Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Diocese of Western Louisiana Convention 2015

Lamar & Jane and Sam & Faye and Rosine and Garrett joined the other attendees of our Episcopal 2015 Convention in Sulphur, LA Oct 23 and 24.  The Bishop gave a great sermon and we had uplifting music and services. To read the Bishop's sermon, you can go to:

Lamar took a pretty good pic from his 'smart' phone and I took a not-so-good pic from my old camera to prove Lamar & Jane and Sam & Faye din't go down there and just go fishing.....
Lamar's pretty good pic:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Father Riley's sermon from 18Oct15

21 PENTECOST, PROPER XXIV - B - 15                                       MARK 10. 35-45

Last week’s gospel ended with Jesus promising his disciples that because they had willingly left all and followed him their reward was assured. What follows in Mark’s gospel is Jesus’ third prediction of his death in Jerusalem as He and his disciples continue the journey toward the Holy City and the cross.

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and scourge him, and spit on him, and kill him. And the third day he will rise again.”

Instead of responding to what Jesus says, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ask that they might sit, one at his right hand, and the other at his left, when He comes into His glory. Jesus’ initial response is “you do not know what you are asking for.” Then he answers their question with a question probing their faith: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am about to be baptized with?”

And of course they say “yes” not knowing what they are agreeing to for their focus is on their own selfish goal. But by the same token they were right, even though James and John did not know what they were asking for or saying “yes” to. Christ calls his crucifixion a “cup” because he drank it willingly ( Heb 12.2). His death is a baptism because he was completely immersed in it, and yet it cleansed the world.

When Jesus “sits in his glory,” with one at his right and one at his left, it will be on the cross. The brother’s quest for temporal power and glory is unfitting for a disciple and shows an earthly misunderstanding of the kingdom of God. Christ’s prophecy of James and John participating in the same cup and baptism shows the life of persecution and martyrdom they would lead after Pentecost.

But for now, Jesus is determined to continue the journey to Jerusalem a path that will take him to Calvary. It is not taking him by surprise. It is part of his divine vocation. He sees himself fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah’s “suffering servant” in today’s first lesson. But the minds and the hearts of his disciples are elsewhere.

This is the third time Jesus has warned his disciples about what is going to happened to him. On two previous occasions, as well as this one, Jesus speaks in clear and direct terms about the suffering that lay ahead of him. In each case his disciples turn a deaf ear. Jesus responds with an attempt to teach them that the kingdom of God comes not through power as the world knows it, but through sacrificial love.

The reason James and John misunderstood Jesus is exactly the same as the reason why many subsequent thinkers, down to the present age, are desperate to find a way of having Jesus without having the cross. The cross calls into question all human pride and glory.

But they were on the other side of the cross. They had not received the full gift of Christ’s ransom. It would only be after they had made the passage through Good Friday to Easter, that they would be prepared to drink the cup of suffering for others, and they did.

But for the moment another lesson is called for concerning the meaning of discipleship. Discipleship does not consist of hierarchical privileges, here or hereafter, as one’s reward, but to ministry and service. Jesus illustrates his meaning by first contrasting the ideals of the kingdom of God with those of the great empire in which they lived where autocratic power was wielded and where the men of the type of Caesar held sway, then to himself.

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

Willingness to suffer and to engage in sacrificial service, not ambition for high places, are the essentials for the sons of the kingdom. Jesus exemplified service in all that He said and did up to and including his death on the cross. These lessons about discipleship, taught on the road to Jerusalem, are lessons we all need to take to heart if we truly wish to serve Him by serving others in His name.

Putting them into practice will identify us as belonging to Him, as it eventually did for James and John and the rest. For our world today, as then, remains bent on power, prestige, and wealth as the ultimate human goals. The world misunderstood Him and the concept of the kingdom of God he brought, then, and for the most part, it misunderstands Him now.

Today’s lesson is one of sacrificial love. The cross is God’s sign of that. God’s kingdom is not one of power as the world understands it. For the cross turns our earthly understanding of power and glory upside down and inside out. No, the power of the kingdom is based on sacrificial love, something the world does not understand, and will never understand.

As modern day disciples we may not be called to be martyrs in the traditional sense, that is, actually giving up our lives for the sake of the gospel as did James, and the rest of the disciples, perhaps even Blessed John himself. But we will be called upon to give of ourselves, to sacrifice our earthly desires, our ambitions and our pride; literally to die to self in order that we might live to Him who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all.

There is no greater privilege or reward in this life than to be called to ministry and service as “servi servorum Dei.” One of the paradoxes of the kingdom is that God chooses men for great service, but men so chosen must show themselves fit to be chosen. AMEN+

Monday, October 19, 2015

Father Riley's sermon from 11 Oct 15

20 PENTECOST, PROPER XXIII - B - 15            MARK 10. 17-31

Today’s gospel begins with a question from a rich young man who truly desires to know the answer. It is a question of salvation and what he has to do in order to inherit it.
Jesus is on his way to the region of Judea, and from there to Jerusalem, and the cross. His disciples are accompanying him. It seems that with every step he takes, every town or village he enters, every individual he encounters, an opportunity arises to teach his disciples about the true nature of the kingdom of God and how one is to enter it; the young man kneeling before him being no exception.

The young man’s question of Jesus is not a test, as were the previous questions of the Pharisees, but a genuine seeking of spiritual advise. He is in a state of spiritual dissatisfaction. His practice of religion to this point has been formal. Formal observance of the commandments, however, does not make one righteous before God.
Jesus quizzes him and the young man gives the proper response. But he still feels something is missing, thus he presses Jesus for the answer. Jesus sees in his nature some lovable qualities, so much so, that he invites him to join the disciples and make the journey with him. But the invitation does not come without a cost.
Christ gives him a series of directives: “go, sell, and give away all that you have, then, come and follow me.” Selling and giving away were the easiest of Jesus’ directives; following him in all things is a far greater and more difficult challenge. Obviously Jesus’ response was not the answer the young inquirer was hoping for.
As many times as I have read this passage, cited it, and preached on it, there is a most profound aspect that continues to stand out, at least to me, and that is the fact that Jesus gives this unnamed young man the same call as he gave to Simon and Andrew, James and John and Matthew. They had left all and followed him, and they would one day receive in return life eternal, the very thing this man aspired. But he could not brace himself to answer the call, for his wealth was more to him than his aspirations. So he goes away sorrowful, as I imagine Jesus was to see him go.
The lesson to the rich young man having ended, Jesus now turns his attention to his disciples. “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” To make his point, Jesus uses a well-know proverb. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he quotes, “than someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples are “dumbfounded” at Jesus’ comment about the rich inheriting the kingdom. For the disciples, along with much of the society of the day, assumed that wealth made possible the performance of religious duties. Thus they question among themselves “if not the rich, then who?”

Jesus’ use of the camel going through the eye of a needle was obviously a proverbial and paradoxical expression for something so difficult as to practically be impossible - at least from a human standpoint. Not so for God. Jesus is not saying that Christians cannot hold property. What he is saying is that we must be aware of the “temptation of wealth.”
Wealth often deadens spiritual aspirations and desires, and acts as a great deterrent to discipleship. Christ used the “eye of the needle” to magnify the impossibility of salvation for those who are attached to riches or anything else in this world; for to cling so tightly to earthly things inhibits one’s ability to draw close to God and in the end leaves one spiritually dissatisfied.
The answer for “spiritual satisfaction” does not lie in strict obedience, even if it could be done. The essential requirement is complete “renunciation” of all worldly dependencies and complete dependence and trust in God. The “law of the kingdom” is undivided allegiance whatever hinders that must be given up. Salvation is a gift from God not something we can earn, obtain on our own, or even deserve.
At the close of the passage Peter, having recovered somewhat from the shock of Jesus’ comments, reminds Christ, as if he needed reminding, that he and the rest of the disciples had done what the rich young man refused to do, viz left everything and followed him. Jesus assures Peter, and the rest of his disciples, that their willing sacrifice will be rewarded.
To “renounce” means to voluntarily give up. Jesus is acknowledging that they have done just that. One must be willing to sacrifice all and follow Christ. Nothing is gained unless the sacrifice is freely given. The specifics, however, of how one follows Christ will be different for each of us. Because wealth had such a grip on the rich young man, his only hope was to sell and give away all of his possessions.
There is always a cost to discipleship. There is no “cheap grace.” Once the initial cost has been made, the requirement for sacrifice continues as Jesus so aptly reminds his disciples. Sacrifices and even persecutions, in some cases, are to be expected in following Christ. We need not look beyond the recent mass shooting in our own country to see that this is true today.
Entrance into the kingdom is not only difficult for the rich, but for all who choose to follow Christ and walk the way of the cross. The “compensation,” however, for such sacrifices and persecutions in this life is already laid up in “the age to come” for those who remain faithful to the end. AMEN+


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Father Riley's sermon for 4 Oct 15

19 PENTECOST, PROPER XXII - B- 15            MARK 10. 2-16

It never fails that having finished conducting a wedding ceremony, someone at the reception will invariably come up to me and ask “just how many weddings have you performed as a priest?” My recollection is well over 100. What follows next, is sort of a tongue in cheek question, “and how many of them are still married?” To which I add only God knows.
What I can truly attest to is the fact that of the over 100 couples I have prepared for marriage according to the canons of the church, none have entered into the process anticipating divorce. Yet roughly half of the marriages conducted today end in divorce. Divorce is not a subject anyone likes to talk about, especially clergy. Yet it is a fact of life, even among the clergy, bishops being no exception.
In an effort to stem the number of divorces The Episcopal Church requires that as a priest I explain the Church’s teaching on marriage to those couples seeking to be wed in the church. The Declaration of Intent is a document the couple is required to sign if and only if, they understand the Church’ teaching on marriage to be a lifelong union and agree to enter into the process of the pre-marital with that intent in mind.
When I first ordained a priest some 35 years, I never asked those who came to me seeking to be married in the church if this would be a second marriage for either of them. Today that is the very first question I ask. If the answer is yes, then a petition must be forwarded to the bishop for his judgment. Only with the bishop’s permission can I proceed with the premarital and subsequently with the ceremony in the church.
The Episcopal Church records over 13 thousand marriages a year, but does not record how many of them are second or even third marriages. In my experience over half would be at least second marriages. Society has become more accepting of second and even third marriages and those accretions have crept into the church’s accepting them as well.
In roughly 50 years time the church has gone from excommunicating these who were divorced to acknowledging the fact that some marriages do end for any number of reasons. Consequently, re-marriage is an option in the church today.
During the time of Jesus, society was mixed on the question of divorce and remarriage. The Jews existed in the midst of a diverse society. Divorce was permitted within Jewish circles but could only be initiated by males. You may recall that Joseph had the option to put Mary away when he discovered that she was with child. And John the Baptist lost his head over the subject when he confronted Herod concerning his marriage to his brother’s wife.
Women had no recourse in the Jewish realm. However, the opposite was true in the Roman culture. Women could divorce their husbands. So for the Pharisees to ask Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” was a trick question, one they hoped he would answer in such a manner they could use it against him later.
The Pharisees quoted Moses as their authority for issuing a certificate of divorce (Deut. 24. 1-4). Jesus counters by quoting God ( Gen. 2. 24).

By doing so Jesus is reminding them of God’s will, God’s intent for man and woman to be one. After reminding his audience of God’s intent, Jesus returns to why Moses allowed it; “because of your hardness of heart,” Jesus said, “ he wrote this commandment for you.”
“Hardness of heart” is the inability to have one’s heart in tune with God’s best intentions and plan. Moses “permission” thwarted God’s plan that Israel should be the prototype of renewed humanity. The problem was not with the ideal, nor with the law, but with the people. Israel was just like everybody else - hardhearted.
Today’s gospel may be specifically about the subject of divorce and remarriage, but it is really about an ideal of God. The gospels are filled with God’s ideals as is the entire Bible. To love God first above all else, then one’s neighbor before self, is an ideal of God. Rather than hate one’s enemy Jesus says we are to love him, is an ideal of God.
For the past few weeks Jesus has been teaching his disciples about God’s ideals, especially in terms of discipleship, as they make their way to Jerusalem and the cross. “If you want to be first in the Kingdom of God, Jesus told them, then you must learn to be last, and a servant of all. If you expect to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus told them, you must enter as a child.
Everything that Jesus taught was an ideal of God; including what God intended from the beginning as far as one woman and one man are concerned. This is not to take away from Jesus’ response to the question; for in responding as he did he is implying that the cure for the “hardness of heart” lies in our willing to return to God’ ideal; to recognize it for what it truly is, the best of God’s intentions.

Our society today is made up of all kinds of families; single parent, extended, and blended. Second, and in some cases, third, or even more marriages have become acceptable. To the extent we can return to God’s ideal concerning marriage and family depends upon society returning to God’s original intent. For that to happen a drastic change must take place in the attitude and hearts of individuals.

Interesting enough the last part of today’s gospel is one of the Prayer Book readings assigned to the marriage service. It may seem out of place following the above teaching. However, Jesus is emphasizing the “ideal.” He not only corrects his disciples in their attempt to keep the little children away from him, but permit’s them to be brought to him, for to such belongs the kingdom of God, Christ says.

The “ideals” of God are the standards we are called in Christ to live up to and into if we wish to be His disciples. They are never easy to attain, or even sustain, and sometimes we fail at both. The “good news” is that the God of Love and Mercy does not judge us on our failures, but on our willingness to try and live our lives, as best we can, in accordance to His will.

And when we fail, and we all do, to be humble enough to ask for God’s mercy to forgive us, and the grace to sustain us in our efforts, as we continue the journey through this life in hope of the next, and in the name of Him who came to give us life and to give it more abundantly, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+