The Missing Letter

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22C, October 2, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Lamentations 1:1-6 How lonely…her priests groan, her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.
2 Timothy 1:1-11 Recalling your tears…I am reminded of…a faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice…rekindle the gift of God that is within you.
Luke 17:5-10 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

O God of our weary years and silent tears, 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 first reading this morning was taken from the book of Lamentations, and I want to linger there a while because we so seldom read anything from this book of the Bible. Only once every three years do we hear any passage from Lamentations during our Sunday worship. It doesn’t surprise me that we don’t read from this book more often, because it’s a collection of five dirges, five poems of deep pain and suffering, of outrage and grief, of complaint and protest, in response to political calamity, social and economic devastation, and utter theological collapse. The poetry of Lamentations challenges the notion that religious life should somehow be spiritual but not political. I often think that anyone who believes that hasn’t read very much of the Bible, but the lectionary colludes by not scheduling many overtly political readings. 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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The end of the beginning?

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (7C), June 19, 2016; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

1 Kings 19:1-15a What are you doing here Elijah?
Psalm 42 Deep calls to deep.
Galatians 3:23-29 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all of you are one.
Luke 8:26-39 Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.

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.

It has been a hard and sad week around here.  We’ve mourned the tragic deaths in Orlando and Boston has buried Raekwon Brown, 17 year old high school junior who saved the life of a 67 year old woman before he was shot during a fire drill at school.  What do we say to our children – what do we say to ourselves about God in a week like this?  I’m reminded that just a few weeks ago after a Sunday service, a little boy, nearly five years old approached me with his dad, who said that his son had a question for me.  I knelt down to hear his question.  “Where is God?” he asked.  Borrowing the words of one of my rabbinic teachers, I said, “God is in the beginning…God is in the endings, and all around us.”  He squinted at me suspiciously.  “God is inside of you and all around you.  God is in your baby sister’s tiny hands and God is in your grandfather’s eyes.  God is in the cookies fresh from the oven and in the first day of a new season.  God is in the end of the day and in the last kiss goodnight. God is always near.” [1]
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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

It is I.

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12B, July 26, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

2 Samuel 11:1-15 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…David [stayed home].
Ephesians 3:14-21 The power to comprehend…what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ.
John 6:1-21 Ego eimi mey phobeisthe.

O God of wonder, 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.

We have, for our edification this morning, two fantastic stories, so famous that you certainly don’t have to be a Christian to know them – stories of abundance out of scarcity in the loaves and fishes and of walking on water in some rough weather. The stories get larger and more profound with each iteration in the four Gospels. By the time that the Gospel of John was written, the hunger of the crowds and the threatening storm have become less problems to be solved by Jesus and more lessons to be taught by Jesus, who knew all along, according to John, what he was going to do to try to impress on his followers the meaning of the presence, the power, and the promise of God. The Gospel of John has the biggest fish story of all! Continue reading

Expect miracles.

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9B, July 5, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10King David made a covenant with them.
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness…Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Mark 6:1-13 Jesus left that place and came to his home…then he went among the villages teaching.

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.

This past week has changed the Episcopal Church. Of course, every week changes the Church because to be alive is to be changed, but sometimes change is more noticeable than others, right? This week the Church’s ideas about and practices of home, heart, and hands got stretched and I saw it happen. This past week I traveled to Salt Lake City to attend four days of the ten-day General Convention of the Episcopal Church. By a blessed coincidence, I arrived on Monday, the day that the House of Bishops prayed and deliberated, and at last voted, to extend the sacrament of holy matrimony to same-sex couples across the whole Episcopal Church in jurisdictions where such marriage is legal, and to extend the blessing rite in those places where same-sex marriage is still not legal; and included a requirement that all bishops, even bishops who disagree or disapprove, make provisions for same-sex couples seeking blessing and marriage. The next day the House of Deputies voted to concur. But it wasn’t just extending same-sex marriage. Continue reading

What Difference It Makes

Trinity Sunday, Year B, May 31, 2015; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Isaiah 6:1-8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!
Romans 8:12-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
John 3:1-17 How can anyone be born after having grown old?

O God incarnate, 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.

Last week I told you that the Feast of Pentecost is my favorite church holiday. It’s always followed by Trinity Sunday – not my favorite. It’s the only Sunday in the church year entirely devoted to a doctrine – that’s the good news I guess (that there’s only one). Even though it is the most beautiful of doctrines, I doubt if it’s possible (for me) to preach on Trinity Sunday without accidentally tripping over some orthodoxy and falling headlong into heresy. One option, I guess, is to just choose the alternative lessons for the first Sunday after Pentecost, or focus on the Feast of the Visitation, which falls on May 31 (and is the twelfth anniversary of when the Church named me a priest). The thing is, though, I love the Trinity hymns. I love St. Patrick’s Breastplate – the name of our processional hymn this morning. It’s frequently playing in my head. I love the hymn we will sing at the offertory – Holy Holy Holy – called Nicaea. In the hymnal of my childhood, it was number one in the book and in my heart. I still remember the time about thirty years ago when I first heard someone read Isaiah 6:1-8 in Hebrew, demonstrating the power of the poetry and the mystery – Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Continue reading

As a Gentile and a Tax Collector

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 18A, September 7, 2014; The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz

Exodus 12:1-14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.
Romans 13:8-14 Love is the fulfilling of the law.
Matthew 18:15-20 Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

O God of mercy, 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.

Those of you who have heard me preach more than once or twice might know that I often complain about lectionary reading combination – the scheduled selections of the Hebrew Bible, Second Testament, and Gospel readings. Today I love them. Today, the reading from Exodus in the Torah, the piece of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and the Gospel passage from Matthew all speak to each other so beautifully, at least to my ears. I especially love the way the first two readings can help us realize what the Gospel reading is all about, not in a way that props up the Gospel, but in a way that illuminates the path for us. Continue reading

Jacob wrestles with God.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, August 3, 2014, The Rev. Frederick Stecker

Genesis 32:22-31 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
Romans 9:1-5 I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
Matthew 14:13-21 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart.

In a book of poems entitled Yahweh’s Other Shoe Benedictine poet Kilian McDonnell interprets the Hebrew saga we’ve been following. His poem is entitled God Cheats. [1] Continue reading