Grapes

First Sunday after Christmas B, December 28, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not rest.
Galatians 4:4-7 So that we might receive adoption as children.
Luke 2:22:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

O God with us, Emmanuel, 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 Gospel portion that I just read is only told in the Gospel of Luke. It follows immediately after the verse which says, “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child, and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. If it had been a little less chaotic at Emmanuel Church in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I might have remembered to expand our Gospel reading in your bulletins to include this verse, because of the reference to Jesus’ naming ceremony. Only Luke tells anything about Jesus before he reached later adulthood. So I wonder, what is it that Luke wanted to demonstrate with these stories of Jesus’ infancy and boyhood?

I think the first is that Jesus was a real human, according to Luke. He was born to human parents, with a genealogy that went back to Adam — earthling (who Luke calls the Son of God). The Good News of Jesus Christ in Luke is that God anointed a human being to fully embody God’s intention of freedom and right-relationship for God’s people. Jesus increased in wisdom as he increased in years. According to Luke, Jesus didn’t land on earth knowing it all. Jesus learned as he went. According to Luke, Jesus was fully, really human. Continue reading

The Mystery of Love

Fourth Sunday of Advent, 4B, December 21, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 I have not lived in a house…but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Romans 16:25-27 According to the revelation of the mystery. Luke 1:26-38 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. – or Here am I.

O God of impossible possibilities, 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.

Many of you know that I grew up in a household where wrestling with Holy Scripture was one of the things we did as a family for exercise. I didn’t know that some families went on ski vacations until I was well into college! I will confess that that discovery made me feel a little jealous, but over the years my gratitude for my dad’s insistence on Biblical engagement has grown and grown. Our Gospel story this morning has been calling people to wrestle – with paint, with poetry and prose, with music, with drama since the beginning. In fact, so many have wrestled with this text before us that we might not think we have to – we might think that we must either accept or dismiss the truth of the annunciation or accept or dismiss the truth of the virgin birth. Did this happen or not? (I think the answer is yes — sometimes.)

The town of Nazareth, in the Galilee is built on a hillside in the southern Lebanon Mountains. It’s a bustling Palestinian city now with a population of about 65,000. In the mid-nineteenth century, a French order of nuns built a convent in Nazareth. The Sisters of Nazareth have exercised their ministry there ever since. When I visited in 2007, they told a story of calling a plumber to repair a leak, who, in the course of his work, fell through the floor of the convent into a well-preserved first century courtyard house where there is evidence of 1st century Jewish occupants; there is also an animal feeding trough (a manger made of stone, not wood); and a burial chamber with a huge stone disk that can be rolled to cover the opening. Continue reading

Reasons to Rejoice

The Third Sunday of Advent, 3B, December 14, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 66:1-4, 8-11 To give them a garland instead of ashes.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing.
John 1:6-8, 19-28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

O God of hope, 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.

One of the benefits of sharing sanctuary and programs and families and friendships with a synagogue is that we are regularly called out of theological complacency when it comes to our Christian scripture and Church tradition’s references to Jews – or Levites, or priests from Jerusalem, or high priests, or Sadducees, or scribes, or Pharisees. I changed the word Jews in our Gospel lesson to Judeans by way of putting a speed bump in our path, not because Judeans is necessarily the best translation of “Judaios” here, but because I want us all to slow down a little bit when we listen to this reading. John the Evangelist (that is, John, the Gospel writer) begins his version of the story of Jesus with tension between “the Jews” and Jesus in a way that the other three Gospel writers do not. For John the Evangelist, the tension started before Jesus even appeared on the scene. It’s not exactly clear to scholars who John means when he writes, “Judaios.” He’s certainly not talking about all Jews or all Judeans even at the time, since Jesus and his followers were all Jewish. He may be contrasting Judeans and Galileans – but most likely he’s writing about some of Jerusalem’s religious authorities.[1] He clearly has an ax to grind that the other Gospel writers do not have. The Gospel of John uses the term “Judaios” some sixty-four times compared with six in the Gospel of Mark, five in Matthew, and three in Luke.[2] It seems that John, who was writing in the last first century, is caught up in a late first century conflict that he is applying retroactively to the first part of the first century. I wonder if John is using the word the way some of us refer to “the police,” or “the military,” or “the government,” when we are angry or despairing in the midst of struggle. I don’t know John’s intent, but I do know that we cannot let it slide. Continue reading

See, love, and behave accordingly!

The Second Sunday of Advent, 2B, December 7, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 40:1-11 Cry out!
2 Peter 3:8-15a Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
Mark 1:1-8 He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

O God of the prophets, 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.

Every year at this time, the church gives us a new advent – a new beginning — a new season of longing to hear and respond to lessons of prophetic wisdom and calls for repentance writ large. These calls are not for personal repentance, but for national repentance, for corporate repentance, and for ecclesiastical – that is Church — repentance. And the good news is that this year is no exception! The most magnificent sign of this kind of prophetic action can be seen in the large numbers of people rising up in Boston and all around the country to protest the status quo of racism and injustice. It’s good news. People are watching and waking up and demonstrating anger and calling for change. Continue reading

Squinting

The First Sunday of Advent, 1B, November 30, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 64:1-9 Now consider, we are all your people.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Grace to you and peace from God our [Author] and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark 13:24-37 Keep alert…keep awake…and what I say to you I say to all: keep awake.

O God of new beginnings, 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 marks the beginning of a new church year. Thanksgiving to God was our last act of the year that is now past. Baptism is going to be our first act of the year to come. I love baptisms! Hadley and Piper Stuart have come to us to receive the sacrament of baptism, an official welcome to the family called Christian, in the branch called Episcopalian, and in doing that, Hadley and Piper are giving us all a reason to renew our own baptismal promises. What a blessing! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Advent. Continue reading

Bad News and Good News

Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Proper 29A, 1B, November 30, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 64:1-9 Now consider, we are all your people.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Grace to you and peace from God our [Author] and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark 13:24-37 Keep alert…keep awake…and what I say to you I say to all: keep awake.

O God of new beginnings, 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 marks the end of our liturgical year in terms of Sundays. Today marks the end of our reading of the Gospel of Matthew (I know some of you are thanking God for that). We have reached the end of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel narrative. This passage is the conclusive teaching before the Passion. It’s combined in our lectionary with another great sorting prediction from the prophet Ezekiel, and an interlude from the letter to the Ephesians.

When I was growing up, my parents were fond of prefacing announcements with: “I’ve got good news and bad news.” There was a household expectation of asking for the bad news first. Whatever the bad news, presumably, it would be balanced out by the good news (it didn’t always work). That trope kept coming back to me as I reflected on our readings for today. It’s probably not coincidental that I was anticipating my brother Rob and sister-in-law Anna being in church today! Continue reading

Disclosing Compassion

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, 25A, October 26, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Exodus 20:1-4,7-9, 12-20 Do not fear.
Philippians 2:1-13 But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.
Matthew 21:33-46 Listen to another parable.

O God of grace, 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 in our reading from Deuteronomy, we heard the very last part of the Torah. Last weekend was the joyful Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah (simchat means rejoicing). On Simchat Torah, this portion of Deuteronomy is read in synagogues, followed by a reading of the first portion from Genesis. On Simchat Torah, as many people as possible ascend to the blessing of reading, rather than just the usual two or three readers. Afterwards, the congregations dances and sings. It’s the celebration of endings leading to new beginnings. Continue reading

Abundant Life

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, 22A, October 5, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Exodus 20:1-4,7-9, 12-20 Do not fear.
Philippians 2:1-13 But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.
Matthew 21:33-46 Listen to another parable.

O God of grace, 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.

In our first lesson this morning we heard one of the most famous passages of scripture in the whole Bible. You don’t have to be Jewish or Christian to have heard of what are commonly known as “The Ten Commandments.” In our church tradition, this passage is called the Decalogue – literally “ten words” from God because of references in Deuteronomy to the ten words or ten things that were written in stone on Sinai – ten things that Moses reported hearing from the Source of all being on the Holy Mountain.

Here is the oldest example in our scripture of instructions for how to live long and well in community. The passage begins by telling us that God the Author spoke all these words, reminding the people first that it was God Who brought the people out of the house of slavery. It was God Who brought the people out of the narrow places – mitzrayim – between rocks and hard places – also called Egypt in the Hebrew Bible. This moment marks their new beginning – a fresh starting point for the community – another chance to live in an entirely new way. And God is expressing God’s will – God’s desire for God’s people. “Listen,” God is saying, “I have moved you out from a place of dishonor and disrespect. You are free. You are no longer trapped. You are not enslaved. I have redeemed you. You are valuable. You are precious to me. And here’s how you, my beloved, will behave when you have no other gods more important than me. Here’s how it will be when you know deep in your hearts that you are my people.” Continue reading

Be swift to love!

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 21A, September 28, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Exodus 17:1-7 The whole congregation journeyed by stages…is the Lord among us or not?
Philippians 2:1-13 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete… for it is God who is at work in you
Matthew 21:23-32 We do not know.

O God of mercy, 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 our story from Exodus tells us that in the olden days, the people of God used to wonder whether God was really with (or in) them or not. As I recited last week, the people of God had survived the plagues, experienced the Passover, miraculously escaped a pursuing army, escaped slavery, cried out for food in the desert and had meat and bread delivered. Now they were thirsty. They were so thirsty that Moses was afraid for his life if he didn’t find some water for them to drink. When water came bubbling up out of the rock, Moses named the place “squabble” and “disputation” because the people couldn’t agree about whether God was among them, yes or no. Just so you know, getting enough water to quench their thirst didn’t stop the squabbling and disputation about whether God was in their midst or not. We are still grappling with this, aren’t we, whether we are counting this year as 2014 or 5775 or some other number altogether. Continue reading

Welcome forward, Emmanuel!

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 20A, September 21, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Exodus 16:2-15 In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Philippians 1:21-30 Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Matthew 20:1-16 Are you envious because I am generous?

O God of grace, 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.

Good morning! Welcome into this magnificent sanctuary of time and space and parish that is Emmanuel Church. Welcome to you who are here for the very first time. Welcome to you who are returning here, having been away for a short time or a long time. Welcome to you who were here much of yesterday or the day before, or every day this last week. Welcome to you who have been here more times than you could ever count! Welcome into the future of God’s beloved community gathered in this place. You know, it’s our future that I’m most excited about. While I was traveling this summer, someone said to me, “Wow, Emmanuel Church in Boston has such a great history.” I said, “Yes! And a great future too!” I hope you’ll be able to stay for a while after our service to hear about the amazing progress on our north-wall restoration project. And I hope you’ll stay a while in the months and years to come to challenge and change us as we become more and more of who God is calling us to be. This is not welcome back Sunday; it is welcome forward Sunday! Continue reading