Sunday, December 20, 2015

Father Riley's homily for Dec 20, 2015

(Reminder:  Caroling will start about 20 minutes before our 5pm Christmas Eve service.  Please come early and help us sing our favorite Christmas carols.)
ADVENT IV - C- 15                                 LUKE 1.39-45 (46-55)

On this final Sunday of Advent the characters and the scene both change dramatically. We go backwards in time before the birth of Christ and of John Baptist. We began the season, you may recall, with Jesus warning his disciples, and all those within earshot, of the last days and the cosmic events that would serve as “signs” of His coming again in power to judge.
For the last two weeks our focus has been on John Baptist as the forerunner of Christ and his message of repentance. Those who responded to his message were baptized by John in the Jordan River as means of preparing for the coming of the Messiah.
Today the focus in on the Blessed Virgin Mary as the one God has chosen to be the mother of His Son, and the Savior of the world.
The scene is up and away from the muddy banks of the Jordan River into the dusty and rocky Judean hill country. More specifically, to the home of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, and the soon to be mother of John Baptist. Following the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will become the mother of God, and that her cousin Elizabeth was soon to give birth in her old age, Mary makes the 80 mile journey from Galilee to Judea to be with Elizabeth until the child is born.
Upon her arrival, Mary hears the same greeting from Elizabeth she received from the angel. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth realizes that Mary is blessed in more than one way. God has chosen her to be the mother of His Only Son, Jesus, and Mary has said “yes” to God’s invitation to participate in the divine drama.
Here the conversation between the two women ends as Mary responds to Elizabeth’s revelation by magnifying the Lord in a most beautiful and poetic song we call the Magnificat.  N.T. Wright says, “the Magnificat is one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It has been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, recited in small churches by evening candlelight, and set to music with trumpets and kettledrums by Bach.”
Almost every word is a biblical quotation such as Mary would have known from childhood. Much of it echoes the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, the song which celebrates the birth of Samuel and all that God was going to do through him. Now these two mothers-to-be celebrate together what God is going to do through their sons, John and Jesus.
Underneath it all is a celebration of God. God has taken the initiative. God is the ultimate reason to celebrate.
Mary is the focus today because of her “yes” to God. She is the model for all of us in terms of how we are to respond to God’s invitation. It has been said that the only legitimate attitude of man to God is represented in her “yes.” What Mary has done by her “yes” to God is similar to what the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus himself has done. He has come into the world to do God’s will.
Just last week, down at the Jordan, those who came out to see and hear the Baptist asked “what should they do?” It was a question of doing God’s will, of seeking God’s will, as a means of demonstrating to the world that they were sincere in their striving to turn their lives around and to live a life worthy of their calling.
The true prayer offered by every Christian is the constant striving to respond to God’s will - to give our “yes” to God. This is what makes us “blessed.”
We are reminded of just how “blessed” we are in the weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, whether we realize it or not, when the invitation is given to come forward and receive the “gifts of God.” To participate in the Eucharist is a constant reminder that the Lord has come to meet us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood and to make us a people of God despite of all our differences.
The Holy Eucharist reminds us that Jesus is our way of doing God’s will by His example of self-sacrificing love. Even now, as our Advent journey draws to a close and we approach the crèche to ponder once again Christ’ Holy Incarnation, we know that it leads to the cross, where He offered his life for the life of the world.
It is His offering of himself that is life-giving, and His offering of himself that is at the very center of what we do in each and every Eucharist that we celebrate. Underneath it all is a celebration of the Love of God manifested in His Son, Jesus. God has taken the initiative by sending His Son into the world to save us from sin and death and to invite us, through His Son, to become heirs of His kingdom.
The 4th Sunday of Advent brings us to this familiar scene of the Visitation to Elizabeth and to the hearing of Mary’s song; a song of joy and praise to God who has chosen her to be the bearer of good news. It is a scene that takes us back to a time before the birth of Christ or that of John Baptist; one that brings us to the very threshold of another very familiar scene, the one we have anticipated throughout our Advent journey, and with a cast of characters we know so well.
Are we ready once again to accept God’s invitation to receive Him as our Lord and King? Are we prepared to “magnify” the Lord in all that we do and say as a demonstration of our “yes” to God in Thanksgiving for His coming into our world? Our Advent joy is only as real as we make our self-offering of love to God in our daily lives following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The offering of self to the will of God is an act of sacrificial love that demonstrates to a world shrouded in fear and darkness that we know that we are indeed “blessed” - blessed for God having chosen us to receive the good news and blessed by God’s invitation, in the name of His Incarnate Son, to participate in the on-going divine drama by sharing it. AMEN+


Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent activities at Christ Episcopal and Shepherd Center 2015

Our little church has been busy through Advent.  Jane Barnett (CEC) and Gail Waters (FUMC) organized another great Shepherd Center Christmas event Dec 12th.  Nearly 100 children (12 & under) went through the Toy Land aided by Shepherd Center elf volunteers from our community. 

Approximately twice that number of family food bags were also distributed that day.  Santa Claus greeted the children and shared the good news of Jesus' birthday we are getting ready to celebrate.  Many volunteers from the community aided the small, hard-working Shepherd Center staff to make Shepherd Center Christmas a success again this year.

In the afternoon on Dec 12th, children 6 and under were invited to have free pictures taken with Santa in our parish hall. About 12 children came with their guardians to get an 8x10 picture with Santa.  Lead by Garrett Boyte, the children and adults read "The Christmas Story" --the "Little Golden Book" story of Jesus' birth and the Little Golden books donated by Rev. Mitzi last year were given to the children.  Santa and Garrett also presented "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Moore.

As part of the after school program, Garrett explained the crèche in our church to the children.

Our continuing services include:
Sunday, Dec 20th 10am Holy Eucharist
Thursday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Caroling at 4:30pm followed
by Christmas Eve service at 5pm
Sunday, Dec 27th 10am Morning Prayer

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Father Riley's sermon for Dec 13th 2015

ADVENT III - C- 15                                  LUKE 3. 7-18


Today’s gospel reading from St. Luke picks up where we left off last week. John Baptist has arrived on the scene of divine history by preaching a baptism of repentance as a means of preparing for the coming of the Kingdom of God. His mission is to herald the Messiah and to get God’s people ready to meet him with joy. According to Luke, John moved about in the region of the Jordan and people came to see him and hear him from all Judea.
Some of them listened intently to what he had to say, repented of their sins, and were baptized by him in the Jordan in preparation for the coming of Messiah. Others went out to see what all of the fuss was about, including some Pharisees and Sadducees, according to Matthew. These religious leaders were skeptical of John and his message. “Where did he come from and who does he think he is?”
The Church describes this as a joyful season of expectation, but that stands in marked contrast to John’s greeting of those who came out to hear him in today’s passage: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Of course those who came out to see and hear him were Jews. John quickly dispels their presumption concerning their lineage, that it would in some way automatically pave the way for them to meet the Lord. “Even now the ax is laying at the root of the trees;” John tells the crowd, and “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” For John Judgment is imminent.
The main theme of today’s passage is “bear fruits that befit repentance.” That message was meant for all who came out to see John, and it is meant for all of us who hear his words today.
John demands right living based on a sincere search for God’s will as an affirmation of one’s repentance. It is one thing to say that we are to search for God’s will, but how do we go about fleshing that out? What does it look like? The people asked John basically the same question “What should we do?”
A cartoon shows a skeptic shouting up to the heavens, “God, if you are up there, tell us what we should do!” Back comes a voice: “Feed the hungry, house the homeless, establish justice.” The skeptic looks alarmed. “Just testing,” he says. “Me too,” replies the voice.
As I am certain there were those down by the Jordan who were just testing John. But John replied with a simple rule of thumb for all who would listen. If you have two coats, give one away to someone who has none. If you have more food than you can eat or need, give it away to those who are hungry. And then, there were the special cases the tax collectors and the soldiers who asked the same question: “what shall we do?”
The same rule applies. Stop cheating John told the tax collectors. Stop lining your own pockets. Don’t charge any more than is required. And to the soldiers John said stop abusing the people with your authority, stop the extortion and the pillaging, be content with your wages and don’t try and add to them by acts of violence.
His rule was simple enough that no one could miss the point. They were simple clear commands that if obeyed would demonstrate that people meant business. None of these things happen by chance; they only occur when people have genuinely repented of the small-scale injustices that quickly turn a society sour.
John seems to have all the answers and it is natural, then, that some who heard him believed not only what he had to say, but believed that he was Messiah; a claim John quickly squelches. “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And that’s not all, John said, he is coming to judge.
With society’s emphasis on spending and gift giving, black Fridays that begin on Thursday, the hustle and bustle of getting ready for a commercial celebration of Christmas, it is easy for us as Christians to get caught up in all of that and forget what the season of Advent is really all about in the first place.
It is certainly easy for us to forget that the theme of this short season is one of preparation for the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who, as John so aptly reminds us, who will come with winnowing fork in hand to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In addition to all of the hustle and bustle it seems that society, especially at this time of the year, gets more than usually disturbed by the evil around and within us, the violence people bring against one another; neighbor against neighbor, nation against nation.
Recent events only serve to heighten our anxieties. This could be in itself a positive sign in that it causes us to recognize that as a people, we are terribly disordered, and that we need to re-orient our lives in preparation for Christ’ coming.
For all of us are in need of repentance; of straightening out the crookedness in our lives in order to make the pathway straight for the coming of Christ. And so the question posed by those who heard John’s message is a natural one “What shall we do?”  What shall we do in order to be able to rejoice at His appearing?
We don’t have to look very far for the answer. John’ exhortation to all those who came out to see and hear him down at the Jordan applies to all of us today who wish to see Jesus. “Bear fruits that befit repentance.”
To bear fruits that befit repentance demonstrates to a world filled with anxiety, fear, and darkness, that we mean business when it comes to preparing for Christ’ return, and even more so that, we rejoice that the Lord is near. AMEN+







Monday, December 7, 2015

Father Riley's sermon from Dec 6th 2015

ADVENT II - C - 15                    LUKE 3. 1-6

Between the infancy of Jesus and his entry into Israel’s history is an interval of some thirty years spent in the obscurity of a Galilean village. While Jesus dwelt unknown in Nazareth, there appeared suddenly one like a new Elijah - John Baptist, the son of Zachariah the priest. The Jewish expectation of the return of Elijah was herald of Messiah and John Baptist met the expectation and then some.

The prophet Malachi predicted John’s coming 500 years in advance: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…” While Isaiah declared the activity of John some two hundred fifty years before Malachi: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…”

The old prophets had spoken of a time when God himself would come back to his people. As N.T. Wright says, “they only had a sketchy idea of what this would look like, but when a fiery young prophet appeared in the Judean wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance, they were ready to listen.”

John’s mission was to proclaim the immediate coming of the kingdom of God, conceived on the old line of the prophets and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Thus John Baptist takes center stage two weeks in a row during this short season of Advent. John introduced, if you will, Jesus to the world by preparing God’s people, not only to receive him, but to recognize him as Messiah, the promised one. The prelude to the mission of Jesus was the mission of John Baptist.

St. Luke goes to great lengths to introduce John within the historical, political and religious scene of his day: “In the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee…” All of the political, that is, earthly powers are listed; a virtual “who’s who” of the time. However, the important event of the time is the coming of the “word of God to John.”

John was doing what the prophet Isaiah had said: preparing a pathway for the Lord himself to return to his people. The time was right for the message to be delivered and John Baptist was the man God chose to deliver it.

No doubt John caught people off guard. He seemed to have come from nowhere. However, the people were drawn to him, not because of his dress, but his personality, his sense of conviction and dedication; his enthusiasm for the message he brought, a message of repentance in preparation for the coming of Messiah.

John just didn’t deliver a message of repentance he called for an outward and visible sign - baptism preceded by confession. In the Jewish religion the primary mode of removing impurity was “mikvah” that is, full immersion in a body of living water. John’s immersions in the Jordan River were not baptisms into faith in Jesus, but Jewish ritual immersions.

What John did was to add a heightened spiritual significance to the rite. It became a ceremony of admission to the new Israel. The washing in the waters of the Jordan represented a death to the old life and a birth to the new.  The correspondence between ritual purity and atonement, then, was made explicit in the career of John Baptist.

A new Israel must be fashioned such as God can accept and use. What is wanted here is a righteousness of the sort demanded by the old prophets. John emphasized the ethical requirements as a condition of the entrance into the kingdom of God; but the essential meaning of the baptism was a dedication of the new covenant.

The movement found wide support among the common people, little among the religious leaders. No surprise here.

We might find ourselves looking at John Baptist as an historical oddity today; as one whose message of repentance and activity was applicable only to Jesus’ first coming.  The “way” might appear to be so scrambled to us that there is no way in which we might conceivably make it “straight” in our own day.

These can be discouraging times, to be sure, but we must keep in mind that God is the ultimate source of confidence and strength. Even though we might seem to be working against much greater odds than our ancestors did, God has never failed to provide his people with the strength and courage they need to meet the challenges that face them.

Our world around us today seems to be going mad. And it would be easy to wish that the Lord would come now in all of His power and glory and end it once and for all by ushering in His kingdom of justice and truth. But as I said in last week’s homily what we, as God’s people, are called to be engaged in between Advents, is a patient waiting.

This transient world we live in conspires to keep our attention focused on the here and now. It takes intention and effort to keep our eyes on the goal of God’s coming kingdom. No matter what happens in the world around us, we are called to remain faithful and not lose hope, as we anticipate and expect the Lord’s return.

If the Advent season teaches us anything it is that we can’t just jump to the end. John Baptist’s message was one of preparation; of making the paths straight in one’s life in order to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. The Advent season is a time for just that - preparation. The question is what are we preparing for? Christmas or eternity?

These four weeks also give us an opportunity to reflect on our personal journey with Christ from crèche’ to cross and to practice being the person God has created us to be in anticipation of His return; so “that we may (indeed) greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.” AMEN+

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent to Christmas at Christ Episcopal

Father Riley will lead our services:
...Sunday Dec 13th @ 10am
...Sunday Dec 20th @10am
...Christmas Eve @ 5pm
Morning prayer will be held Dec 27th @ 10am.

During Advent the Nativity scenes will grow (with anticipation) to Christmas Eve with the arrival of baby Jesus.  The Wise Men will approach closer to the crèche each Sunday thru Christmas Eve. Come and see.


Other 'goings-on' in our area:
Saturday morning Dec 12th at the Shepherd Center:  Shepherd Center Christmas--everyone invited.
Saturday afternoon (3-5pm) Dec 12th in the Parish Hall of CEC: free Pictures with Santa for children 6 and under.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Celebrations with The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, 2 Dec 2015

The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, IV Bishop of the Diocese of Western Louisiana, visited with us and conducted services at the Shepherd Center and at Christ Episcopal followed by lunch in our Parish Hall.  A feast fit for a Bishop and his friends at Christ Episcopal was enjoyed by all.  Remember, you can follow the Bishop's lessons and other diocesan activities on the Diocese of Western Louisiana website: