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


January 8.    Pauli Murray was ordained a priest at the Washington National Cathedral by the Rt. Rev. William F. Creighton, bishop of the (Episcopal) Diocese of Washington. She was the first African American woman, and one of the first women, to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church.

February 13.  At the invitation of the rector of The Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill NC, the Rev. James Peter Lee, The Rev. Dr. Murray celebrated her first Eucharist.   She read from her grandmother Cornelia Smith’s Bible, from a lectern that had been given in memory of the woman who had owned Cornelia, Mary Ruffin Smith. This was the first time a woman celebrated the Eucharist at an Episcopal church in North Carolina.  In her autobiography (1987), p. 435) Pauli described her thoughts about the service, which our Parish Historian Mary Chitty attended:

Whatever future ministry I might have as a priest, it was given to me that day to be a symbol of healing. All the strands of my life had come together. Descendant of slave and of slave owner, I had already been called poet, lawyer, teacher, and friend. Now I was empowered to minister the sacrament of One in whom there is no north or south, no black or white, no male or female – only the spirit of love and reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness.

See also:

The Episcopal Archives’ Leadership Gallery  features video coverage of Murray offering the Eucharist in her grandmother’s church, which was later published in 1985 by the television series “On the Road”.

Timeline entries:  1951, 1970, 1973, 19741985, 19872012 & 2015.


Pauli Murray, who was a vestry member, entered the General Theological Seminary.  She considered Emmanuel to be her sponsoring parish, which “sent me forth as a member of your congregation with your blessings and prayers to begin my training for the Sacred Ministry”.*  The Rev. Alvin L. Kershaw had helped her discern a call to ordination.

Once I admitted the call of total commitment to service in the church, it seemed that I had been pointed in this direction all my life and that my experiences were merely preparation for this calling.  In spite of my own intellectual doubts and the opposition to women’s ordination which was widespread within the Episcopal Church at the time, I took the fateful step of applying to the Right Reverend John Melville Burgess, bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, for admission to holy orders. (Autobiography, 1989, p. 427)

*From her sermon preached at Emmanuel on March 3, 1974.

See also: