Monday, July 8, 2019

CEC News Alerts and Father Riley's homily from July 7, 2019

CEC Breaking News!
…Father Riley will lead in Holy Eucharist July 14 and 21, 2019.  Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer on July 28.  Please invite others to come and see.

4 PENTECOST, PROPER 9 - C - 19                LUKE 10. 1-11, 16-20

“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go."

When I was a young lad growing up in Alabama it was quite common to hear of traveling evangelists that were planning to hold “revivals” and healing services nearby. The means of announcing their pending arrivals was a lot less sophisticated than it is today with all the social media at one’s disposal.

Back in those days, billboards were sometimes used. However, the most popular means of announcing the date, time, and place of the meetings were handbills placed in store windows or handed out to passer bys on the streets and tacked to telephone polls in the area by the front men, as they were called, who preceded the one who was to come.

As the day approached, huge circus like tents would be erected on a vacant lot with sawdust floors. Lots and lots of metal folding chairs were arranged with a long aisle in the middle. I remember it well because my grandmother took me to one such event to see and hear a particular evangelist.

He was quite popular at the time. Not only was he reported to be an exciting preacher but also one who was said to posses healing powers. Not to name any names, but he was from Oklahoma.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus sends out seventy of his disciples. These were not the twelve we know so well, but seventy others whose names are not recorded for our benefit. Their mission was to go ahead of him into the towns and villages he himself intended to go.

They were to be the “front men” for Christ. Jesus gave them the same announcement to make that he himself had made when he began his earthly ministry - the kingdom of God is near. Christ also gave them the authority to heal the sick in those places where they were received and the power to exorcise demons in his name.

However, Jesus warns them that it will not be easy. They will be like sheep in the midst of wolves, meaning that some will welcome them and others will reject them. Either way, they are, as did the prophets of old, to tell them that the “kingdom has come near,” whether they receive it or not.

The Gospel message is not just a kingdom of the future but one that is near. Near, says the prophet Isaiah in today’s first lesson who shared his vision of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is near, Isaiah prophesied to God’s people, soon to be restored with peace and healing flowing like a river. Near, though not yet fully come.

Jesus’ invitation into the kingdom has been recognized by the signs of peace and healing. These signs the seventy bring with them too. Their mission is Jesus’ mission. In the towns and villages they enter, they heal the sick and say, “the kingdom of God has come near.”

The kingdom of God is near to you, the seventy told those who received them. To those who rejected them, the seventy’s message was simply “the kingdom has come near.” There is a difference. The “you” is missing. Those who receive them have accepted Jesus’ invitation. Those who reject them have missed the opportunity to accept God’s invitation.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. The seventy represent him and the grace and astonishing, healing love of God that flowed through Jesus. This was the God whose kingdom was drawing near. To reject this message was to reject Jesus and to reject him was to reject God himself.

As we see, their mission was a success. They are excited and joyful. They cannot wait to return and give Jesus their “after action report.” “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Their names may not have been recorded in this book, according to Luke, but Jesus tells them that their names are recorded in God’s.

The fact that their names are recorded in the Book of Life, is what they should rejoice in, Christ tells them, and not that the evil spirits submitted to them. There is more than one lesson in this for all of us today.

As modern day disciples, we do not always see ourselves in the role of an evangelist, but in essence, we are by virtue of our baptisms. The font of life is the beginning of our journey to God where we promised to “follow and obey him as our Lord.” Secondly, we promised, “to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.” We were, in essence commissioned as “front men” for Christ in the vows and promises we made at our baptisms.

Let us not forget that in baptism we were buried with Christ and raised to new life in him. A new life that enables us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to pray to the Father that his kingdom will come in its fullest, as it already is in heaven.

This same Spirit, by which we were sealed in Holy Baptism, strengthens us to live by faith and with the grace of God to acknowledge the reality of the nearness of God’s kingdom now. Our names are recorded. They are recorded in the books of this parish, for future generations to discover.

More importantly, when we were signed with the cross at baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever, our names were recorded in God’s Book of Life. We should rejoice in that above all else.

Like the seventy who were sent out to do the work God in Christ had given them to do, so we too are sent out into the market place of life to do the work God has given us to do: to love and serve Him as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.

It is not easy. The wolves are out there yet. It is incumbent upon us, as we continue our journey to God in this life, with the Hope of the life to come, that we ensure that our names remain in God’s Book.

We do this by fulfilling our baptismal vows. This requires a daily renouncing of all that keeps us from the Love of God and by turning again and again to Jesus Christ and renewing our acceptance of Him as our Lord and Savior by putting our whole trust in His grace and love.

Through the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we strive to commit ourselves to follow in His most blessed footsteps, footsteps that will take us from the nearness of God’s kingdom now to the day, by God’s grace, when we enter into the fullness of its Glory forever. AMEN+

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Summer Camp Thank You and CEC News!

Happy Birthday America!

…Our congregation sponsored Maddie to Camp Hardtner this Summer.  Camp Hardtner is a great place for young Christians and they love it.  May we sponsor many more young Christians to Camp Hardtner in the future.

 … Father Riley will lead in Holy Eucharist July 7, 14, and 21, 2019.  Services at 10am as usual. Please invite others to join us.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Father Riley's homily from June 23, 2019 and updates

CEC News Updates:
...Work continues on repairs, improvements and painting the church and parish house.  Thank you to all who are funding this construction with your donations.  It is not too late to make a contribution to our 2019 Capital Campaign.  Donations for the 2019 Capital Campaign thru June 24 are about $79,856.20.  This is a wonderful expression of your love of our church.  The work will help keep Christ Episcopal active in Tensas Parish for another 150 years or more!

 …For a ‘bird’s eye view of our church go to the following link and watch the first part of the video (the remainder of the video is good too):

The video was taken before our repairs and painting efforts.

 ...Jane Barnett will lead us in our Morning Prayer on June 30 and Father Riley will lead in Holy Eucharist July 7, 2019.  Services at 10am as usual. Please invite others to join us Sundays.

2 PENTECOST, PROPER 7, C - 19                                      LUKE 8. 26-39

“Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.” And I would venture to say that the disciples were very happy to be on dry ground. For the verses that precede today’s passage contain the story of Jesus stilling the wind and the waves that threatened to swamp the boat and drown the disciples on their way across the sea.

They are amazed of Jesus’ power and authority over the natural elements. But they have not seen anything yet. As soon as they step out of the boat the local crazy, the man of the tombs, whom everyone in the neighborhood is afraid of, confronts Jesus. He was naked and obviously out of his mind shouting at the top of his voice and falling down at the feet of Jesus.

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

What the disciples and the locals must have been thinking when the crazy man identified Jesus as the “Son of the most high God,” one can only imagine. How did he know? At this point in their relationship to Christ, the disciples were not certain of who Jesus really was and what he was up to. Yet this poor soul, who lived among the dead, somehow seems to know.

I have always imagined the scene on the beach. The disciples, afraid of the man, are standing behind Jesus and near the boat in the event they need to make a quick get away. The locals are standing at a safe distance from the demonic and Jesus. They know what the man of the tombs is capable of. On the other hand, they do not know Jesus or why he is there.

“What is you name,” Jesus asked the man? He said, “Legion;” for there were many demons that had entered him. Now here is where the story gets a bit strange and remarkable. The demons beg Jesus not to send them back to hell but rather into a herd of nearby swine.

Jesus gives them permission to do so and the herd, now demon possessed, proceeds to hurl themselves over the nearby cliffs into the sea below and are drowned. Word quickly spread of what had happened.

Somebody’s herd of swine was destroyed. The man of the tombs was now clothed in his right mind and sitting at the feet of Jesus. What’s going on here?

The townspeople were beside themselves with fear. What would happen next? This is predominantly Gentile territory. Perhaps these Gerasenes had not heard of Jesus or of the mighty acts had had already performed in Galilee. Either way, they wanted him gone.

Therefore, in their fear they ask Jesus to get back in the boat he came in and return to where he came from. Jesus complies with their request as he did with that of the demons. As the disciples and Jesus were shoving off the man of the tombs asked that he might go with them. Jesus said no.

Instead, he gave the man a mission. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”  The man quite understandably is somewhat reluctant to return home not knowing what kind of reception he might receive. How would he explain what had happened to him?

The demons that once possessed him recognized Jesus as God’s Son. Now that the man of the tombs is clothed in his right mind, he too knows who Jesus really is. For he went home and told all who would listen what God had done for him by telling them what Jesus had done for him.

As strange as the story may be, it appears in all three of the synoptic gospel, albeit with varying detail. The point of the story being Jesus’ supreme power over evil spirits. His power and authority, as the “Son of the most high God,” extends beyond the natural realm to include the super natural.

For the man, it is not just a story of healing but of salvation. The salvation God had promised long ago to his chosen people, Israel, is now spreading out to include the Gentiles. How do we come to the knowledge that Jesus and the Father are one? What does it take for us to make the leap of faith?

If the enemy of God knows who Jesus really is, why is it so difficult for us who claim to be His followers to do the same? Many still see Jesus as a just man, albeit with extraordinary powers, yet a man nonetheless.

Is it so hard for us to conceive of the fact that God at a certain moment in our human history came down from heaven, humbled his divinity to share in our humanity by becoming one of us? Obviously, for some it is and always has been. To understand who Jesus is and what he has to do with you and me, it is necessary for us to put ourselves in the story.

Just for a moment be one of the disciples who, at this point in their relationship to Jesus, are still behind the learning curve. He has stilled the storm at sea and saved you from drowning. Now he has stilled the soul and mind of this man who once lived among the dead by exorcising the legion of demons who had possessed him. Who can do that but God?

See yourself standing, at a safe distance, as a member of the Gentile crowd who are afraid of what might come next. What am I to think of this Jesus who, on the one hand has somehow made the man of the tombs whole again, and on the other has destroyed a herd of swine?

Who is this Jesus? Moreover, what does he have to do with me? To answer that question we must compare our own story with that of the man of the tombs.

He was as good as dead. He even lived among the dead. He had no life. All were afraid of him. He ranted and raved as though he were out of his mind. Then he met Jesus. As demented as he was at that moment, yet he fell at Christ’ feet. Once relieved of his demonic possession, he willingly sat at Jesus’ feet assuming the role of a disciple.

When I stop and contemplate the import of this strange and unique little story, it is easy for me to see something of myself in the disciples who were ready to flee, at the presence of evil. Or one of the Gentile on-lookers who were afraid of the power this Jesus seemed to possess and asked him to depart and leave me alone. Fear is one thing. Godly fear is something else.

But, more importantly, I see myself in the man of the tombs, who once Jesus came into his life, was transformed and made whole again. He now had a purpose, a reason for living. He became obedient to God in Christ.

He carried out the mission Jesus gave to him. He proclaimed that this Jesus was God, for only God could have done what Jesus did by rescuing him from a life of sin and darkness and raising him to the new life of light and peace.

We don’t always think about what God has done for us, and continues to do for us - do we? How he has rescued each of us from a life of sin and death, and raised us to new life in Him who died and rose again. It is a life we are powerless to live, however, were it not for the Love of God, who in His infinite mercy continues to shower us with His grace to live it and to own it.

We don’t always think about it, but we should. For the story of the man of the tombs is our story, a story of salvation; a story we should be most willing to tell, as he did, giving thanks to God for all that he has done for us by telling any and all how much Jesus Christ has done for us. AMEN+

Monday, June 17, 2019

Father Riley's homily from June 16, 2019 & Updates

..Work continues on repairs, improvements and painting the church and parish house.  Thank you to all who are funding this construction with your donations.  It is not too late to make a contribution to our 2019 Capital Campaign.  The work will help keep Christ Episcopal active in Tensas Parish for another 150 years or more!

..BIG EVENT! . . . Ordination of Garrett Boyte:  11:00 am, Saturday, June 22, 2019,  St. Mark’s Cathedral, 908 Rutherford Pl., Shreveport, LA 71104

..Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist June 23 and Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer on June 30.  10am services as usual.

TRINITY SUNDAY - C - 19                        JOHN 16. 12-15

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…he will declare to you the things that are to come."

Last week the Church celebrated the 1,976th anniversary of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. On that day the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in dramatic fashion empowering them with a variety of gifts needed to carry out the mission and ministry Jesus had entrusted to them.

Today, however, our gospel reading takes us backwards to the upper room where Jesus is delivering his final discourse. Here he promises that the Spirit will come, guide his disciples into all truth, and reveal to them the things that are to come.

Jesus’ disciples are about to be plunged into a short, sharp and intensely powerful period that will be like a moment of birth. Jesus will be taken away. His death and resurrection are the necessary events that will lead to his ‘going to the Father’ and his ‘sending of the Spirit.’

These are extraordinary events, the like of which the world has never seen before. The disciples can hardly prepare properly for them; but Jesus wants to warn them anyway. They are not merely strange, shocking and unique. They are visible signs that God’s new world is really coming to birth.

Although they did not understand them then, they would. The Spirit, as Jesus promised, would guide them, nudging their minds and imagination into ways of knowing, and things to know, that Jesus has already said to them.

The effect the Holy Spirit has in us is represented in the words of today’s gospel. These words of Jesus contain a general truth; they teach us the will of the giver, and the nature and condition of the gift.

For sense our finite human minds cannot grasp the Father and the Son, our faith, which has difficulty in conceiving the Incarnation, is enlightened by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit, then, for the sake of knowledge.

Just as the Spirit is mystery, so is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity we celebrate today. It is the central dogma of Christian theology that unites the majority of the world’s Christians, namely, the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans in the confession of one faith - the catholic faith.

By the same token, it is a doctrine that separates us not only from others who profess themselves as Christians, but also from the world’s other major religions, namely Islam, and Judaism.

The word trinity refers to the three persons of God and was first used by Saint Theophilous of Antioch in 180 A.D. Although the term is not found in scripture, the concept of one God existing in three persons and one substance is both explicitly and implicitly found in both the Old and New testaments.

In the Old Testament, for example, it is implicit in the visit of the three men who suddenly appeared to Abram and announced that his wife Sara would bear a son in her old age. In the New Testament it is explicit in Jesus’ command to his disciples that they are to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that is, with a profession of the creator, the only begotten and the gift.

When we recite the Church’s Creed, we say we believe in the co-equality and co-eternity of the 3 in one, Father Son, and Holy Spirit. This doctrine is held to be a mystery in the strict sense of the word, in that it can neither be known by unaided human reason apart from revelation, nor cogently demonstrated by reason after it has been revealed.

Over the years, I was privileged to have been able to teach and present adults and children to the Bishop for Confirmation. One of the classes I have striven to teach was on the Creeds of the Church, both the Apostle’s and the Nicene, which contain the major doctrines of the Church including that of the Holy Trinity.

The human finite mind, however, is incapable on its own to grasp or to understand the mystery that is God. The words of the ancient Creed express our belief as best we can. I cannot explain it any better. I simply believe that God is creator of heaven and earth and of all that is seen and unseen.

I believe that He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from sin and death and through Christ’ life, death, and resurrection the way to eternal life has been opened to us. I believe that the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit of God, has been given to the Church as a gift for those who believe as Jesus promised.

The gift of the Spirit has been given to us through the sacrament of Holy baptism for the explicit purpose of guiding us into all truth by revealing the true nature of God, and empowering us, as Christ’ modern day disciples, to continue the mission and ministry that He has entrusted to us.

It is a mission and ministry which have been passed down through the ages from the time of the Apostles. A mission that is nothing less than that of bringing God to man and man to God. It is a mission that is impossible to fulfill without our being aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I do not try to unravel the mystery of the Holy Trinity. No one can. I simply believe. The gift of faith bridges the limits of my human intellect and enables me to stand and profess my belief in the words of the ancient creed.

The Spirit teaches me to know that what I am saying is true.

Our understanding of God begins with faith and ends with faith. Faith is a gift of Love that comes from God. Love is the key to understanding God. It is Divine Love that unites the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and it is this same love that Jesus prayed we would have for one another, that unites us in our belief of the one and eternal glory of God.

This love, the love the Father has for the Son and the Son has for all who believe in him, as St. Paul reminds us, “Has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Thanks be to God. AMEN+

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Father Riley's homily from June 2, 2019

EASTER VII - C -19                                                             JOHN 17. 20-26

Sometimes we read and hear a passage from scripture and cannot help but wonder is this relevant? What does it have to do with me? Today’s gospel reading could not be more relevant. Jesus is talking about you, me, and all those who are His followers throughout the world.

The words of Jesus in today’s passage are from His “high priestly” prayer that comes at the end of the part of John’s gospel containing Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. These are the final words of Jesus meant to be remembered by the disciples when He is no longer physically present among them.

Although the prayer is addressed to the Father, it is obviously meant to be heard by the disciples. An essential aspect of relationships is thinking, hoping, dreaming, wishing, and praying for and about the future. This portion of Jesus’ prayer we hear today turns its attention to the future.

His prayer reflects love for his own. His concern now is for the future life and ministry of those gathered around him. His desire is for the continuation of the relationship. Through the ongoing work and words of the disciples, people will come to know and put their faith in Jesus as the One sent by the Father.

This prayer is especially appropriate for us to hear today. As they were for the disciples, these words are also meant for us to remember. The 7th Sunday of Easter finds us waiting between the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost. It is a time to wonder about the future.

There is life and mission ahead for us as church but only if we are untied in that mission, something Jesus also prays for, “that they all may be one.’ That is, untied in one faith and worship. This unity is not just to be a formal arrangement. It is not just an outward thing.

It is based on, and must mirror, nothing less than the unity between the Father and the Son. “As you Father are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” This can only mean that we ourselves are to be united, as were Jesus’ first disciples in announcing the good news and spreading it around the world.

Those who heard them passed it on, and on, and on. The church is never more than one generation away from extinction; all it would take is for a single generation not to hand the word on. But that has never happened. People have always told other people about Jesus and the love of God sometimes at the peril of their lives.

Today’s reading from Acts is just one example. Paul and Silas get themselves thrown into prison in Macedonia for exercising a dark spirit from a young slave girl. Her owners bring Paul and Silas before the judges accusing them of “disturbing the city and advocating customs that are not lawful for Romans to adopt or observe.” However, the real reason being that they had lost their means of making money off the girl.

Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown into prison. However, they do not despair but sign hymns and pray. The other prisoners listen. God comes to their rescue. The doors of the jail are flung wide open. They could easily escape, but God has a purpose for their being there. The jailor fearing that all have escaped and will cost him his life is surprised to find that they are all still there.

He is moved to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Paul and Silas tell him and his household of the love of God and of God’s son, Jesus, and all were baptized. Jesus’ prayer reminds us of God’s love, of Jesus’ hope and desire for our future that through us, the world may see and come to know that love.

That is the desire and confidence Jesus had for the future of his first followers. It is the same held out for our future. The result of this will be that the world may see and know that this kind of community, united across all traditional barriers of race, custom, gender or class, can only come from the action of the creator God.

This goes hand in hand with Jesus’ earlier words, “this is how all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Unity is vital for our being able to carry out the mission of the church.

 Sadly, we all know that Jesus’ prayer for us has not yet been fully realized. However, he is still praying for us at the right hand of the Father.

The whole prayer comes down to just one word - love. It is about the love of the Father surrounding the Son, and this same love surrounding all of Jesus’ people, making Him present to them and through them to the world.

It is our yearning to be united and connected to God that gathers us together here before His altar to celebrate the Eucharist. In this sacrament, we are united with God through Christ. In the Eucharistic prayer, we pray that we might be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

These words echo the prayer of Jesus in John’s gospel. It is here that we come to experience the presence of God.

It is here that we come to remember Christ’ death, resurrection and ascension. It is here that we come to be filled with the indwelling love of God in Christ. It is here that we are feed and strengthened to be sent with that love into the world to face the future of our mission and ministry.

At the Ascension Jesus vanished out of their sight, but the love of Christ did not disappear. It is among us and with us each time we come together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Jesus has left us more than a legacy or example: it is an ongoing relationship, a continuing connectedness, a way of nurturing and sustaining.

In the Eucharist we are assured that Jesus dwells in us and that if we dwell in him, others will come to know and have faith in God’s love. Then the hopes, dreams, and final prayer of the Lord who loves us and dwells in us will be fulfilled.

“Righteous Father…I made your name known to them… so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” AMEN+

Monday, May 27, 2019

Father Riley's homily from May 26, 2019 and update on Christ Episcopal's exterior repairs and improvements

Service update:  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist, Sunday, June 2, 2019

2019 Capital Campaign Project Update:
If you have visited our home church, you have seen the work underway.  Below are a few images of the work in progress and views of some of the damage found.  We will soon have a second mail out to families who have had a relationship with our congregation in the past and may wish to join us in offering donations to our 2019 Capital Campaign.  Our first mail out yielded bountiful results and we are all very thankful.  If you know someone who may wish to contribute, please check with them about making a donation to our project.

Father Riley's homily:

EASTER VI - C - 19                          JOHN 5. 1-9

The old city of Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times over the centuries. The current streets, I have been told, are several meters above the ones Jesus walked on. Yet the various gates to the city have remained and in some cases are very near to where they once stood in the time of Jesus.

The sheep gate is one such gate. Today it is known as the lion’s gate. It is located north of the Temple mount and is on the West side of the city. It was called the sheep gate because it was the gate the sheep were brought through to the Temple for sacrifice.

On my last visit to the Holy City, our group passed through the gate and stopped at the recent archeological site that has unearthed the pool where, according to Saint John, Jesus healed the paralyzed man in today’s gospel reading.

The water for this high ground pool came from underground springs and was used to wash down the sacrificial lambs before they were slain. They were also believed to have curative powers. Those who were in physical need waited to enter the water after an angel had supposedly disturbed it. The first one to enter was cured.

Jesus passes through the sheep gate on his way to the Temple to celebrate the festival that was taking place. He would have passed within sight of the pool where many invalids lay - blind, lame, and paralyzed. Saint John does not tell us how Jesus knew this one man had been there waiting for some thirty-eight years.

Perhaps it was divine intuition, but he does tell us that Jesus was pointed in his question of him. “Do you want to be made well?” The man answered with an excuse. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

This man had made a way of life out of his long wait for healing. However, on this day the man’s belief in the healing power of the waters of the pool was replaced by his belief and obedience to Jesus’ command. “Stand up, take your mat and walk.

The unnamed man’s obedience put him on a path to real life, a different path he now chose to walk without his former excuse, or “crutch” we might say. Jesus’ question to him was indeed a pointed one. “Do you want to get better, or are you satisfied with the way your life is now?”

Jesus brings new life that breaks into the present. The healing Jesus offers is the reality the created world has been waiting for the beginning of a new creation. Jesus singled out the man who had waited for thirty-eight years as an example of perseverance. The man’s patience stands as judgment against those who loose hope or patience in much lesser troubles lasting a far shorter time.

What about us? Would we have the patience to persevere thirty or forty years waiting for a miracle to take place and relieve us of our trouble?

I have known, as I am certain you have as well, persons who have made a life out of waiting for things to get better. Many of whom have an excuse why their life is the way it is. They feel, in some cases, that life has dealt them a bad hand.

They can’t get a job or they can’t seem to keep one. They never have enough money. It is always some one else’s fault why they are in the shape they are in. They never take responsibility for their actions, never have and never will. They always have an excuse.

Their excuse has become their “crutch.” Take away their excuse and they have no real reason to be or act the way they do. They have learned to make a life out of the way they are. Some will never change, simply because they do not wish to. They will continue through life limping along as it were and all the while crying woe is me.

They have no faith or belief that things can change for the better. Unlike the man who lay next to the pool for all those years still believing that one day it just might be his day, those who are satisfied with the life they are now living have no hope but have resigned themselves to fate.

God has sent His Son into the world to offer hope and to bring new life, to bring healing to a broken world. As the collect says, God has prepared for those who love Him such good things as surpass our understanding. We may tell ourselves that we are waiting for a miracle but the miracle has already come.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. Jesus brings new life that breaks into the present. God is waiting for us to grasp it so that we may obtain his promises, which exceed all that we can desire.

“Do you want to be healed,” Jesus asked the man who had been lying next to the pool for thirty-eight years?  He responded with an excuse, yet obeyed Jesus’ command to stand up and walk. The Gospel of Jesus Christ confronts us with a similar question. Do we want to live the new life to which we have been called casting aside our every excuse in order to do so?

Not resigning ourselves to fate, but a life of faith, hope and love in Him who died and rose again that we might have new life and have it more abundantly. Or, are we satisfied with the life we now live? Are we still waiting on a miracle? Those are the questions we all need to answer for ourselves.

God in Christ is waiting for us to respond to his command to “stand up and walk,” walk away from the old life of sin and death and into the light of the new life He brings to all who put their trust in Him. AMEN+

Friday, May 24, 2019

Father Riley's homily from May 19, 2019, Christ Episcopal, Bastrop

EASTER V - C - 19                      JOHN 13. 31-35

“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

The scene of today’s gospel reading is the upper room. The time is just prior to Jesus’ arrest in the garden. Jesus has instituted the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of His own Body and Blood. At table, he predicted his being betrayed by one who ate with him. He has given his disciples an example of humility and servant hood by washing their feet. Yes, he washed Judas’ feet.

Afterwards Judas, the betrayer, goes out into the darkness to carry out his ghastly deed. With Judas’ departure, Jesus begins the final teaching of his earthly ministry referring to his impending death as his “glorification.” What follows is his “new” commandment to love.

Many religions and philosophies teach people to “love one another.” What makes this commandment new is the measure required of our love: we must love as Christ loved us. Therein lies the difficulty in our carrying out Christ’ commandment.

To love one another as Christ loves us is to love even those we deem as our enemies. To love as Christ loves us is to love with a sacrificial love even if it means we are to lay down our life for another, whether friend or stranger. To love as Christ loves us is to forgive those who persecute us, hate us, disagree with us, and even ridicule us. To love as Christ loves us is to love unconditionally with no strings attached.

This new commandment of Jesus is simple, clear, and yet the hardest of all to put into practice. It is a mutual love Jesus is proposing that reflects the mutual love existing between the Father and the Son, the existence of such a love will be the distinguishing mark of the Christian community.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The first reading from Acts is an example from the early church of an initial failure to do so. Paul was the first to break with tradition and preach to the Gentiles who were deemed as unworthy of God’s love.  Peter followed and had to defend himself against the purists in Jerusalem who felt that if God is calling the Gentiles to this new covenant they must first become Jews by undergoing circumcision.

However, Peter knew otherwise. God had given him a revelation that He was doing a new thing and that any and all, Gentile and Jew alike, who believed in the Lord, Jesus Christ, had been given the repentance that leads to life. Peter’s revelation was the same, as St. John would receive many years later in his vision of a new heaven and a new earth: “See, I am making all things new.”

Jesus’ commandment to love was “new” only in the mode of operation. Love of course is central in many parts of the Old Testament, not the least of which is found in Leviticus 19.18 where God’s people are commanded to love their neighbors as themselves.

The newness of Jesus’ commandment, then, isn’t so much a matter of having heard words like this before. Rather it has to do with the depth and type of love: love one another in the same way that I have loved you. Just a few weeks ago, our gospel reading was that of the third resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples.

Some of the disciples had gone fishing, remember? They had caught nothing. Jesus stood on the beach next to a charcoal fire and instructed them to cast their net once more. To their surprise a great shoal of fish was caught.

Then one of the disciples recognized the risen Lord and let it be known that it was Christ. Peter jumps into the waters clothes and all and wades ashore. Jesus greets him and the others with breakfast. Afterwards, Christ takes Peter aside and asks him if he loves him more than the other disciples. Peter says yes.

In the Greek, there are several words for love. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Christ uses the Greek word “agape” which means “divine love,” or love as the Father has for the Son and Christ has for us. Peter responds with the Greek word for “brotherly love,” or a kind of friendship love as it were. That is, more or less of what passes for love in the world as we know it today.

The third time Jesus asks him if he loves him, more than the others Jesus comes down to Peter’s level and uses the same word for love as Peter has been using. Peter says, yes Lord, you know that I love you. By illustration this scene points to our difficulty in carrying out Christ’ new commandment.

We say that we love someone but most often, it is not with a divine love. Our love for one another usually has strings attached. As human beings, we find it easy to fall out of love with another person for whatever reason, and move on to a new relationship. That is not the kind of love Jesus is commanding. Thankfully God does not fall out of love for us.

On the beach Jesus accepted Peter where he was for the time being in his understanding of what Jesus was asking. Peter would eventually rise to the level of Christ’s love for him for Jesus knew what was in Peter’s heart. Peter rested his case on that knowledge as do we. 

At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the sacrament of His own Body and Blood with the words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” The new commandment refers to the institution of the Eucharist.

That is why the Eucharist is the central act of Christian worship. In our receiving the sacrament, we are reminded week in and week out that we are to love one another as Christ loves us - unconditionally. Christ loves us where we are with a divine love, even when we don’t understand it.

He accepted Peter’s love for Him at that moment in time knowing that one day Peter would understand and express the love Christ had for him in his love for others. One who is loved generates love. Christ’ love lifts us to a deeper understanding of what it is to love and to be loved and the means to express it. 

Love is all about the other person. It overflows into service, not in order to show off how hard working it is, but because that is its natural form. This love, the love Christ has for each of us, was manifested for all the world to see on the cross.

It is the same love that the Father has for the Son; it is the love that raised Jesus from the dead, and by doing so has opened to all who believe in Him, the way to everlasting life. This is the love that you and I, and all who call themselves Christians, are to witness to a watching world.

It is a love meant to be lived in a life of self-denial, humility and servant hood, in other words, putting the other person first no matter who they are.  “By this,” Jesus says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” AMEN+