Jesus in high regard as theotokos, or God bearer, whose willing yes to God at the Annunciation paved the way for God to accomplish the incarnation, the word of God made flesh in Jesus, Mary’s son, God’s son.

So, at this point in Advent when we focus on Mary beginning this coming Sunday, let’s explore a bit more about what Luther had to say about Mary with particular attention to the Hail Mary. Because of its popularity in the common piety of his day, Luther includes elaboration on the Hail Mary in his Little Prayer Book in which he sought to outline and comment on simple, essential Christian faith practices. That Luther includes the Hail Mary may suggest a place for this devotion in Christian practice, but with evangelical understandings. Here’s an excerpt from Luther’s Little Prayer book on the Hail Mary:

“Let not our hearts cling to [Mary] in faith, but through her penetrate to Christ and to God himself. Thus what the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you [Luke 1:28]; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your body, Jesus Christ. Amen.’ You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor, just as in the first words of the Lord’s Prayer there is also no prayer but rather praise and glory to God, that he is our Father and is in heaven. Therefore we should make the Hail Mary neither a prayer nor an invocation because it is improper for us to interpret the words beyond the meaning given them by the Holy Spirit. But there are two things we can do. First, we can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we can add a wish that everyone may know and respect her [as one blessed by God].” (Martin Luther, “Little Prayer Book,” in The Annotated Luther, Pastoral Writings, Volume 4, Mary Jane Haemig, ed., Fortress Press 2016, p. 192-3)

First off, notice that in Luther’s articulation of the Hail Mary he does not include the final statements, the request for Mary’s prayerful intercession for us – “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Indeed, Luther does not see the Hail Mary as a prayer per se, but an expression of praise of God. Lutherans understand that we pray to God, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, praying to Mary would not make sense in a Lutheran understanding of prayer.

A second point of significance in Luther’s understanding of the Hail Mary is that Luther’s omission of the request for Mary’s intercession means that what is retained in this devotion are only the biblical phrases found in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. Here we see evidence of the faithfulness of Luther to what would become one of the Reformation’s rallying cries, sola scriptura, that is, scripture alone. Our prayer needs no other additions than what is firmly rooted in God’s word.

Moreover, Luther’s elaboration on the Hail Mary makes clear his perspective – one which contemporary Lutherans still uphold – that Mary’s significance consists of what God does through Mary via the Spirit as a willing vessel in making possible the birth of the word made flesh, Jesus Christ. In this way, Mary, like all the saints, embodies a kind of transparency that points beyond herself to Jesus Christ. Mary is iconic in ways that allow us to see Christ. She is not an end in herself, but the willing servant of the Most High to whom her life witnesses and points. In the beginning and in the end, therefore, it’s all about Christ.

That said, in Advent devotion, we can, according to Luther, marvel at God’s grace given to the likes of Mary and by extension to us, thus honoring Mary, and all of God’s children, as vessels and servants of the merciful work of God who in Christ Jesus becomes Emmanuel, God with us, our sibling, our savior.

God in Christ bless you on your journey through the coming holy days in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Second Sunday of Advent

Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom on Wednesday, December 8

Join us for Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom this coming Wednesday, December 8, when Eileen Guenther will offer reflections on hopefulness. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. The bulletin is below. Consider printing this out or having access to it electronically along with Evangelical Lutheran Worship if you have a copy at home:

pdfAdvent 2 Evening Prayer for December 8, 2021

“Especially for Advent, Luther on ‘Your Kingdom Come’”

Dear Friends in Christ:

As we continue our journey through Advent, one of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer may stand out from the other petitions during this season of waiting for Christ’s coming. Namely, the petition, “your kingdom come.” During Advent, our focused attention is on the ways in which God’s reign in Christ comes to us. What does it mean for God’s kingdom, or reign, or dominion to come? What are the signs of such coming?

Martin Luther’s wisdom may offer insights that address our questions about the nature of the reign of Christ and its coming. In addition to his explanation to the petition, “your kingdom come,” in the Small Catechism, Luther elaborates helpfully on this petition in his Little Prayer Book which he compiled as an evangelical aid to basic Christian devotion focused on the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer – for Luther the basic sources for having an understanding of the essentials of Christian faith. Luther’s elaborations on the meanings of “your kingdom come” help us in our Advent devotional life, particularly in this season of life in nation and world when the evidence of the coming of God’s reign in Christ may at first seem remote.

Here’s an excerpt from Luther’s Little Prayer book on the meanings of “your kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. Luther writes, prayerfully addressing God, “Protect us from unbelief, despair, and from boundless envy…. Deliver us from discord, war, and dissention, and let the virtue, peace, harmony, and the tranquility of your kingdom draw near. Help us that anger or other bitterness may not reign over us, but that by your grace, genuine kindness, loyalty, and every kind of friendliness, generosity, and gentleness may reign in us. Grant that inordinate sadness and depression may not prevail in us, but let joy and delight in your grace and mercy come over us. And finally may all sins be averted from us and, being filled with your grace and with all virtues and good deeds, may we become your kingdom so that in heart, feeling, and thought we may serve you with all our strength inwardly and outwardly, obediently serving your commandments and will, being governed by you alone and not following self-love, the flesh, the world, or the devil.” (Martin Luther, “Little Prayer Book,” in The Annotated Luther, Pastoral Writings, Volume 4, Mary Jane Haemig, ed., Fortress Press 2016, p. 186)

Look again at the specific words that Luther chooses in this brief passage lest we conclude that the presence or absence of God’s kingdom is a complete abstraction divorced from our more common experiences.

Luther suggests that the absence of God’s kingdom in Christ is marked by: unbelief, despair, boundless envy; discord, war, dissention; anger, bitterness; inordinate sadness and depression; sin, self-love, the flesh, the world, the devil.

In stark contrast, Luther concludes that God’s dominion in Christ comes and is characterized when these conditions prevail: virtue, peace, harmony, tranquility; genuine kindness, loyalty, friendliness, generosity, gentleness; joy and delight in divine grace and mercy; good deeds; being governed by God in Christ alone.

Luther’s listings remind me of Paul’s indications of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:16-26. Here are the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit according to Paul: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a) Where such fruit of the Spirit is seen, we might conclude that Christ’s kingdom comes and reigns.

Paul’s listing of the works of the flesh – understood not simply or reductionistically as bodily activity, but as a whole orientation of the old, sinful Adam – is similar to Luther’s word choices which reveal the absence of God’s kingdom (cf. Galatians 5:19-21). In fact, I wonder if Luther had in mind Galatians 5 when he wrote his reflections on “your kingdom come” in the Little Prayer Book since the word choices are so similar.

Here’s what I find to be a remarkable moment in Luther’s reflections on “your kingdom come” – Luther suggests that WE become God’s kingdom when, governed by God’s mercy and grace alone, our lives, individually and in Christian community, reflect the qualities of God’s reign in word and deed. Think of it – Christ’s reign comes and is manifest in faithful Christian community, in its life and witness. Thus, God’s dominion in Christ is no ethereal, otherworldly abstraction, but one known in real world experience even now, if we but look closely enough. The church’s witness to Christ’s kingdom is usually quite imperfect and clouded by human sin and brokenness, but there are those occasions in our loving service and witness when the light of Christ’s love breaks through the shadows, revealing Christ’s reign.

Indeed, while there is much evidence of the absence of God’s reign in church and world, because events are so often marked by such qualities as unbelief, despair, boundless envy, discord, war, dissention, anger, bitterness, inordinate sadness and depression, sin, and self-love, there are also and at the same time faithful persons who and communities which embody qualities like virtue, peace, harmony, tranquility, genuine kindness, loyalty, friendliness, generosity, gentleness, joy and delight in divine grace and mercy. Christ’s reign comes when such qualities are manifest in our life together, a reality made possible by the gift of Christ himself, whose presence in word and sacraments inspires our faithful witness in the first place. Thanks be to God.

May our Advent wakefulness and watchfulness open our eyes to see the signs of God’s reign in our midst now, as we become God’s kingdom in Christ by grace alone, even as we await Christ’s more ultimate coming as we ever pray, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.”

In hope and expectation in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the First Sunday of Advent

Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom on Wednesday, December 1

Join us for Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom this coming Wednesday, December 1, when the Rev. Dr. Lowell Almen, former Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will offer reflections on hopefulness. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. The bulletin is below:

pdfAdvent 1 Evening Prayer 2021-12-01

“On Waiting and Christ’s Coming”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Advent, the word, derives from Latin and simply means “to come.” Advent, the liturgical season, relates to the coming of the Lord. In this four-week season, we hear biblical stories that attest to the first advent, the first coming of Christ, the word made flesh born to Mary, Jesus of Nazareth. But some of the appointed scriptural passages for this season additionally point to a coming advent at an undisclosed future time when Christ promises to come again to complete in a second advent what was begun in the first. In this season, we also are attentive to the ways in which God in Christ comes to us even now in our present days in the power of the Holy Spirit working amidst the means of grace, namely, the proclamation of the gospel, baptism, eucharist, confession and forgiveness and the holy conversations among us that proclaim the gospel of grace.

What each advent – the past, present, and future coming of the holy one – holds in common is the theme of waiting, of watching. Waiting and watching are comparatively passive modes of activity. There is nothing we can in fact do to hasten the day or the occasions of Christ’s coming. Here’s a passage from a sermon by Martin Luther for the First Sunday of Advent in 1522 which drives home the point that Christ’s coming to us is the result of God’s sovereign action and not our doing.

Luther proclaims:

“Christ comes, comes to you. Yea, verily, you go not to him, neither do you fetch him. Christ is too high for you, and too far away. All your wealth and wit, your toil and labor, will not bring you near him, lest you pride yourself that your merit and worthiness have brought Christ to you. Dear friend, all your merit and worthiness are smitten down, and there is on your side nothing but sheer undeserving and unworthiness, and on Christ’s side is pure grace and mercy. Here come together humanity in our poverty and the Lord in unsearchable riches. Therefore learn here from the Gospel what happens when God begins to build us into the likeness of Christ, and what is the beginning of saintliness. There is no other beginning than that your king comes to you, and begins the work in you. You do not seek Christ, Christ seeks you; you do not find Christ, he finds you; your faith comes from him, not from yourself, and where he does not come, you must stay outside; and where there is no Gospel, there is no God, but sheer sin and destruction. Therefore ask not where to begin a godly life; there is no beginning but where Christ comes and is proclaimed.”
Luther’s words hit the nail on the head and Luther’s wisdom bids us, then, to wait and watch for those graced occasions when Christ comes to us unbidden as an unmerited gift, a surprise. The liturgical season of Advent is thus all about cultivating this spirit of watchfulness, which invites us to slow down and put aside our frantic busyness.

Yet, such slowing down, such cultivation of a posture comparatively passive receptivity, is the exact opposite of what our secular culture and its ways compel us to do in the weeks preceding Christmas. I write this message on so-called Cyber Monday, a day confected to devote time and energy and money to purchases online. This comes on the heels of so-called Black Friday, when we were bidden to enter the physical temples of consumerism to make our purchases in person, arguably an offering to material idols venerated in our current society. Then we have Giving Tuesday when we are exhorted to make donations to charitable organizations, a laudable directive, but one which nonetheless also contributes to the busyness of these days. The inundation of emails generated by profit and non-profit organizations concerning these secular holy days has been remarkable, each an attempt to goad us into further, frantic activity. Thus, the weeks of Advent, inviting less activity, compete with some of the busiest weeks of the year in our secular routines as another calendar year draws to a close.

Such busyness can be spiritually devastating in drawing our energies and attention away from the more receptive stances of waiting and watching. It may be that such busyness will cause us to miss the many and various ways that Christ already comes to us even now in the ordinary events of our ordinary lives, rooted in the means of grace. Thus, I invite you to claim the counter-cultural aspects of this season of Advent and to lay down some of the many extra items on your seasonal “to do” lists. Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but it can be a compelling thing indeed to claim in practical, routine ways that “less is more.”

That said, our more receptive states of waiting and watching will also not induce Christ to come the more to us! God in Christ still comes when God in Christ wills it. Moreover, God in Christ is more powerful than our busyness and to do lists and the distractions they can cause. Thus, it may be that God in Christ will find you, will come to you, will catch you off guard in graced ways, even amidst your distractions and busyness. Thanks be to God for such surprising gifts that come from outside of ourselves and our routines, graces that break through our defensive postures and reach our deep places for gospel healing and hopefulness and wholeness in God.

May it be so for you, and thus, we still pray, Come, Lord Jesus.

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Reign of Christ

Dear Friends in Christ:

This past Sunday was the Last Sunday after Pentecost – Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday – which brought to a close another year in our church’s liturgical, seasonal calendar. This coming Sunday, November 28, is the First Sunday in Advent, which becomes a kind of liturgical “Happy New Year” for us as we embark on a new year of grace. In the three-year lectionary cycle, we now enter a year that features Luke’s Gospel on many of the Sundays of the year.

While we refer to the liturgical years as cycles, and that is true, as each year features the same festivals and seasons with lectionary readings appointed for a three-year repeating pattern, I invite you to think of our sacred time as spiraling, not simply cyclical. Yes, there are repeating cycles, but time also marches on into the future, namely, into God’s promised future when the divine promise is that Christ will come again to usher in the fullness, the completeness of God’s dominion even here on earth.

So, the cycles do not simply repeat themselves. While the festivals and readings do repeat, they offer the story of Christ and of God’s scriptural word in ever changing seasons and epochs of human and ecclesial history. This season of our life together in this world continues to be marked by the claims of the global pandemic. This season of our life together also features increasing concerns about climate change, as weather-related extremities are increasing in number and intensity from one year to the next. The timeless word will inevitably speak in new and poignant ways in relation to the particularities of our historical moments.

Because of the changes and chances of life, the appointed lectionary readings and the themes of the festivals that we observe and celebrate can take on new meanings for us. The timeless, changeless truths of God’s word erupt with nuances of meaning, renewed emphases on eternal meaning, which results in a freshness of the word in whatever season of history we enter into. In such ways, we come to understand anew that “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Considering Advent, it is perhaps my favorite season of the church year, for a major feature of its energies anchors us in our present time, while pointing us also to God’s promised future. That is to say, Advent is not simply a looking back, though it involves that to be sure as we hear again proclaimed the ancient words of the prophets and others who heralded Christ’s first coming. And yes, Advent culminates in the celebration of Christmas, a looking back to the birth of Christ, but this time also reveals the ways in which God’s word becomes flesh, incarnate, among us even now. That said, again, Advent speaks directly to our particular time now, the between times of Christ’s first advent and the promise of Christ’s ultimate advent to come again to usher in the fullness of God’s reign of peace, well-being, of commonwealth for all people and all of creation.

Our contemporary in between times can be fraught, as if we are caught in a kind of limbo between what Christ started some two thousand years ago and that future promised time shrouded in mystery about when and how Christ will return. And this two-thousand-year (so far) history can seem like a long time, especially when the earliest Christians expected the immanent return of Christ perhaps even in their lifespans. But as I have been fond of saying in Bible Studies and sermons, two thousand years even in the time of human evolution and societal development, not to mention geologic and cosmic and divine time, is but the blink of an eye. While we might claim delay, from God’s perspective there may be no delay at all.

And even amidst our already-but-not-yet epoch, we confess that Christ is fully present with us in word and sacrament, while the Holy Spirit continues through these means to guide us into all truth. Moreover, this is not wasted time, for God has been sending us on a mission for two millennia to proclaim in word and deed the good news of Christ in a world desperate for such good news.

Thus, as we continue to bask in Christ’s presence, and as we look to God’s promised future in Christ, Advent, finally, is a season of hopefulness, indicated by the seasonal color of blue which will be featured on the vestments that I wear and the cloth adorning the place of proclaiming the word. In Christ, we have abiding hope even amidst a seemingly hopeless time in the life of our troubled world. It is that spirit of hopefulness which makes the season of Advent so very compelling to me, and perhaps to you, too.

Here’s what you can expect programmatically in our life together as a congregation in the coming four weeks of Advent:

  • Wednesdays in Advent (December 1, 8, 15, 22): Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom at 7:00 pm featuring Resurrection members who will offer reflections on what gives them hope in a seemingly hopeless time in our troubled world.
  • Sunday, December 12 at 3:30 pm: A worship event for all ages, Parsonage outdoors, the Light of Christ in a season of shadows.
  • Sunday, December 19 at 10:00 am: Service of Lessons and Carols as part of our usual Sunday worship.
  • Sunday, December 19 after worship: decorating our church for Christmas.
  • Sunday, December 19 at 5:00 pm: Christmas Caroling and Worship outside the Parsonage, an opportunity for those unable to worship with us indoors to share in singing and worship in anticipation of Christmas.

With abiding hopefulness in Christ Jesus as we await his advent now and in future days and years to come,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

If you were at church on Sunday or have driven or walked by our church building, you have noticed that the Black Lives Matter banner has been removed. At its meeting on November 11, the Congregation Council voted to approve the removal of the banner to be replaced with a set of three new banners (currently in the process of final graphic design) which features the message of Micah 6:8, “Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with God.” In addition, the banners will herald the name of our congregation, since there is no visible sign for our church on that side of the building. Moreover, the new banners will include the website addresses for our congregation, our synod, and the ELCA Churchwide organization, along with colorful logos related to each.

But it is essential to state that the Council decision is not just about the removal of one banner for the sake of a new set of replacements. The decision about this iconography is but one of several recommendations that the Council also approved. The Black Lives Matter signage fulfilled a purpose of provoking conversation about the persistent problem of racism in our culture and society. While the placement of the BLM signs on church property resulted in division within our congregation among those for and against such explicit public witness, it is also true that all of this was accompanied by conversational engagement in a small group setting with a book by a Black Lutheran pastor’s struggle with racism in the ELCA, statistically the whitest denomination in the nation. This group met monthly for a year via Zoom, becoming ever more willing and able to talk openly about the problems of racism in church and society. For the past year, there has also been Friday movie nights which featured films which opened up discourse about racism.

All of this is to say that our work concerning racism and our commitment to becoming a more open, inclusive and anti-racist congregation will continue. In keeping with the Council’s other recommendations, therefore, you can expect in the coming months further educational offerings and initiatives which seek to result in Resurrection Church becoming an increasingly open and diverse congregation with a more genuine embrace for all people. A Black Lives Matter sign was just a first step toward a much more involved and ongoing effort.

It is also clear from the experience of the division within our congregation that resulted from the Council’s decision well over a year ago to place Black Lives Matter signs on church property that we have work to do to nurture a deeper sense of community within our congregation. Some of this community building will involve improving the trust the wider congregation membership has in the Council. Some felt that the decision to place BLM signs on our property was of such a controversial nature that it called for wider consultation with the congregation before the Council’s decision. So, one of my intents as Pastor going forward is to establish occasions for and avenues toward wider conversation and consultation in the congregation, especially when it comes to controversial matters. Beyond that, we will be well-served to schedule community building events that bring our people together to restore and deepen relationships with each other as members of our congregation.

Another thing we have learned amidst this challenging year is that our congregation would benefit from more educational events which seek to elucidate particularly Lutheran understandings of the relationships between church and state. You can expect to see such educational opportunities in coming months.

All of these efforts will end up serving our aspirational commitments to live what the prophet Micah proclaims, namely, to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. This simple phrase is profound, and it is precisely the kind of message we want to communicate to the wider world even as we seek to embody this same message in our actions, practicing what we preach. For I suspect you would agree with me that there are many injustices in our world that seek redress even as there is a distinct lack of loving kindness in much civic discourse these days, along with a significant absence of godly humility.

For your information and thoughtful consideration, I am including the full set of recommendations that our Council voted to approve at its last meeting. May God in Christ lead us faithfully to live convincingly into these commitments via the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Recommendations approved at the November 11 Congregation Council Meeting:

  1. That the Black Lives Matter banner be removed and replaced with a three-panel banner with our congregation’s name, statements from Micah 6:8, the logos related to our congregation, synod, and churchwide organization, along with these entities’ website addresses.
  2. That the removal of the signs and placement of new signage be accompanied by communication overseen by the Pastor to the whole congregation clearly expressing the rationale for removing the signs as well as stating a commitment to engage in intentional inclusive community building initiatives in our congregation.
  3. That the Council be directed to make plans for activities that serve to repair, renew, and deepen our communal life together as a congregation.
  4. That the Council furthermore be directed to make plans for activities that also serve to make our congregation more inclusive of the wide variety of races, ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities increasingly represented in the greater Arlington area.
  5. That the Pastor and others engage in teaching in the congregation about the nature of the relationship between church and state from Lutheran perspectives rooted in scripture, the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions.
  6. That all of these efforts would be inclusive of the widest possible representation of congregation members reflecting and honoring the diversity of opinion that exists in our community.
  7. That amidst and informed by these educational and formational efforts, a policy/protocol statement be drafted in due course that outlines criteria for moral discernment and decision making about the nature of our congregation’s public witness to our moral commitments.

Week of the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Reformation Day is behind us, but the reforming spirit in Lutheran accents is ever with us. One of the key features of Lutheranism is a celebration of the centrality of God’s word – sola scriptura – and the invitation to be engaged by that word individually in our own devotions but also communally in our worship and in our congregation’s Bible studies. We currently have two separate occasions for group Bible study at Resurrection Church – every other week on Thursday mornings at 11:00 when we look together at one of the upcoming Sunday readings, and then also on Monday evenings at 6:30 when we engage various themes of justice revealed in the scriptures. Both of these Bible studies continue to be offered via Zoom. Also, in January of 2022, a new opportunity for Bible study will be offered when youth director, Amanda Lindamood, and I will co-lead intergenerational Bible studies for all ages. Watch for further word about these opportunities in coming weeks.

A common refrain has consistently emerged whenever we look at biblical passages together, and that is that we become keenly aware of the rich textures of meaning that are revealed when we let the Bible speak with its fullness and when we undertake such engagement together, communally sharing insights, asking questions, all of which deepen understandings. Very quickly we move beyond literal or simplistic first impression understandings of biblical passages, which are often more the result of what we read into the scriptures than what the scriptures actually say.

I also consistently observe in these studies how our time together dwelling with biblical passages is perhaps one of the ways that Jesus’ promise in John’s Gospel is fulfilled in our midst. Addressing the disciples, Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:12-13a) In faith, we trust that the Spirit is guiding us today into such truth when deeper understandings of the scriptures emerge from our Bible studies.

Finally, continuing to extol the importance of Bible study in our life together, it’s also crucial to recall that Martin Luther was given the gift of the rediscovery of the centrality of justification by grace effective through faith when he was involved in rigorous Bible study. Thus, see below Luther’s description of his graced experience of discovery which made all the difference in the world for him, and for the church of his day and for the church in our day even now.

In short, Bible study is powerful stuff. It’s never too late to join in! Consider yourself invited once again.

Seeking to be kept steadfast in the word that is Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman


Martin Luther, “The Tower Experience”

… I had already during that year returned to interpret the Psalter anew. I had confidence in the fact that I was more skillful, after I had lectured in the university on St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the one to the Hebrews. I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart [an allusion to Virgil, Georgics], but a single word in Chapter 1 [:17], “In it the righteousness of God is revealed,” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that He was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’” [Rom 1:17]. There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory, I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which He makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which He makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise. Later I read Augustine’s The Spirit and the Letter, where contrary to hope I found that he, too, interpreted God’s righteousness in a similar way, as the righteousness with which God clothes us when he justifies us. Although this was heretofore said imperfectly and he did not explain all things concerning imputation clearly, it nevertheless was pleasing that God’s righteousness with which we are justified was taught. Armed more fully with these thoughts, I began a second time to interpret the Psalter…. (Luther’s Works, vol. 34. Muhlenberg Press, 1960, pp. 336-38)

 

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