Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rev. Riley's homily for January 21, 2018

3 EPIPHANY - B - 18                 MARK 1.14-20

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus’ first sermon echoes that of the prophet Jonah in today’s first lesson: repent and believe. Sounds more like a Lenten sermon doesn’t it? To repent and believe go hand in hand. Why should one repent if he is not going to believe, that is, accept the good news?

Jesus waited for the right moment to begin his ministry. John’s arrest was that moment in time. The purpose of the Old covenant was to prepare the people for Christ. John Baptist completed the preparation. The present age was ending and a new one just beginning. The coming of the Kingdom was at hand with Jesus as Messiah.

Jesus knew who he was from the moment of his baptism and what his mission and message was to be. Jonah, on the other hand, was a reluctant prophet. God sent him to a city that represented paganism at its worst. It was the last place on earth Jonah wanted to go.

Ninevah was the ancient capitol of Assyria. It was located on the eastern bank of the river Tigris opposite modern day Mosul. God sent Jonah there around 800 B.C. According to historians, the dimensions of the city were from 32 to 60 miles in circuit, which makes Jonah’s three-day journey around the city possible to believe.

Regardless of its size, Jonah did not want to be there. The Ninevites were the enemies of Israel. Yet he obeyed God and proclaimed to the inhabitants of the great city that in 40 days they would be destroyed if they did not repent. The people believed him and called for a fast. They openly repented of their sins and turned from their evil ways.

God accepted their change of heart and relented of the devastation he had planned to visit upon them. In contrast to Jesus, the message Jonah delivered was not about him, it was a message sent by God and gives us an insight into the character of God who does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he repent and live.

In Jesus’ case, it is a message about him, rather than a message by him, and it too reveals God’s true nature. God so loved the world that he sent his son, not to condemn it, but to save it. In sending Jesus, God initiated a divine rescue mission.

The old age of strife, evil and opposition to God would be replaced by the Kingdom of God and the way to enter it was by repentance and belief in the good news. Jesus is the good news. The message he preached brought new light on the nature and character of the One true God in contrast to the polytheism of the empire.

He preached that the time was fulfilled and that the kingdom of God was at hand. The whole of Mark’s gospel is an expression of this verse. A new day was about to dawn when the will and sovereignty of God will sway the hearts and thoughts of men. Those who would have the experience must repent.

Jesus stressed the importance of a complete break with the past. To repent is to do a total “about face.” The word in Greek literally means, “To change one’s mind.” Repentance is a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart; a complete re-orientation to a life centered on Christ. Repentance and belief go hand in hand.

With Jesus, the kingdom of God was being ushered in and God in Christ was inviting all to enter by way of turning back to a true loyalty to God. This would mean they would have to tear themselves away from all they had trusted in before and believe and trust in what God was now doing in and through Christ. That was not easy then, and it is not easy now. There is always a cost to discipleship.

However, that is precisely what Peter and Andrew, James and John did, and it is what all Christians are called to do. Only when you think a bit about the sort of life Peter, Andrew, James and John had, and the totally unknown future Jesus was inviting them to, do you understand just how earth shattering this little story was and is.

To leave everything you have ever known, all of your security, even your family, and follow Jesus indeed calls for a radical departure. God’s grace helps us to come to new options that are possible for us. Our prejudices and our pride can be changed. Inner healing is possible. We can have peace of mind and heart.

But only if we break from the past and place our trust in Him who is the good news. True repentance is more than reluctant obedience (Jonah). It is a full change of heart. We have to be willing to change by doing that “about face” and believing in the good news. Are we ready to turn from hatred, prejudice, and fear, and accept openness, freedom and goodwill?

That is not just a Lenten question. It is a question we must answer on a daily basis as life has a way of challenging our loyalty to God. The basic thesis of Jesus’ coming is a declaration of God’s universal Love, of God’s willingness to receive and bless all who turn to Him in humble repentance and obedience.

God has an unfolding purpose for the world and we are meant to be part of it. We are not only invited to believe in the kingdom of God; we are invited to participate in ushering it in. We do this by being willing to accept our roles as disciples in proclaiming the good news, not by a reluctant obedience, as Jonah displayed, but in thanksgiving for God having rescued us through the merits of His Son, Jesus.

The calling of these early disciples is an example of the ideal response to God’s call to each of us as opposed to the response of Jonah. There is always a cost to discipleship, and that cost is different for each of us. However, the promise of God in Christ of new an unending life in Him is the same for all who repent and believe. AMEN+

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Canon Rev. Gregg Riley's homily for January 14, 2018

2 EPIPHANY - B - 18               JOHN 1:43-51

A lot has happened in a short period of time, liturgically speaking since we last met. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated Jesus’ birth, and then came the visit of the Magi to the Christ child in the manger. Last week we heard St. John describe Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River where the voice of God was heard from heaven proclaiming Jesus as His Beloved Son.

Today Jesus is calling his first disciples from among those who belong to the Baptist. In each of the last few weeks, the gospel has been an eye-opener, or as we say in Churchy terms, a manifestation or revealing of whom Jesus really is. That is what the Epiphany season is all about. Today’s gospel is no different.

Christ looks into the heart of Nathanael, sees the depth of his soon to be disciple’s faith and integrity, and commends him for it. Nathanael is completely overwhelmed by Jesus’ knowledge of him and responds to Jesus’ divine intuition by declaring Jesus the Son of God.

Sometimes we merely stumble upon a great discovery, at other times the discovery is made after an invitation has been given and we dare to respond to it. In today’s gospel, for example, Phillip rushes out, finds his friend Nathanael, and announces to him that the Christ has been found.

When Phillip tells him, who and where Jesus is from, Nathanael balks unwilling to believe that something as wonderful as Messiah’s coming could possibly be from Nazareth. Then Phillip extends the invitation “Come and See.” Nathanael is inquisitive enough to follow Phillip and that is when Jesus sees them coming and makes his pronouncement concerning Nathanael.

What little it took for Nathanael to believe. For others, including most of us, it takes a lifetime of God revealing himself, and making his presence known before we can find it in ourselves to dare to respond by taking the leap of faith. Nathanael is the exception.

Today we might say that Phillip witnessed to Nathanael. Some Christians think that this kind of witnessing is all that there is to it.  You simply go and tell people about Christ, and then hope that they will believe it.  However, there is much more involved in coming to belief.

What does it take to come to belief?

Looking at Church history, we see that the early converts to Christianity did not, for the most part, understand and believe the gospel and then decide to become part of the church. They did in fact the reverse. They were first attracted to the Christian community.

Then and only then, by committing themselves to live the lifestyle of that community, as outlined by St. Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth, and elsewhere, did they grow to believe. Notice I said grow. From the font of life, we are called to grow in our love and knowledge of the Lord and that growth is meant for this lifetime and beyond.

This is why, when Nathanael scoffs at Phillip’s witness by saying, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Phillip does not turn away dejected, rather he invites Nathanael to come and see. It is important for us to understand that Phillip’s word to Nathanael is more than a mere invitation to come and take a look. St. John’s vocabulary here means, “Come and live,” “come and experience,” “come and be a part of” the community Jesus came to build.

God reveals himself and his plan for us a little at a time. Otherwise, we would be totally overwhelmed and unable to receive it. The discovery is made within the community in our sharing our experiences of God with one another.

Thus, the invitation is the same for us and for those to whom we extend it in His name. “Come and be a part of the community Jesus came to build,” “Come and live into the new life Jesus is calling all of us to.

Of the four gospels, St. John’s is unique. Unlike St. Mark, for example who let’s us know up front what and to whom he is writing about, St. John holds his explanation to the end. Throughout his gospel, he presents a series of “signs” that for John points to the true identity of Jesus.

It is his way of making the case that Jesus is indeed the Word made flesh, which has come into our world. Near the end of his gospel, St. John explains “…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”

John wrote his gospel so that people would be able to believe, but he knows that people do not come to belief in Christ in the same way as they come to believe in other truths, like the cause of the Revolutionary War, or how electricity works for example.

People come to faith in Christ only by being drawn into the story and into the community of Jesus. Like young Samuel in the Temple, we do not instantly recognize the claim of God upon our lives. It takes time, and it demands the testing of our shared experiences with others.

Only when we have experienced the story of Jesus by listening to it lovingly told by the church, gradually learning to make it our own story, and slowly being able to see our selves and the world in its light, can we truly say, “I believe.” Someone has said that full and authentic believing comes at the end of the journey, and not at the beginning.

I would say that this is true for the most part, but to this, I would also add that God in his loving kindness grants us little epiphanies along the way, visions, if you will, of the coming age. He does this to remind us that He is present, that we do not make the journey alone, and that His promises are true.

How do people come to believe? John says, by “coming and seeing.” By responding to the open invitation, which every true Christian community gives to all who will hear, an invitation to come and join us for worship and service.

The invitation does not demand that people believe at the beginning of the journey. It rather beckons them to join us by being willing to reach out and serve others in Christ’s name. For it is in serving others, St. John knows, that we will encounter the living Christ and “find life in his name.” AMEN+

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reading from December 31, 2017 from Bishop Jake Owensby

For Morning Prayer homily we offered a reading from Bishop Jake Owensby.  You may follow Bishop Jake's blogging at:
Here is a portion of the "Love Without Exception" text:

Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana

God’s love speaks each specific, unrepeatable person—and each hippo and salamander and brook trout—into being. God calls you and me to recognize, to respect, and to take joy in the unique beauty and goodness of each creature.

In other words, God urges us to love what God loves. That’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God. And if you’re anything like me, loving at this depth is something you’re still learning to do.

For instance, some years ago my friend Emile and I were driving back from a monthly clergy lunch in Athens, Alabama, to our homes in Huntsville. Emile had retired years earlier from Huntsville’s mother church and would hitch a ride with one priest or another to wherever we had decided to get together. He seemed to know everybody in northern Alabama, and my colleagues and I admired and adored him as our wise and nurturing elder.

When I picked Emile up at his house to head over to lunch, he had asked me if I minded making a stop on the way back. He knew a beekeeper and wanted to pick up some honey. On the return trip we pulled off the main road and wound a short way up a dirt track until we arrived at a ramshackle trailer sitting alone on a scrubby, red-clay lot.
The door of the trailer opened and a tall, lanky man sprang down the steps and strode energetically toward us. His long, wind-tossed hair brushed his shoulders. His wiry beard reached to his chest. His broad smile revealed large gaps between his few remaining teeth.
We shook hands as Emile briefly introduced me to Jim. I smiled back thinking, “Wow! This is so Emile! He befriends every sort and condition of person. This poor, uneducated guy feels as comfortable with Emile as the bank presidents and lawyers and doctors back in his old congregation do.”
Jim nodded at me and quickly turned to Emile and said, “You know, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to that conversation we had about the Oxford Movement and rereading their tracts. They’ve revolutionized my doctrine of the Church, the Sacraments, and the relationship between Church and State.”
Um. What?!?
I had seen only a backwoods hick. But hicks don’t talk like this. Or read Pusey and Newman. Or talk about sacramental theology.
We see most people in passing. From habit or for convenience, sometimes from fear or prejudice, we lump people into one group or another and then assume that we know all we need to know about them. That’s a Jew or an Arab or a gay person or a teenaged black male or a redneck.
The philosopher Martin Buber said that when we size people up in this way we form an I-It relationship with them. We radically depersonalize them. Condescension, disrespect, and even hatred become much easier when “Jim” is just one of those people. An It.
God doesn’t sort people into groups like Muslim or red-blooded American. God recognizes this person’s unmistakable scent, feels the unique rhythm of this person’s pulse, hears the tones and cadences of this person’s voice.
God embraces our radical particularity. No one can be exchanged for someone else. Martin Buber calls this an I-Thou relationship. You can’t hate, objectify, exploit, debase, or ignore the suffering of a Thou.
God does not love humanity. “Humanity” is an abstraction. God loves Maria and Youssef, Kalifa and Bubba. God loves the twinkle in those eyes, the rasp of that voice, the shyness of that smile. No two laughs, no two souls, no two hearts, no two life-stories are alike.
God loves real flesh and blood people. Each and every one. And if we seek to love God, the only way forward is to love real people. Without exception.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Services for December 2017 and January 2018

Services for December 2017 and January 2018:

Morning Prayer Rite II, Dec 31

Morning Prayer Rite II, Jan 7

Holy Eucharist, Jan 14, 21; 28

(all services at 10am)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for Christmas Eve, 5pm December 24, 2017

CHRISTMAS EVE - B - 17            LUKE 2:1-20

Tonight’s gospel from St. Luke is such a familiar story. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be enrolled for the purpose of taxes! Mary is with child. Perhaps the rigors of the journey from Nazareth to the city of David ended her pregnancy.

It seems they arrived later than many others did for there were no rooms available. In such a small town as Bethlehem, the rooms would have been few and far between. Those who did not have to travel as far got there first and were fortunate enough to find proper accommodations.

Surely, there were others families there with infants and small children. Perhaps other babies were born that same night. However, this child of Mary was different. No other child in the little town of Bethlehem on that silent night was introduced to the world by an angel of the Lord.

It is a story we could all repeat in detail. The question is do we? Luke tells us that the shepherds to whom the angel announced the good news of great joy did just that. “…they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed…”

Isn’t that what we do when we have received good news? We can’t wait to go and tell it. This is the Church’s mission and has been for over 2000 years - to go and tell the familiar story - that the Word became flesh on a starry night in the little town of Bethlehem and has dwelt among us full of grace and truth.

So why is the world we live in today in such a state of spiritual disrepair? What happened to the good news of great joy for all people? Did the world simply stop believing?

Or did the Church stop telling the story in a convincing manner of the night when the grace of God and the hope of salvation came into the world wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a common manger because there was no room for him anywhere else?

I have been fortunate over my lifetime to travel much of the world. In recent years, I have visited countries that were once predominately Christian, countries for example, that one reads about in the Acts of the Apostles. These were converted by the efforts of St. Peter and Paul who eventually gave their lives for their efforts.

They thrived for many centuries sustained by the faith of those who followed in the apostle’s footsteps. The fruit of their witness produced more than one saint. Today those countries have been lost to the gospel and to the Church. It is as if the good news was never heard in those lands.

Sadly, I have seen Churches that were built to the Glory of God and are now in a state of disrepair. Some are even being used as warehouses. Others have been converted into mosques. All vestiges of the Christian faith have been removed. Medieval frescoes that once adorned their ceilings and walls have been painted over.

The few faithful who remain in these once predominately Christian countries have all but gone underground. They are no longer free to share in detail the good news of the Savior’s birth or any other aspect of their faith for fear of persecution. It is as if the hand of time has been turned back a thousand years or more. Like Mary, in our Christmas story, they still “treasure the words and ponder them in their hearts.”

What of us who are free to express our faith, free to share the familiar story, and are here tonight to hear it told once again? Do we “treasure the words and ponder them in our hearts” keeping it all to ourselves? Or do we take up the role of the shepherds who were surprised by the announcement of the angel and go and tell all we come in contact with the “good news” that the Savior has been born?

That is how the shepherds responded. They even did the unthinkable when the good news was announced. They abandoned watching over their flocks and went to see for themselves if what the angel had told them was true. They stood in awe at the crèche’ where the Christ-child lay and told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said concerning this child.

Leaving the manger, they did not hesitate to make known what had been told them about the child they had just seen and all who heard it were amazed, and people still are. Why, then, would not the whole world readily receive Him?

The answer is simply because not everyone is looking for a savior. Not everyone sees the need of a redeemer. Not everyone is willing to humble themselves and become obedient to a King. The Church has yet much work to do in sharing the “good news,” and rekindling the hope and joy His coming into the world brings.

The Christmas story is so familiar that we often miss the import of the shepherd’s role. Of course, the focus is on the Christ-child as it should be. He is at the center of the scene. It is His birth we celebrate tonight. He came that we might believe in Him and so believing inherit new life.

He has given the Church the mission of the shepherds who were the first to tell of the saving grace and Love of God in the Word made flesh. The Apostles picked up their mantle and their mission. As the Church, you and I have inherited it.

Such a familiar story, yet with such a powerful announcement that has and continues to impact the life of the world. Does it still amaze us? Still surprise us that God so loved the world that He humbled his divinity to share in our humanity that we might one day come to share in his glory?

The shepherd’s role is ours to take up in joyful response to our belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. For there are yet parts of the world today that have never heard the story as well as those parts that have forgotten all about it and the meaning behind it. Sadly there are still others that have heard it but do not yet believe it.

All the more reason for us who do believe to leave the manger tonight with the same joy in our hearts as those shepherds did on that first Christmas Eve, willing to tell the story of the Savior’s Birth to all, as if we have just heard it for the first time, so that the message of this familiar story shall never be lost.

“Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign.” (Hymn #84, v1) “O Come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord.” Amen+

Monday, December 25, 2017

Father Riley's homily from Advent IV, 10am Sunday, December 24, 2017

ADVENT IV - B - 17                     LUKE 1. 26-38

For weeks now, we have been receiving Christmas greetings, via cards, and the playing of Christmas music and carols through loud speakers as we shop for that last minute gift or listening to them on our car radios as we drive around looking for a parking space at the mall.

The many wishes of a Merry Christmas are in themselves an announcement that the day is drawing near when we will celebrate once again the birth of the Savior of the world. Advent is a season of patiently waiting. This morning we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath in anticipation of our journey to Bethlehem coming to an end, but not quite yet.

There is one more announcement to be made; a birth announcement that comes in today’s gospel. It is a divine announcement delivered by a messenger of God to a young maiden in the village of Nazareth. Her name is Mary. Today the Virgin Mary is our focus.

Mary we are told, has found favor with God, but we are not told how or why. Could it possibly be that God knew that Mary would consent to be the mother of His Son? I have always envisioned the scene of the annunciation as being a routine day for Mary. It started out like any other day.

I can see Mary sweeping and cleaning the house or perhaps involved in preparing a meal. Her day was like any other day until she was not only suddenly surprised by the appearance of an angel, but of his greeting! “Greetings favored one.” What did he mean that she was favored by God and that God was with her?

When the angel announced that she had been, she reacted as any of us would. She did not ask to be chosen. It was only natural that she be somewhat perplexed and not a little afraid. I have often wondered was her fear do to the angels’ sudden appearance or was it the message he brought?  Perhaps it was both.

She listened, as the angel Gabriel not only told her the name of the child she was to bear, more importantly who the child was and what he would become.  His name will be Jesus, Gabriel told her.  He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High. He will be a king and his reign will be forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.

What could it possibly mean for her to be the mother of God’s Son? What could it possibly mean for the life of the world?

Months later, she would find herself delivering her first-born son in a common manger in the little town of Bethlehem. Some might say a strange place for a “king’s” birth. Once again, unannounced visitors would surprise her. This time it would be a contingent of local shepherds who would uncharacteristically abandon their flocks on the nearby hillside and hurry to the manger to see what the angel had told them was true.

Mary will watch as they kneel in humble obedience before her child, as if they are in the presence of a king. They will tell her and her husband Joseph what the angel told them concerning the child, that he would be the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Once again, Mary will listen and hold their words in her heart uncertain of what it all would one day mean. At that moment, she would be unable to contemplate the day when she would kneel at the cross and watch her son die a cruel death. That day would come, but for now, she could only ask how what the angel is announcing could be happening to her.

Unlike the old, priest Zachariah, John Baptist’s father, whom Gabriel had announced earlier that he would have a son in his old age and then in his unbelief asked for a sign, Mary simply asks for an explanation.

How can this be since I am still a virgin? The angel gives what looks like a double explanation: the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary, enabling her to do and be more than she could by herself. The power of the Most High will overshadow her.

Mary was given special grace to become the mother of God’s incarnate Self. She is the extreme example of what always happens when God is at work by grace through human beings. God’s power from outside, and the indwelling Spirit within, together result in things done which would have been unthinkable any other way. For with God all things are possible.

We read the stories in scripture where God appears to individuals and delivers His will for them. Other times He sends a messenger to speak for him, like the prophets of old, or in Mary’s case, an angel. When we read them, we say to ourselves “God has never spoken to me. I have never seen an angel.” But can we be so sure?

I can only speak for myself and confess that there have been moments in the past when I have been certain that it was God who was speaking. Oh, not directly, like “hello Gregg, this is God.” But moments and occasions when He sent a messenger who spoke for him and delivered the word I was listening for or pointed me in the direction I needed to take.

Sometimes it was an answer to a prayer. Other times it was a solution to a problem I had been struggling to solve. Always these “announcements” came as a surprise, and I might add were not always delivered by individuals I was acquainted with. Some were total strangers.

Think about it. How many times has God “announced” his will for you? Did you listen? Did you question? Did you give Him your “yes?” Did you, like Mary, simply ask how or were you more akin to the old priest Zachariah and ask for a sign so that you could know for sure that it was indeed God speaking? Faith allows us to ask “how?” Our unbelief always seeks a “sign.”

The only legitimate attitude of man to God is represented in Mary‘s; “let it be with me according to your word.” As always, the divine purpose of God for each of us waits for our “yes” and our cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit so that we too might be filled with God’s grace and enabled to do and be more than we possibly could by our self.

It is the Virgin Mary’s “yes” to God, her humble obedience that has rung down through the centuries as a model of the human response to God’s unexpected vocation. Her “yes” answers the question why God chose her to be the mother of His Son, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

It is Mary we focus on today as we draw near the crèche. It is her example of humble obedience we seek to follow by giving our “yes” to God. AMEN+

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Eve Services: 10am and 5pm

Since Christmas Eve is also the 4th Sunday in Advent, we will have two services this Sunday.  We will have Holy Eucharist at 10am for our 4th Sunday in Advent service and we will have Holy Eucharist at 5pm for our Christmas Eve Service.  Of course, everyone is welcome to join us at both services.