Tuesday, April 10, 2018

NEWS for Sunday April 15th and Father Riley's 'Low Sunday' homily


Sunday Service time change!!!   Evening Prayer service at 5pm, Sunday, April 15, 2018
Mrs.  Jane Barnett has offered to lead Evening Prayer at 5pm this Sunday.  Morning Prayer will be cancelled for Sunday morning April 15.  Please join Jane and others in our church for Evening Prayer at 5pm Sunday, April 15th.  10am services will continue Sunday April 22, 2018.  More news as soon as I have it.

EASTER II - B - 18   JOHN 20. 19-31

“LOW SUNDAY”




Today, being the Sunday that follows Easter Day is often referred to as “low Sunday” for obvious reasons. In many churches, there are more absent than present on this day. It is as if having attended Church on Easter Sunday and heard the acclamation “He is risen!” one can now return to one’s normal routine without giving it a second thought.

Unfortunately many do, for the Church only sees them on Easter - and maybe Christmas! We have become so accustomed to attending Church on Easter Day that we forget that we are to live the Easter faith day by day.

Today’s gospel reading follows the Easter story from John. The scene is the upper room. It is the evening of the day of resurrection. Peter and the other disciple who had accompanied him early that morning to the empty tomb to check out Mary Magdalene’ report have returned. They are in hiding along with the other disciples because they were afraid that the Jews might seek them out and do to them what they had done to Jesus.

One can only imagine what they were discussing. The scene is proof that they did not understand about the resurrection. They were not yet Easter Christians. They were on the other side of the cross. Likewise, it was a “low Sunday” for them as they were not all present. Thomas was absent.

Was he not afraid of being arrested? On the other hand, was he so despondent that he did not care what might happen to him now that his lord had been crucified? Regardless of why, he was absent. That is when the surprise of Easter confronted those who were hiding in the upper room. The risen Christ appeared in their midst. “Peace be with you.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Christ’ peace dispelled their fear. It was the marks of the crucifixion, the wounds of love that convinced them that it was indeed the risen Lord who was speaking to them and was now in their presence.

Christ gives them a second “peace” before he commissions them to go out and complete his work in the world by continuing the ministry of reconciliation. To do so he empowers them with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins.

We do not have their response. What we have is a change of scene. Thomas returns and is told what has happened. However, Thomas did not believe them. Perhaps he thought they had seen a vision or else they were hallucinating. If they had seen him, as they said, and had received his gifts of power, joy, and the commission to continue his work, why were they still there? Why were they not out on the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming his resurrection?

Thomas’ doubt represents that of all who came after him. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails… and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The gathered disciple’s report of the risen Lord’s appearance to them in Thomas’ absence did not convince him. The doubt of Thomas was not a doubt of resistance to truth, but one that desperately desired a truthful answer - a doubt which gave birth to faith when the answer was revealed eight days later.

This time they are all together, including Thomas. The risen Lord came and stood among them bringing his peace yet a third time. Jesus signals Thomas out. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” St. John does not report whether or not Thomas complied with the Lord’s request.

In my heart, I have always felt that he did not, although he was bold to say that he not only wanted to see for himself, but touch Jesus. Seeing the risen Christ bearing the marks of the crucifixion face to face was enough to convince him that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

Whether he touched Jesus or not the conversion of Thomas’ doubt into faith led him to the clearest confession of Christ’ divinity, addressing Jesus as my Lord and my God. Thomas’ faith is resurrected by his personal encounter with the risen lord.

Unlike Thomas and the other disciples, we have not seen Him as they did. What are our credentials for declaring, “He is risen”?  Should we believe because the Church says so?  Although we have never seen Him, as the disciples saw him, we can see him in the face of friend or stranger who manifests the natural love of Christ in their relationship to another human being.

We can see him in the person who kneels next to us at the altar to receive the sacrament of His Body and Blood as one redeemed as our self. In the sacrament, we can touch him. We are blessed because we have not seen him, as they did, and yet we believe in Him.

He continues to give us his peace, which passes all of our human understanding at the very times when we need it most, in times of hopelessness and despair, in times of doubt and fear. Though His Peace He makes His presence known in the gift of new life He gives to those who believe.

The Resurrection of Jesus brings into being the Church as the Body of Christ. It’s unity, its commission, its endowment. All that Jesus has won is now given to his disciples and through them to all who have come after them. There is, however, a difference between something being achieved and something being implemented.

How do we, as individuals and as Church respond to a doubting world? How do we spread the “good news” to other cultures and people who are not thinking about God’s kingdom, who are not waiting for a messiah, who do not look at the world through the lens of the cross and see that salvation has come through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? That is the Easter challenge.

Today’s gospel builds up into a dramatic climax from the immaterial evidence of the empty tomb to the risen Christ alive and in the presence of those who believed in him. Our faith rests not in an empty tomb or for that matter on an empty cross. Nor did theirs. Thankfully our faith and belief in the risen Lord is not confined to a yearly acclamation.

The disciples learned to live the Easter faith day by day and to tell the Easter story from a personal experience. That is what convinced other people to believe without having seen Him. That is how the disciples met the Easter challenge.

This is how we meet it today by living the Easter faith as a people blessed for having not seen and yet believing. And by telling our story of how the risen Lord has made and continues to make himself known to us by giving us His Peace and the gift of new life in Him.



Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! AMEN+ 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Father Riley's Easter homily 2018


EASTER - YEAR B - 2018           JOHN 20. 1-18



Easter is meant to be a surprise and the surprise of Easter confronts us in John’s account of that first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene, it would appear, went to the tomb alone while it was still dark. She was on a mission. Her mission was simply to anoint the dead body of Jesus and to pack it with spices, in essence to complete the traditional burial practice of the Jews of her day that was made impossible by Jesus’ hasty burial on Good Friday.

Unlike the women in Mark’s account, Mary seemed to be totally unconcerned with the issue of the stone that had been rolled in place to secure the tomb. When she arrived, however, the stone was no longer an issue. Somehow, it had been removed from the tomb. Seeing that the stone had been rolled away, and without looking in, Mary assumed the grave had been robbed of the body of her Lord she had come to anoint.

With that idea dominating her thoughts, she ran away from the tomb as fast as she could and sought Peter who was in hiding with the beloved disciple. She reported to them what she assumed had taken place, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Casting caution to the wind, Peter and the other disciple made their way to the tomb picking up speed as they went until the younger disciple out ran Peter and got there first. However, he waited to go in until Peter arrived. He only peered inside and saw the linen wrappings laying there. In contrast, upon his arrival, Peter did not hesitate to enter the tomb. The linens were lying there neatly folded and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face rolled up by itself.

Who would go to the trouble of neatly folding the linens that had wrapped his body if they intended to steal it?

The other disciple also stepped inside. John reports that he saw and believed. However, it was not that he believed Jesus had risen from the dead, for that was the furthers thing from his mind. He simply believed what Mary had said was true. The tomb was empty.

The body of Jesus was not there. The witness of Peter and the other disciple confirmed Mary’s report. Having done so, they returned to their homes. Neither the disciples nor Mary went to the tomb expecting resurrection.

The disciples would not have even gone there had it not been for Mary’s suspicion that the tomb had been robbed.  They were in hiding. They left the tomb knowing that Jesus had indeed died on Friday, saddened, and a bit mystified that his body was missing and nothing more.

Mary, on the other hand, could not bring herself to leave. As she wept, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. Where did they come from? They were not there moments before, when Peter and John were inside, or were they?

Maybe sometimes you can only see angels through tears. When people are afraid angels tend to tell them not to be. And when people are in tears, angels ask them why, as they did Mary.

Obviously unafraid of their appearance, Mary said to them “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” And when she tuned around she saw Jesus standing at the entrance to the tomb. She was standing in the darkness of the empty tomb and did not recognize him through her tears of grief.

He, on the other hand, was standing in the light of his resurrected body, in the light of a new day. Jesus said to her, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? “She supposed him to be the gardener, and said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus called her by name and it was then that she recognized him and reached out to touch him. He stopped her and gave her a new mission. “Go to my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father, and your father, to my God and your God.”

And Mary, as I have always imagined her was still clutching the spices she had come to the tomb to anoint the dead body of her Lord, went as the Lord had commanded her and announced to the disciples that she had seen the risen Christ. What a surprise!

In John’s account of the Passion, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. She witnessed the death of Jesus along with his mother and the beloved disciple. On Easter morning, she is the first to visit the tomb and to bring the news that the tomb is empty. More importantly, she is the first to see, to meet, to speak to the risen Lord. Easter is full of surprises.

Mary is surprised that the stone had been rolled away. She is surprised that the tomb is empty, surprised at the angel’s appearance. The biggest surprise of all comes in the appearance of the risen Lord who makes himself known to her by calling her name. He recognizes her in the darkness of her grief, and sends the light of his resurrection upon her that turns her despair into joy.

In addition, the disciples are surprised, first, by the fact of the empty tomb, then, by the linens being neatly folded where the body had been. Finally, they were surprised by Mary’s report that she had seen the risen Lord and he had spoken to her.

Easter is meant to be a surprise. It is not a happy ending after the horror of the cross, though some treat it as such. No, Easter reads like a shocking new beginning. The story does not end with Easter - Easter begins a new story, the story which is now possible because Jesus has risen from the dead.

It is a story of grief being turned into joy. Despair into hope. Doubt into belief. Death into resurrection. In the resurrected Jesus all of our grief, doubts, despair and dying come to new life.

Because of Easter a new way of living has been opened to us, a new way of being human - a way that people thought impossible then and think impossible still today, but a way that has caught up millions and transformed their lives beyond recognition.

Easter is all about new beginnings that continue to surprise. Because He is risen, the Light of the Resurrection has penetrated the darkness of sin and death and opened the way to eternal life to all who believe in Him. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! AMEN+

Friday, March 30, 2018

Father Riley's Good Friday homily and notes


Many thanks to Father Riley, Cecil, and Vickie for a beautiful Good Friday service.  And, a thank you to all the readers during our Stations of the Cross.
Please note: 
1.  If you would like to make a "Good Friday" offering, belatedly, please put cash for Good Friday offering in an envelope with "Good Friday Offering" on it; or, make your check to Christ Episcopal Church with "Good Friday Offering" in the 'for' space and place it in the offering plate Easter Sunday.  Following our Episcopal tradition, the Good Friday offering will go "...to support the ongoing ministry of love and compassion carried out by our Anglican sisters and brothers throughout the Province of Jerusalem and Middle East." (The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate)
2.  Easter Sunday will include the flowering of the cross.  Bring as many beautiful flowers as you can and we will celebrate Easter Sunday at 10am.
3.  Please consider continuing your Easter with watching "Jesus Christ Superstar" on NBC Easter Sunday at 7pm CDT.
SEE YOU EASTER!  Peace be with you.

GOOD FRIDAY - B - 18       

THE PASSION ACCORDING TO ST. JOHN




For the second time this week, we listen quietly to the Passion Narrative. We heard it first from St. Mark as we celebrated Palm Sunday, and we hear it again today from St. John. Both accounts tell the same story of Jesus’ arrest in the garden, his mock trial before the Sanhedrin, his denial by Peter and finally his being brought before the Roman governor and sentenced to die on the cross.

There are a few subtle differences in John’s reporting as opposed to Mark’s that are worth noting. Mark’s Jesus is silent before Pilate. Pilate asks many questions of Jesus but Jesus gives no answers. Whereas in John a dialogue ensues between Jesus and Pilate with Jesus admitting that he is a king. O the other hand, Jesus refuses to answer Pilate’s question “where are you from?”

In contrast to Mark’s account that Jesus was totally abandoned at the cross, John tells us that his mother and two other women along with the beloved disciple stood at the foot of the cross and watched him suffer and die. I have often wondered why John, the supposed beloved disciple, was the only one of the twelve who was present. Was he there because the mother of Jesus asked him to escort her to the place of her son’s execution?

We simply do not know. What we do know is that he was there according to John, and that Jesus entrusted his mother to him and from that day forward John cared for her as if she were his own mother. This was Jesus’ gift from the cross and John accepted it.

The story of Jesus’ death on the cross is a tragedy from our human perspective. That is the way the world views it. However, it is not how God viewed it. Strangely enough, it was part of God’s plan from the beginning. The Passion of Christ was the cup Jesus prayed in the garden that might pass him by.

It was the means by which the world was saved from sin and death whether the world knew it then or not or for that matter knows it today. Throughout the gospels, Christ speaks of the coming day of his glory.

He tells his mother at the wedding feast in Cana when she asks him to do something for her, that it is not yet time. He retreats with his disciples on more than one occasion when it appears the people want to make him a king. He teaches time and time again that the concept of king the people are holding to is not who he is, not what he is about, and that God’s kingdom is unlike any earthly kingdom they know.

However, on this day he admits to Pilate that he is a king and yet, he says, his kingdom is not of this world. Thus, he was crowned as a king by the soldiers who mocked him by setting a crown of thrones upon his head and a purple cloak around his shoulders. Pilate wrote the charge that was nailed above his head as he hung dying on the cross - “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.”

His accusers protested saying that he was not their king that they had no king but Caesar, that Jesus only claimed to be a king. His glorification, his enthronement, if you will, came, as he was nailed to the cross and lifted up for all the world to see. He was crucified between two others; one on his right and one on his left. This was the day Jesus knew would come and he knew how it would come.

Earlier in Mark, following Jesus’ third prediction of his death and resurrection; the sons of Zebedee, James and John, had asked Jesus for a favor. He had said what is it you want me to do for you. They said; grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.

To which Jesus responded: “you do not know what your are asking.” Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? They said yes, of course we are able. Jesus replied, you will. But to sit at my right hand or my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.

The brothers did not understand then, and maybe they never did, that Jesus meant the two others who would be crucified on either side of him on the day he became king. Their focus was on themselves and how in their earthly way of thinking they might come to share in his glory and his power.

His death on the cross is the means by which he becomes king with a power that is utterly redefined. So much so that the world, for the most part, including his own disciples, did not recognize it. Nor for the most part, does our world recognize it today. It is not what power looks like in our world.

No, the power of this world has been turned upside down by the events of Good Friday. The crucifixion of Jesus is how God established his kingdom. It is the event that declared that God is the God of Love.

It was the love of God that sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it. It was the love of God that was manifested on the cross in Christ’ willingness to suffer death for the sins of the whole world, for yours and for mine. Calvary, then, is not about tragedy it is about love.

And another thing, St. John was not the only one to receive a gift from the cross, for all who believe in Christ, as the One whom God has sent to be the Savior of the world, have been given the gift of eternal life. AMEN+












Monday, March 26, 2018

Holy Week reminders and guidance




Reminders for the coming services:

Father Riley reminds us that Good Friday is a day of fasting. The guidance for fasting is to not eat after sundown Thursday until after sundown Friday.  Of course, drinking water is permitted.

We will begin our Good Friday with “Stations of the Cross” at 11:30am in the church.  Father Riley would like to have 14 volunteers from the congregation available to read portions of that service as we follow to each station.  If you can volunteer, please call or email Sam Corson at 318-766-0998 or corsonsam@gmail.com

Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, has asked that our Good Friday offering be given as support for the ministries of the four dioceses of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.  From Bishop Curry:  “I believe our partnership with those who keep the faith of Jesus alive in the region where our Lord walked and began his movement is a significant aspect of our work as part of the church catholic.”

From the Forward Day by Day:

MONDAY, March 26     Monday in Holy Week

Luke 23:10-11 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing [Jesus]. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.

Indeed, the powers of darkness are conspiring. The ruling council in Jerusalem is not satisfied with Jesus’ answers, and they bring him to Pilate. Pilate sends Jesus to Herod. Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate, who then asks the crowd to decide Jesus’ fate. As is custom on the Passover, Pilate could commute the death sentence of a prisoner. Instead of choosing Jesus, the crowd calls for Barabbas, a notorious prisoner, to be freed—and Jesus’ fate is sealed.

Voices from almost all quarters, religious and secular, send Jesus to the cross. Knowing what we know today, where do we see ourselves in this process? Interrogating Jesus? Shouting for Barabbas? Trying to make eye contact with Jesus? Praying for him? Weeping for him? There is nothing we can do to make this right…or is there?

Today let us throw our lot in with those whom Jesus particularly loved—the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the sick, and those in emotional and physical prisons. Jesus will see. He will hear. He will know.

MOVING FORWARD: Bring flowers to a nursing home today.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Palm Sunday plans and other news...




Palm Sunday is this Sunday, March 25.  Father Riley will lead our final Lenten class for this year at 9am in the Parish House.  Following the class, we will all process into the church from the Parish House with our palm fronds.  For the Good Friday service, March 30th, Father Riley will lead us through ‘Stations of the Cross’ beginning at 11:30am and follow with the Good Friday service.  Please join us for these services in preparation for Easter (Sunday, April 1).

From the Forward Day by Day:

THURSDAY, March 22

Luke 21:16-19 You will be betrayed by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Luke 21 is one of the most difficult chapters in the New Testament to assimilate and hear. These are the days of vengeance, Jesus says. Some of you will need to flee, and others of you will die. Jesus is not pulling any punches. Some scholars cast these verses as purely symbolic language, and others maintain that the signs of the end times are presently upon us.

The Bible is what it is. Jesus’ words are what they are. The details are best left to God.

What comforts me in this difficult and strange chapter in the ministry of Jesus is the ending. Jesus, after a long day of teaching, walks up the Mount of Olives to sleep. We know the stones are his friends—no doubt the stars are as well. Closing his eyes under the blanket of night, he finds peace. May we come to know that same peace as well.

MOVING FORWARD: Watch the sunset tonight. Spend some time thanking God for the stars in the sky and the peace in your heart.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Father Riley's homily from March 11, 2018


Update:  We will offer Morning Prayer led by Mrs. Jane Barnett at 10am this Sunday, March 18 2018.  There will not be a Lenten class this Sunday; class will resume Palm Sunday at 9am, March 25.  Father Riley reminds us that Good Friday (March 30) is a day of fasting.





LENT IV - B - 18                    JOHN 3. 14-21




Today’s gospel contains a verse that is likely the most advertised verse in the entire Bible, one that is viewed by believers and non-believers alike. It is usually seen displayed on a banner hanging in an end zone of a football stadium. It is John 3.16.

Sadly, I doubt that all of the many millions that have viewed it over the past several decades have ever read it. Yet it contains a very important truth - God’s Love sent his only Son into the world to save it. Those of us who know what it says see it as a reminder of God’s saving action.

It is held up, no doubt by some believing Christian, for all the world to see in the hope that all will accept God’s love as manifested in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. Sadly we know that is not the case. There are some who prefer to remain in darkness, as St. John would say.

A major theme in John’s gospel is the contrast of darkness verses light. In the prologue to his gospel is the verse: “In him,” referring to Jesus, “was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Why then, is there so much darkness (evil) in the world? Jesus gives us the answer in today’s gospel. “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

There may not be any banners being displayed before our eyes that declare the presence of evil, but evil exists and manifests its ugly head in numerous ways that are reported to us on a daily basis and held up for all the world to see: senseless school shootings of children, in some cases by children themselves, acts of terrorism that do not discriminate among their victims but are only meant to maim and kill.

As well as other acts of inhumanity to man that so grab our attention that they cause us to question our faith and belief in the goodness and love of God who so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save it.

Darkness often times appears to overcome the light even in our own lives.

We complain about how bad things are instead of seeking the good. We grumble and curse and rebel as did the Israelites in the wilderness when all seems dark and gloomy, and all the while God is present meeting our basic needs. The people God had chosen to be His needed a reminder that He was with them, but first He had to get their attention.

Serpents came into their midst whose bite was deadly. God gave Moses the fix. A bronze serpent was raised up as a standard; an artificial symbol of what it was that had afflicted them. It became the effective agent of their healing, the sign (light), if you will, that injected hope and a renewed will to keep going toward the Promised Land.

Jesus said it is like that for Him and for us if we chose to follow him. He must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have the hope of eternal life that renews our faith and enables us to keep going in our journey to God. Because of the cross we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Lord is the source of our hope and energy in a world that prefers to sit in darkness. Jesus is our standard that needs to be lifted up, reminding us and telling the world “the true light that enlightens every man” has come into our world. John 3.16 is a reflection of the very heart of God.

The light that enlightens our faith is the conviction in God’s unfailing love; for generations of recurring cynicism, indifference, and despair have never had the last word or given the definitive comment on our human situation. The love of God is persistent, and the Word of God always finds a new voice in the most hopeless of circumstances.

I was reminded of this truth recently as I visited an old friend who was stricken with polio as a child but did not let that stop him from becoming a doctor and a surgeon. He practiced well into his 70s walking and standing with the aid of crutches.  He just turned 96.

He has been confined to a wheelchair for over twenty years and in recent months has been crippled with arthritis to point he can no longer open his hands. He has to be lifted in and out of his wheelchair and feed by another. Yet his mind is still sharp and his faith in the love and goodness of God remains unwavering.

He told me that his circumstances have brought him closer to God. His nearness to God has kept him going when he could have easily allowed the darkness to overtake him. He has always been, and always will be, an inspiration to me and to others who know him.

Sometimes it feels like we are being hemmed in on all sides by circumstances beyond our control, that we are surrounded by darkness. That the cross God has given us to bear threatens to crush us, which easily brings discouragement and despair. Despair causes us to fail to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It is then we need to look up.

For the One whom God has sent, the One whom God raised up commands our attention. In Him lies our hope. He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and has not, and will not be overcome by it. Looking up at the cross, with the dying Jesus hanging on it, we see what God’s love looks like.

The cross is the full and dramatic display of God’s own love. What was an instrument of affliction has become the symbol of our hope. Because Jesus has died did not automatically heal the evil in the world, precisely because evil lurks deep within side of each of us. For healing to take place we must ourselves be involved in the process.

This doesn’t mean that we just try a lot harder to be good.  All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust; to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him. Belief in Jesus means coming to the light, the light of God’s new creation- eternal life.

The point of the whole story is that we do not have to sit in the dark. God’s saving action in the crucifixion of Jesus has brought light into the darkness. It is a sign planted in the middle of history that says: look up, believe, and live. AMEN+

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Father Riley's homily for March 4, 2018 and BREAKING NEWS!


Breaking News!  Sunday, March 11th, 2018:  Daylight Saving Time begins: Turn your clocks ahead 1 hr this Saturday night.  Father Riley's lenten class will be at 9am! Sunday.

Also:  Mark your calendars:  On Good Friday, March 30th, we will offer Stations of the Cross starting at 11:30am before our Good Friday service.  Passover begins.  Please try to attend this inspirational offering. Learn more at:

https://www.forwardmovement.org/Content/Site170/FilesSamples/143441Stationso_00000037745.pdf


Father Riley's homily for March 4, 2018:

LENT III - B - 18         JOHN 2. 13-25










Our Lenten lectionary has made a shift this morning. We move from St. Mark’s gospel, the gospel of year B, to that of St. John. However, the subject of today’s reading is one that appears in all four of the gospels - the cleansing of the temple.

St. John’s account of the cleansing of the temple comes at the beginning of his record of Jesus’ ministry, whereas in the synoptic it appears at the end. The synoptic accounts of Jesus’ actions in the temple courtyard are very brief. John, on the other hand, fleshes it out and adds the priests challenge to Jesus in their asking of a “sign” which brings Jesus’ shocking response.

Today’s scene follows Christ’s first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana where he turned the water into wine. Obviously, his reputation as some kind of miracle worker had preceded his visit to Jerusalem. I might add that the word miracle and “sign” in John’s gospel often refer to the same thing, but not always.

With that said, what Jesus saw in the courtyard was unacceptable. The trade, the market-place atmosphere, was not supposed to be there. The service being provided by the sellers of animals and birds, as well as that of the moneychangers was a needed one.

Pilgrims needed animals to offer as a sacrifice. If they brought their own, they had to be inspected and found acceptable. However, in most cases they were not. Thus, the pilgrims had to buy one from the sellers that had passed priestly inspection and paid a premium in doing so.

Roman coins, the coinage used in Jerusalem, could not used to pay the temple tax because they carried the image of Caesar. Instead, one had to use shekels. Again, the pilgrims had to exchange their money and a surcharge was added.

All of this was necessary, however it was something that had heretofore taken place outside the walls of the courtyard of the Gentiles, that is, outside the confines of the Temple walls, but had now moved inside the sacred space. By doing so, the exchange fell within the realm of the chief priests and scribes who made a profit from each and every transaction.

St. John tells us that Jesus drove the merchants out with the words “take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Jesus felt that the house and worship of God were being compromised and insulted. Jesus’ zeal (Ps 69.9) for his Father’s glory was uncompromising. Thus, his justified anger.

The sellers of cattle, sheep and doves, along with the moneychangers must have been stunned by Jesus’ actions. Who was this? Moreover, what did he think he was doing? The Jews, St. John’s adjective for those who opposed Jesus, namely the chief priests and scribes, question him by asking for a “sign” that would justify what he was doing and saying.

Moreover, if the sellers and moneychangers were stunned at his actions, the Jews who asked for a sign were literally shocked at his response: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Temple was the heartbeat of Judaism. It was much more than just a church on a street corner. It was the center of worship and music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning.

Above all, it was the place that Israel’s god had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation, and of the national way of life. It was begun in 20 B.C. and not finished until 64 A.D. and then destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Of course, Jesus’ challengers took his remarks concerning the temple literally, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” when he was actually speaking of his own body, his own death and resurrection.

The “sign” then of the cleansing of the temple is not a miracle and was not immediately obvious to his disciples, much less to the populace. Thus, St. John points out that it was after the resurrection that his disciples understood what he had said in the temple courtyard on that day.

Those who believe in him at this time are still obviously impressed by the miraculous. Who can change water into wine? Throughout the gospel, Jesus rejects this basis for belief. It is too shallow and unstable. Jesus himself knows how easily men are swayed in their minds by the merely marvelous “signs and wonders.”

John said, Jesus did not trust them, that is those whose belief in him was based solely on what he could do. It is far too easy to be wooed and awed by what appears to be something or someone who can do the extra-ordinary. As it is totally a different thing to come to belief in God by faith alone.

As we read the gospels we see that there others who demanded signs, as St. Paul says in today’s Epistle. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and folly to Gentiles…”

The “sign” Paul is writing about is the cross? It is the sign of God’s saving grace and of His love for all mankind.  Nevertheless, to some who claim to be wise by today’s standards it remains a folly. However, as Paul says, the world’s so-called wisdom is thwarted by God’s so-called foolishness.

What about us? That is a good Lenten question for each of us to ponder in terms of our relationship to Christ. What is our belief in Jesus based on? Is it merely what He can do for us? On the other hand, is it what He has done for us?

Are we like the chief priests and scribes in today’s gospel always seeking a “sign” from God to know what He is doing in our lives or asking us to do for Him and the sake of the gospel is the real deal? Or do we walk by faith trusting in the providence of God?

To answer honestly any and all of the above questions depends upon how we view God’s so-called foolishness, - the Cross- and the person of the one who died upon it.

For Christ’ death and resurrection has done for us what none of us could ever do for ourselves - reconciled us to God - and by doing so we have been given the means of grace to live the new life to which we have been called in the hope of one day sharing in Christ’s glory. AMEN+