Monday, November 30, 2015

Father Riley's sermon for November 29, 2015

ADVENT I - C - 15                          LUKE 21. 25-36

The Advent season is the beginning of a new Church year; a year in which we will recant in word, sacrament, and song the ancient story of our salvation once again. Although Advent is a new beginning the gospel reading for the first Sunday of the new year is always about the “end times” where, as St. Luke says, “the Son of Man,” will be seen, “ coming in a cloud with power and great glory” to which the Collect adds “to judge both the living and the dead.”
You have heard me say before that this brief season, only four weeks long, is one that runs backwards. In essence it does. We begin with Christ’ warning to be watchful for the “day” of His second coming so as not to be caught by surprise. We end this splendid little season of expectation and anticipation with His first coming in great humility as a babe in a manger.
The Latin word “Adventus,” from which we get our word Advent, translates “coming.” All of today’s readings speak of His coming. The prophet Jeremiah proclaims God’s promise of a “righteous branch” that will spring up for David and execute justice and righteousness for God’s people. It was a promise God’s people needed to hear as it raised their hopes and expectation of a day of salvation; a promise delivered to them while they were still in exile.
St. Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica to encourage and strengthen the Christians there to maintain their holiness and their faithfulness so that “they may be blameless before their God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Jeremiah’s timely proclamation brought hope to Israel. The people looked forward to that “day;” as St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians brought encouragement to the young Christians in that place to remain faithful and anticipate the coming of the Lord.
Our gospel reading for this first Sunday in the Advent season is St. Luke’s take on Jesus’ prophetic announcement (warning) of the day of His coming when “he will appear in a cloud with power and great glory to judge the living and the dead.”  Both Matthew and Mark have similar passages concerning the end of the age as we know it. In today’s passage Jesus warns us to be “on guard;” to “be alert, for that day will come when we least expect it.”
He also encourages us to pray for strength to meet the prelude of cataclysmic events that will precede it, so that we will be able to escape “all these things” and “stand before the Son of Man.” For some, it will obviously be a dark day, not one to anticipate or to look forward to but rather one to fear; for others it will be a day of rejoicing, but only if we are truly prepared for it.
Many today, however, believe that this “day” will never come. After all they say, there has already been two thousand years of Church history and no second coming has occurred. The heavens and earth as we know them have not passed away and life goes on as usual.  But this is at the very heart of the warning Jesus gives in today’s reading.
Christ makes it abundantly clear that it is not a matter of “if” such a day will come, but rather “when” it will come. “All these things will take place,” Christ proclaims. That should be a sobering thought to all of us. Jesus’ emphasis here is on “watchfulness” and the practice of virtue rather than constructing timetables, or trying to second guess God.
The “signs” Christ says will be abundantly clear; signs in sun, moon and stars that will bring confusion and distress among the nations. Watch for them Jesus says and don’t be weighed down by the cares and anxieties of everyday life to the point that you are taken by surprise and find yourselves unprepared for that day.
In addition we find in Matthew and Mark’s account a warning not to follow false “saviors” who say they have all the answers for why these things Jesus predicts are occurring and who go on to say there is no need to worry. However, waiting and watching, expecting and anticipating the Lord’s return, is what the season of Advent is all about.
The spiritual reality is we are living between Advents: Christ’ first coming in great humility as a babe in a manger and His second coming in power and great glory with his holy angels to judge. It is what we do between these two “Advents” that determines where we will spend eternity. For one day we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of ourselves.
Jesus’ warning is really an exhortation to watchful waiting in which we are to avoid being weighed down by the cares and pleasures of life. We are to avoid having our spiritual senses dulled by diversions to the point that our expectations of Christ’ second coming wanes, and we become complacent in our anticipation of that day and find ourselves caught by surprise. Patience is the key. 
“Be on guard, be alert and pray for strength to meet those days; to survive those days Christ says to all who will listen. That is what it is all about a steady trend of prayer, hope, scripture, sacrament, song and witness, day by day, week by week, year in and year out until He comes again. Patient watchful waiting, anticipating and expectation is what we are called to be engaged in between Advents.
Today we begin a new year of grace by being reminded of the “end times” when all will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory to judge both the living and the dead. Not a day to be feared for the faithful, but a day of rejoicing and hope; a day to stand up and raise our heads, because we will know that our salvation is near.
May God give us the grace and strength to continue our watchful waiting praying that we will be able to endure what lies ahead, so that when the end does come, we shall be found holy and blameless and worthy to stand before Him who is to be our judge, in the hope that we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN+


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Father Riley's sermon from 22 Nov 15

LAST PENTECOST, PROPER XXIX - B - 15         JOHN 18. 33-37
Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost and is traditionally referred to as “Christ the King” Sunday as the readings refer to Christ as King. The first reading from Daniel portrays Christ being crowned as king. The reading from the Revelation of St. John the Divine portrays Christ already enthroned as king, and the gospel reading has Pilate asking Jesus if he is a king.
Daniel and Revelation are visions of the future given by God and fall under the category of scripture referred to as “Apocalyptic literature.”
Daniel’s vision is similar to several aspects of St. John’s revelation, including the throne, the multitudes of worshipping angels and other creatures and the books. Both readings are visionary and prophetic and reveal something about the “last days” or “end times."
They are not meant to frighten us, but rather to encourage Christians in every generation in their struggle against sin, the principalities and powers of darkness in this world and the fear of death. These writings assure the faithful that even in the midst of the battles against evil the Lord will bring final victory over all forces of evil.
The reading from Daniel and Revelation are timely. We should take courage in hearing them read this morning believing as the Collect says that it is God’s will to restore all things in His beloved son, the King of kings and Lord of lords. To speak of Christ as king is a matter of faith. Through the eyes of faith we picture our world ruled over by Christ.
Recent events in Paris and other parts of Europe and the Middle East confront us with the hard facts of evil and destructive forces that seem to deny and test our faith’s picture of Christ as King and our world ruled over by Him. It was no different during the time of Daniel or St. John. The evil of their own day stood to destroy God’s people, to deny their faith, and to rend them hopeless.
The essential purpose of their writings was to encourage the faithful to be full of hope and prepared to persevere to the end, no matter what happens. But sometimes that is easier said than done especially when hate seems stronger than love. Conflict is more prevalent than peace. Lies win out over truth. Pain often overshadows happiness.
What hope is there for the future? Can we hope for a victory of love, peace and truth over hate, conflict and lies? Can we hope that goodness and happiness can win out?
Daniel and St. John’s vision of Christ as King was futuristic. They were holding out for that “day” in the face of real persecution. In his vision, Daniel saw “that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him who was given dominion and glory and kingship; a dominion that is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and a Kingship that shall never be destroyed.”
As St. John saw Christ, “the firstborn of the dead,” already enthroned as the ruler of the kings of the earth. Both Daniel and St. John were encouraged by their vision to persevere knowing that the final victory belonged to God.  Where can we find sure and certain hope for the future?
Today’s first two readings point us beyond the world as we know it to the world to come when the fullness of God’s Kingdom will be ushered in and Christ as King will rule over all other powers. Until then, we live by faith, and our faith enables us to live with the hope that our future is with God.
Yet to some it appears that the powers of evil and destruction have gotten out of hand. Hate and conflict, lies and pain seem to be ruling the world today. God’s ways are not our ways, however, and to some the very idea that He allows such powers to operate at all is a perplexing puzzle. Why can’t there be more good than evil? More love and less hate? More peace and less conflict?
It’s easy to lose hope in the wake of such evil and destruction as witnessed in recent days and with the threat of more to come. Life sometimes seems to be just one big tragedy, no matter what we do. And when we lose hope, when we give up, that is when life really becomes hopeless, for hopelessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
These puzzling questions are often without answers. But even so, faith assures us that Christ is King and whatever suffering our King permits in this age, he suffers with us, for He is with us to the end of the age. Faith makes us feel confident, then, in the final Victory. Faith moves us to see beyond hate and conflict, lies and pain to Christ the King. He holds our future in His hands.
Faith enables us to believe that our King will work things out for good. Evil and destruction will be subdued. Then life will be Truth not lies. Life will be Peace, not conflict. Life will be Love, not hate, Happiness, not pain. Christ promises that such a life will come to those who choose to remain faithful, who do not lose hope, who remain watchful and expectant, and who persevere to the end.
Today’s readings are meant to inspire us to look through the present darkness and to behold the ultimate victory of Christ and the joyful consummation that awaits His Bride - the Church - who, through Her sacraments, has prepared herself for “His coming with the clouds; where every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.”
On that “day” the fullness of His Kingdom will be ushered in; a kingdom without end, where the peoples of the earth, heretofore enslaved and divided by sin, are freed and brought together under the most gracious rule of the King of  kings and the Lord of lords; the King of Truth.
Pilate asked him, “So, you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice.” AMEN+




Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby to visit December 2nd 2015

The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, IV Bishop of the Diocese of Western Louisiana

Friends of Christ Episcopal Church, Peace be with you,
The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, IV Bishop of the Diocese of Western Louisiana, will visit with us and conduct services Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015.  The Bishop plans to hold service at the Shepherd Center at 10am with Jane Barnett and her usual attendees.  The Bishop will also lead a noonday service at Christ Episcopal followed by lunch in our Parish Hall.  Everyone is invited to join us in each event.
The Vestry
Christ Episcopal Church

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Forward Day by Day reading for November 13th

FRIDAY, November 13

Matthew 16:15 [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Jesus asks the disciples a simple question, and the answer that Peter gives could readily come from the lips of any person who claims to be Christian. I wonder if Peter really understood what he was saying when he proclaimed Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God. For that matter, do we really understand what we are saying when we echo Peter’s confession of faith?

Imagine someone asks you to explain Jesus and what you mean when you say he is the Messiah. Where do you begin? Who do YOU say Jesus is, from the depths of your own understanding? Write it down. Keep it visible, in your car or on your coffee maker or bathroom mirror. The challenge is to let that deeply personal confession shape every aspect of our lives.

Jesus doesn’t ask me, or Peter, or any of us to confess who we believe he is for his own sake, but rather for ours—so that we can proclaim Jesus in our lives to all we meet. As for me, I say Jesus is God’s way of showing us how much God loves us—ALL of us. Who do you say he is?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Link to the "Forward: Day by Day"

To access the "Forward: Day by Day" Readings follow this link:

Today's reading:

THURSDAY, November 12

Matthew 16:6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
When it comes to yeast, a little goes a long way. A tiny bit can cause a big batch of dough to rise, and by saving a small piece of the risen dough, yet another batch of bread can be made. One tiny bit of yeast makes a lot of bread.

The Pharisees and Sadducees have some bad attitudes—some potent and dangerous yeast. The Pharisees treat anyone who doesn’t think like them as being beneath their notice. The Sadducees are champions of the status quo, doing whatever is necessary to keep the Romans happy so they can maintain their positions of wealth and power. Do any of us really want to be around people who treat others like dirt, people who are so enamored with their own status that they willingly compromise their core principles just to maintain their own influence?

It’s no wonder Jesus warns the disciples (and all of us) to be on guard against such attitudes. But like a bad attitude, a positive one can prevail too—good yeast makes for tender and tasty bread.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Father Riley's sermon from 8 Nov 15

24 PENTECOST, PROPER XXVII - B - 15              MARK 12. 38-44

Today’s first reading and the gospel are lessons in stewardship, hospitality and humility as demonstrated by two different widows. In the first lesson the widow at Zarephath gave her last meal to share with the God-sent visitor, the prophet Elijah during a time of severe famine. In the gospel reading Jesus watches as a widow in the Temple at Jerusalem gives her all into the treasury. Her sacrifice was small, two copper coins, but total.
Wedged between these two examples of sacrificial giving is Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy, pomp and pretense as exhibited by some of the scribes he observed. Who were these people? And do we recognize them today?
Widows, in the time of Jesus, much like today, were poor for the most part. Certainly the widow at Zarephath, and the widow at Jerusalem fall into this class. They would not be the widows Jesus says some of the scribes seek to devour. Rather that would be the rich widows who are sometimes vulnerable and easily taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals.
In the first lesson the prophet Elijah has predicted a devastating drought. We thought three months without significant rainfall was tough, the drought Elijah predicted, and which came to be, was three and a half years! The King at the time was Ahab. Ahab became enraged at Elijah for making such a prediction and threatened the prophet’s life.
So Elijah flees Ahab’s jurisdiction, as the Lord directs him, and finds himself in Zarephath, some ten miles south of Sidon. The Lord has sent him here to find a certain widow who will take him in and provide for him during his stay. Elijah finds her at the gate of the city gathering sticks and asks for hospitality.
He arrives at the moment when the widow’s last reserve of food is all but exhausted. Yet, in spite of her circumstances, she complies with his request to feed him believing in the promises of God, as Elijah  proclaims, that “the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”
The “wedge” comes following Jesus having been tested by all of the religious leaders of the day: the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes. The scribes having just finished testing him, Jesus turns to his disciples and gives the warning. They give themselves airs, he says, and have a great reputation for piety, but are only interested in lining their pockets.
Jesus’ warning is a denunciation of their hypocrisy, their false humility and self righteousness. They liked attention and deference. At their worse they made material profit out of spiritual influence. Thus their sometimes “devouring widow’s houses.”
They were a class of religious leaders whose teaching and examples had a profound influence on others. They were a professional class, not “priests,” but welding religious authority nonetheless. Jesus rightly condemns them.
That having been said, Jesus takes a seat opposite the Temple treasury. The treasury were actually the boxes for contributions and were in the shape of trumpets. There were 13 of them arranged against the wall of the Court of the Women in the Herodian Temple. Since no Gentile could enter there, the offerings were from Jews only.
Only copper coins were allowed in the Temple. A large contribution would necessarily make a great deal of noise and trumpets would sound a fanfare when such contributions were being deposited. According to S. Mark, Jesus sits and watches people come and go making their offerings.
After observing many rich people put in large sums, Christ contrasts the rich who can afford to give plenty to the Temple, and make sure others see them doing it, with the poor widow who gave her all, two small cooper coins.
Jesus puts her gift in perspective, along with the gifts of the rich. The value of the gift cannot be set by its inherent cash value, but by what it represents for the giver. Jesus sees into the hearts of the giver and is not deceived by the difference of values.
St. Mark has given much emphasis to our Lord’s warnings against riches in his gospel thus far. Here he illustrates the converse side, his benediction of the poor. Money is so useful for religious and charitable purposes that there is always the temptation to think more of the large offerings than of the smaller ones which may yet represent a much greater, a truer sacrifice, and a more real self-denial.
Today’s lessons are clear. The widow at Zarephath, a non-Jew, gave her last full measure of meal and cup of oil as a gift to the God-sent visitor who sought her hospitality. Today’s Church likewise should view every stranger in need who comes to us seeking relief as being God-sent and as an opportunity to show forth the Love of Christ by sharing what we have with those who are less fortunate.
The widow in the treasury at Jerusalem gave her all. Her giving of her last two cooper coins did not impress the others who were there that day for no trumpets sounded because of her gift. After all two small copper coins do not make much noise. But her giving was noticed by Jesus and impressed him, so much so, that he held her gift up to his disciples as an example of true sacrifice.
In terms of our own stewardship, none of us gets off the hook by claiming “that there are people out there who have more than I do who should be supporting the church’s mission in witness and giving.” The fact is every gift given, whether large or small, is noticed by God. The true value is not in the number of dollars and cents given, but in what it represents to the giver, that is, whether it is a token or a sacrifice.
May God give us the grace to avoid the temptation to think more of the larger offerings than the smaller one, and may our own giving for the work and ministry of God’s Holy Church be sacrificial and at the same time a Thanks-giving; one that represents our personal commitment to the Age to Come and our Hope of inheriting it, through the merits of Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Savior. AMEN+




Monday, November 2, 2015

Father Riley's sermon for 1 Nov 15




 Today the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the world skips from Ordinary Time to the celebration of All Saints Day. The Feast of All Saints was first created because the martyrs of the early church overflowed the calendar. There were simply too many of them to name.
In the early church Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr’s death for Christ at the place of the martyrdom. It was during the persecution of Diocletian (303)that the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. The church, thus, appointed a common day for all.
The first trace of this is found in Antioch (411). Neighboring dioceses began to interchange and transfer relics and to join in a common feast. Originally, the Feast of All Saints was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost (in the East.) Its current date of November 1 can be traced to Pope Gregory III in the first half of the eighth century (731-741).
November 2, likewise, is celebrated as All Souls Day. The Church, however, combines the two when All Saints falls on a Sunday. Thus, as part of the liturgy, we read the names of our departed love ones before the altar of God that have been submitted by those of us who walk as yet by faith.
In contrast, a tradition of the Eastern Church has the priest praying the names of those that have been written down on small slips of paper and submitted by the congregation before the liturgy begins. He prays the names before the altar of God as part of the intercessions not knowing the living from the departed.
To celebrate All Saints and All Souls, then, demonstrates a fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (The Church Triumphant) and the living (The Church Militant).
You might recognize that today’s first two readings are from the Burial Office. They have to do with those who have died, and yet are alive to God. The first reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, indicates a very early (50BC) doctrine of the immortality of the soul. “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died…but they are at peace.”
They are not dead but are at peace. They are alive to God who loves them and who will abide with them and they with him enjoying His love forever.
In the second reading God’s eternal Kingdom is revealed as a city. A new heaven and a new earth, the new Jerusalem. The old is not destroyed as some believe, but is a renewed creation freed from corruption, purified, transfigured, glorified, the perfect Church, the Bride of Christ. The New Jerusalem, then, represents a Union of the Glory of Christ and His church where death will be no more, for all live to Him (Lk. 20.38) who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
Today’s gospel, on the other hand, may seem a bit out of place with the theme of the Feast of All Saints and in light of the first two readings. But is it? It is the last and climatic sign of death and resurrection in the gospel - the raising of Lazarus. Jesus’ motive in calling his friend out of the tomb was not so much as to restore his life, but to show forth the Glory of God.
The theme of glorification in death and resurrection of Jesus is announced in the raising of Lazarus. The raising of Lazarus looks forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, as if to prepare the disciples to face it. It is a test of Faith and Hope in Jesus Now. Lazarus, then, represents every believer who loves Jesus and is loved by Him - whom the Lord will raise up at the last day.
The early martyrs, you see, were confident that death of the body did not separate them from the love of God. Through faith in Jesus we are brought into such a relation to God as assures eternal life - physical death does not involve spiritual. The spiritual life is independent of the fact of death. It begins here and continues there.
Thus we pray for those who have died that increasing in knowledge and love of God, they may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in God’s heavenly kingdom (BCP 481). It is a spiritual energy of eternal being in knowledge and love that therefore the dead are still living in the presence of the God who created them.
If there is one subject Jesus talked more about than money, it is the Kingdom of God. Every lesson Jesus taught his disciples on the road to Jerusalem and the cross was concerning the kingdom. The kingdom is here and now, Jesus taught, and is yet to come. As mystical as that may sound we can experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom in Church.
Each time we begin the liturgy we do so reminding ourselves of that very fact: “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be His kingdom NOW and forever. Amen.” In worship we join the heavenly hosts, the saints and the angels and join in their song before the throne of God - “Holy, Holy, Holy…”
In the Eucharist we come liturgically to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the church of the firstborn, who are registered in heaven (The Church Triumphant), and to God the judge of all (Heb. 12. 22,23).
With this heavenly vision, each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist heaven and earth meet and we participate in worshipping God with that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb.12.1) who in faith have gone on before us to their heavenly rest and abide with Him in Love - The Communion of Saints to which we belong and whom we remember today.
Worship, then, is not a solitary act. Rather it is the Bride of Christ, The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, those on earth joining with those in heaven, the Saints of God, in giving Thanks to our God and King, who has called us through faith to new life in Him who died and rose again and made us citizens of His magnificent Kingdom, Now, and in the Age to Come. AMEN+


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's installation sermon 1 Nov 15

For a video and more on Presiding Bishop Curry's installation at the Washington National Cathedral (The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington) go to:

In the Name of our loving, liberating and life giving God:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It really is a joy and blessing to be able to be here and for the church to gather and to ask for God’s blessing.

Allow me a point of personal privilege. I am looking forward to working with my sister the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. We’ve been working with each other a bit over the summer.  And I look forward to working together with her in the years to come.

I want to offer thanks on your behalf for Dick Schori, the spouse of the Presiding Bishop.

In a time when there is often debate and genuine consternation as to whether courageous, effective leadership is even possible anymore, let the record show that The Episcopal Church has had a leader in Katharine Jefferts Schori.

It is an understatement to say we live in a deeply complex and difficult time for our world. Life is not easy.

It is an understatement to say that these are not, and will not be, easy times for people of faith. Churches, religious communities and institutions are being profoundly challenged. You don’t need me to tell you that.

But the realistic social critique of Charles Dickens rings true for us even now. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

But that’s alright. We follow Jesus. Remember what he said at the Last Supper, just hours before he would be arrested and executed? “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 KJV)

As that great biblical scholar has said, borrowing from what might be Bobby McFerrin’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words: Don’t worry. Be happy!

Don’t Worry.  Be Happy.

Let me offer a text from the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. 

When [the angry crowd could not find the Apostle Paul and Silas], they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)

What you have there is a First century description of the Jesus movement.  Don’t worry. Be happy!

Many centuries later, Julia Ward Howe, writing in the midst of America’s Civil War, spoke of this same movement, even amidst all the ambiguities and tragedies of history. This is what she wrote:

In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in his bosom
that transfigures you and me,
as he died to make folk holy
let us live to set all free,
while God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah,
God’s truth is marching on.

That’s the Jesus movement. What was true in the First Century and true in the 19th Century is equally and more profound in this new 21st Century.

So don’t worry.  Be happy.

God has not given up on the world,

and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.


The truly liberating truth is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to found a religion, though religious faith is important.  Nor did he establish a religious institution or organization, though institutions and organizations can serve his cause. You will not find an organizational table in the New Testament.

Jesus came to continue a movement. Actually, Jesus picked up and took the movement of John the Baptist to a new level. John was part of the movement born out of prophets like Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah. And prophetic movement was rooted in Moses, who went up to the mountaintop. Jesus crystalized and catalyzed the movement that was serving God’s mission in this world.  God has a passionate dream for this world. 

Jesus came to show us the way.  Out of the darkness into the dream.

That’s what is going on in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles — the movement! The Apostle Paul and Silas, his partner in ministry, have been preaching, teaching and witnessing to the way of Jesus in the city of Thessalonica. While their message finds some resonance with many, it is troublesome to others. A riot breaks out because of the tensions. Our text describes those who are troubled by the teaching about The Way, as the Jesus movement was first called.

Listen to this description of the first followers of Jesus:

These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.  (Acts 17:6b-7)

Notice that the activity of Paul and Silas was seen not as an isolated incident in Thessalonica, but as part of a greater movement of revolution. “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” Paul and Silas by themselves might not have been of much consequence. But as part of a movement, they posed a problem.

This movement was perceived as somehow reordering the way things were, “turning the world upside down.”

The reason the movement was turning the world upside down was because members of the movement gave their loyalty to someone named Jesus and committed themselves to living and witnessing to his way above all else. “They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” That’s what we did at the beginning of this service when, in the Baptismal Covenant, we reaffirmed our commitment to be disciples, living by and witnessing to the way of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

The Way of Jesus will always turn our worlds and the world upside down, which is really turning it right side up!

That’s what Isaiah was trying to tell us in Isaiah 11. He saw the dream. When God’s way is our way:

The prophet Isaiah saw this. When Gods dream happens, when the world is upside down…..

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them….
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9)

St. John saw in his vision of the world end in the Book of Revelation. Exiled and imprisoned for his witness to the way of Jesus, John was caught up “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). He lifted up his head, and he saw the dream.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.   And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (Revelation 21:1-4)

No more war.
No more suffering.
No more injustice.
No more bigotry.
No more violence.
No more hatred.
Every man and woman under their own vine or fig tree.
The rule of love. The way of God. The kingdom. The reign.
The great Shalom, Salaam of God.
The dream.

God’s on a mission to work through “our struggle and confusion,” as the Prayer Book says, to realize God’s dream. [i]

My brothers and sisters,
God has not given up on the world,
and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement.
So don’t worry, be happy!


Now I know we all thought we were coming here today, via the live-stream of the internet or here in the cathedral, for the Installation of our Presiding Bishop. I thought that too until I was on the plane earlier this week, flying from North Carolina to the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

And I kid you not, a thought popped into my head: “You know this is not about you.” It sort of jolted me inside.  A lot was going on.  I was on the way to fill out employment and insurance papers. The movers were coming to Diocesan House in Raleigh. I was going to spend one last day with Bishop Katharine.

The real Michael Curry was frankly scared to death and wondering, “Did you all make a mistake?” I was stuck on a plane, strapped into my seat belt because of turbulence on the flight, and I couldn’t get off. At that moment, and I’m not trying to get mystical or anything, but at that moment something said to me, “Michael Curry, this is not about you.”

I must admit that was a moment of some sweet liberation. Because it’s not about me. It’s about God, and it’s about Jesus. It’s about that sweet, sweet Spirit who will show us the way “into all the truth,” as Jesus promised (John 16:13), who has shown us the way to be who we really were created to be.

The way of Jesus will always turn our lives and the world upside down, but we know that that’s really right side up. Therein is the deepest and fondest hope for all creation and the human family.

Just listen to what Jesus said. What the world calls wretched, Jesus calls blessed, turning the world upside down.

Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, that God’s righteous justice might prevail in all the world.
(Matthew 5:3-9, paraphrased)

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12)

At home and in the church, do unto others as you would have them do to you. That will turn things upside down. In the boardrooms of the corporate world, in the classrooms of the academic world, in the factories, on the streets, in the halls of legislatures and councils of government, in the courts of the land, in the councils of the nations, wherever human beings are, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That’s a game changer! “Things which were cast down are being raised up. And things which had grown old are being made new.” That will turn things upside down, which is really right side up! That’s what Jesus said and what the Jesus movement is about!

Love is the key

But the key to this turning, which is at the center of the way of Jesus, is love. Later, in the Sermon on the Mount, where our Gospel reading came from, Jesus said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a)

The liberating love of God is the key to the way of Jesus. Both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels tell about the lawyer or scribe who came up to Jesus one day. Great teacher, he asked, in all of the massive legal edifice of Moses, what is the greatest law? What is the cardinal principle on which it all stands? What is the goal? What is the point of it all? In other words, what is God really getting at?

Jesus answered, bringing together a teaching of Moses from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 and a text from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus said to him,

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew  22:37-40)

This is really a stunning declaration. On these two — love of God and love of your neighbor— hang, hinge, depend ALL the law and the prophets.

Everything Moses taught.
Everything the prophets thundered forth about justice.
Everything in the Bible.
True religion.
It’s about love of God and the neighbor.
If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.

This way of love is the way of Jesus. This is the heart of the Jesus movement. And it will turn the world, and the Church, I might add, upside down, which is really right side up.

Let me show you what I mean. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, Jesus and a lawyer come to an agreement that love of God and love of neighbor is the standard of all morality. But then the lawyer says (and I paraphrase):

Ok, I’ll grant the point about love for God and neighbor as Moses taught. But we need to carefully define what we mean by neighbor.  Just how expansive or inclusive is this definition? This could have far-reaching impact. So, who exactly is my neighbor?

That’s when Jesus makes up a story, a parable. This guy was walking on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road was known to be a pretty dangerous road to travel at night. But this guy needed to go where he was going. As it happened, he got mugged and robbed. He was beaten pretty badly and was lying on the side of the road.  A priest was coming down the same road, saw him lying there, but for whatever reason, walked on by. Another religious leader from the community came by a little later, and probably for fear of his own safety, walked on by, too, leaving the guy on the side of the road. 

Then this Samaritan guy came by. Samaritans were not well-regarded. There was some real animosity toward them that had a long history. But ironically it was that Samaritan who actually stopped, cared for the guy, bound up his wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him into town. Then he paid for his health care and made sure the guy was taken care of until he was well.

Jesus then asks the lawyer, “Now, who was a neighbor to the man?”  Jesus didn’t fall for his question. By asking that question, Jesus reveals to that lawyer – and on down the centuries to us — what the love of God really looks like.

But imagine the same parable with slightly different characters. A Christian was walking the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and she fell among thieves. Another Christian came by, but passed on by. Another did the same. And still another follower of Jesus passed on by. A brother or sister who is Muslim came by and stopped and saw her in need and helped her.  Imagine. Who is the neighbor?

It could be a young black or Hispanic youth who is hurt, and a police officer who helps. Or the police officer hurting and the youth who helps. Imagine.

Do you see where Jesus is going?  He’s talking about turning this world upside down.

God has not given up on the world,
and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement.
So don’t worry, be happy.


Last summer, the 78th General Convention of our Church did a remarkable thing: the General Convention invited us as a church to take this Jesus Movement. We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation — beginning with racial reconciliation. Across the divides that set us apart.  I believe the Holy Spirit showed up. I was telling someone about this, and they said, “Do you realize this Church has taken on two of the most difficult and important works it could ever embrace?”

Let’s get real. Imagine “Jeopardy” or another television game show. The question asked of the contestants is this: “Name two words that begin with ‘E’ but that are never used at the same time.” And the answer? What is ‘Episcopalian’ and ‘evangelism’ ?

I’m talking about a way of evangelism that is genuine and authentic to us as Episcopalians, not a way that imitates or judges anyone else.  A way of evangelism that is really about sharing good news. A way of evangelism that is deeply grounded in the love of God that we’ve learned from Jesus. A way of evangelism that is as much about listening and learning from the story of who God is in another person’s life as it is about sharing our own story. A way of evangelism that is really about helping others find their way to a relationship with God without our trying to control the outcome. A way of evangelism that’s authentic to us. We can do that.

And this idea of reconciliation, beginning with racial reconciliation — really? 

Racial reconciliation is just the beginning for the hard and holy work of real reconciliation that realizes justice but really across all the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God.

This is difficult work. But we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing.

It’s about God.

In this work of reconciliation we can join hands with others.

It is as the Jesus movement, following Jesus’ way, that we join hands with brothers and sisters of different Christian communities, with brothers and sisters of other faith and religious traditions and with brothers and sisters who may be atheist or agnostic or just on a journey, but who long for a better world where children do not starve and where is, as the old spiritual says, “plenty good room for all of God’s children.” We can join together to do this work. 

In evangelism and reconciliation has got to be some of the most difficult work possible. But don’t worry.  We can do it. The Holy Spirit has done this work before in The Episcopal Church. And it can be done again for a new day.

It was sometime in the 1940s, when the armed forces had not be desegregated.  Just after the Second World War. In the United States, Jim Crow was alive and well. Segregation and separation of the races was still the law in much of the land and the actual practice in other areas, even if it wasn’t technically the law there.

The armed forces had not yet been desegregated. The Tuskegee Airmen were still a unit. Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas had not yet been issued. Long before Rosa Parks had not yet stood up for Jesus by sitting down on that bus in Montgomery. Long before Jackie Robinson was playing baseball, before Martin Luther King, Jr. was still in seminary.

An African American couple went to an Episcopal church one Sunday morning. They were the only people of color there. The woman had become an Episcopalian after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, finding the logic of his faith profoundly compelling. Her fiancé was then studying to become ordained as a Baptist preacher.

But there they were on America’s segregated Sabbath, the only couple of color at an Episcopal Church service of Holy Communion according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

When the time came for communion the woman, who was confirmed, went up to receive. The man, who had never been in an Episcopal Church, and who had only vaguely heard of Episcopalians, stayed in his seat. As he watched how communion was done, he realized that everyone was drinking real wine — out of the same cup.

The man looked around the room, then he looked at his fiancée, then he sat back in the pew as if to say, “This ought to be interesting.”

The priest came by uttering these words as each person received the consecrated bread: The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

Would the priest really give his fiancée communion from the common cup? Would the next person at the rail drink from that cup, after she did? Would others on down the line drink after her from the same cup?

The priest came by speaking these words to each person as they drank from the cup: The Blood our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

The people before her drank from the cup. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….  Another person drank.  Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.   The person right before her drank.  Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee….  Then she drank.  And be thankful.  She drank. Now was the moment her fiancé was waiting for.  Would the next person after her drink from that cup? He watched. The next person drank.  The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee….  And on down the line it went, people drinking from the common cup after his fiancée, like this was the most normal thing in the world.

The man would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church and that he had an evangelism. He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.”

That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop.

We are Gods’ children, all of us.  We are God’s baptized children.   We are here to change the world with the power of love.

God really does love us.  

The Spirit has done evangelism and reconciliation work through us before. And the Spirit of God can do it again, in new ways, now beyond the doors of our church buildings, out in the world, in the sanctuary of the streets, in our 21st-century Galilee where the Risen Christ has already gone ahead of us.

Yes, the way of God’s love turns our world upside down. But that’s really right side up. And in that way, the nightmare of this world will be transfigured into the very dream of God for humanity and all creation.

My brothers and sisters,
God has not given up on God’s world.

And God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
God has work for us to do.

Jesus has work for us to do and it’s the Jesus Movement.
So don’t worry. Be happy!

He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.