Monday, September 28, 2015

Homily presented by Garrett Boyte, September 27 2015

A Homily on St. Luke 5:1-11

by Father James Thornton


In today's Gospel reading, Christ comes upon several men, Sts. Peter, James, and John who, the Gospel says, had been fishing all through the night and had caught nothing. After spending some time teaching His message, Christ turned his attention to the fishermen. At the Lord's bidding, they returned to their boats and, putting their faith in Christ's words, once again let down their nets. And they caught an abundance of fish, enough to break the net, enough indeed to fill two boats and to cause both nearly to sink. Peter seeing this miraculous catch of fish, confesses to the Lord that he, Peter, is a sinful man. Christ responds that while they now catch fish, soon they shall be catching people.
We note first that after Christ had commanded them to let down their nets once again, Peter, who was certainly an expert in fishing, disputed the possibility that any fish would be caught. They had fished all night, he insisted, and caught nothing. His mastery of his occupation told him that to lower the nets again would be a waste of time. Nevertheless, Christ commanded that he do it, and he did. Christ was teaching his followers that they must put their trust in Him, even when it seemed a waste of time, even when it seemed foolish, even if they thought they knew better. The obedience of these men to Christ's command was rewarded by a huge catch of fish. Christ commands us, equally strongly, to put our trust in Him and to obey His commands. Sometimes that seems illogical to us, and yet that we must do. When, for example, illness overtakes us and puts us through pain and suffering and doubt about our future, we must still look to Him, place our trust unconditionally in Him, and believe that in our obedience, we shall eventually find our reward.
The second message is that though we try in our lives to accomplish certain things, and fail, we must never cease trying, we must never give up. Peter, after working all night, was ready to give up, to surrender to failure. But he did not, thanks to Christ's insistence. Those disposed to give up, especially in their spiritual endeavors, are truly lost should they give in to their impulses. For those who struggle on, despite all, can only triumph at the end. The Evil One never stops trying to tempt us by discouragement. But we must not listen.
Next note that Peter confesses his sinfulness, but Christ, at that moment, seems rather unconcerned, telling him to "fear not." Christ sees into Peter's heart and He knows each and every sin dwelling there. But Christ also knows, by Peter's own humble confession, that he has already repented and has already resolved to follow a different path. St. Bede, a great seventh-century Saint of the West said that, "The Lord soothes the fears of the unspiritual person so that no one need be fearful in their conscience because of their own past guilt; or, confounded at the sight of the innocence of others, be discouraged in setting out on the road to sanctity." Christ loves us all and regardless of our past sins and offenses, wants us all to turn humbly to Him. About sins confessed and repented of, Christ is unconcerned.
We are taught also by this Gospel passage the power of God. God possesses absolute dominion over all of His creation, and can and does work miracles. The Old and New Testaments are filled with stories of the miracles of God. The lives of the Saints are likewise filled. The history of the Christian peoples also records many miracles. Lives thought lost are saved. Suffering and distress are transformed into peace and abundance. Nations threatened by certain catastrophe are saved by God's intervention. Generally, such miracles are a reward for prayer and faith, but a reward that must correspond to God's plan for mankind as a whole, and for each of us as individuals. We are not promised rewards, necessarily, in this life but must sometimes wait until the next. Nonetheless, the rewards are given. In today's Gospel, Christ rewards the faith of the fishermen with an abundant catch.
He also rewards them by making them His Apostles, which brings us to the next lesson in this passage from St. Luke. "From Henceforth thou shall catch men," Christ says. Peter, James, and John become Apostles and spend the remainder of their lives winning multitudes to the Church. From an earthly standpoint, this is a questionable blessing. These men are wrenched from a way of life they have known, and with which they are reasonably comfortable, and charged with the task of bringing whole nations to Christ's banner. These are simple men, unrefined men, ignorant of worldly knowledge. Yet, Christ makes them leaders of His Church. Today's Gospel says that, "having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed Him," they followed Christ. None received material rewards in this life for their trouble. Hardship, toil, hatred, violence, and finally death by martyrdom was the worldly price paid by these men for obedience to Christ. Yet, they obeyed, and they were rewarded with eternal life, adorned with martyr's crowns in the Kingdom of Heaven, and venerated by all the Faithful of the Church as Saints—until the end of time, Christian men and women remember their names, and honor them for, and seek to imitate them in, their absolute fidelity to Christ.
Indeed, these men came to catch folk, to catch them in Christ's net so that they might be saved. They still catch men. St. Gregory the Theologian writes that, "The fishermen are Teachers of the Church, who catch us in the net of faith, and, as it were, bring us to the shore, to the land of the living."
We too, as simple Episcopalians, are called to catch folk for Christ. Consider, for a moment, the state of the world around us. Consider this town we are in, and the cities and towns nearby. Consider the frightful nature of the world, of the overflowing cup of evil all around us. Consider the huge numbers of confused and frightened people, darting this way and that, like frightened fishes in a great dark sea. Some, though perhaps not all, would doubtless find peace and joy if they could but find Christ, in the fullness in which we find Him in The Church. We need only lower our nets, as Christ bids us, and we can catch them for Him. How do we do this?
We can do it by witnessing for Christ through the lives that we lead. If we are kind, patient, and generous towards our neighbors, that in itself is the beginning of our witness. If we are models of Christian piety in our lives, praying, keeping the fasts, attending Liturgy, and remaining close to the Church, that too is a witness and will attract a larger catch. Finally, we must not be ashamed of Christ's Church by hiding it from those around us. If neighbors or friends or acquaintances have no religious life, or if they are dissatisfied in their current religion, we can invite them to attend here. So, let us not be apprehensive in sharing the beauty of Anglicanism with others. Let each of us strive to follow in the footsteps of Sts. Peter, James, and John, by becoming catchers of souls for Christ. Let each of us also put aside all those things that distract us from our real purpose in this life, let us leave those things, as the Gospel says, and, like the Apostles, follow Jesus.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Goldman plaque dedication and church family celebration

Christ Episcopal Church dedicated a memorial plaque and celebrated the lives of Harry T. and Mary Goldman Sunday September 20th.  It is great to see the church family together.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Father Riley's sermon for 20Sep15

17 PENTECOST, PROPER XX - B - 15              MARK 9: 30-37
jesus holding baby photo: Jesus with child _cid_00a101c78805_1c96d710_6401a8c0_youro0kwkw9jwcJesusandchild.jpg

 Can you recall being in a classroom listening to a lecture when a question popped into your mind and you wanted so bad to raise your hand and ask, but were afraid to? I have, and resisted because I thought it might embarrass me to do so. I kept silent hoping that someone else might ask it for me?
In today’s gospel Mark gives us Jesus’ second prediction of his death and resurrection as Christ and his disciples are passing through Galilee on their way to Jerusalem and the cross. Mark says Jesus is teaching his disciples, but like all students, they only hear what they want to hear. I think Mark is kind in saying that they did not understand Jesus and were afraid to ask what he really meant, because I think they did. At least the part about Christ dying.
Why else would they begin to argue about which one of them was the “greatest?” Jesus made his first prediction of his betrayal, death and resurrection in last week’s gospel to which Peter immediately rebuked him. Jesus, seeing the impact Peter’s words were having on the rest of the disciples, turns and rebukes Peter for not being on God’s side.
Obviously Peter understood what Jesus was saying about his death, but his thinking was earthly in terms of the Messiah he wanted Jesus to be. In rebuking Peter, Jesus made it quite clear to all of his disciples that his death was part of the plan, God’s divine plan, and that Peter and the rest needed to see it that way; to look past the cross to the new life it would bring.
And yet here we are with Christ’s second prediction causing an argument among them. It must have been deeply disappointing to Jesus to overhear their words. Obviously they had totally misunderstood what he was trying to teach them about who he really was and what it was they were called to be and do, including what constituted “greatness” in the kingdom of God.
So Christ asks them, “what are you arguing about?” But he already knows. They are silent because they are embarrassed and ashamed.
The disciple’s argument, you see, represents selfish interests and worldly power. Their thinking is strictly earthy. Their concern is for their own welfare; their own status. It’s about what is in it for me. They understand half the message, the half they wanted to understand; the part about His death, but not the resurrection.
The real teaching about discipleship/servant hood, occurs when Christ takes a child and places him in their midst in an effort to jolt them out of their narcissistic thinking. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Christ’s words and illustration point out the pitfalls of pride and the love of power. Both are fermented in the spirit of rivalry and cruelty that arise out of the hearts of men. Neither of which has anything to do with being His disciple much less entrance into the Kingdom of God.
Christian “greatness” consists in renunciation of all that the world values and in the service of those whom the world rates of least account.  So Jesus takes a little child and holds him before them. Children had no status or prestige in ancient times. What Jesus is trying to say is the disciples won’t gain particular favor or social standing because they are followers of His, and neither will we.
The gospel does not exist to make us feel good about ourselves. If this is what we think, then, it is unlikely we will be able to hear what God is actually saying. Being a Christian does not somehow make us special. True “greatness” calls for reversal of selfish goals. It is not enough to be last, but last and servant of all.
The child in Jesus’ arms “incarnates” this revelation of discipleship. His action reminds us of the virtues required for entrance into the kingdom of heaven: humility, obedience, and a willingness to love and to be loved. God’s way turns our earthly thinking upside down and inside out, and sometimes even puts it in reverse.
Jesus’ teaching, then, was meant to be an eye opener to those whom He had chosen to carry on His mission after Him and for all who choose to follow Him. The disciple’s eyes, as well as ours, needed to be opened to what it truly means to serve in Christ’s name.
Not only that, but we are called to see the Passion for what it truly is; to see beyond the cross, to see in the cross a path to new life, to see in servant hood not a demeaning of personhood, but an enhancement of life.
Jesus’ teaching on servant hood did not sink in all the way, as we might imagine. That would occur after His death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. For now, the seeds have been planted. Christ will continue to give them a living example of servant hood in the things he will do and say as they make their way to Jerusalem, up to and including His death on the cross.
No longer will they argue about which one of them is the greatest, rather I can see them discussing among themselves, as they ponder in their hearts, what He really meant when he placed that child in their midst, and what it would have to do with them. Eventually, they will come to know and understand, as we all must: the virtues required for entrance into the kingdom of heaven: humility, obedience, and a willingness to love and be loved.
Christ’ teaching impacted their lives in ways they would have never imagined, and it continues to impact lives today; the lives of those, that is, who are open to hear what God is actually saying. For the gospel does not exist to make us feel good about ourselves, because it is not about us.
To be a Christian does not somehow make us special, rather it comes with the awesome responsibility to serve others in the name of Him who came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+




Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Father Riley's sermon from 13Sep15

16 PENTECOST, PROPER XIX - B - 15              MARK 8: 27-38


 “Actions speak louder than words?” How many times have we heard that? We might say that Jesus is making the same statement in today’s gospel. It is about what constitutes true religion as opposed to “verbal religion,” that is, putting one’s faith into practice as opposed to merely talking about it.
It begins with a question, and not just any question mind you, but the greatest question a person can face in this life, for it is the question that defines Christianity. Christ asks, “Who do you say that I am?” The world is still debating the answer, and will continue to do so until the day when He comes “in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
The question Jesus posed to Peter was a personal one, and it remains personal. It doesn’t matter what the world says of Jesus, of the Church, or of Christianity as a religion, what matters is what we as individuals, and corporately as the Body of Christ say to the world about Him. But more importantly, not just what we say we believe about Him, but how we live our lives in ways that demonstrate what we say we believe.
The disciples were literally shocked to hear Jesus speak of his impending death. It was the very first time they had heard such a thing. It would not be the last. It shocked them because it came immediately after Peter had given the right answer to Jesus’ question “who do you say that I am?” “You are the Messiah,” Peter answered.
The disciples, however, were not expecting a divine redeemer; they were looking for a king, and they thought they had found one. The Jewish concept of Messiah was purely human not divine. Their Messiah would have to do three things: (1) rebuild or cleanse the Temple, (2) defeat the enemies of God’s people, (3) bring God’s justice to bear on both Israel and the world.
So for Jesus to predict his death ran horribly counter to what the disciples believed about Messiah and consequently drew a strong negative reaction from Peter on behalf of all of them. The reaction of Peter illustrates his failure to understand and grasp the significance of the crucifixion. It makes his confession of Jesus less than a full comprehension.
But more than that, Peter becomes an unwilling spokesman for Satan, as Satan did not want Christ to fulfill his mission and save mankind through suffering and death. Yet Christ is telling his disciples in no uncertain terms what his vocation and destiny is. The true nature of his messiahship is shrouded in the mystery of the Passion.
Peter rejects the idea of the cross because he is not looking at it from God’s point of view. Jesus’ words are not expressing human’s thoughts, they are God’s thoughts. They point to Easter, but only by means of death - a death God’s way. The idea of Messiah dying perplexed Peter and the disciples and was nothing less than scandalous to the Jews.
This is the challenge to all of us today who would be followers of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, as the Church in every generation has had to struggle not only to think but to live from God’s point of view in a world where such ideas of self-sacrifice and self-denial are deemed crazy. It is a challenge to our sense of values about power and glory, about what is really important in life and what is not.
Jesus says “the way of the cross” is the way; the only way to go through life. Not only is the cross Christ’ vocation, then, but it belongs to all who choose to follow in his footsteps. To follow Jesus is to risk losing everything in this temporal life in the hope of gaining eternity with Him. This is the central paradox of Christian living.
To “walk the way of the cross” trumps the world of verbal religion, that is, merely talking about the cross, it means taking one up. There can be no denying that taking up the cross is work, and that work involves self-denial. Peter speaks for all of us when he expresses his horror of the cross.
However, Christ speaks the truth when he makes a connection between the work of the cross and the denial of self. We had all rather hide from the cross, and fall back on merely speaking about it, or to our preaching of concern, social equality, and inclusivity, being content to live in the world of verbal religion. But that is to become unconscious participants in Satan’s plan to derail the Church and its mission of proclaiming the gospel; a gospel that includes walking the way of the cross.
Lest we forget as Christians we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’ own forever with the sign of the cross. The cross is anchored in our baptisms. It has been etched on our foreheads. From the font God leads us through death to life, following Christ towards Easter, but not without Good Friday.
Today’s passage ended Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Jerusalem and the cross now loom in the distance. The whole journey to Jerusalem was directed to attune the disciple’s minds gradually to the new concept of Messiah and what awaited him. More and more as they make the journey to the Holy City Jesus takes them to himself as companions not merely followers, but only after having sent the spirit of Satan away for a time.
The tempter will return to Jesus as he hangs dying on the cross, but his presence will have no effect. Christ’ victory is assured. The salvation of mankind comes through Christ’ sacrifice of self for the sins of the world, as does the assurance of our eternal life with Him, through our dying to self.
To take up the cross for the sake of Christ and the gospel demonstrates to the world that our faith is not merely a verbal one, but an active one that reflects the Easter life we live now by the means of grace, and in the Hope of Glory in the world to come with Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+


Monday, September 7, 2015

Father Riley's sermon from 6Sep15

15 PENTECOST, PROPER XVIII - B - 15          MARK 7. 24-37




In last week’s gospel Jesus stood toe to toe with the Pharisees and confronted them about their traditions of what constituted one “clean or unclean.” He left them with a teaching on what truly defiles an individual, subordinating their so-called traditions of man to those of the commandments of God.

Having done so, Jesus leaves Galilee and travels NW, entering the region of Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast. Sidon was the most Northern city visited by Christ and is about 50 miles from Nazareth. Tyre is some 20 miles South of Sidon and at the time of Christ, its population was equal to that of Jerusalem.

Jesus went to the Gentile cities not to preach or teach about the Kingdom, but to withdraw from the presence of the faithless Pharisees. Interestingly enough, according to Mark, it appears he is alone. The disciples are not mentioned.

He enters a house wishing to remain incognito, but cannot escape notice. Obviously, someone there recognized him and the word quickly spread that he was in their presence. It doesn’t take long for a Greek woman to seek him out on behalf of her daughter who it is reported is possessed by a demon.

Mark says she “begs” Jesus to cast the demon out. Notice the girl is not present, only the mother bows before him interceding on the child’s behalf. At first, Jesus appears to simply ignore her, but she persists. And when Jesus does respond to her it is not with a “yes” but more of a statement of putting her in her place. She was a Gentile, not a Jew.

Today some might say that he was not “politically correct” in doing so. But, Christ’s mission was not to spread the gospel to the Gentile world but to the Jewish people. He had not gone North to preach, teach, or heal, but to lie low for a while.

Christ’s use of the term “first” in his ultimate response to the Greek woman, however, implies that in due time the Gentiles would be ushered into the kingdom. But not now, that would come later after the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the world would come to know that not only is Christ the King of the Jews, but the Savior of the world.

She, therefore accepts her place beneath the Jews, yet still desires a share in God’s grace, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Her comment strikes at the heart of Christ’s Divine compassion. He is moved to grant her request.

Having just withdrawn from the faithless Pharisees, He is now confronted with a Gentile woman’s faith, and wherever he finds “faith” he responds. Speaking to her in Greek, Christ says “…go, the demon has left your daughter. So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”

This story is a striking instance of a healing from a distance and on the basis of intercessory faith. It is the only miracle in Mark where Jesus heals one whom he has not seen.

Again Jesus is on the move. This time taking a circuitous route away from Galilee and into the league of ten cities to the SW called the Decapolis, an area that contains the present day Damascus. This too is a region made up mostly of non-Jews. Once again he is recognized and sought out because of his reputation as a healer.

Friends of a man who is deaf and has an impaired speech bring him to Jesus, and like the Greek woman “beg” Jesus to do something; to lay his hands on him. Jesus takes him aside and away from the crowd. He touches the man’s ears and his tongue. Christ’ command that the man’s ears be opened is in his native tongue of Aramaic. The man is now able to hear and to speak plainly much to the astonishment of those who brought him to Jesus.

The significance of this healing lies in the fact that is signals a fulfilling of a portion of Isaiah’s Messianic prophesy. The blind will see, the lame walk, and the deaf hear. Those present seem to realize this and, according to Mark, are “astounded beyond measure.”

After having withdrawn from the presence of the “faithless” Pharisees, Christ is undoubtedly touched by the faith displayed by these Gentiles. They have heard of his power to heal and make whole and they do not hesitate to seek him out for that very purpose, interceding on behalf of their friend, for they believe in Jesus.

These miracles grab the people’s attention. They make Jesus out to be a great healer of body as well as soul, but this is not his primary mission. His mission was to inaugurate the Kingdom of God without being distracted. He meant to accomplish his purpose through preaching and teaching. The healing was secondary. Jesus “ordered” them, according to Mark, to keep it to themselves, but the more he “ordered” them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

Today’s lectionary presents us with a pair of Jesus’ healings of non-Jews. One occurs long distance; the other up close and personal. Both healings take place because of intercessory faith. The Gentile woman displays a genuine faith in Jesus to heal the body and soul of her absent daughter, as did those who brought the deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus. Neither were disappointed. God never disappoints.

Healings take place in many different ways. To stand at the bedside of a loved one or dear friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer and pray that they may be healed and believe that they can be, takes faith. To be asked to pray for someone in physical or spiritual need and to remain persistent in that prayer, day in and day out, year after year, even when we are unable to see any outward change, takes real faith.

Sometimes God answers our prayers by granting the healing we seek - restored health and or spiritual wholeness. At other times the healing comes in ways we do not expect. Death, in itself, can be the answer to our prayers even when it is the last thing we wanted.  Either way, we are never disappointed. God does not disappoint. He responds to faith wherever He finds it and His response reflects His Divine compassion.

There is no doubt that Intercessory faith can bring healing. Today’s gospel attests to that. While intercessory prayer, that is, praying for the needs of others before self, is one way in which we can follow the example of Jesus, who always put the needs of others before His own.

Faith alone will not heal us. Faith, however, opens the channels of grace that would otherwise be closed.

If today’s pairing teaches us anything, it is that “faithlessness,” like that of the Pharisees, turns Christ away. Whereas “faith,” as that of the Gentile woman and those who brought the deaf mute to Jesus, results in God’s grace being showered upon us, often in ways we do not expect, but always in ways that “astound us beyond measure.”  AMEN+