Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from December 9, 2018


ADVENT II - C - 18                    LUKE 3. 1-6




I have always loved the season of Advent first because it is short and to the point. In addition, there are all of the sights and sounds that go with it. The liturgical color changes to a penitential one. The hymns are all anticipatory. There is greenery and additional candles. Manger scenes appear empty at first but as the weeks go by are filled with animals, then shepherds and eventually the Holy Family.

Advent is a season that is charged with anticipation but is also a season of waiting and watching. One might say that God’s people, Israel, were a people who were watching and waiting for the Day when God would send the Promised One to rescue his people from their state of oppression and restore Israel as a nation.

This Hope had been passed down for generations through the telling of Israel’s history, one that included God’s promise delivered through the mouth of his holy prophets. However, there had been no prophets for hundreds of years.

While Jesus dwelt unknown in Nazareth there appeared suddenly like a new Elijah, John Baptist. The Jews expected the reappearance of Elijah as the herald of the messiah and John sees himself in that role. St. Luke sets the time and place of John’s appearance for us as being in the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 28-29).

In addition, he goes on to give us a list of who is who in terms of the political and religious leaders of the day as well. Behind the list of names and places is a story of oppression and misery. The important event of the time, however, is the coming of “the word of God” to John the Baptist, the son of the old priest, Zachariah.

The church puts John within the tradition of Israel’s prophets upon whom, like Jeremiah, “the word of the Lord came.” Moreover, Luke tells us that he preached to all the region about the Jordan following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets, echoing Isaiah.

His message has two main features: a call to repentance and the demand for baptism. Needless to say, his message raised eyebrows and grabbed the attention of the authorities both religious and political. John’s message was to proclaim the immediate coming of the Kingdom of God, conceived on the old lines of the prophets; to herald the Christ, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Therefore, he sets himself to destroy the self-satisfaction both of the people and of the religious leaders. What is wanted is righteousness of the sort demanded by the Old Testament prophets. A new Israel must be fashioned such as God can accept and use.

The call to repentance was traditional for prophets. The ceremony of admission to the new Israel John found in baptism preceded by confession. John’s baptism did not grant remission of sins once and for all, but prefigured and prepared the people for the baptism of Christ, which was to come (which would remit sin). In this John emphasized the ethical requirements as a condition of entrance into the Kingdom of God as the forerunner of Christ.

Down through ages the message proclaimed in this short season is unchanged: repent, change your ways, and make straight your paths, for the King of Glory is coming. This message urges us to be enthusiastic in our preparation and our anticipation rather than lethargic and unprepared. Remember the parable of the ten bridesmaids.

Sadly, many people today have given up on God, as I am certain that some of God’s people had given up hope that God would act on their behalf prior to John Baptist’s appearance. They were discouraged by their situation and their lethargy had carried over into their practice of religion. They lived their lives day in and day out wondering whether God cared, and if he did, why he wasn’t coming to their rescue.

It is not different for us today as Christians. It is natural for us to become discouraged when we stop and take a close look at the world around us. Endless wars, famine, natural disasters, unspeakable violence characterize our daily life. Homelessness and hunger threaten the lives of thousands in our own country who live and die on our city streets everyday.

It is a reality less recognized and made known than the countless billboards and commercials that blare out a different message, especially this time of the year. Nothing ever seems to change in that regard. We might find ourselves, then, looking at John Baptist as merely an historical oddity today, as one whose message was applicable only to Jesus’ first coming.

The “way” might appear to be so scrambled to us that there is no way in which we might conceivably make a pathway straight for God in the world in which we live today. The opposition to the very idea of God, to the displaying of manger scenes, and even to the use of the greeting of Merry Christmas seems to be growing in every corner of our society.

That in itself is a cause of discouragement and lethargy that turns many away from the joy and anticipation of our celebration of the coming of the Christ child. Let us not forget, however, God is the ultimate source of our confidence and rejoicing. For a thousand generations God has proved worthy of our trust.



The marvels recounted over and over again in scripture in those centuries before the incarnation have been outdone repeatedly in our own day. Even though we might seem to be working against much greater odds than our ancestors did, God has never failed to provide us with sources of strength and models of courage.

However, there is a warning in John’s message and must be taken to heart by all the baptized today. The Advent season is a time to prepare, to make room in our hearts and minds and in our everyday lives for the Christ child, by making straight the crookedness in our own lives.

We cannot presume that because we have shared in the great Christian mystery, the new Exodus, coming through the waters of Holy Baptism with all that means, God will automatically be pleased with us. Christian living is far more than repentance, but it is not less.

All spiritual advances begin with a turning away from what is hindering our obedience, our love, and our trust in God. Advent is a time for us to heed the prophet’s warning and forsake our sins, as today’s collect so aptly reminds us, that we may without shame or fear rejoice at His appearing. AMEN+

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Advent Season is here!

News you can use!

...Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays at 10 am December 9, 16, and 23 and our Christmas Eve service at 5pm. 

...Saint Joseph Orchestra Chamber Christmas Concert will be in our church Sunday, December 16th at 3pm.  Please invite others to join us.

...Many thanks to Mrs. Allein Watson for the new Nativity figures for our Advent and Christmas seasons.  The new figures are given to Christ Episcopal Church in memory and honor of Mr. Philip Watson, Jr.  Please come by and see the Nativity scene as it grows during Advent into Christmas.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Ordination services this Saturday, November 24th, 2018


This Saturday, our friend, James Garrett Asa Boyte, along with Russell Brooks Boylan, Lee Jefferson, and Margaret Lovejoy, was ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons by The Right Reverend Jacob W. Owensby, IV Bishop of Western Louisiana in Saint James Episcopal Church in Alexandria.  Garrett was presented by Sam Corson, Sarah Hayes, The Rev. Whit Stodghill, and the Ven. Bette Jo Kauffman.

                                    Mrs. Joy Owensby, Bishop Jake Owensby, and Garrett.




Monday, November 19, 2018

Father Riley's homily from November 18, 2018


News for YOU:

… On November 18th we wrapped up our 2019 Stewardship Campaign and the vestry will be preparing a 2019 budget for approval in our January 2019 congregational meeting.  We will provide a date and time for the congregational meeting soon.  Pledges may still be made by offering your 2019 pledge to our Treasurer, Mrs. Brenda Funderburg, at bfun@me.com

... Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer 10am Sundays, November 25th and December 2nd.  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays at 10 am December 9, 16, and 23 and our Christmas Eve service at 5pm. 

...Saint Joseph Orchestra Chamber Christmas Concert will be in our church Sunday, December 16th at 3pm.  Please invite others to join us.
 

26 PENTECOST, PROPER XXVIII - B - 18                        MARK 13. 1-8


We live our lives surrounded by all sorts of signs. Physically speaking, there are behavioral signs, bodily attitudes and gestures. There are of course weather signs. We listen to forecasts and watch the Doppler radar.

In nature, there are yet more signs that one can observe. For example, this time of the year the squirrels are actively preparing for winter.  In traveling there are directional signs, speed limits, which for the folks from Texas, I might add, are mere suggestions, and there are hazard warnings.

I remember as a child riding in the back seat of my father’s ‘52 Chevy traveling to Mississippi to spend the holidays with my grand parents. We traveled in those days on the two lane black tops. With my face against the window I would read the Burma Shave signs, you remember those. However, the one that always jumped out at me was a huge billboard somewhere between Tuscaloosa and Columbus that read “Repent! And get right with God for the End Is Near!”

I never knew what that really meant until I was older, began to read the Bible on my own, and discovered the different passages concerning the end times. Ever since Jesus prophesied about the end of time, as we know it, people have been trying to figure out when it will be.

Like the disciples in today’s gospel reading, they want to know, they want a sign. That anxiety about the second coming and the final judgment has continued to our present day. In my lifetime, there have been several announced predictions that have come and gone without the end having taken place.

You may recall, for example, all of the excitement and anticipation when the calendar hit the year 2000. The disciples and the early church took Jesus’ words to mean that the end would be immediate and thus they carried out their mission of proclaiming the good news as if it would happen anytime after Christ’s Ascension into heaven.

Jesus gave us a few signs to look for and when asked by his disciples when it would all occur, he said, it was not for them to know. What was and still is important is that we who have chosen to follow him continue to do the work we have been given to do and leave the rest up to God.

However, we all know that is difficult. Waiting on God requires patience and most of us are not good at waiting on anything. We are a people who do not like to wait for the mail to come, the garbage to run, the water to get hot, or in a doctor’s office, and the list goes on. We are an impatient people.

The Day of the Lord as the prophets of the Old Testament referred to it will be a day some will look forward to and others will not. Daniel says, in our first lesson, that it will be a day of anguish for some, and resurrection for others.

Jesus warns against false prophets as being one of the signs along with natural disasters, wars, and famine. However, these Christ says are only the beginnings of the “birth pangs.”  With all of that said, what the disciples wanted, and what we have all wanted down through the ages is a sign that everything will be all right.

Today’s gospel leads us into Jesus’ emphasis on being prepared for that day. We will hear it again next week and again on the first Sunday of Advent as we begin a new church year. Christ warns his disciples to be on guard to avoid the temptation of being led astray or worse yet, to fall into apathy.

Fidelity to the end is what is required. Faithfulness is never easy. Like those early believers, we too hear the warnings and become anxious when we consider the coming Day of Judgment. We too keep studying signs and look for some kind of direction. When the sign we should be looking to is the sign of the cross.

As the author of Hebrews aptly reminds us Christ has made peace, our reconciliation with God, through his sacrifice on the cross. The sign of the cross speaks both to fact and promise. Jesus’ death on the cross has won the victory. The cross is our promise that if we remain faithful we too will share in his victory, and shine, as Daniel predicts, “like the brightness of the sky."

As followers of Jesus, one of the arts we must learn to practice, is patience, in other words, we must learn to “wait on God.” False teachers, frightening rumors, and natural disasters will all tempt us to panic. We must resist the temptation.

Again, Jesus says, these are only the beginnings. The early Christians were viciously persecuted by the Romans. The history of the early church shows that all these warnings were needed. The Temple in all its beauty was destroyed, as Jesus predicted, by the Romans in A.D. 70.

Jesus’ warnings are to be taken seriously by all who call themselves Christians today for many Christians throughout the world face persecutions especially in countries, which are predominantly Muslim. You and I may not as yet face that kind of persecution in our own country, but we all face the opposite temptation, to stagnate, to become cynical, to suppose that nothing much is happening, that the kingdom of God is just a dream and life will go on as it always has.

Moreover, in the worst case, we convince ourselves that we can live any way that we choose and all will be well in the end, when it comes and, as some suppose, if it comes. However, to live our lives in such a manner is to foolishly ignore Jesus’ warning and his admonition to be patient, to wait on God, and remain faithful.

Patience is a virtue and we need to practice and pray for it however unfashionable it may be in our hurried and anxious world, while “holding fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” as the author of Hebrews writes, “for he who has promised is faithful.” AMEN+
 
 
 
 


 
 
 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Father Riley's homily from November 11, 2018

News for YOU:
...Pledge letters for 2019 have been mailed out.  If you have already responded--THANK YOU.  Please turn in your pledge for 2019 in time for Thanksgiving Sunday service, Nov 18th.  If you did not receive a pledge letter and wish to, please contact Mrs. Brenda Funderburg at bfun@me.com

...The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday at 10am November 18th for our Thanksgiving Service.  Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer Sunday, November 25th. 

...The Tensas Community Thanksgiving Service will be November 18th at First United Methodist at 5:30pm.  Please bring non-perishable items for The Shepherd Center to the Community Thanksgiving service.  Items and monetary donations may also be made directly to The Shepherd Center.  Each Christmas The Shepherd Center feeds approximately 350 families.  Please join us for this service and invite others.

...Saint Joseph Orchestra Chamber Christmas Concert will be in our church Sunday, December 16th at 3pm.  Please invite others to join us.
 
 
25 PENTECOST, PROPER XXVII - B - 18     MARK 12. 38-44
 
 
 
In Mark’s gospel, we have seen more than one occasion when Jesus warns against riches because of the hold they can have on an individual, which dethrones God.
 
You may recall not too many weeks ago the story of the rich young ruler who came up to Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit the kingdom. Jesus told him to go and sell all that he had and give it to the poor and then come and follow him. But alas, he could not bring himself to do that and turned away from following Christ.
 
Jesus used the encounter with the rich young man to illustrate to his disciples how difficult it was for a rich man who was intent on holding tightly to his possessions to enter the kingdom. It was like a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle.
 
Today’s passage begins with a condemnation of the scribes. The scribes were men with religious authority who represented a particular profession among the religious leaders of the day. They liked attention; at their worse, they made material profit out of spiritual influence.
 
They relished salutations, chief seats, chief places, that is to say, signs of public deference. Jesus mentions widows especially because they were often the most vulnerable. Many of them would have been poor, some would be wealthy. The converse of Jesus’ teachings against riches is illustrated in the giving of the Widow’s mite.
 
The mite was the smallest coin in use. Two of them equaled a penny. Money is so useful to religious and charitable purposes that there is always the temptation to think of the larger offerings of the rich than the smaller offerings, which may yet represent a much greater effort and more real self-denial.
 
Jesus sat opposite the treasury St. Mark tells us, and watched as the people made their offerings. This seemed to be a common practice among the Jews. The treasury was a series of 13 trumpet shaped boxes arranged against the wall of the court of women in the Herodian Temple. Since no Gentile would penetrate there, the offerings were from Jews only. Only copper coins could be used in the Temple, thus large contributions were quite noisy.
 
One tradition has it that when large sums were offered a trumpet would blow drawing attention to the giver. The widow was not ashamed of her small gift, for she made no effort to conceal it. Jesus, looking on, saw into the hearts of the various givers, and he was not deceived by the difference of values.
 
Jesus said the widow gave all she had to live on for that day - 100%. Jesus then puts the widow’s gift in perspective, along with the gifts of the rich. The value of the gift cannot be set by the inherit cash value, he teaches us, but by what it represents for the giver.
 
Like the widow of Zarephath whose hospitality towards God’s prophet included her last drop of oil, the Jerusalem widow’s offering to God was likewise a sacrificial one. She gave her all and her offering, according to Jesus, was more than all the rest he observed that day.
 
November is traditionally Stewardship month throughout the church. It is not that November is the only time to be thinking about our giving back to God but as we approach Thanksgiving Day, it is an opportune time to ask ourselves “why we give?”
 
The Jews of Jesus’ day gave a half-shekel to support the Temple each year. In addition, there were other kinds of offerings. There was the tithe that farmers made from their produce, and a second tithe that was given to the poor. There were thank-offerings, and the gifts of first fruits.
 
The Jews of Jesus’ day took great pride in the fact that God’s people voluntarily supported the Temple, giving their offerings without duress despite the heavy additional burden of Roman taxation. Their motivation was for the most part out of obligation, which is not say that some, did not give from the heart.
 
How do we learn to give back to God? What is our motivation? The church teaches that we should give. The tithe is the Biblical standard dating back to the Old Testament. I, for one, was raised in the Baptist Church by a mother who believed that my brother and I should be in church every Sunday morning and evening and again on Wednesday night whether we thought we needed it or not. Church was not an option when I was growing up.
 
I learned to tithe in Sunday school. If I was given one dollar for allowance, I gave a dime to Sunday school. When I got my first job, cutting grass and trimming hedges, I was expected to give 10 percent to the church. My giving up and into my adult years was one of obligation. I gave because I was supposed to.
 
I am not certain when I began to see my giving to the church as a response to God’s blessings in my life. It could have been after I returned safely from a war zone, or it might have been after the birth of our first child. Either way, my attitude towards giving back to God a portion of what He had given me changed from an obligation to one of a thankful response to His love.
 
I tell my story not to draw attention to myself but in answer to my earlier question “why do we give?” We don’t know why the widow gave all she had in the Temple that day. Jesus tells us that she did. I suspect it was not out of obligation. Her two copper coins did not make much noise but they did not go unnoticed by God and neither do our gifts whether large or small.
 
Jesus told his disciples that those larger gifts were given out of the abundance of the giver. The cost of the widow’s gift was however, greater than theirs. Stewardship rightly understood, is our giving back to God a portion of what is already His. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” (I Chron. Xxix. 14)
 
This too was a turning point for me. When I finally understood that what I was giving back to the church wasn’t really mine in the first place. Rather it had been given to me by God to use for the work of the church and the benefit of others, especially those in need.
 
With that revelation, I realized that the portion I kept for my own benefit was a most generous gift from God. That’s when my giving became a Thank-offering, a response to God’s Love.
 
As we approach our National day of Thanksgiving, I commend to you a prayerful consideration of your gift to the work of the church by asking yourself “why you give?” Is it out of your abundance or your poverty? Out of a sense of obligation or Thanksgiving?
 
Remembering the words of the author of Hebrews, “To do good, and to distribute, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. XXiii.16)