The Work of Christmas

The Feast of the Nativity, December 25, 2016

Isaiah 52:7-10 Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem.
Titus 2:11-14 Let no one look down on you.
John 1:1-14 Full of grace and truth.

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.

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We are doing it.

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 27B, November 8, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin.
Hebrews 9:24-28 Now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Mark 12:38-44 This poor widow has put in more than all those…she out of her poverty has put in everything she had.

O God of all, 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.

The Gospel lesson that we just heard is a very familiar story about the woman who put two copper coins, approximately enough money to buy one meal, in the offering in the temple. It’s a story many of us learned in Church School. People know it by the title, “the widow’s mite” (mite meaning a tiny little bit). It’s a nice story for little children who are learning about mite boxes and putting coins in offering plates. I’m aware that when the story gets told about Jesus commending the woman for giving everything she had, especially during pledge stewardship season (probably no coincidence, by the way), many of us adults kind of seize up inside. You know – we kind of brace ourselves for what’s coming next. Continue reading

Go lead!

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, 25B, October 24, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 Now my eyes see you.
Hebrews 7:23-28 Prevented by death from continuing in office!
Mark 10:46-52 What do you want me to do for you?

O God of our wildest dreams, 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.

Dan Hazen had a vision of how he wanted his completed life acknowledged at Emmanuel Church and it did not include a sermon being preached about him. (I’ll honor his wish.) But I want to share one of the things Dan frequently mentioned in the seven short years that I knew him. It was that he didn’t like worship services that tied things up in a neat bow. So instead of eulogizing him from this pulpit, I’ll do my best to offer a sermon that is long on questions and short on answers, one that doesn’t even try to make sense of the incongruities and ambiguities! Continue reading

Come closer! (with audio)

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, 24B, October 18, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 53:4-12 It was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
[Job 38:1-7, 34-41 Who.]
Hebrews 5:1-10 He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Mark 10:35-45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.

O suffering 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.

Our Rabbi-in-Residence, Howard Berman, is fond of asking me whenever he preaches at one of our services, “Why do I always get the hard texts?” I say, I wonder the very same thing! Why do I always get the hard texts?” (I think the answer might be that they’re almost all hard.) When it comes to the Isaiah reading, I’ll admit that I did it to myself when I agreed to take a week away from our reading of the story of Job in the interest of Ryan Turner’s request for the lovely Distler motet.
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Pass the peace! (with audio)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 21B, September 27, 2015; The Rev Pamela L. Werntz

Esther 7:1-6,9-10; 9:20-22 Days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
James 5:13-20 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise…
Mark 9:38-50 Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

O God of our redemption, 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 morning we have just heard a part of the great story of Queen Esther, beautiful, brave, patient and smart, who used her position and her gifts, and risked her own life on behalf of her people. Esther’s name appears more times than any other woman in the Bible, and she speaks more than any named women except for Judith. She is the ideal against which Herodius, in the Christian testament of the Bible, was compared and was found to have utterly missed the mark, when a king, intoxicated by wine and the beauty of a woman, offered to do anything she wanted. Queen Herodius coached her daughter to ask for murder. Queen Esther asked that all of her people be saved from scheduled massacre. The Feast of Purim, which celebrates Queen Esther’s courage, compassion and creativity, is observed by Jews each year at the end of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) with celebrations that include presents for people who are poor, and gifts of food for all. Continue reading

Be swift to love, make haste to be kind.

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17B, August 30, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
James 1:17-27 Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.

O generous 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.

This Sunday we turn back to the Gospel of Mark in our lectionary for the rest of the season of Pentecost in our liturgical year. [1] I’m tempted to dive in to this libelous text, to defend Pharisees and certainly to defend hand and dish washing, and also to deplore hypocrisy and all the evils that can come out from within our polluted hearts. I’m tempted to point out that this should be a troubling text for people like Episcopalians who cleave to traditions, sometimes at the expense of healing and feeding and freeing people who are ailing, undernourished and stuck in narrow places. 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