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Epiphany 4A, January 29, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Micah 6:1-8 [God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Matthew 5:1-12 Blessed…blessed…blessed.

O God of the strangest blessings, 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 week. The other day, one of my colleagues asked a group of Central Boston clergy, “how are you preaching in times like these?” The swift and wise answer from another esteemed colleague was, “stay close to the Bible.” At first, I thought, “hey, my approach to preaching may be coming back into style!” That thought was quickly followed by my memory of a scene from the 1974 movie, Young Frankenstein, in which Frau Blücher, carrying a candelabra with three unlit candles warns, “stay close to the candles…the stairway can be treacherous!” But staying close to the sacred story, the Bible doesn’t work so well without the illumination of wisdom and learning, without the illumination of engagement of diverse communities across space and time, and without the illumination of Love (capital L). Wisdom and learning. Engagement of diverse communities. Love. If those three candles are lit, the stairway to the realm of God is not so treacherous. Continue reading


Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 26C, October 30, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Habakkuk 1:1-2:4 If it seems to tarry, wait for it.
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4,11-12 The love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.
Luke 19:1-10 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.

O God of mercy, 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. Amen.

Our first reading this morning is from the beginning of the short book of Habakkuk – the prophet. It begins with a title: the oracle, the pronouncement that the prophet saw – although that can also be translated the burden that Habakkuk saw. What Habakkuk saw was indeed a great burden: violence everywhere and a God who seemed not to see the degradation of justice and the utter devastation of well-being, of shalom. Habakkuk has two complaints: 1) God has done nothing to stop the violence so far and 2) it’s about to get worse. In this book, the voice of God is heard, but it’s not particularly good news. Essentially, the response is that the violence is due to the greed of the people and the failure to recognize the Holy One. The violence is understood by Habakkuk as the Holy One’s punishing response, rather than simply a predictable consequence that breaks Love’s heart. Continue reading

Vote Pray Love (with audio)

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24C, October 16, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Jeremiah 31:27-34 I will put my law within them, and I will write it in their hearts, and I will be their God and they will be my people…they shall all know me.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Carry out your ministry fully.
Luke 18:1-8 Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

O God of our hope, 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.

Many of you know that I was away last week for my middle daughter’s wedding.  It was a lovely and joyous opportunity for my extended family to gather.  One of the many blessings of my family’s gatherings, for holidays or for ceremonies, is seeing four generations of siblings and cousins all together, and noticing how similar they all are in appearance and expression.  Then I returned to Emmanuel on Tuesday, in time to get ready for the Yom Kippur Kol Nidre service, and I had a chance to recall that one of the blessings of being in an interfaith family, like the interfaith family Emmanuel Church and Central Reform Temple make together, is sharing in one another’s holiday celebrations, and seeing and hearing the ritual and theological relatedness of our traditions, how similar our traditions are in appearance and expression. 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

Racism is wrong. We must do better.

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18B, September 6, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.

James 2:1-10 (11-13) 14-17 Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Mark 7:24-37 They were astounded beyond measure.

O God of mercy, 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.

The lessons we just heard from Proverbs and James make it abundantly clear that the blessing of God is upon those who are generous, who share their bread with people who do not have enough. The evidence of blessing is not simply prosperity. I often hear people who are experiencing abundance expressing gratitude, giving thanks to God and saying, “I am so blessed.” But according to Proverbs, it’s not the fact of abundance that is a blessing from God; it’s the distribution of abundance so that everyone gets enough. The evidence of blessing of God is in the sharing. And James says that mercy triumphs over judgment – mercy trumps judgment — every time in the realm of God. Whenever there’s a conflict of biblical values or teachings, ask yourself, which approach is more merciful and go with that. 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


Thanks to U. of California Press for this image.

In her “Peace Pentecost” sermon at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul, poet Denise Levertov (1923-97) emphasized the connection between contemplation and action:  “If we neglect our inner lives, we destroy the sources of fruitful outer action.  But if we do not act, our inner lives become mere monuments to egotism.” At Emmanuel she founded a Peace Group to foster the links between spiritual thought and action among her fellow parishioners.

Earlier in the decade she had been attracted to Emmanuel by our social-justice activities, beautiful music and liturgy, and rector Al Kershaw, who counseled her.  “He assured her that doubt was part of spiritual growth and the darkness she encountered might increase her sense of dependence and lead her to God,” says her biographer Dana Greene citing Denise’s diary entry for June 13, 1988.

The Rev. Paul Philip Levertoff

Denise’s father, Paul Philip Levertoff (1878–1954), an early proponent of Messianic Judaism, took holy orders in the Anglican Church and preached wearing an alb with a tallit and kippa.  In 1922 he become director of what is now the London Diocesan Council for Work among the Jews and edited its quarterly journal, The Church and the Jews. He was a prolific writer on theological subjects in Hebrew, German, and English and translated into English the Midrash Sifre on Numbers (1926) and the Zohar  (1933).

See also:

  1. Dana Greene.  Denise Levertov:  A Poet’s Life.  Urbana IL:  U. of Illinois Press, 2012.
  2. Denise Levertov.  Making PeaceBreathing the Water.  NY:  New Directions, 1987.
  3. Donna Hollenberg.  A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov. Berkeley: U of California Press, 2013.
  4. Paul A. Lacey and Anne Dewey, eds.  The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov.  NY: New Directions, 2013.
  5. Paul Philip Levertoff. Love and the Messianic Age.
  6. Timeline: 1994



Pauli Murray, whom Emmanuel would eventually sponsor for the priesthood, compiled and edited a seminal work for the civil rights cases:  Stateslaws on race and color: and appendices containing international documents, federal laws and regulations, local ordinances and charts (Cincinnati: Women’s Division of Christian Service, Board of Missions and Church Extension, Methodist Church, 1951).  Her fight for civil rights had begun in 1938, when the NAACP unsuccessfully sponsored her for admission to the University of NC.  In 1940 she was arrested in Virginia for refusing to sit in back of a bus.  For a timeline of her struggles and achievements, see Duke Human Rights Center’s Pauli Murray Project.

See also our Timeline entries about her: 19701973, 19741977, 1985, 1987, 2012 & 2015.



Pauli Murray Roots & Soul Mural, Durham NC
credit: Brett Cook & Pauli Murray Project

Pauli Murray, first African American woman to attend Howard U. School of Law and former parishioner at Emmanuel, received her J.D..  For its sesquicentennial Howard is hosting a TEDx conference on 9/15/1917: Singing of a New American”: Pauli Murray’s Legacy and Justice in the 21st Century.

See also: