Softhearted

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A, May 18, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Acts 7:55-60 ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.
1 Peter 2:2-10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
John 14:1-14 Do not let your heart be troubled.

O God of our waking up, 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.

This morning our deacon, Bob Greiner is away on retreat with other deacons, and so he is missing the gruesome account in the Book of Acts about the first deacon, Stephen, becoming the first martyr because an angry mob threw stones at him until he died. I think the deacons may have been reading ahead in the lectionary when he scheduled his time away. And the stone references in our scripture readings today in Acts and in 1 Peter were on my mind this past Friday as I sat in my study trying to think while stone masons sawed boulders making a stone wall surrounding my next door neighbor’s back yard. The sound of cutting stone is a crying out that reminds me of Jesus’ response to people who tell him to silence his followers. Remember? He says that if they were quiet, the stones themselves would cry out. Deadly stones and living stones, stumbling blocks and building blocks, crushing weights, and substantial foundations – hard and heavy either way.
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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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Thirst

Lent 3A, March 19, 2017; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Exodus 17:1-7 The people thirsted there.
Romans 5:1-11 God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
John 4:5-42 Give me a drink.

O God of water and thirst, 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 just want to note that in our first reading this morning, I added the translation for the place names because to transliterate the Hebrew word “seen” as Sin just seems wrong. I should have added that the word Nile doesn’t appear in the Hebrew text – it’s just the river, and Horeb means “desert.” Perhaps the place names are not important to translate, but I couldn’t get past the distraction of calling the place in the Sinai, “Sin,” and I didn’t want you to either, particularly because our cantata text is all about sin. When you hear it, listen remembering that sin, according to the Bible, is separation from Love from neighbor. Sin is what we do or fail to do that keeps us apart from Love of neighbor and of God who is Love. Our scripture readings for today are not directly addressing sin, but are reflections on thirst, the physical and spiritual desire for wellsprings. Continue reading

Wait and watch. (with audio)

Fourth Sunday in Advent, Proper 4A, December 18, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 7:10-17 Before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Romans 1:1-7 “including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.

O God of freedom, 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 year, our fourth Sunday of Advent falls as far away from Christmas as our calendar ever permits. This year, we have six full days after today left in this longest Advent. Perhaps that’s why the traditional Advent themes of waiting and watching and being patient are really chafing this year. Probably, though, it’s more than just the six extra days. My own irritation with the messages of waiting and watching and being patient, surely has something to do with our unfolding national political crisis, with the dramatic rise of hate crimes, with the growing threats to racial and religious minorities, immigrants and refugees, women, people who identify as LGBTorQ, poor people. My irritation with the messages of waiting and watching and being patient, surely has something to do with global political instability, and growing threats to the environmental condition of the planet. Waiting and watching and being patient seems like exactly what we cannot afford to be doing.
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We will grow in love. (with audio)

Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Proper 29C, November 20, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Jeremiah 23:1-6 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them!
Colossians 1:11-20 Making peace through the blood of his cross.
Luke 23:33-43 Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

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.

Perhaps you are wondering what a crucifixion story is doing being read this far away from Holy Week. Today marks the end of our liturgical year. This Gospel lesson is appointed for today because, while we are celebrating the all-embracing authority of God’s Christ, that is, Love’s redeeming urge, and we sing hymns of gratefulness and praise, we can always use a reminder that our King of kings and Lord of lords was executed as a criminal with other criminals. He was friends with criminals while he lived, and then he died with them too. The word that Luke uses for criminal is literally “evil doer.” Our king, our highest earthly authority was executed for sedition – that is, for inciting resistance or disobedience to the government.
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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

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

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

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

Digging deep.

Second Sunday after Pentecost, (4C), May 29, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

1 Kings 18:20-21(22-29)30-39 No voice, no answer, and no response [from Baal].
Galatians 1:1-12 …Not that there is another Gospel…
Luke 7:1-10 Lord…I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.

O God 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.

As I promised you last week, we have returned to the Gospel of Luke, the great story-teller. Today we hear that Jesus has finished all of his sayings in the hearing of the people. What were all of his sayings? Well, the beatitudes, descriptions of both blessings and curses, and Jesus’ instructions on how to live fully into the realm of God: love your enemies; give to everyone who begs from you; do not judge; forgive one another; don’t be hypocrites; don’t be like trees that bear bad fruit. Be like trees that bear good fruit. Those are familiar teachings, often read in church. But then comes a passage that is so rarely read that I don’t remember ever hearing it, and when I looked at the verses leading up to the story of the centurion’s slave, I skipped right over it. Fortunately for me (and maybe for you), my wife Joy was also writing a sermon this week to preach at her parents’ church in Independence, Missouri this morning. Joy is a trained notice. She noticed what Jesus says just before our Gospel portion for today picks up. Continue reading