Hospitality

Second Sunday after Pentecost Proper 6A, June 18, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7) When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them.
Romans 5:1-8 Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.
Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23) When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless…the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

O Lord of the harvest, may we have the wisdom, the strength, and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth – come when it may and cost what it will.

Sometimes we have readings from scripture that are difficult to imagine – obscure references, ancient ideas that are hard for our post-modern ears to understand, but not today. Today we have a vivid scene from the Torah of three men who visited Abraham and Sarah; we have an assurance that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through a spirit of holiness in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome; and we have the Gospel of Matthew’s account of when twelve disciples became twelve apostles, and the traveling instructions Jesus gave to them.
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Three

Trinity Sunday (A), June 11, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Genesis 1:1-2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace.
Matthew 28:16-20 But some doubted.

O Holy Trinity One God, grant us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will.

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. Are you excited?! I bet a few of you are! It’s the only Sunday dedicated to a doctrine. For those of you for whom doctrine feels like a scratchy piece of clothing, don’t sweat! It’s just one Sunday. Twentieth century theologian, Karl Rahner reportedly claimed that if the Trinity were to quietly disappear out of Christian theology, most of Christendom would not even notice its absence. (But I do think we’d miss the hymns.) Given the urgent needs of the world, the urgent needs in our own congregation, is the Trinity something that I should be spending any time preaching on? Pondering this question, I took what I imagine was one last trip to the library at Episcopal Divinity School, into the stacks to stare at the shelves of books devoted to the doctrine of the Trinity. I opened a dozen or so, and thought to myself, “this is a fool’s errand,” and I returned to my desk at home.
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Accounting for Hope

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A, May 21, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Acts 17:22-31 In [God] we live and move and have our being.
1 Peter 3:13-22 Always be ready to make… an accounting for the hope that is in you.
John 14:15-21 If you love me you will keep my commandments.

O God of Love, may we have the wisdom, the strength, and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth – come when it may and cost what it will.

Signs of endings are all around us – the end of the school year, the end of another wonderful cantata season, graduations and completions of all kinds are markers on the chronological timelines of our lives. And yet, in our Gospel reading for this morning, chronological time seems to have come nearly to a stop and time seems to be folding:  past, present and future are not so clearly marked.  It’s taken from what is called Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” Jesus’ valedictory speech comprises a full one-fifth of the whole Gospel of John, and takes place in the evening before Jesus’ nighttime arrest. This portion of Jesus’ parting words remind me of the instructions that my mother used to leave when I was in high school before my parents went away for a trip (and I always feared that they would leave us orphaned). I am the oldest child, so the list was accompanied by my mom’s admonition for me to use my best judgment. Okay, fine, I would think, I will, but do you know my brothers and my sister? Continue reading

Softhearted

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A, May 18, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Acts 7:55-60 ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.
1 Peter 2:2-10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
John 14:1-14 Do not let your heart be troubled.

O God of our waking up, grant us the wisdom, the strength and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will.

This morning our deacon, Bob Greiner is away on retreat with other deacons, and so he is missing the gruesome account in the Book of Acts about the first deacon, Stephen, becoming the first martyr because an angry mob threw stones at him until he died. I think the deacons may have been reading ahead in the lectionary when he scheduled his time away. And the stone references in our scripture readings today in Acts and in 1 Peter were on my mind this past Friday as I sat in my study trying to think while stone masons sawed boulders making a stone wall surrounding my next door neighbor’s back yard. The sound of cutting stone is a crying out that reminds me of Jesus’ response to people who tell him to silence his followers. Remember? He says that if they were quiet, the stones themselves would cry out. Deadly stones and living stones, stumbling blocks and building blocks, crushing weights, and substantial foundations – hard and heavy either way.
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Possibility Sunday

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A, May 7, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Acts 2:42-47 They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
1 Peter 2:19-25 So that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness… .
John 10:1-10 Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate.

O God of life, may we have the wisdom, the strength, and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth – come when it may and cost what it will.

Today is known in church tradition as Good Shepherd Sunday.  Jesus, of course, is known as the Good Shepherd, son of the Best Shepherd!  Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations known to humankind, so we probably all feel like we understand what a shepherd does, but I’m going to review the job description with you anyway.  The primary responsibility of a shepherd is to ensure that a flock gets adequate food and water.  Once that is taken care of, a good shepherd protects a flock from becoming prey or being stolen, and takes care that they are not overdriven.  Shepherding language for figures of speech when it comes to leading people is found in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and of course, Israel.  It’s worth noting that the metaphor of shepherding is generally used as a political metaphor, [1] although politics and religion weren’t so separate in ancient times (and they’re really not so separate even today). Religion is political just as the personal is political. Not acknowledging that is a form of unexamined privilege. Continue reading

The Mighty Power of Love

Third Sunday of Easter Year A, April 30, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Acts 2:14a, 36-47 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away.
1 Peter 1:17-23 Love one another deeply from the heart.
Luke 24:13-35 Were not our hearts burning within us?

O God of our aching and burning hearts, may we have the wisdom, the strength, and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may and cost what it will.

This morning we hear the Easter story of two on the road to Emmaus – one named Cleopas and the other is unnamed, which gives me room to understand that the other was a woman. It’s a beautiful account of the art of resurrection, about how, even when we don’t understand it, we can’t imagine it, and we certainly are not looking for it, we can come to recognize that the Risen Lord can be walking along with us; the Risen Lord can be right in front of us without our knowing it. But before I go further down this Road to Emmaus, I must go back to our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Continue reading

The Art of Resurrection

Easter Year A, April 16, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Jeremiah 31:1-6 I have loved you with an everlasting love.
Colossians 3:1-4, 5-15 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Matthew 28:1-10 Go and tell.

O God of new life, grant us the wisdom and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may and cost what it will.

I love the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the resurrection of Jesus. But before I get to it, I need to say something briefly about our readings from Jeremiah and Colossians. Many of you know that promoting Biblical literacy is one of my life projects, and so I don’t want to miss the opportunity to draw your attention to the God of Love represented in our First Testament (also known as the Old Testament) reading. In Jeremiah, God is saying to Jeremiah “In the days to come, I will be their God and they will be my people. [Remember] the people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness when they were returning homeward.” Then God says to those who are living in exile as captives of the Babylonian Empire, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you…I will build you up again and you’ll make music and dance, you will plant long-term crops and live to enjoy the fruit.” Continue reading

Demanding and Exhilarating

Lent 4A, March 26, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

1 Samuel 16:1-13 But the LORD looks on the heart.
Ephesians 5:8-14 Live as children of light.
John 9:1-13, 28-38 So that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of [the One] who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

O God of our vision, grant us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will.

Today is an anniversary of sorts. Nine years ago, on the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday, aka Mothering Sunday), I began my service to Emmanuel Church as your priest with these readings from the lectionary. I brought a basket of red pencils with me that first morning for Steve Babcock, our trusty head usher, to hand out with the bulletins. His eyebrows went up just a little bit when I handed him the basket, but he was a great sport about the odd request. (It was the first of many.) I had collected the red pencils from art supplies from my prison ministry program, raided my kids’ colored pencil sets, and I probably bought two boxes or so. I’m so happy to report that nine years later, that I would need more than twice the number of pencils that we used in 2008 and I did not have the time on my hands to collect the additional pencils needed this week!
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Thirst

Lent 3A, March 19, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Exodus 17:1-7 The people thirsted there.
Romans 5:1-11 God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
John 4:5-42 Give me a drink.

O God of water and thirst, grant us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may and cost what it will.

I just want to note that in our first reading this morning, I added the translation for the place names because to transliterate the Hebrew word “seen” as Sin just seems wrong. I should have added that the word Nile doesn’t appear in the Hebrew text – it’s just the river, and Horeb means “desert.” Perhaps the place names are not important to translate, but I couldn’t get past the distraction of calling the place in the Sinai, “Sin,” and I didn’t want you to either, particularly because our cantata text is all about sin. When you hear it, listen remembering that sin, according to the Bible, is separation from Love from neighbor. Sin is what we do or fail to do that keeps us apart from Love of neighbor and of God who is Love. Our scripture readings for today are not directly addressing sin, but are reflections on thirst, the physical and spiritual desire for wellsprings. Continue reading

Go!

Lent 2A, March 12, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Genesis 12:1-4a Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
John 3:1-17 How can these things be?

O God of grace, grant us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will.

This is one of those Sundays when I have a harder time giving thanks and praise to God in response to the scripture readings when I first hear them, because it’s hard for me to hear them read without thinking about the damage humans do to one another using these passages as weapons.  The recent and dramatic rise of hateful words and actions against Jews and Muslims (or people mistaken for Muslims) is fueled by arrogance and ignorance of “Christian” teachings. The fighting happens within Christianity as well, between Catholics and protestants, between different kinds of protestants, and within our own Anglican traditions. Perhaps you have a similar experience of knowing these lessons from a standpoint of in and out, us and them, ours and not yours.  Perhaps you’ve heard these lessons as being about tests about who measures up because of what they think or don’t think.  If not, just wait for today’s cantata! All this makes many flee religious practice, and for good reason. Continue reading