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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Pieces of Emmanuel

Epiphany 1A, January 8, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 42:1-9 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand.
Acts 10:34-43 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Matthew 3:13-17 And [pay attention] the heavens were opened to him…and [pay attention] a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

O God, manifest in 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 the day in the church liturgical calendar called “The Baptism of our Lord.” In the early church, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord was much more important a celebration than the Feast of the Birth of Our Lord (which we know as Christmas). The ancient church celebrated three feasts of light: Epiphany, which was the story of people wise enough to seek after and find Jesus, The Baptism of Our Lord by the incredulous John at the River Jordan, and the Wedding Feast at Cana where the story goes that Jesus changed water into some really good wine. These feasts of light were understood to illuminate the nature of God, they were manifestations or revelations initiated by God and noticed by people. These three feasts demonstrated to early Christians not only what God is like but also Who (God) wishes us to be in community – in relationship to one another.
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The beginning is near.

First Sunday of Advent, Proper 1A, November 27, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 2:1-5 They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.
Romans 13:11-14 Love is the fulfilling of the law.
Matthew 24:37-44 No one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son.

O God of new beginnings, 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.

And so we begin a new year in the Church. Our ordinary time has been interrupted like the blast of the ram’s horn, by Advent, a season of preparation and repentance. Preparation and repentance can sound like the season of Lent, but Advent is not about the personal so much as it is about institutional, organizational, and communal preparation and repentance (repentance meaning turning around toward God). Our lessons for this Sunday are about a vision of nations waging peace, instructions to the Church that loving is the fulfillment of the law, and a reminder from Jesus that no one knows when the end will be, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son. No one knows except the Author of creation, the Author of Love.
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Peace

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21C, September 25, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Jeremiah 32:1-3a 6-15 Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
1 Timothy 6:11-19 But as for you, [person] of God…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
Luke 16:19-31 They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.

O God of peace, 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.

Welcome to this grand sanctuary – this haven of beauty. Welcome to this magnificent community whose primary mission includes welcoming you, no matter how long you’ve been here, and wherever you are on your spiritual journey, even and especially if you are not in such a good place on your spiritual journey! Welcome to a gathering of people that will love you just the way you are and will love you too much to let you stay that way! Welcome to church in the Back Bay, which often turns out to be very hard to get to because of road rallies, fundraisers, and movie makers! Welcome to a worship service in which the readings are usually challenging and sometimes confounding, the prayers of the people are often disturbing, and the music is reliably sublime! Welcome to a church long on questions and short on answers, and yet, a church where one beggar can always show another beggar where to get some bread. Continue reading

The Parable of the Dimes

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20C, September 18, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 Is there no balm in Gilead?
1 Timothy 2:1-7 I am telling you the truth. I am not lying.
Luke 16:1-13 You cannot serve God and wealth.

O God of our struggle, 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.

In our readings for this morning, we heard Jeremiah tell us what we already know: the summer is ended and we are not saved. Poor people are not being properly cared for. Poor people are hurting and that hurts the heart of the Holy One. The epistle of Timothy is urging prayers for kings and others in high positions – presumably this instruction is directed to people who do not wish to pray for those in power – presumably because it is the powerful and the wealthy who benefit from economic systems that trample on people who are needy, people who are poor. And Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, seems to be celebrating and encouraging dishonesty. What? Continue reading

Love is calling you.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13C, July 31, 2016, The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Hosea 11:1-11 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
Colossians 3:1-11 The wrath of God on whose who are disobedient.
Luke 12:13-21 The land of a rich man produced abundantly.

O God of abundance, 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 a pair of scripture readings that take the cliché and inaccurate characterization of OT “god of wrath” and NT “god of love” and turn it on its head. Colossians warns of the wrath of God on those who are disobedient. But through the prophet Hosea, a compassionate and merciful Holy One is telling the story of falling in love with the “god strugglers” (which is what Israel literally means) when they were children. God fell in love with those children when they were in a tight spot, a bind, a narrow place (which is what Egypt literally means). God called those children, but the more God called, the more the children ran in the other direction. They kept giving their precious resources to the wrong gods (gods of everything BUT love); they kept offering their devotion to worthless causes, placing their hopes in idols or dummies. And yet, God knows that they will eventually come trembling back from the narrow place (Egypt) and the militarized place (Assyria) and God will return them to their homes. Continue reading

The word is shalom.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11C, The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz, July 17, 2016

Amos 8:1-12 A basket of summer fruit.
Colossians 1:15-28 Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
Luke 10:38-42 The better part

O God of shalom, 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.

What a hard week, in a series of hard weeks. There seems to be no end in sight to the violence at home and abroad. I want to say something about each of our three scripture readings this morning. I don’t know about you, but I hear the prophet Amos speaking directly to us from about 760 BCE. Amos, a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees, was the first prophet of the Hebrew Bible to write his description of what happens when some people in a society get richer and more powerful, at the expense of those who are poor and getting poorer. He was writing at a time when his country had expanded in wealth and military might by taking advantage of the most vulnerable, the neediest people, violating the Torah commandments to care for refugees and aliens, and others who cannot care for themselves. Perhaps you already knew what it means that Amos was a dresser of sycamore trees, but I had to look it up. Sycamore trees in the Middle East produce fruit that smell like figs, but taste pretty bad. Only poor people eat it, because nobody with other options would touch it. If the fruit is punctured while it’s still on the tree, it ripens faster. A dresser of sycamores is someone who is helping to feed those who are poor.
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