Monday, August 13, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from August 12, 2018

12 PENTECOST, PROPER XIV - B - 18      JOHN 6. 35, 41-51

Our gospel for today continues with the theme “bread of life,” to which Jesus adds the promise of eternal life. However, Jesus’ opposition, the Jews, St. John’s designation for those who opposed him, complain, as did their ancestors in the wilderness.

This time their complaint is aimed directly at Jesus because he said, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven. They know him, or at least they think that they do. We know your parents, they say. How can you say you came down from heaven? Here they openly oppose the idea of his divine descent.

In the five verses that are skipped over in today’s passage Jesus first chides them for their having seen him and yet they do not believe in him. Secondly, he makes the claim that those who do believe in him will have eternal life.

“No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” The Jews oppose him because their minds are closed. They have made the decision not to believe in him.

Too often, we forget what scripture and Jesus teaches us about the new life He brings now and the promise of eternal life that is ours in Him who do believe in Him. Not everyone is going to heaven. This remains a shocking reality to many even today as it did to those, including his own disciples, who asked him about it then.

It is not that God does not want everybody to be eternally in His presence. The reason not all will be is that God has created us with free will that is the ability to choose.  Not everyone chooses to follow Jesus. Remember the little camp song, “I have decided to follow Jesus?”

That reminds me of a story Bishop Tom Wright likes to tell about C.S. Lewis. It seems that Lewis was interviewed at one time by an American Christian journalist who was writing about well-known characters who had converted to Christianity during adult life. The theme was “decision.”

He wanted Lewis to tell him how he “had made his decision.” Unfortunately, for his project, Lewis refused to put it into those terms. He hadn’t “made a decision” he said. God had closed in on him and he could not escape. Tough at times he had badly wanted to.

The closest he would get to using the language the reporter was interested in was to say, “I was decided upon.” In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes it in a more evocative phrase: “His compulsion is our liberation.”

Last week those who had eaten their fill of loaves and fishes asked Jesus what they had to do to be doing the work of God. He answered: believe in him who God has sent. God invites and His invitation is always a balanced one with an open and free appeal: anyone at all who is thirsty is invited to come to the water that is an offer; anyone at all who comes to Jesus will not be rejected.

Throughout John’s gospel, he presents Jesus as Life and Resurrection. Moreover, Jesus identifies himself as such in today’s passage in the verses that are skipped over as well as the concluding verse. Jesus makes the promise that those who believe in him He will raise up at the last day. His promise is eternal life.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” Eternal life is the quality of life Jesus is promising. It is a sharing of the inner life of Christ. It is an offer made to anyone who believes in Him.

Eternal life tells you what sort of life it is, as well as the fact that it goes on after death. It is the life of the age to come, the new life that God has always planned to give to the world. Eternal life begins in the present when someone believes, and continues in the future beyond death.

It will eventually take the form of the resurrection life Jesus is alluding to in today’s passage but which is ignored by those who oppose him. Rather they are stuck on the idea that he has said that he comes from God. How often we get stuck on one idea about God and become deaf and blind to all that God truly is and does.

For example, one hears a lot today from various preachers and religious leaders that God is Love. And He is. One only has to look at the cross to see this is true. However, there is a path, a journey if you will; one must take in order to come to know the love of God, and to understand what the will of God is for each of us.

Repentance is the beginning of the journey to God. We have to make the decision to “turn” away from the life we were living before we were drawn by God. We have to choose to follow the new life God is offering and inviting us to in and through His Son, Jesus.

We have to learn to trust in God, and not ourselves. We have to learn to live by grace in order to continue to make the daily decision to follow him. We can’t get stuck on one idea about God, that God is love, for example, and think that if we love God we can do what we want and all will be well in the end. The gospel does not read that way.

The legalists in today’s passage decide not to follow Jesus, only oppose him, ridicule him, and try to discredit him before the people. “We know who you are. We know your father and your mother.” Yet God’s invitation came to them first in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Sadly, it was an invitation they decided not to accept to their own condemnation. Salvation cannot be earned. It is a gift of God for all who are drawn to him; to all who make the decision to follow in His ways; to live according to his will; to respond to his love with love.

Each time we come to God’s altar and kneel to receive the “bread of heaven”, we are receiving a foretaste of the heavenly banquet Christ himself will one day preside over. For now, it is our spiritual food as it was physical food for the Israelites in the wilderness.

However, once they crossed over into the Promised Land, they no longer received it nor needed it. For the land they inherited was one of milk and honey that satisfied their every need. One day we will no longer celebrate Eucharist, for then, we will be in the greater presence of Christ where all of our hopes and dreams; all of our wants and desires will be found in Him who is Resurrection and Life. AMEN+

Monday, August 6, 2018

Father Riley's homily from August 5, 2018

11 PENTECOST, PROPER XIII - B - 18       JOHN 6. 24-35

If there is one story from the Bible that describes the patient love of God and his slowness to anger it is the Exodus story.

From the moment, Moses instructed the people to get ready to leave Egypt and quickly eat the Passover meal, until the moment they were about to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land, the people God had chosen as his complained, whined, and gripped about their lack of this or that and the situation they ultimately found themselves in.

They even convinced themselves that they had it good in Egypt as slaves of Pharaoh! “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread…” On more than one occasion, they wanted to turn back. Yet in their entire complaining God did not abandon them.

When they were thirsty, he provided water from rocks in the desert. When they were hungry, he littered the ground with quails for them to eat. If that were not enough, he sent manna from heaven, the very bread of God. Even then, they questioned, “What is it?” Moses had to tell them “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

Our gospel lesson for today picks up the theme of bread in the wilderness where the Exodus passage ends. The crowd, which had followed Jesus and had been miraculously fed by him, discovered the next day to their dismay that neither he nor his disciples were anywhere to be found. Therefore, they got into their boats and crossed back over to Capernaum.

These people were anxiously seeking the prophetic rabbi to see additional miracles and hopefully to eat again. What they received instead was the meaning of the story: that God gives the true bread from heaven and that Jesus is that bread.

The people know the wilderness story and they immediately relate it to Jesus. However, like their forefathers in the wilderness, they misunderstood what God did then. They thought it was Moses who had somehow been able to feed them and satisfy their thirst. Now they misunderstand what Jesus is doing.

They continue to seek “signs,” as though what God has done and what God is doing in and through Christ is not enough. “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What works are you performing?”

God rescued Israel from slavery and led them to the Promised Land. Jesus is here to rescue them and us from sin and death and lead all who believe in Him whom God has sent into the fullness of the Kingdom of God to live the new life that kingdom living brings.

However, the more Jesus does, the more the people want from him. Are we any different? Do we continue to seek “signs” from God in order to convince ourselves that He is really who he says he is? Do we take for granted what God has done for us and continues to do for us?

It seems that as people of faith we live in constant tension between the meaning and message of biblical stories for today and the reality of life today. As I said in last week’s homily, we are not here to ask what God is going to do for us next, but to give thanks for what he has already done in our lives and what he is continuing to do through his Son, Jesus.

We are here to open our eyes to the understanding, through Word and Sacrament, to the fact that the new Passover, the new Exodus, is taking place right now, and that Jesus is leading it.  That is what Jesus was trying to teach those who were on that side of the cross. It doesn’t matter just what Jesus can do for you or me. What matters is who he is.

First, John tells us, he is the one whom the father has set his seal. It is a mark that declares not only where he comes from but also that he carries God’s authority. What Jesus is doing in today’s gospel and what Jesus continues to do, God himself does.  Jesus and the Father are One.

Second, God is making a demand on us, and it is this: that we believe in Jesus as the one whom God has sent. He is the bread of life. This will require a change in heart along with the recognition that in Jesus, and everything he is doing, the same God is at work that was at work in the Exodus story.

What was going on all along as Israel wondered in the wilderness, was that God was providing not just the physical bread dropping down from the sky, but the spiritual nourishment which kept alive their faith and hope - faith and hope that kept them moving, albeit sometimes in circles, toward the Promised Land.

That is what God was doing then, and that is what God is doing now. The Exodus story is our story. If we cannot see that, we need to read it again. His grace nourishes our faith and keeps our hope alive as we continue the journey from the font of new life to the throne of God.

Scripture teaches us that our God is a loving and a patient God who provides all of our needs. Because of His love for us, he has sent his Son, Jesus to rescue us from sin and death. By the merits of Christ’ death and resurrection the way to eternal life has been opened to us. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, is Christ’s gift to those who believe in Him as the one whom God has sent.

Until we, as God’s people, recognize who Jesus really is, we may eat our fill of loaves and fishes, but there will remain a deeper hunger inside which will never be satisfied. God feeds us and nourishes us with “the bread of heaven” in the sacrament of Christ’ own Body and Blood. It is our spiritual food that enables us through the eyes of faith to see Him as He really is and to see ourselves at one with Him.

“For the bread of God,” Jesus told them, “is that which came down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus responded, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” AMEN+

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Father Riley's homily from July 29, 2018

10 PENTECOST, PROPER XII - B - 18       JOHN 6. 1-21

In today’s gospel, we move from Mark, our gospel for Year B, to that of John. Before today’s reading from John, Jesus has healed the paralytic at the pool of Siloam just inside the gates of Jerusalem. It was the Sabbath and his actions roused the anger of the Jewish leaders to the point they decided he must die.

In their questioning of him, however, the Pharisees get more than they bargained for. Jesus goes into detail to explain that he and the Father are one and what he is doing is the work of the father, which angers his inquisitors even more. Jesus has made himself equal to God and that will not do. It is after “these things,” John tells us, “he went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.”

As usual, a large crowd follows him because they have seen him heal the sick and they want to see what he is going to do next. Jesus goes up on a mountain and sits down with his disciples. However, the crowd catches up to him. John reminds us that the Passover feast was near. I will come back to that detail in a moment.

Seeing the crowds coming towards him, Jesus tests his disciples with the question “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip does not know what to do or how to answer. They are out in the middle of nowhere and besides they do not have the funds to buy enough for each person present to have a little, including them.

Neither does Andrew know what to do. What Andrew does is to bring to Jesus’ attention that there is a lad present that has five loaves and a few fish. Then he surrenders the whole idea to the reality that the lad’s lunch will not put a dent into the hunger of a crowd of 5000. However, according to John, Jesus knew what he was going to do from the beginning.

Have the crowd sit down he tells his disciples and bring me the fish and the bread. Then the miracle occurs. He takes the fish and the bread and blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to those seated and he kept on giving until they had all eaten their fill. Then, to the disciple’s surprise, Jesus has them gather up the leftovers, which filled twelve baskets.

John doesn’t record the disciples’ reaction to the feeding only the people whose hunger was met. “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” Let us make him our king. The reaction of the crowd shows that they misunderstood him. They rushed to make him king in order to fulfill their own desires and agendas.

Jesus seeing their intention withdraws with his disciples further up the mountain leaving the excited crowd behind. Darkness came and the crowds dispersed. The disciples decided it was time to head for the boat and make it to the other side of the Sea. Jesus remains on the mountain. The disciples cast off without him. That is when the second test comes.

The disciples struggled to cross the sea for the wind was against them. About mid-way across the sea to Capernaum, they see Jesus walking on the water and coming near the boat. Their reaction is one of fear.  However, he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they willingly received him into the boat and immediately found themselves ashore.

Their terror ends, as does their ordeal once Jesus is in their presence. The presence of Christ restored their faith. Faith untested is no faith at all. It has to be tempered like steel if it is to carry us through the terrors and ordeals of life. The tempering comes through repeated challenges to our faith until our faith in God assures us that He will do something, something we have not thought of, something new.

Like Andrew in today’s story, we don’t always know what to do, but what we can do is to bring to Jesus whatever we have. In some cases that will be our lack of faith, our doubt, even our fear. And like the disciples who were struggling to make headway in the storm, when we realize that Jesus is present, our faith is renewed by our realizing God’s has loved us through it.

God is love and God’s love will sustain us if we only believe. In time of fear, doubt, depression, anxiety, even anger, we must look for Jesus in our midst for the light of his presence penetrates the darkness in our lives and his word “it is I” dispels all fear.

When I was a child, there were no “night-lights.” We have all at one time or another been afraid of the dark. In my case, my mother gave me a Jesus “night-light” if you will. Perhaps some of you had one too.

It didn’t plug into a wall socket. It didn’t have a bulb as they do today. It was a picture of Jesus that was covered with some type of luminous substance. When the room was dark, the face of Jesus appeared.

My mother placed it on the wall at the end of my bed and I can remember many a night I said my prayers looking at Jesus and fell peaceably asleep knowing that He was present. He was present then, and He is present now.

Jesus fed 5000 people when the feast of Passover was near. The Feast of Passover was celebrated then and now as a reminder not only that God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt but also sustained them and protected them by His presence throughout their journey to the Promised Land.

Whether the people realized it or not, and most likely they did not, what Jesus did for them on the mountain was reminiscent of what God had done for Israel during their wondering in the wilderness. God fed Israel with “bread from heaven.” In addition, the actions Jesus takes in today’s feeding are a prelude to his actions in the upper room when he instituted the Eucharist in the presence of his disciples.

He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples with the words “this is my body broken for you…do this in remembrance of me.” The crowds in today’s story followed him up the mountain and were miraculously fed, as were their ancestors in the wilderness. The disciples will soon follow him to the upper room thinking they are going to eat the Passover meal with him; instead, he will feed them sacramentally.

We, as the family of God gather here week after week in this sacred space to learn to follow Jesus. Here we are fed by Word and Sacrament. At the foot of God’s altar is the place to deposit our own desires, our own agendas, our doubts and fears and take to heart our reason for being here.

Which is not to see what God is going to do next in our lives but to give Thanks for what He has already done, and continues to do in and through the merits of His Son, Jesus, who died and rose again that we might have the new life in Him faith brings.

It is His Body and Blood, the “bread of heaven” that we feed on in our hearts by faith with Thanksgiving that creates our oneness with Him and reminds us that He is ever present to those who love him. Therefore, let us keep the feast. AMEN+

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 15, 2018

Breaking News:  Lay Leader Mrs. Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer next Sunday (July 22th) and Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday, July 29,  2018.  Services at 10am as usual.  Morning Prayer will also be offered  Wednesday, July 15th at 10am at The Shepherd Center.

8 PENTECOST, PROPER X - B- 18         MARK 6. 14-29

Last week’s gospel had Jesus being rejected in his hometown by the very people who thought that they knew him. They did not believe in his power to heal and make whole. They did not accept him in his prophetic role.

In today’s gospel the puppet king, Herod, reacts differently. He is afraid of Jesus because he has heard of the things Jesus has done and what his disciples are doing. You may recall, Jesus has sent them out and they are performing kingdom signs as Christ has done and they are still out there.

The word on the street is that Jesus is John Baptist risen from the dead. A thought that sends shivers down Herod’s spine as he has recently beheaded John. Others are saying that this Jesus is Elijah who, according to Jewish tradition would return to get things ready for the final judgment and the coming of Messiah.

Then again, others simply said he was like one of the prophets of old. After all Jesus was behaving like a prophet; he spoke of himself as a prophet; it wasn’t surprising then that they thought of him like that. However, Herod agrees with the first assessment. He is convinced that Jesus is John risen from the dead.

St. Mark goes on in today’s passage to tell us in detail what happened to John and why it happened. This account is given parenthetically, explaining John’s earlier death so hearers would understand why Herod would think that John had risen from the dead.

It was a combination of Herodias’ grudge against John for having spoken against her marriage to Herod, and Herod’s promise to his wife’s daughter, in front of his birthday guests, that brought an unceremonious end to John.

It would seem that Herod fears John dead more than when he was alive. The idea of resurrection among God’s people in the days of Jesus was a mixed one at best. For example, the Pharisees, the teachers and keepers of the law believed it and taught it.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, did not believe it. They even went out of their way to speak against it. It would appear that Herod, the son of the one who slew the infants in Bethlehem, himself a Jew, did not have a handle on it at all.

He sees Jesus as the re-incarnation of John Baptist come back to haunt him. He knows that John worked no miracles while living. Thus, he now believes, in his own strange way, that the powers Jesus possesses are due to the fact that John has come back from the dead. That Jesus is really John.

Herod, with all of his wealth and soldiers at hand, feared John, a man who lived in poverty and was clothed in camel’s hair. His fear stands as a testament both to the powers of personal holiness and integrity, and to the people’s perception of John, for they held him in high esteem. Besides that, Luke tells us, Herod liked listening to John.

What about us? Where do we stand on the idea of resurrection? Christians of all stripes have mixed feelings even today. There are, we might say, “Pharisees” and “Sadducees” within our own denomination, clergy and laity alike. In my 38 years of ministry, I have encountered both.

I will never forget one middle-aged woman, a cradle Episcopalian I might add, who, several years ago now, confronted me at the back of the church at the conclusion of an Easter Sunday service with the question “did I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?”

At first, I was taken aback. After having collected myself I asked her if she stood and recited the creed at each celebration of the Holy Eucharist. She told me that she did. I then asked whether she believed what she recited. To which she responded, “I skip over the resurrection of the dead as well as the other parts I don’t accept.”

I was dumb founded. The ancient creed is a statement of what we believe about God. It contains the two major dogmas of the church - the Incarnation and the Resurrection. However, I have discovered over the years that she was not alone. There are those today who still struggle with both.

The Virgin birth is yet a mystery many cannot accept. While the Resurrection scares people. It has from the beginning. Just go back and read the gospel accounts of the first Easter morning.

Some people, like the woman that confronted me, it would seem, prefer to remain dead when the time comes and leave it at that. They believe that this life and this world is all there is.

I can only surmise that their thinking is due in part to the fact that they fear judgment, especially those who are so-called Christians. Others who have told me that they believe that there will be a resurrection hold strange ideas of what it will look like and be like. Herod held such a strange idea.

If Herod thought at the time Jesus was John Baptist risen from the dead, he later had an opportunity to learn otherwise. According to St. Luke, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for questioning on the day of his crucifixion. Nowhere does St. Luke report that Herod was afraid of him at their meeting.

Rather that Herod was amazed that Jesus chose not to answer any of his questions. He was also disappointed that Jesus did not do any miracles in his presence. Instead, Herod allowed his soldiers to mock him and cloth him in purple before he sent him back to Pilate to be condemned.

I am sure that Herod’s fear of Jesus that of being John Baptist raised from the dead, ended when Christ was nailed to the cross. However, nowhere in the gospels is it later recorded what Herod’s reaction was to the reports that Jesus was risen from the dead.

I have often wondered what Herod must have thought upon hearing that report. As I have often wondered what those who hear it today must likewise think, even those who are veterans of more than one Easter sermon. Some I am certain are still afraid of the very idea. Others may say that they believe it yet maintain strange concepts of what it will be like. Where do you stand?

If the world is to believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again then, we, who have been baptized into His death and raised to new life in Him, must live the new life to which we have been called in ways that manifest our faith and belief in Him who is Resurrection and Life to the Glory of God the Father.  AMEN+

Monday, July 9, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 8, 2018

7 PENTECOST, PROPER  IX - B - 18       MARK 6. 1-13

Rarely are people in today’s world identified as prophets. The Church has not institutionalized the prophet in the same way as priest or deacon. We think of prophets as distant and unfamiliar people like a John Baptist. However, Jesus was a prophet, as well as a priest and king. Was he the last of the prophets? Did the prophetic age end with him?

Prophesy is naming the truth in a given situation and explaining the logical consequences of a course of action. God’s Word is Truth. The prophet speaks God’s word, often in a situation where people have been unable or unwilling to face the truth.

Naming the truth, especially when people have denied reality, challenges people to accept the truth, to acknowledge their denial and to change their behavior. However, people can reject the truth, usually by rejecting the bearer of the word.

That’s what happened to Jesus in his own hometown. In that he joined the company of the prophet Ezekiel and all of God’s prophets who preceded him who were instructed by God to deliver the truth whether it was received or not. Meaning, their mission was to deliver the word. The choice to receive it lies with the hearers of the word always has and always will.

God’s truth uncovers the uncomfortable reality about ourselves, our concepts and our institutions that we have been unwilling to face. When faced with the truth we are faced with a decision; we have a choice. We can choose to accept the truth and then change the way we live, or we can reject the truth.

Jesus was laughed at Capernaum. He is rejected in Nazareth. Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is but a foreshadowing of his rejection by the whole Jewish nation that will occur at his trial before Pilate.

The people in his hometown thought that they knew him. They knew his family and they knew him as a mere carpenter. Sure, they had heard of what he had done in Capernaum, a mere twenty-five miles away, and around the lakeshore.

They were both amazed and offended. Where he got his current knowledge of God and the power to do such things was a mystery they could not explain nor could they accept, so they rejected him by doubting his prophetic role and even his power to heal.

Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. Thus, Mark records that he was unable to do any miracles there, but only to lay his hands on a few sick people who did have faith in him.  It would appear that lack of faith hinders Jesus’ power to heal. After his rejection, there was no reason for him to remain in Nazareth.

Thus, Jesus moves on to other towns and villages in the region in order to teach and preach the kingdom of God to those who have ears to hear. Then, to the surprise of the 12, he sends them out on their own, two by two. They are travel light. They are to take poverty as their bride.

They are to accept hospitality wherever they find it. They are to remain where they are received and welcomed. They are to shake off the dust from their feet from the places where they too will be rejected.

Jesus empowers them with His Spirit to preach repentance, to cast out demons as he has done, and to anoint with oil those who are sick and heal them. These things, which the disciples do, are all signs of the kingdom. They are in essence carrying out Jesus’ agenda of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

The 12 have come a long way from the fear of perishing on the Sea of Galilee to performing a mission of unwavering faith in the proclamation of the gospel. Amazing what this fledgling band of disciples was able to accomplish when unhindered by distractions.

Therefore, it should be with us, as individual Christians and corporately as the Church. For the mission has not changed. Our mission is to accept our “prophetic” role by warning the world that it is rapidly heading in the wrong direction and to warn the Church, when need be, that she is in mortal danger of being transformed by the world rather than the other way round.

I recently read a stirring article along those same lines written by an Archbishop in Europe who bemoaned the fact that the Church in Europe was becoming increasingly secular in nature and highly politicized. Her leaders were more interested in politics and in being socially acceptable rather than in proclaiming the gospel.

In the Archbishop’s opinion, the church had become totally distracted from the divine mission, which had been given to her. He wrote that the Church today is more interested in pleasing men rather than God. When we do this are we not in essence rejecting Jesus? Are we not turning away from the truth?

God’s word is truth. God’s truth uncovers the uncomfortable reality about ourselves, our concepts and our institutions that we have been unwilling to face. When faced with the truth we are faced with a choice. We can choose to accept the truth and change the way we live, or we can reject the truth.

It was the same choice those in Nazareth were faced with when they found themselves in the presence of the Jesus they thought they knew. It was the same choice Israel as a nation was faced with when Pilate presented this same Jesus before them as their king. In both instances, the people Christ came to save rejected him and in rejecting him, they rejected the Truth of God’s Word Incarnate.

To be “devoted to God with our whole heart” as today’s collect prays requires that we do not lose focus; do not allow ourselves to become distracted from the “prophetic” mission of proclaiming the truth of God’s Holy Word. The world we live in today is becoming increasingly more secular in nature and less religious. Thus, the temptation for the Church, the Bride of Christ, is to be transformed by a world, which is fixated on the here and now.

Even more reason for us to remember who we are and to whom we ultimately belong. May God grant us the grace to live our lives in such a way that it reflects our faith and belief in Him who is, and always will be, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. For the Church’s mission has never been one of pleasing men, but one of pleasing God. AMEN+

Monday, July 2, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 1, 2018

6 PENTECOST, PROPER VIII - B - 18     MARK 5. 21-43

We think we know the limits of God, but do we?  We heard in last week’s gospel that Jesus and his disciples crossed over the Sea of Galilee to the East side to get away from the crowds and to have some quiet time together. On the way over, he demonstrated his power over nature by stilling the wind and the waves that caused fear to arise in the hearts of his disciples overriding what little faith they had.

In today’s passage, they have returned to Capernaum and to the crowds who were waiting for them. Out of the crowd steps one Jarius, a leader of the local synagogue that Jesus and his disciples surely attended. He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come and heal his 12-year-old daughter who is near death.

The compassionate Jesus agrees to go with him. As they left together, the crowds followed pressing close to him. There was woman in the crowd who had a 12-year-old issue of blood the local physicians had been unable to heal. Her condition had deteriorated and she had become worse.

She undoubtedly has heard of Jesus’ ability to heal. She missed seeing him before he crossed over the sea but was determined not to miss him on his return. She waited in the crowd and when he came, she followed pressing closer and closer to him believing that if she could just touch the hem of his garment she would be healed. She did.

The instant she reached out and touched the fringe of his garment she felt herself healed of her infirmity. Jesus likewise felt the power had gone out of him. He knew he had been touched. He stops and turns to the crowd and asks, “Who touched me?” The disciples respond, “With this many people so close it is impossible to know.”

The woman, fearing what Jesus might say or do steps forward and admits that she is the one who had touched him. Instead of being admonished for her action, Jesus commends her for her faith and sends her away in peace.

However, the delay in Jesus’ mission to go with the ruler of the synagogue to heal his daughter results in a messenger arriving from Jairus’ house to inform him that his daughter has died. There is no further need to trouble Jesus. What Jairus must have been thinking?

If only Jesus had not hesitated, if only he had followed me post haste, my daughter might still be alive. Isn’t that what would go through your mind? Now that she was dead, there is no need of Jesus. There is nothing anyone can do. The world of Jesus thought it knew the limits of God. What they could expect and what they could not expect from God.

Jesus hears the message and turns to Jarius and says “do not fear, only believe.” Then Christ dismisses the crowds and allows only the inner circle, Peter, James and John along with the father to accompany him to where the young girl lies. On their arrival, they are greeted by a house full of mourners who are wailing and weeping expressing their grief in the loss of the child.

Jesus tires to calm them by telling them that she is not dead but only sleeping. They laugh. Like Jarius, they thought that they knew the limits of God. They knew what to expect and what not to expect from God. For their ridicule, and their disbelief, Jesus puts them out of the house.

With the parents and in the company of Peter, James, and John he enters the girl’s room and taking her by the hand he speaks to her “little girl it is time to get up.”  And immediately she got up and began to walk about to the amazement of those present. Was she dead? Was she only sleeping as he said?

In ancient time, death was often referred to as sleep. Jesus said she was sleeping. The messenger said she was dead. The mourners were not wailing over a sleeping child. Today’s gospel is yet another demonstration of the power of Christ. This time, he demonstrates his power over life and death.

What Jesus does in the house of Jarius is but a glimpse of the mystery of Jesus and of his mission, which began, according to Mark, in the synagogue at Capernaum and found its climax with the empty tomb. Today’s gospel story is also a demonstration of faith.

It is a demonstration of Jesus’ power to move one from fear to faith. He demonstrated that in last week’s gospel with his own disciples and again today when he turns to the father and says “do not fear, only believe.”

Wedged in between is the woman’s faith with the issue of blood who believed that all she had to do was to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment and she would be made whole. It wasn’t her faith, however, that cured her, but the power of Christ to make whole. Her faith was the channel through which the power of Christ was able to work.

How strong is our faith in God? Strong enough to ask of God? Strong enough to patiently wait on God? Strong enough to believe that no matter how impossible the situation may appear our faith in God tells us that He can and will act? “Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus told Jarius in the face of death.

We think we know the limits of God, but in Christ, we discover there are no limits to what God can do. Today’s story tells us that with God we can imagine the unimaginable - even resurrection. Granted what characterizes much of our discipleship, as it did his own disciples, is a mixture of fear and faith, and yet it is faith that channels God’ saving action. Faith is the sign of the renewal of new life.

“Do not fear, only believe. “ What does all of this tell us about Jesus, about the mystery of Jesus? That he cared about people that he went out of his way to give help to those who asked for it. He touched. He lifted up. These miracle stories may cause problems in the scientific world; we may, in fact, interpret many of these cures as psychosomatic illnesses and cures.

No matter. What matters is the insight we gain into the mystery of Jesus and of his mission, and so into the reality of our lives as his followers. He was a healer, a giver of hope and new life.  He was open to the needs and pain of others and he cared about them, cared enough, to do something.

His caring was intended to open people’s eyes to the reality of God, to unheard of possibilities made possible by faith in Him as the Son of God who died and rose again that we might have life and have it more abundantly. AMEN+

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from June 24, 2018 and 'Breaking News'

BREAKING NEWS!  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist The following Sundays in July: 1st, 8th, 15th; 29th.  Layleader Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer July 22nd.  Please join us for the 10am service and the fellowship time following the service.

5 PENTECOST, PROPER VII - B - 18      MARK 4. 35-41

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “let us go across to the other side,” the other side being the East side of the Sea of Galilee. To go there would take them away from Galilee and the crowds. The region in that part of the country was less populous creating an opportunity to rest and recoup from the demands of the people.

As we heard in the preceding week’s gospel, the crowds had been following Jesus from the beginning. The word was out that he was a great healer and a great teacher. The crowds sought to bring him their sick, their lame, their blind and those possessed with demons, and to hear his kingdom message.

The scribes and even some of those who knew him thought he was crazy. The authorities had to find some way to discredit him, to try to get the crowds to stop following and believing in him. His own mother and members of his family thought there was something wrong with him as well.

Now would be a good time to escape from all of that and have some quiet time - just Jesus and his disciples. So Jesus gets into the boat with them and says let us shove off and get away from the crowds for a while. He is literally exhausted from preaching, teaching, and healing. Not to mention the unending questions from the religious leaders in Jerusalem who want to know whom he really is and what he thinks he is up to.

The Sea of Galilee is relatively calm the majority of time. However, a sudden storm bringing high winds that easily produce whitecaps can seem to come out of nowhere. Obviously, there was no storm when the disciples set out for the other side. Jesus being physically tired, a sign of his humanity fell asleep in the stern of the boat. 

However, a storm did arise white capping the lake and threatening to swamp the boat. The disciples feared they might drown. They woke Jesus up and rebuked him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  That is the real question in today’s story is it not. The question whether God cares?

Jesus began his ministry exercising his power over the supernatural forces that threatened humankind. He exorcised a demon from a man with an unclean spirit. He went on to demonstrate his authority to preach and teach of the coming kingdom of God, a teaching that baffled the powers to be in Jerusalem who deemed him a threat to their authority.

He healed various diseases and infirmities demonstrating his power to physically heal and make whole. In today’s gospel he stills the wind and calms the sea removing the threat that caused fear to rise in the hearts of his disciples. Their fear assuaged, they ask themselves ‘who is this?”

Wouldn’t you think by now they would have an inkling of Jesus identity? Jesus’ authority over creation is another sign that he is the Messiah and is divine. On the other hand, their following him up to this point had brought no test of their faith in him.

Why would they think that he does not care if they perish? Was it not his compassionate caring that moved him to exorcise demons, heal the sick, restore, and make whole human lives? Was he not in the same boat?

How quickly they forget, as do we. Like the parable of the good seed falling on various kinds of soil their faith had not yet taken root. “Have you still no faith, “he asks them. Fear overrides faith every time.

We all know that the world can be a scary place. In addition, there are moments when our fear can immobilize us. Think of a moment or an occasion in your past when you were afraid, afraid perhaps that you were going to perish.

I can vividly recall such a day when I worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It was a day I came very close to drowning. My partner and I were working duck hunters in a large open bean field flooded by the rising waters of the White River, which had more than exceeded its banks. The water in the field was several feet deep.

It wasn’t storming when we crossed from the river into the field. However, by the time we decided to return to the river a storm arose bringing high winds, rain, thundering, and lightening at work against us. We were in a 14 foot jon boat with a 25 horse Johnson and were being beaten by the wind and swamped by the waves. The bean field was white capping. It was difficult to make any headway and the boat was filling with water faster than I could bail it out.

When all seemed lost, I noticed the tops of a row of willow trees less than a hundred yards from where we were struggling to stay afloat. By the grace of God, we were able to make it to that row of trees. Their tops were standing several feet above the water. We hung on for dear life as the boat continued to take on water from the surging waves until the storm finally passed.

When the calm came we bailed out the boat and made it safely back to the river and eventually to the landing. I can understand the disciple’s fear. They were not thinking of their “faith,” or of what they had seen Jesus do or say. At that moment, all they could think of was how to survive and not perish.

The same was true for my partner and me on that day in the flooded bean field. It was only when the calm came did I Thank God for having rescued us by stilling the storm. True, Jesus demonstrated his power and authority over the forces of nature in today’s passage, but the disciple’s question is one we have all raised at one time or another.

Where is God in moments like this? There are times when it appears that God is absent, doesn’t really care, or is asleep in the back of the boat, the car, or the plane. The point of the gospel story we have heard today is that God never abandons us, no matter how much we feel God’s absence.

I am not suggesting that we should never be afraid, that it is wrong to be seized with terror in times of danger. It is precisely at these times that we must hold to our conviction that God is with us that God is for us. The love of God impels us to put our fears and terrors into perspective and to hear that same voice that the disciples heard when there was dead calm, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

The image of Christ and his disciples in a boat is traditionally used to illustrate the church. God both permits storms and delivers us through them, so that we can see his loving kindness and protection more clearly. As Christ has the power to still the wind and the waves, so He has the power to still the storms within each of our lives thus renewing our faith while giving us His Peace. AMEN+