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 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

The remaining Black Lives Matter banner on our church property continues to generate controversy within our congregation, with some members of the congregation passionately supportive of this public witness, and some members passionately opposed to its presence, and others somewhere in between.

At the July Council meeting, President Glen Mason and I were directed to form a working group tasked with developing protocols and criteria to guide discernment and decision-making about the kinds of public witness we make as a congregation, which would include the question of signage on church property.

That working group, more fully described in President Mason’s article for the coming issue of Steeplelight, convened on August 18. As a result of a heart-felt and thoughtful conversation, I made several recommendations which summarized the sentiments of the working group’s conversation, and offered these ex officio as Pastor to the Council for its September meeting. Here are the recommendations:

  1. That the signs expressing stances related to social issues be removed from church property.
  2. That the removal of the signs 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.

Council members were generally quite supportive of recommendations 2 through 7, but there continue to be sticking points on the first recommendation to remove the Black Lives Matter banner. The Council desired more time to thoughtfully consider these recommendations, especially the first one to remove the banner. The Council also, in a spirit of transparency, wished for me to share this outcome of the September meeting to the wider congregation membership – hence this topic as focus for this week’s Midweek Message.

I believe it is important to state again why the Council decided to put up the Black Lives Matter signs in the first place. To summarize the Council’s rationale, here is a salient paragraph from a letter sent to congregation members in the autumn of last year:

“The Council views the Black Lives Matter signs as a Christian statement that while all lives matter, at this moment Black lives are most at risk. The BLM movement was spurred on by the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and has grown into an organization with chapters in cities across the US. As stated in the ELCA Black Lives Matter document: ‘The movement seeks to help people recognize that Black lives matter no less than other lives, and to expose how Black people have been and continue to be dehumanized and considered insignificant, expendable prey in our society… When we say Black lives matter, we are promoting and protecting human rights and living out God’s commandment to love our neighbor.’ We know that we will never reach absolute consensus about sensitive decisions like these. In this time of Black people’s vulnerability to prejudice and harm, we feel called by Christ to announce our support publicly for Black safety and security, and our opposition to racial injustice.” Here is a link to the full text of this letter.

The Council will take up again the proposed recommendations at their October meeting. In the meantime, I invite you to pray for and engage in conversation with members of the Council, Resurrection Church members whom you elected to exercise leadership on your behalf. I also invite your conversations with me and with Council President, Glen Mason.

Even if the banner is taken down, the issues of racial injustice and other social concerns are not going away. Nor is the church’s call to make public witness advocating for a vision of God’s justice in which all people are honored, respected, and given full opportunity to thrive in communities of holistic well-being. Thus, we as a congregation, one way or another, will continue to engage the pressing issues of our day in Jesus’ name, informed by the scriptures, and the theological sensibilities of our Lutheran tradition, along with the commitments of our wider church.

Occasions of actual engagement with each other in our congregation about all of this thus far in my experience have been thoughtful, passionate, and, so importantly, respectful. My prayer is that such a tone would continue as more and more people in our congregation engage in discourse so that the widest possible variety of views may be shared, heard, and honored. Such engagement will make us stronger as a congregation, and will enhance the faithfulness and integrity of our gospel witness to our wider communities.

May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us all in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Rally Day. Gathering Sunday. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a day commonly observed among many protestant churches to mark a return to a new program year in the church which coincides with the beginning of a new academic year in our nation’s schools. Thus, Sunday worship on September 12 will include a blessing of backpacks and prayers for students, teachers, and schools as part of our sending rite as we are propelled by the Holy Spirit back into the world to do the educational and formational work that God has entrusted to us. Prayers will thus also include our Sunday School, its teachers and students, and other Christian education and faith formation initiatives. It’s a day to recommit to our ongoing education and formation in the faith. That is to say, Rally Day is not just for kids. It’s intent is to summons people of all ages into more intentional discipleship. What is a disciple, etymologically speaking, but a student of Jesus Christ? We are all life-long learners on this Christian journey. Thus, if you are not currently active in an education or faith formation initiative of our congregation, I invite you to join in one of our programs. Currently, there’s available to you the Zoom Bible Study on Monday evenings and a Thursday morning Bible Study and Fellowship time, also via Zoom. There’s also the monthly Friday evening film series and discussions. Look for more intergenerational family events this fall led by Amanda and me. And I am open to planning and scheduling other such educational and faith formational initiatives according to your interest. Share with me your thoughts!

September 12 is also “God’s work, our hands” Sunday throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s a day when we partner with our siblings in our wider church throughout the country by participating in local initiatives to benefit those in need in our communities, an opportunity to give public witness to our faith through programs of loving care of our neighbors. This year, we at Resurrection Church will share in “God’s work, our hands” by collecting items of practical benefit to setting up house for refugees from Afghanistan who will settle in our area. Note this week’s announcements for specifics on how to participate in this endeavor.

“God’s work, our hands” on Rally Day 2021 also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon right here in our own backyard, and with the downed plane in rural Pennsylvania. Twenty years ago. Those who are old enough will likely remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on that fateful day when terrorism claimed the lives of so many, and altered our ways of life to this day. Indeed, it’s as if all hell broke loose on that day in September twenty years ago, and we in nation and world are still suffering the ill effects of what was unleashed on that day.

So it is that our modest efforts this coming Sunday have an added poignancy. Intersecting crises continue to confound and trouble us and make life unsustainable for the most vulnerable. Thus, activities after worship during our coffee hour will include opportunities for some letter writing – thanks to first responders to disaster and in managing Covid 19, and advocacy for Afghani refugees settling in our area, for climate justice, for tenant rights, especially those facing eviction. And more – again, please note this week’s announcements for further details. This Sunday is also our usual bi-monthly in-gathering of food items to benefit the hungry and food insecure in the Arlington area.

Still more, Rally Day also begins our attempted return to more usual programming and activities in our congregation. Beginning this Sunday, Worship will begin now at 10:00 am rather than 9:30 to accommodate Sunday morning choir rehearsal since our choir is coming back after their summer break. This week also marks the return of regular hours in the church office. Beginning on Monday, September 13 church office hours will generally be Monday through Friday, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Monika Carney and I will engage our onsite, in person work during these times. But before you stop by, it may be wise to call or email us first in case one or both of us is called out on an errand, meetings, or emergency. Our Congregation Council this fall will also begin the task of discerning and deciding how in particular and concrete ways we will endeavor to live into our new vision statements for mission and ministry in our congregation and community. God’s work, our hands, to be sure.

Finally, Rally Day 2021 occurs amidst the ongoing claims of the pandemic. Thanks be to God this year that we are worshiping in person and indoors, and that our building is generally more available for use. But, because of the claims of the Delta variant of the coronavirus and the fact that children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, programming for children and youth will continue online or in person outdoors with masks. Other meetings and activities may continue to occur via Zoom, also because of the vagaries and twists and turns of the coronavirus. We will be patient and flexible as we live into whatever our new realities will be.

This raises the question of who will rally with us on Rally Day. Who and how many of our members will regularly return to our congregation’s activities? That remains to be seen, and is a matter of concern. But whoever joins in will constitute the assembly of believers that makes for church who will have a share in God’s loving work for the world. God uses our own hands for this work. That’s a marvel to behold.

Thus, may God in Christ lead us into this new program year faithfully and with courage and hope in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Throughout the pandemic, I have written repeatedly that our practices of restraint – mask wearing, physical distancing, and earlier, refraining from worship indoors – emerge in our Christian freedom, a freedom understood as a stance taken in love for our most vulnerable neighbors.

Recall Martin Luther’s take on freedom understood from a Christian point of view in his treatise, “Freedom of a Christian” – “a Christian person is a free sovereign, above all things, subject to no one. A Christian person is a dutiful servant in all things, subject to everyone.” That’s the double-sided paradox of Christian freedom.

In the popular imagination of many in current American society, it seems that the understanding of freedom is limited to the first part of Luther’s paradox, that each of us is a free sovereign, above all things, subject to no one – full stop. Concerning the refusal to wear masks, freedom is frequently invoked, but it’s a liberty understood as a freedom from restraints, constraints, laws, and mandates. There are genuine flash points – sometimes fisticuffs erupting on flights in rebellion against federally mandated mask wearing requirements.

In my view, understandings of freedom reduced to freedom from constraints is more aptly described as licentiousness, a term often used to refer to sexual promiscuity, but more broadly can refer to a kind of reckless abandonment of and disregard for any kind of limitation or restraint on behavior. Quite frankly, such reductionistic views of freedom can be dangerous and can literally lead to the death of innocent people. Thus, Lutheran understandings of freedom are called for in our current societal debates.

We are all sick and tired of being sick and tired of the pandemic. Adding to the struggles, scientific views shift as scientists acquire new understandings and knowledge – and then public policy shifts as well provoking confusion and frustration. Should we wear masks or not? Should we get a vaccination booster or not? It’s all so bewildering.

Certainly, as we make plans for the beginning of a new program year on September 12 – Gathering Sunday on the ELCA’s God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday – we anticipated greater freedom from restraints in our life together. But the Delta variant and its effects have reintroduced a renewed sense of caution, and a return to mask-wearing in a lot of places and circumstances. I am weary of it all and confused.

And in this weariness, and its attendant frustrations, it could be tempting to abandon or sidestep our loving Christian discipline and backslide into a one-sided view of our freedom as a licentious freedom from constraints.

Moreover, notions of freedom can be philosophically and theologically abstract on their own and sometimes far removed from our personal experience, especially when we who are privileged may not have personally known many who have suffered from the ravages of covid and the pandemic’s effects.

Thus, it’s important to bring all of this close to home and to introduce a personal dimension to the debates tearing at the fabric of our society. So, I offer here a personal testimony, a word of thanks from one of our own members, a testament of appreciation for the loving restraint of many of our congregation members in their response to the safety concerns of Sandy Lindamood, who continues to struggle with the complexities of recovery from recent major surgery, and who thus is among those most vulnerable to Covid.

Here is the note of thanks I recently received from Sandy’s mom, Judy Hughes:

Pastor Linman,

 

In trying to count my blessings during this crazy time, I’ve been reflecting again on Christian freedom, the freedom of a Christian to love one another and do the right thing. As I've acknowledged Sandy's situation and the need for us to be around only fully vaccinated, masked people who limit, as much as possible, their own exposure to the unvaccinated, to a person, no one in our RELC community has been negative. Members have been supportive and affirming, individually and collectively. Our RELC unvaccinated children are a concern for all of us, of course. I received a loving email from a mother that I serve on a committee with who offered to not attend something so Charlie and I could! Unnecessary, but I so appreciated the loving embrace. Anyway, hope this lightens your day. Faith in action.

 

God is Good,

Judy

May this personal testimony close to home put the winds of the Holy Spirit back in our tired, worn sails to redouble our efforts in Christ, helping us unwaveringly to do the right and loving thing in seeking to be dutiful servants in all things, subject to everyone.

For God in Christ is good indeed,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Week of the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Despite the fact that he was not able to join us on Sunday, I nonetheless am moved to share with you the sermon which the Rev. Lowell Almen, former Secretary of the ELCA, intended to preach among us this past Sunday morning. Drawing on long and abiding associations with and deep respect for the clergy who serve as military chaplains, Pastor Almen relates poignant stories and experiences to Sunday’s second reading from Ephesians concerning our being clothed with the full armor of God.

Many thanks to Lowell for his willingness to offer to us his sermonic recounting and reflections. May God bless you in the reading of this proclamation.

Pastor Jonathan Linman

“From Down Range to New Hope”

For Resurrection Lutheran Church, Arlington, Virginia
By the Rev. Lowell G. Almen
Copyright ©️ 2021

Hear again from Ephesians, the sixth chapter: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of the Lord’s power. Put on the whole armor of God…, so that you may be…ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”

I had just arrived at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Command Chaplain Gary Garvey was giving me a brief tour of the base. He served for a quarter century as an Air Force chaplain.

Throughout the 20 years that I served as the ELCA’s first secretary, I met with the Lutheran military chaplains at their annual conference. I found them to be an amazing, dedicated group of pastors – pastors focused clearly on the work that they had been called by the church to carry out as chaplains.

At one of those conferences, Chaplain Garvey told me he had just been assigned as command chaplain at Ramstein. He urged me – sometime when I would be in Europe for ecumenical meetings – … he urged me to add a couple of days to the trip to visit Ramstein. I was able to accept that invitation in late August 2005 – 16 years ago this coming week.

When Chaplain Garvey was giving me a tour of Ramstein, there was a sudden change in plans. He received notice that a plane was coming in with wounded from “down range” – in that case from Iraq. The driver turned the van in the direction of the airfield to meet the plane.

The C-17 Medevac aircraft taxied to a stop on the tarmac. The plane’s side door opened quickly. Chaplain Garvey stepped onboard. I followed him. What I saw amazed me: Stretchers stacked four deep in two rows down the center of that large transport plane. Walking wounded filled the side benches the length of the plane.

Chaplain Garvey greeted individually each of the wounded on the stretches. Then he helped carry the stretchers to awaiting vehicles. Soon, they would be on their way to the nearby Landstuhl Hospital. There they would be evaluated. Some would be treated at Landstuhl. Others would be prepared for flights to Walter Reed here in Washington, D.C.; others would be sent to facilities in San Antonio.

I learned that each Medevac flight – sometimes six or seven or more a day – was met by a chaplain. That pattern had been started in late 2004. It began as the fighting in Iraq became intense, especially in the 2004 Battle for Fallujah.

As some may remember, Fallujah is a strategic city in Iraq that is located about 40 miles west of Baghdad. During the early days of the Iraq War, the fight for that city began in the spring of 2004. In months of ferocious house-to-house fighting against well-armed insurgents, many Marines were killed. Many, many more were gravely wounded. By the time the planes with those wounded Marines from Fallujah were arriving in Ramstein in 2004, the wounded would be regaining conscientious. They had been put into a drug-induced sleep at the start of the flight. In their intense pain and confusion as they awoke on the plane, they would strike out and fight the medical personnel tending to them. Amid their fog of pain and medication, they were terrified. Some thought they had been captured by the enemy. They did not know where they were. But one day when a chaplain who happened to be at the airfield stepped onto the plane, a discovery was made. The wounded on the plane became quiet. They settled down. They knew they were safe. How? They saw the cross on the chaplain’s uniform. By the sign of the cross, they realized that they were in safe hands. By the sign of the cross, they understood that they were with people ready to care for them.

Many times a day during the Iraq War, C-17 Medevac planes would land at Ramstein – day and night. The planes were carrying wounded from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Sometimes there even would be wounded civilian contractors on board.

Throughout the years of continuing battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands upon thousands of wounded arrived at Ramstein. Awaiting on the tarmac for each plane was a chaplain – a chaplain ready to climb on board as a symbol of hope and compassion.

Those soldiers that I saw that day in August 2005 were all on a journey, a journey from downrange to new hope – a journey with the help of chaplains, medical doctors, health-care workers, stretcher bearers, and others. And, by the sign of the cross, the church was there through the presence of the chaplains.

Most of us have not experienced what those Marines faced in the Battle of Fallujah. Most – perhaps all of us – never will. But we face our own challenges and struggles – some deep within us, others maybe around us. We, too, can be reassured by the sign of the cross. That sign means God is at work in us. God is at work bringing reconciliation amid division. God is at work bringing healing amid pain. God is at work bringing hope amid discouragement.

In many ways, we have our own journeys from down range to new hope. For those journeys, today’s reading from Ephesians offers guidance.

The Letter to the congregation at Ephesus is attributed to St. Paul. But it actually was written about a quarter century after St. Paul’s martyrdom along the Appian Way just south of Rome. The writer clearly knew of Paul’s actual writings. Indeed, the writer echoes Paul’s profound sense of the church … Paul’s conviction of our unity in Christ reflected throughout the whole community of faith.

Ephesus at that time was an important city of commerce. Roads into and out of the city were active with traffic for goods. And the place had a significant seaport for shipping throughout the Mediterranean.

But a difficult time of persecution was underway. Those believers at Ephesus were called to battle –battle against the forces of evil … battle against the threats to the church’s unity … battle against all that would threaten them in the journey of faith.

Thus, we have that image of military equipment:

  • Put on the whole armor of God…
  • Be strong. Be strong in the Lord…
  • Keep alert…
  • Carry the breastplate – the protective armor – of righteousness…
  • Fasten on the belt of saving truth…
  • Take the shield of faith…
  • Put on the helmet of salvation…
  • And pray … pray not only for yourselves but pray for all of the saints … all those joined together in the church throughout earth and heaven.

Our journey from whatever is down range for us to new hope is always one of confession and faith. As we heard the Apostle Peter declare in today’s Gospel: “Lord, to whom shall be go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Under the sign of the cross, we move from down range to new hope.

Copyright ©️ 2021

Week of the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

When it comes to the current state of our congregation, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that we have been worshiping indoors again for seven weeks now with a routine that honors both liturgical integrity and safety concerns about the ongoing claims of the pandemic. Our attendance has ranged from the mid-forties to the upper-sixties, a good critical mass of people, a genuine Christian assembly, reflecting a strong core of active membership.

The bad news is that these attendance figures are well below where we were as a congregation before the pandemic. It may be that some are claiming vacation time away, having put trips on hold earlier in the pandemic. It may be that some are not yet comfortable coming back in person, a concern heightened perhaps by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. It is also true that we’ve had about half a dozen active families move out of the Arlington area in the past year. But I also fear that for whatever sets of reasons, there may be members who will simply not come back. The pandemic has created the opportunity for us to take stock of our lives and routines and has given permission to alter how we spend our time and express our commitments. It may be that for some, church is no longer on the list of priorities.

The good news is that our congregation currently enjoys a solid financial position. With assets in reserve, and expenses generally running below budget, and with the ongoing faithfulness of generous people, we are holding our own amidst the tumult of the pandemic.

The bad news is that giving by members in total dollars has been down quite noticeably during most of 2021. If these downward giving trends continue, this will have serious implications for current and future budget plans and will limit the extent of our capacities for mission and ministry.

The good news is that Resurrection Church is blessed with a solid core of volunteers who give a great deal of time and energy and skill to the practical needs and opportunities of the routines of our life together. I have been consistently impressed with the high quality of our lay leadership across the board.

The bad news is that many of these volunteers wear many hats in the congregation, and some are tired and being spread too thin. Where are the reserves of people who are willing to step up to be worship assistants, readers, altar guild members, ushers, members of our hospitality team, and new to our life together, videographers? If we are to pursue even the current level of activity without risking volunteer burn-out, we need to increase the numbers on our various teams of leaders.

I could go on with additional good news-bad news scenarios, but the point is that we do not yet know what the emerging realities will be in our life together as a congregation as a new normal begins to appear on the horizon. Still, the fact is that we need to be prepared for the likelihood that Resurrection Church will not exactly be what it was prior to the pandemic. In fact, even before the pandemic, Resurrection was a congregation in a state of major transition after a pastorate of almost a quarter century, and with other significant staff changes, including our musician who skillfully served us for half a century. That the pandemic happened amidst major transition already underway only complicates matters further.

If you have observations about the current state of our life together as a congregation, I would love to hear from you. Your insights, which may differ greatly from mine, will serve to deepen understandings of Resurrection Church’s current circumstances, its challenges and its opportunities.

Indeed, we shall see what kinds of realities emerge, especially after Labor Day when a new program year gets underway. The Reopening Planning Group recommends that we continue with our current practices of worship indoors, maintaining universal mask wearing and physical distancing, as we journey forth together into the future.

But here’s the final proclamation of good news for which there is no corresponding statement of bad news: God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit remains present among us in assembly in word and sacrament when two or three gather in Jesus’ name. That bedrock reality cannot ultimately be taken from us, and that’s the solid foundation on which we will share in God’s work of building whatever congregational configurations and realities that are in store for us in God’s promised future.

Thus, onward with hopefulness in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

This coming Sunday, August 15, is the day in our liturgical calendar set aside for the commemoration of Mary, Mother of Our Lord. In our worship, we will observe the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, honoring the central place of the Lord’s Day in our life together. That said, the commemoration of Mary is also a significant occasion that invites some focused attention. Thus, I here offer some reflections on Mary from a personal perspective, but also from my vantage point as a Lutheran pastor.

In my own piety and faith practice, Mary has never occupied a particularly prominent place, though I admit to having had some significant spiritual experiences in which Mary has played a central role. The place of Mary, or lack thereof, has been a feature of the kind of Lutheranism, or Protestantism more broadly speaking, that defines itself over against Roman Catholicism, the kind of negative identity that basically concludes that “I am Lutheran, or protestant, because I am not Catholic.”

However, it is important to acknowledge that Martin Luther himself continued to honor the place of Mary in Christian life as Theotokos, or God bearer, Mother of God. Here are Luther’s own words in his work on “The Magnificat,” and I quote at length to give you a good sense of Luther’s views:

“‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.’ The ‘great things’ are nothing less than that [Mary] became the Mother of God, in which work so many and such great good things are bestowed on her as pass [human] understanding. For on this there follows all honor, all blessedness, and her unique place in the whole of [humankind], among which she has no equal, namely, that she had a child by the Father in heaven, and such a Child. She herself is unable to find a name for this work, it is too exceedingly great; all she can do is break out in the fervent cry: ‘They are great things,’ impossible to describe or define. Hence [we] have crowded all her glory into a single word [Theotokos], calling her the Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her or to her, though [they] had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees, or grass in the fields, or stars in the sky, or sand by the sea. It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God.” Luther’s Works, vol. 21 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), 326.

The role of Mary in the Christian faith tradition arguably reveals more about God than it does about Mary herself. Indeed, one of the qualities of Christian saints is that they point beyond themselves to reveal God in Christ. What do we learn about God from Mary? In short, the God whom we confess, worship, adore, and serve is not a God who imposes divine will on human beings. This reality is a crucial feature of the Annunciation story, when the angel Gabriel visited Mary with the sacred word of Mary’s call to become pregnant with and give birth to God’s word made flesh in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation would not have occurred had it not been for Mary’s yes to the angel’s announcement in her willing assent: “Let it be to me according to your word” (cf. Luke 1:38). Thus, God calls human servants in such a way as to evoke their cooperation, their willingness to abide by the divine call. Moreover, the Holy Spirit inspires such willing cooperation when we cannot muster such assent to God’s will and call on our own steam. Thus, it was that “the Holy Spirit [came upon Mary], and the power of the Most High [overshadowed her]” (cf. Luke 1:35a). Then she was able to offer her ‘yes’ to God.

In addition to Mary’s role in pointing to God in Christ, Mary also reveals to us the nature of Christian discipleship. In crucial ways, Mary is the quintessential disciple of Jesus Christ. That is to say, as a follower of Jesus, her son, she herself at first was pregnant with the divine word and gave birth to that word who was Jesus of Nazareth. Mary’s discipleship began and was centered on her womb being full of the word and her giving birth to that word for the sake of the whole world. All disciples of Christ are called likewise to be pregnant with the word of God, to dwell in worshipful and studied ways with the word in scripture and in the sacramental life of the church, to internalize that word, to incorporate that word by the power of the Holy Spirit into the fullness of who we are, and then to birth that word in deeds of love of the neighbor and in witness to the God made known in Jesus Christ. In short, in modeling faithful Christian discipleship, Mary leads the way.

These perspectives on Mary may not add up to the kind of piety and devotion known in other Christian traditions such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but they nonetheless suggest the crucial place of Mary in our Christian life together in terms both of what she reveals about God and what she demonstrates about the nature of discipleship of Jesus Christ.

With thanksgiving to God in Christ for Mary’s willing assent to the divine will. May we likewise be inspired to proclaim, “let it be to us according to God’s word!”

In Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

One of my parental goals when Nathan spends the better part of the summers with me in Arlington is to provide meaningful experiences of what our area has to offer. Visiting Smithsonian museums, naturally, tops the list. But this summer, I had the additional goal of seeking to cultivate in my child a spirit of volunteerism in offering community service. Thus, we reached out to Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to see if we could volunteer once a week in their program to feed the hungry and food insecure in our community. I am told that Resurrection Church was among the organizations that was instrumental in AFAC’s founding in 1988. We as a congregation have financially supported AFAC ever since, even as we have also provided regular in-kind donations of food items which we collect now every two weeks.

So it is that Nathan and I have journeyed to AFAC’s headquarters in south Arlington each week for 90 minutes of flesh-time volunteering. One day, we bagged servings of dry beans. On another occasion, it was transferring onions from 50-pound bags into smaller bags that contained a few onions for family use. On still another day, it was going through crates of sweet corn to place into smaller bags a few ears of corn for families in need. All healthy, wholesome, fresh food options.

I likened our efforts to the factory work that I briefly did as a temporary worker at the time AFAC was founded in 1988 when I was waiting for a congregational call as a freshly graduated seminarian approved for ordination. The factory-style work was physically rigorous for Nathan and for me. Our efforts were made all the more challenging because the manual dexterity needed to get the jobs done efficiently was hampered by the requirement, for hygiene reasons, of wearing gloves. This was honest labor, evoking in me a sense of thankfulness that I am privileged to have the kind of job that I do, and that I do not have to do physical labor eight hours a day every working day. Accompanying my appreciation for my spiritual vocation has also been thankfulness for the many people who do in fact do this kind of work that keeps us all fed.

Nathan and I were among a cadre of volunteers and staff members from many walks of life. Some volunteers were retirees meaningfully giving back to society time and energy. Some were likely people in the criminal justice system required to do community service. Others were college students doing community-oriented work on summer break. But there we were together in shared effort, motivated variously, to benefit those in need in our community. These were lovely occasions of togetherness, even if we did not have a chance to really get to know each other because we were focused on our volunteer efforts.

If you’ve not had a chance to visit the AFAC headquarters just off South Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington, I encourage you to pay a visit. It’s a large, clean facility, run efficiently, at least from my vantage point. And they are expanding their square footage in the renovation of an adjacent building for ever expanding social service.

As I’ve observed several times previously in my writing, teaching and preaching, I am heartened that a hallmark of our congregation’s ministry and mission is its commitment to financially support local organizations like AFAC. And as I’ve also said, I am hopeful that we as a congregation can grow in our capacities to put “flesh in the game,” as it were, with incarnate, in-person donations of time and talents to these same and other community organizations.

I pray that I have planted a seed of volunteerism in my child through this summer activity at AFAC. For when we offer ourselves in person, inspired by the generosity of our gracious God, we offer the world ongoing expressions of the divine word still being made flesh in diakonia, in service, extending in incarnate ways God’s love and mercy in Christ Jesus for the world’s most vulnerable people in need.

Thanks be to God in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

For a few weeks now, we’ve returned to the privilege of worshiping upstairs in our nave – again, I say, thanks be to God. But the rest of our building is also open for creative use as well. Thus, I want to share with you thoughts on a lovely event that took place downstairs in our fellowship hall on Saturday evening, July 17.

Throughout the time of the pandemic, our Christian Education Committee has been meeting almost monthly via Zoom to continue to plan events and programs for Christian faith formation in our congregation. Of course, most of these initiatives have been creatively virtual. Given the current waning nature of the pandemic in our area, we wanted to host an event for and with our younger members in person. The plan was to undertake activities outdoors on the parsonage deck, patio, and yard. Mother Nature had other weather-related plans last Saturday evening with the threat of rain.

Here’s what happened, then, downstairs in the fellowship hall: just over 25 children and adults gathered for grilled hot dogs, among other picnic-style foods, and then, once fed, we all formed an assembly line to decorate and fill 120 paper bags with comparatively healthy snack foods to support the Arlington Housing Corporation’s summer tutoring efforts with children of low-income families in our area. The snacks are provided to keep kids energized while doing their homework during in-person summer camp. Arlington Housing Corporation, by the way, is a non-profit developer of affordable housing for low-income families and individuals in our region.

This three hour or so (when you count set up and clean up) represents our beginning to return to normal and routine programming beyond Sunday worship in the life of our congregation. But here’s what else I see as your pastor, as one called to teach about the bigger picture of how God is active in our life together, how the varied ministries of the church hold together in Christ. The tables we set with food for participants and the tables that comprised the focus of the assembly line to fill snack bags were all extensions downstairs of the table set directly upstairs that hosts Christ’s presence under the forms of bread and wine in the sacrament of the altar. Thus, upstairs links with downstairs as an extension of the sacrament, as an expression of ongoing sacramental living, when we go from one table to the others and back again. To put it more simply, we are fed by Christ upstairs so that we are energized downstairs for the work of feeding others who dwell well beyond the walls of our church building.

This simple event that took place Saturday evening links our congregation with our wider community and its varied organizations, in this case, Arlington Housing Corporation. And through this organizational linkage, God’s people at Resurrection, younger and older, were linked with God’s people among the low-income children and families of our area. It’s a beautiful occasion revealing our interdependence with people in our wider communities, even if we’ll never meet in person those who benefit from our ministry of diakonia, of loving serving to neighbors in need.

Resurrection Church is consistently very generous in our financial support of a wide variety of community social service organizations. On Saturday evening, July 17, over twenty-five of us put some skin in the game, as it were, in volunteering time and energy in person to benefit others. I hope and pray that there will be other such occasions when our members can volunteer their time and talents in person beyond our financial generosity in sending donations to benefit those in need.

The activities on Saturday evening were fun. Our younger ones had occasion to interact with each other again, albeit while wearing masks. Adults got to connect with each other, too, in socializing conversations. And the generations interacted together, when a number of adults, myself included, sat at the tables decorating the brown paper bags and getting in line to fill them with snacks. Saturday evening became for me a kind of fulfillment of my vision for ministries at Resurrection – different age groups working together in fun ways to also benefit those in need in our wider community. And all of this flowed from the fact that we gather each Sunday at our table upstairs to receive Christ so that we can adjourn downstairs to other tables to do the work – God’s work, our hands – that makes a contribution to the sacred mission of feeding and healing the world, one small step at a time. Thus it is that the ordinary becomes extraordinary as normal routine and churchly activities reveal their holiness. I thought you’d like to know!

In Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

On July 4th, the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, I had the privilege of welcoming home those of you present in our usual place of Christian assembly, the nave of our church building where we engage the greater incarnate fullness of our life together. This word of welcome for this homecoming occurred at the baptismal font, the place of our beginnings and our endings in church, in life, in faith. I said, “How good, Lord, to be here,” an allusion to Peter’s remark on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus appeared before the disciples in dazzling apparel and in converse with Moses and Elijah, a mountaintop experience, literally and spiritually.

This past Sunday’s return to worshiping indoors was a mountaintop experience for many of us gathered in that place – there were 69 in attendance. Prior to the pandemic, we might have taken for granted our routine of weekly Christian assembly for worship. For some sixteen months we fasted from those ordinary and most central of Christian practices. Lest we take for granted even our pandemic routines of worshiping at home in diaspora, think for a moment about how unprecedented this year-and-a-half has been in the full length and breadth of two thousand years of Christian history. There have been few times and occasions in all of Christian history when so many of the faithful in so many countries have absented themselves, by choice or necessity, from public Christian worship for such a length of time. In this season of our life together, we’ve been part of Christian – and world – history that is one for the record books, a season of intersecting crises which scholars no doubt will write extensively about in years to come.

Thus, given this wider historical context, it was its own transfiguring, mountaintop experience for us to return to our extraordinary ordinary practices. Indeed, as we sang the entrance hymn together, accompanied by our wonderful pipe organ played by our skilled organist, and the liturgical ministers proceeded down the center aisle, I was verklempt. Maybe some of you present were, too, at some point(s) during the liturgy.

It was, on the one hand, wholly ordinary for me as a pastor to do what pastors do in preaching and presiding. While it’s been an entire year and half since I’ve done indoors in a proper church nave what is so central both to my personal and vocational identity, and I’ve only preached and presided in our nave one previous time, the experience on Sunday was quite natural. Kind of like riding a bike after a long time of not doing so – you don’t forget how to do it.

Yet, on the other hand, our return to Christian normalcy had a transcendent quality as well because of our longtime hiatus, our extended period of fasting from our feasting. Our ordinary routine this past Sunday could not help but be extraordinary. Sacred, transfiguring, experience is like this, when ordinary routines are broken open with glimpses into the extraordinariness of transcendence in Christ. And in those openings, new, renewed, poignant holy meanings come flooding forth – from the pages of scripture, from the texts of hymns, maybe from the sermon, from the prayers, from the sacramental and other ceremonial moments. Old words and routine practices suddenly emerge as new and fresh, full of living, divine presence. This is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in, with, and under the means of grace which serve as the focal point of our worship. The intersections between the given-ness of timeless, revealed, objective truth and the changes and chances of our ever-shifting circumstances make for eruptions of holiness. Sunday was one of those points of confluence which made our routine time together more extraordinary, dazzling, illuminating in holy ways centered on Jesus Christ.

And like those on the Mount of Transfiguration, we descend back into the valleys of our lives, and our ordinary routines, despite the fact that Peter in the story wanted to make three dwelling booths so they could all remain on the mountaintop. But we cannot stay on the mountaintop. Again, spiritual life is like that, more ordinary and routine than extraordinary. But thanks be to God for the occasional mountaintop experiences. Thanks be to God that we’ve gone back indoors for worship to resume again the greater, three-dimensional fullness of our live together in person.

Our return indoors this past Sunday was conceived by our leaders as something of a soft return to our practice, occurring as it did on a holiday weekend when others may have been traveling or may have had other plans. Thus, we will more formally mark our return indoors this coming Sunday, July 11, with a rite for re-gathering at the beginning of the service. This rite, developed for use throughout our ELCA, will give us occasion to lament that which and those whom we have lost during the time of pandemic as well as to give thanks and praise to God for our return to our more usual life together.

Join us as you are able this Sunday – and in the weeks and months ahead!

In Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I’ve always loved synod assemblies, even since the years of my youth. Early in my high school days, I attended the convention of the Illinois Synod of the Lutheran Church in America as part of the youth convo. Church geek that I’ve always been, I managed somehow to sneak out of the youth activities to attend forums for adult delegates on the introduction of what would become the Lutheran Book of Worship. I was thrilled, and hooked. Thus, I am one of those pastors, sometimes a rarity, who looks forward to and thoroughly enjoys the synodal assemblies of the wider church.

The Metropolitan Washington DC Synod held its 2021 assembly on Friday evening and all-day Saturday, June 4-5 – and all of this via Zoom due to the ongoing effects of pandemic restrictions! It took a great deal of effort on the part of assembly planners to pull this off. We had our own annual congregational meeting at RELC via Zoom, which involved excellent planning initiative of our own members. Pulling off a whole synod assembly via a virtual format was exponentially a much greater task.

Our Metro DC Synod did all the usual assembly things. We passed a number of resolutions, undertook a variety of elections, passed a new budget/mission spending plan, hosted keynote presentations, sponsored small group break-out sessions, shared in worship – all via Zoom. Here is a link to Assembly highlights should you wish to see the specifics in greater detail.

My sense is that we are in pastorally caring, prophetically challenging, and administratively competent hands under the leadership of Bishop Leila Ortiz and staff. On a personal note, at my first meeting of the Candidacy Committee when I was new to the bishop’s staff of Metro New York Synod, we approved Leila Ortiz for ordination. It is gratifying to see that someone who was formed under the care of Metro NY Synod has blossomed so fully and so quickly in leadership for our church.

Moreover, I am pleased with and impressed by the extent of cultural and racial diversity among those elected to various offices and positions at this assembly.

While I generally support the social issues for which our synod advocates, I long to see throughout all expressions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America a more deeply rooted and richly textured biblical and theological foundation laid to articulate why we advocate for the social issues that we do because we are a church, and not just another social service or non-governmental organization. There is so much wisdom to draw from, discover, and re-discover in our own Lutheran theological traditions which could make the case solidly for our prophetic advocacy and witness to the world for such a time as this. Not rising to this occasion is a missed opportunity in my estimation.

But what I missed most in this synod assembly via Zoom was in fact being church and doing church together in person, in the flesh. In the polity of the ELCA, a synod in assembly is an expression of the church, as is each of our congregations when gathered around Christ in word and sacrament, as is the churchwide organization in assembly. Let’s not overlook the fact that we are also in our wider church contexts Christ’s body as we are convened around and rooted in the means of grace in the assembly of God’s people brought together in the power of the Holy Spirit. The incarnate dimensions of folk assembled in person was for me a painful absence in doing synod assembly via Zoom. A crucial feature of being church together in assembly are the conversations and collegial interactions that occur in the hallways and over communal meals and drinks at the hotel bar – all potential eruptions of mutual conversation and consolation among siblings in Christ, a form of the gospel according to Luther. Virtually all of this was missing in this year’s Zoom assembly. The Zoom format also radically minimized the give and take of debate and deliberation that would also naturally occur in the context of in-person assemblies. Such mutual give and take is a crucial feature of what it means to be a synod, on the road together for Christ’s sake and our mission in and for the world.

It is an enormously expensive undertaking for synods and the churchwide organization to rent space in hotels, provide overnight accommodations along with meals and sundry other expenses. Registration and other fees don’t cover all the costs. I can see that meeting via Zoom would be a tempting alternative as a cost saving measure in lean times of our churchly life together. But for me it would be a sad day indeed when the wider church would opt to not meet in assembly in person. It is, in my opinion, worth the cost to be and to do the church together in person.

Thus, some reflections on this year’s Metro DC Synod Assembly.

As a final word, I am pleased at the extent to which people from Resurrection Church were represented at our assembly. They include our lay voting members, Maggie Mount, Leslie Nolen, and Tom Van Poole, and me as your pastor, along with Cindy Reese as a Synod Council member, Mitzi Budde as a rostered deacon, and Amy Feira as a pastor rostered in our synod.

May God in Christ ever lead us in ways faithful as a church together in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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