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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Coming Clean (with audio)

Epiphany 7A, February 19, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 Do you not know that you are God’s temple?
Matthew 5:38-48 Give to everyone who begs from you.

O Holy 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 seems like a good day to make sure you know some things about the Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, because we just heard the only passage that ever gets read in our three-year lectionary cycle. Chapter 19 of Leviticus is sometimes called the mini-Torah because of how comprehensive it is in its summary of what it will look like to be the people of God. In a three-year cycle of readings, this lesson gets read on the 7th Sunday of Epiphany in Year A, when the calendar permits seven Sundays in Epiphany, which is to say almost never.
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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

A Holy Spirit

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12C, July 24, 2016, The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Hosea 1:2-10 Children of the living God.
Colossians 2:6-19 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit.
Luke 11:1-13 Because of his [lack of shame or honor].

O God of dignity, 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.

It seems to me that the themes of our scripture lessons for this morning are fidelity and honor in difficult circumstances.  What excellent timing! Our three readings are saying, “Stay true. Hold fast to the reconciling Love of Jesus Christ. Don’t give up your dignity.  Don’t give up your integrity. Don’t give up.” 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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Ministry Checklist

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost (9C), July 3, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

2 Kings 5:1-14 …had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel and she served Naaman’s wife.
Galatians 6:1-16 If anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a Spirit of gentleness…bear one another’s burdens.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

O God of the plentiful harvest, 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 Gospel lesson covers a LOT of territory for a holiday weekend in the summer time! The story goes that Jesus has appointed 70 others (or 72, depending on which ancient manuscript of Luke you read) to be sent out – meaning Jesus has appointed apostles. Apostle means one sent – as in an agent or ambassador (according to Luke there were not only 12 apostles). The Lord appointed the number of all the nations. Some ancient authorities believed there were 70 nations in the world; others insisted on 72. The number is also reminiscent of the number of elders appointed by God to help Moses. In the Hebrew language version of the Bible, the number was 70. In the Greek translation, the Septuagint, the number was 72. The point is, a whole lot of people were willing to be appointed to go out to the whole world, importantly, in pairs. In other words, they were instructed not to go alone. It’s not just more fun to go with a partner; it’s the law. Two is the minimum number for witness and for safety and for fun. The rule is, when you’re going out to do work for the reign of God, always use the buddy system! This is true whether the work you are doing for God is in your household or extended family, or your workplace or your school or your neighborhood or your church or someplace else altogether! Two is so much more than twice one in any endeavor. And if you want to build something sustainable – the minimum number is three (but that’s a lesson for a different day). Continue reading

Kindness

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 22B, October 4, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 Do you still persist in your integrity?
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 Someone has testified somewhere… .
Mark 10:2-16 Receive the kingdom of God as a little child.

O God of love, 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.

So how about those readings? One of the things that my clergy colleagues and I often do when we see each other in the week before particularly troublesome readings is ask one another, “are you preaching on Sunday?” And if the answer is no, the response is, “lucky!” If the answer is yes, the follow up question is, “What are you going to do with those readings?” This past week one of my friends gloated that she had decided to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis and to use the readings assigned for that celebration. I thought, “huh, I’ve never wanted everyone to bring their animals to church on a Sunday so badly!” And I thought of the ways that colleagues turn to one another for perspective, guidance, sympathy, insight. Debate is often a part of that engagement.
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Join the crowd!

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11B, July 19, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

2 Samuel 7:1-14a I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day.
Ephesians 2:11-22 He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near [to God].
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 You give them something to eat.

Loving 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.

I hope that some of you noticed that our Gospel portion for this morning leaves out nineteen verses and acts like nothing happened. Perhaps you recall that frequently, the writer of the Gospel of Mark interrupts one story to tell another. It’s a rough and tumble story-telling method and the lectionary often takes out the interruption from one Sunday and place the offending story in a subsequent week. German theologians have a fantastic word for the rhetorical device of interrupting a story to tell another story: “Ineinanderschachtelungern.” [1] I feel like I want to use that word in a sermon at least once every three years when we’re in Gospel of Mark year! But, the verses removed from today’s portion aren’t an interruption at all. They’re essential to the story and they never get read in church – not next week or any week. Next week we will begin a series of five readings from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John! (It’s a long chapter.) Continue reading

Getting Our Own Paragraph Right

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10B, July 12, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 Michal…despised him in her heart.
Ephesians 1:3-14This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of [God’s] glory.
Mark 6:14-29 What should I ask for?

O God of our future, 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 “Praise to you, Lord Christ,” just doesn’t seem like the right response after a Gospel reading. Actually, all three of our readings this morning get my dander up. In 2nd Samuel, what gets me is almost a throw-away line about David’s wife Michal, the party-pooper of the story, who saw him leaping and dancing and despised him in her heart. What’s Michal’s problem, you might wonder (if you noticed her at all). Well, Michal has been used and abused by her father King Saul and his successor King David, but according to tradition, she loved David and did not think he should be recklessly prancing around, scantily clad, before the throne of the Holy One. (I’m with her.) 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