Monday, December 19, 2016

Father Riley's homily for December 18, 2016

ADVENT IV - A - 16                MATTHEW 1. 18-25
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph…” Thus Matthew introduces us to blessed Joseph, the foster father of Our Lord.
Joseph takes a backseat to most Christmas traditions. Luke’s popular version of the birth of Christ has Joseph in a supporting role. But for Matthew, writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, Joseph is a key player because of his linage from David.
According to Luke, the angel Gabriel appeared to a young Mary and announced she would become the mother of God’s son. Mary accepted her role in God’s divine plan and casting aside her fear sang her response to God in the church’s earliest hymn, the Magnificat.
In contrast, Joseph’s role was announced to him by an unnamed messenger of God while sleeping. But before the angel appeared to him in a dream Joseph found himself in a dilemma. He was engaged to Mary, but suddenly she was pregnant.
Mary told Joseph how the angel had appeared to her and announced that God had chosen her to be the mother of his son and that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. It wasn’t that Joseph didn’t believe her, but would anyone else?
Joseph wrestled with what to do. Should he accept Mary’s explanation and go forward with the marriage, or should he spare her public ridicule, possibly even stoning, and divorce her quietly? Betrothal in Palestine was a binding agreement as much so as marriage and required a divorce if it were to be annulled.
Matthew says Joseph was a righteous man; meaning he would do the right thing by Mary even if it meant disregarding his own reputation and standing in the community. It was a tough call for him to make. He was committed to Mary, but this was an unusual circumstance.
People would understand if he chose to divorce her. His reputation and standing in the community would remain in tact. But what about Mary? What would become of her? What would the people think of her pregnant and unmarried?
He was leaning towards dismissing her by breaking the engagement. But decided to sleep on it as we say.  While he slept God’s messenger spoke to him “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
When he awoke he knew what he was to do. He understood who the child was and what he would become and what he would mean to the world. Joseph accepted his role as both protector and provider for Jesus and Mary his mother with steadfast devotion. He would do his best by both of them.
Joseph would be the one to teach Jesus how to be a man, to work with his hands. As Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph would be the one who would teach him the Jewish religion and take him to synagogue and Temple, and teach him to pray. He would set the example for Jesus to follow, in terms of manhood, like any good father would do.
The name God had given this child literally meant “he shall save.” In Hebrew, Jesus was the same as Joshua who brought the Israelites into the promised land after the death of Moses. Matthew sees Jesus as the one who will rescue his people, not from slavery in Egypt but from the slavery of sin.
There had been no tradition of a Messiah who would save from sin. This Jesus, however, would be different. What is unfolding in Jesus is God’s plan for the redemption of mankind. But blessed Joseph would not live to see it fulfilled.
By contrast, the name “Emmanuel,’ (God with us), mentioned in Isaiah was an explicit claim that in Jesus prophecy is being fulfilled, for this name was given to no one else. Matthew’s whole gospel is founded on its meaning ‘God with us.’ At the very end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promises that he will “be with us” to the close of the age (28.20).
Faith teaches us that God is with us, oftentimes in the most unexpected ways. God’s actions, however, are always aimed at rescuing people from a helpless plight. God takes the initiative and does things that people regard as inconceivable, like the Virgin Birth.
As we patiently await the lighting of the Christ candle and the filling of the crèche we honor Joseph’s obedience in accepting his role in the Holy Family. Many a manger scene and live nativity, have Joseph standing passively in the background. But he didn’t remain passive. He took his role in God’s divine plan to heart.
He sang no beautiful hymn in response to God’s call, as did Mary, he simply did as God directed him. He took Mary to be his wife and became the foster father of Our Lord. He overcame his fear of what people might think and protected the virtue of his bride to be. As Matthew said, he was a righteous man.
What of us? God has called each of us to be part of His divine plan; a plan that continues to unfold. We are here as members of God’s family, the Church, the Bride of Christ, in anticipation and preparation of Christ’ coming again. Having been marked as Christ’s own forever in baptism, our role has been defined for us; to declare and manifest Christ’s Incarnation by the way we live our lives in obedience to God’s call to us.
May the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ grant us the grace to follow the good example of his servant, blessed Joseph, both in his obedience and his devotion to fulfilling God’s role for him.  And if, by his example we are so moved to sing in response to God’s call to us in this present Advent season, let it be a verse from the ancient hymn we traditionally use to open our period of waiting:
“O come thou dayspring from on high and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel.” (Vs 6, Hymn #56) AMEN+



Monday, December 12, 2016

Father Riley's homily from December 11, 2016

ADVENT III - A - 16      MATTHEW 11. 2-11

“Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord,” so writes St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, known as James the Just. The people James is addressing are experiencing various trials: persecution, deception, economic injustice and poverty, apostasy and personal fragmentations in the Church. James uses his authority as Bishop to rekindle true living faith and encourage repentance, patience and self-control.
Advent is a season of patient waiting - a holy waiting for the coming of the Lord. The gospel for the first Sunday set the tone. You may recall it had to do with bridesmaids waiting for the return of the groom, not knowing when he would return. Last week John Baptist appeared on the scene looking and sounding like a prophet with a message God’s people had long been waiting to hear.
In today’s gospel Jesus appears to have ended the period of waiting for those who were looking for the promised one of God; the one who would usher in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing and saying things that are so wonderful John has to ask, “Are you the one or do we wait for another?”
The miracles Jesus is performing are in fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Messiah, especially those of Isaiah. If the people were excited about John’s preaching and baptizing down at the Jordan, they are totally amazed at what Jesus is doing and saying. But were they truly prepared for the demands of the kingdom that came with it?
Even John seems hesitant to accept Jesus as the One God has sent to judge the world and to baptize with Holy Spirit and fire. John is looking at Jesus with a gaze that is both critical and perplexed. The career of Jesus thus far had in no way suggested fulfillment of John’s expectations. And John was not alone.
Jesus had yet to make a public claim to Messiah ship. Rather, he lets his works speak for themselves. “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
Isaiah predicted that these signs would accompany the coming of Messiah. Jesus performs these miracles in the presence of John’s disciples so that they could see with their own eyes works that only Messiah could do.
Neither John, nor his disciples, nor the crowd which surrounded Jesus was prepared for what they saw and heard. For some their expectations were more than fulfilled and they celebrated that their period of waiting was over. God had made good on his promise in Jesus of Nazareth. For others, the jury was still out. Jesus had yet to prove himself as being the one God had sent, at least as far as the religious leader’s expectations were concerned.
If Advent is a season of waiting it is also one of preparation. In it we look both forwards and backwards. Backwards to the celebration of the Christ’s child’s birth, and forward to Christ’s coming again in great majesty. Our focus should be in preparing for both. How do we prepare in a world that does not recognize Advent but only wants to surge ahead to Christmas?
How do we prepare in a world that does not like to wait? The Church’ season of Advent reminds us that we are a people in waiting. The Advent wreath is a visual calendar. Each week as we light a candle we come closer, but not yet. Likewise the color violet reminds us that the “joy” of the Christ-child’s birth is not yet ours to celebrate. As we pass by the crèche on our way to the altar we see that it remains empty.
The readings heard during this short season remind us, as does James, to “be patient until the coming of the Lord.” But we all know that we are for the most part an impatient people. We don’t like to wait. The best many of us can do is to prepare for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Even then we are in a hurry to get it over with and move on with our lives.
How many Advents do we have to go through until Christ comes again? But is the answer to that question really what we should be focusing on? Should it not rather be our preparing for that day? The people of Israel waited for centuries. Their anticipation of the day of the Lord’s appearing waned with each passing century. The age of the prophets came and went and still no Messiah.
Like the ten virgins in the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent who failed to be prepared for a long wait; God’s people were not prepared for such a wait. John Baptist’s message to repent in preparation for the coming of the Christ took them by surprise.
And when Jesus began his ministry by fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, the people failed to receive him with joy. Instead some hesitated, as John did. Others rejected him altogether because he did not meet their expectation as the One God would send as Savior and Redeemer of the world.
What about us? Have we fully accepted Jesus as the One God has sent to redeem mankind? Are we hesitant to receive him as our Lord and King? More importantly are we prepared for the day of His coming?
How many more Advents do we have to endure? How much longer do we have to wait? It all sounds so very childish doesn’t it, like impatient children in the back seat on a long journey who ask over and over again “are we there yet?”
Could it be that we seek answers because we fear tomorrow. Because we fear the open and uncontrolled future. We look for signs to predict it, because we are not fully prepared. If not, why not?
The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves, repent of our sins, and ask God for the grace to persevere in the life of faith as we prepare once again to celebrate the Christ-child’s birth and to receive him in the manger of our hearts.
And at the same time with the gift of patient waiting prepare ourselves for the day when He shall come again in great power and glory to judge, so that without shame or fear we may rejoice at His appearing. AMEN+


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Forward Day by Day for Tuesday December 6, 2016

  1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
Once when I was in college, I visited a Baptist church. The time came to pass the peace—exchanging handshakes with fellow worshipers. I turned to the man next to me and said, “I’m sorry I don’t know your name—I’m not a member of this church.” His reply astounded me: “Today you came here. Today you are a member of this church!"
Since then, I have never visited a new church feeling like a complete stranger. I like to think that this is the way Paul imagines church—not as a private club but rather as a community center—a place where all rejoice, pray, and invite the Spirit, a place where everyone has membership.
Do you feel welcome when you go to church? If not, have you tried being the one who welcomes others?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for December 4, 2016

ADVENT II - A - 16                                                               MATTHEW 3. 1-12


“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots,” thus Isaiah predicts the coming of Messiah some 700 years before the birth of Christ.
Israel longed for the day when God’s anointed one would appear. But the One whom God sent to be the Savior and Redeemer was not just for the benefit of Israel, as St. Paul points out, “the root of Jesse shall be the Gentiles hope,” making the Lord’s anointed a universal Savior.
Between the infancy of Jesus and his entry into Israel’s history as the last redeemer is an interval of 30 years spent in the obscurity of a Galilean village. While Jesus dwelt unknown in Nazareth, there appeared suddenly like a new Elijah John Baptist. The Jewish expectation was that Elijah would herald the coming of Messiah.
For some, John Baptist was Elijah, and he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ His means of preparing the people to meet the promised one was by preaching repentance and baptizing those who confessed their sins.
Who was this John Baptist and where did he come from? He was the son of the priest Zachariah. The same Zachariah Luke tells us was informed by the angel Gabriel while serving in the Temple that he would have a son in his old age. The news came as a shock to the old priest, so much so, that he hesitated to believe the news. For his unbelief he was struck dumb and unable to speak until John was born.
Elizabeth was John’s mother. She was a cousin to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary visited Elizabeth near the time of John’s birth and Luke reports that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy at Mary’s presence for she was carrying the Christ child.
We hear nothing of John as a child and nothing as an adult until he appears in the wilderness proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
By the manner of his dress, as Matthew describes him, it possible that John could have been a member of the Jewish sect such as the Essenes. They were a community of ascetics who lived an austere life in the wilderness and whose sole purpose was to prepare for the coming of the kingdom of God.
There had been no prophets in Israel for over 400 years. Thus John’s unannounced and unexpected appearance drew large crowds from the surrounding area. People were curious. They wanted to know who he was and what he was up to. John’s dress was typical of a prophet and he sounded like a prophet.
Many of those who came down to see and hear him responded to his message. His message was simple “repent.” To repent means literally to do an about face; to turn around. It implies a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart. At the Jordan, it was accompanied by the confession of sin and the act of baptism, and was intended to be followed by a life filled with fruits worthy of the change.
When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he knew they had come for the wrong reason. They were insincere. There was no true repentance on their part because of their self-righteousness and their pride blocked any chance of a change of heart.
The only thing that would make John change his mind about them would be if they really behaved differently. Going through the motion of baptism was not enough. Real repentance meant a complete and lasting change of heart and life. John even attacked their confidence in their ancestry implying that the kingdom of God was open to all.
The Advent season, although short in days, holds lessons for eternity. Like John’s warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees who placed their confidence in the fact that they were God’s chosen people, we cannot rely simply on the fact that we are Christians.
Our baptisms have marked us as belonging to Christ forever. Therefore we are held to a higher standard than those who are not. Our life in Christ should be one that bears fruits worthy of repentance; a life lived consistent with the kingdom of God.
As Christians we need to hear John’s words as if we were hearing them for the first time. If a fruitful life does not follow our baptisms, no number of sacramental acts and or spiritual discipline will be of use.
We live between Advents. Each new day is a time to prepare for the day when He shall come again in power and great glory to judge.
John did his part. He prepared the way, not knowing what it would actually look like when God’s kingdom arrived. Likewise, we are to do our part in anticipation of that day when the fullness of God’s kingdom will be ushered in. We do this by witnessing to our faith in Him who died and rose again in ways that demonstrate that His life, death, and resurrection have indeed changed our hearts, the way we think, and the way we act.
Admittedly Advent can be a time when we are tempted to jump to the end. Christmas is so wonderful with all the lights, spirit and food. Its all too good to pass up. These four weeks of Advent, however, anchor us in the “now” while we look forward. Our focus is not only on the coming of Christ into our lives, but on us and how prepared we are for His arrival.
Where do we find ourselves on the road to fruitfulness? Where do we begin? As always, we begin at the beginning - where we are. That’s where God finds us.  We look at our relationship with Christ and see it as it actually is, and then we commit ourselves to transforming it so that it is consistent with the kingdom of God.
Advent is an opportunity for each of us to reflect on our Christian pilgrimage, our personal walk to Bethlehem, but more than that; to reflect on a lifetime journey from the crèche to the cross to an unfading crown so that when Christ comes again, He will find in us a mansion prepared for himself. AMEN+




Friday, December 2, 2016

Services in December 2016 at Christ Episcopal

Father Riley will lead Sunday services this month on Dec 4, 11 and 18 at 10am as usual.  He will also serve as Celebrant at our 5pm Christmas Eve service.  There will be no Christmas morning service Sunday Dec 25 at Christ Episcopal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Father Riley's homily for St. Joseph's Thanksgiving Community Service

[About 90 people from throughout Tensas Parish attended Saint Joseph's Community Thanksgiving Service this past Sunday at Christ Episcopal Church.  Everyone brought canned goods and non-perishables to be given to The Shepherd Center.  The offering was designated for The Shepherd Center.  Glorious music was provided by Cecil, Vickie, and Mary Nell. We joined our neighbors in the Parish Hall for food and fellowship following the service.  The ladies of CEC decorated the Hall and provided far more wonderful food than was needed.]
Everyone feels anxious now and then. It’s a normal emotion. Many feel nervous when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision.
Anxiety is so wide spread in our society today that doctors have diagnosed several different types of anxiety disorders. People who have feelings of terror, for example, that strike suddenly and repeatedly and without warning are said to have a panic disorder.
Others have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, or social phobia. These individuals overwhelmingly worry and are self-conscious about everyday social situations. Their worry centers on a fear of being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.
Then there are those who are plagued with specific phobias like for a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying. Finally there is a generalized anxiety, which is unrealistic and excessive worry, even if there is little or nothing to worry about. These people worry simply because they have nothing to worry about!
I guess that is why J.R. Williams, a cartoonist, created the “worrywart” character in 1956 in his “Out Our Way” cartoon series, referring to someone who worries all the time especially about unimportant things. My mother must have read his series, for she would often say to my brother and to me “don’t be a worrywart,” when we would make a comment about something that was troubling us and that we had no control over.
Tonight’s reading from Matthew is a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on Mount. Jesus is warning us against anxiety, not against thoughtful planning. Our physical well-being is directly dependent on God, and only indirectly on food, drink, and clothing.
The Israelites discovered this the hard way while wandering in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. When they were hungry they complained and God fed them with manna from heaven while they stood with their feet in the desert sand. When they got thirsty, and complained, God instructed his servant Moses to strike a certain rock and water gushed forth quenching their thirst. As far as their clothes were concerned, they did not wear out, nor did their shoes.
How much more would God have to do for them in order that they might believe in Him and learn to put their trust in His providence and give Thanks for their many blessings? We all know the answer to that question - forty years more. They were slow-learners at best. My mother would say, they were “worrywarts,” who worried all the time.
Anxiety over earthly things demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s care. In the gospel, Jesus calls us to be free from anxiety about earthly things. Instead he directs us to look to heaven, secure in the faith that God will provide needed earthly blessings, which is the very opposite of “men of little faith” who are unwilling to rest in the assurance that God cares about their lives.
Food, clothing, and shelter are basic needs. And to have them is a blessing. Sometimes I fear we overlook the many blessings we do have and so often take for granted. Like minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve.
Thanksgiving brings with it many traditions, not the least of which is the traditional family meal. As a young boy I learned to look forward to the Thanksgiving meal at our house. Cousins, aunts, and uncles not seen any other time of the year would come from far and near bringing with them their favorite dish to share.
Mother would cook the turkey, along with corn bread stuffing. We would have giblet gravy and cranberry sauce and lots of deserts. Before grace was said, we would go around the table and each member of the family would share one thing they were thankful for. I had this one aunt who always brought her aspic salad. I must confess I never gave thanks for that!
Thanksgiving was always a most scrumptious meal and a time of fellowship, sharing, and laughter, a time for the family to be together. Afterwards the youngest and the oldest present would pull the wishbone and plans were made for the next year.
We are here tonight as members of God’s family gathered from throughout this community. We have gathered together to give Thanks to God in song, prayer, and praise for the many blessings received, and to remember those within our community who are in need. We come from different religious traditions but we all have one thing in common, our Faith in Jesus Christ and our Trust in God’s providence.
We come acknowledging that the world we live in is indeed an anxious place. There are so many unknowns. So much to be worried about. But the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us not to be. Rather, Christ teaches us to place our Trust in Him, acknowledging our dependence on God alone. In Him we are freed from anxiety and fear which is the opposite of faith.
As God’s family we have many things to be Thankful for, not the least of which, is the freedom to worship the One True God and to live and witness to the new life to which we have been called in the name of Him who died and rose again, opening to us the way of everlasting life, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer, who said to his friends then, and to his friends now, “Therefore, do not worry, saying, “what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ Your heavenly father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” AMEN+    (11/20/16)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Christ the King homily from Father Gregg Riley, November 20, 2016


How strange it appears to end the Church’s year with the crucifixion? As if that were the end of the story. But in a way it is the end, at least of Jesus earthly ministry. But isn’t the story of Jesus’ death on the cross more appropriate at the end of Holy Week to be followed by the resurrection?
Yet we have Luke’s report of Jesus’ dying on the cross before us as we close out the Church’s year with our celebration of Christ The King. The cross appeared to be anything but a throne, especially to those who watched him die. But to one, who died alongside him, Jesus is King.
Like each of the gospels Luke has his own unique contributions to make to the story of Jesus. His greatest contribution to the Passion Narrative is the penitent thief. In addition, his gospel is the only one to report that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. In doing so Luke reminds us of life’s two ways: the way of fearing God, with a Holy fear that is, and the way of taking care of self.
Think of some of the stories Luke has shared with us through this liturgical year beginning with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem where the people turned their backs on Mary and Joseph, but the shepherds rejoiced and believed.
More recently the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus, but only one returned to give thanks. Or that of the two men who went into the Temple to pray; one lauded his achievements before God, while the other asked for mercy.
All the way through Luke many ignore God and court disaster, but a few heed God and find mercy. Even at the cross this pattern of human choices, of alternative paths, continues. The rulers scoff, the soldiers mock, the people standby silently watching. Even one of those dying with Jesus joins the clamor.
They are being played by Satan in his continuing temptation to deter Jesus from his mission whether they realize it or not. You may recall that after Satan’s failed attempts to deter Jesus while he was fasting and praying in the wilderness in preparation for his earthly ministry, Satan withdrew until “an opportune time.” The cross was such a time. At the cross the temptations all began with that little word “if,” just like they did in the desert.
The rulers sneered saying, “he saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ, the chosen one of God.” The soldiers mocked him saying, “if you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” But the temptation did not end there, the unrepentant thief who was dying next to Jesus blasphemed him saying, “if you are the Christ, save yourself and us.”
But there was another voice that day, one who issued a request to be remembered by Christ when he came into his kingdom. Tradition has named him Dysmas; the repentant thief who was crucified alongside of Jesus. He admitted his guilt and placed his faith in Christ. He joined the ranks of every other unprejudiced person in the gospel who acquitted Jesus of any crime against the civil power.
Dysmas becomes the only person present that day to comprehend and confess that Jesus, though he seemed to be dying and rejected, is in fact the true and righteous king. How did he come to think of Jesus as king?
Perhaps he had been present at the trial awaiting his turn and heard Pilate present him to the people as their king; in any case he would have seen the inscription, “This is Jesus King of the Jews,” over the cross. However the thief reached his conclusion Jesus welcomed it.
Even from the cross, Christ reached out to a member of fallen humanity and granted salvation with the same divine authority as with his prayer of intercession. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus has stood the meaning of “kingship” on its head. He has celebrated with the wrong people, and warned the wrong people of God’s coming judgment. Now he is hailed as king at last but in mockery. What was intended as an accusation and a mockery, however, became instead a triumphant symbol that all nations would come under the reign of Jesus the King.
His true royalty shines out in his prayer and his promise, both recorded only in Luke. Unlike the traditional martyrs, who died with a curse against their torturers, Jesus prays for their forgiveness. The intercession was not only for those who sentenced and crucified him, but for all humanity, a people who have no insight into the profound mystery of God’s salvation.
Like a king on his way to enthronement, Jesus promises a place of honor and bliss to one who requests it. The prayer shows that the promise is not to be taken as meaning that the only hope is in a life after death, vital though that of course is. Forgiveness brings the life of heaven to earth, God’s future into the present.
As we close out the Church year and stand on the threshold of another where do we stand with Jesus? What path are we choosing to walk? And where will it lead us? The promise to the repentant thief is ours if we chose to acknowledge our guilt and place our trust & faith in Him as Lord of Lords and King of Kings and live our lives accordingly.
Throughout the gospels Jesus redefines kingship. He is our king, but we have to accept him as king who reigns from the cross, and who calls us not to sit upon thrones, but paths of caring for the hungry, the sorrowful, and the persecuted.
With that said it is appropriate that we end the Church’s year with the crucifixion of Jesus as the focus of our celebration of Christ the King.  We pledge our allegiance to Him as King, as we begin another year of life in His service and under His most gracious rule. For He is the Christ, the chosen one of God, who in refusing to save himself, saved us all. AMEN+

The Mission of Christ Episcopal Chruch

+++ The mission of Christ Episcopal Church is to restore ourselves and all people in our community to unity with God and each other in Christ.


+++ We pursue our mission as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love.


+++ Our mission is carried out through the ministry of all our members.

(Adapted from the BCP page 855)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for November 13, 2016

26 PENTECOST, PROPER XXVIII - C - 16   LUKE 21. 5-19

Scripture describes the “end time” in variety of ways, so that no precise chronology can be determined. The New Testament is full of references, especially in the gospels. If you are a student of scripture, then you know that Luke’s account of the “end time” is similar to that of Mark’s.

Today’s gospel contains “apocalyptic” literature - that is - language concerning the future, especially the “end time.” But there is more going on here than the “signs” that Jesus gives that will precede it.

The scene is the Temple courtyard. Jesus has just finished addressing a group of Saducees who tried to catch him in a theological vise over a question about the resurrection. It is interesting to note that the Saducees of Jesus’ day did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Their trap failed.

Jesus then points out to his disciples a poor widow who is making her offering and contrasts hers with that of the rich. But the teaching he gives concerning the resurrection and the widow’s giving of all that she had seems to have not resonated with the disciples. Rather they appear to be more interested in the building and its beauty and strength as reflected in the massive stones that go to make up its walls.

Jesus’ response surely shocked them, along with the Saducees, and anyone else who might have been within ear shot when he said: “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” The Saducees took note of what he said and would use it against him at a later date when he was tried before the Sanhedrin.

Naturally, his disciples wanted to know “when will this be, and what will be the signs when this is about to take place?” Before Jesus gets into the details, he first gives them a warning. “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and “The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”

I doubt that the disciples, in their naive faith, heard or understood what he said. They were more interested in the details and Jesus does not spare them. It is said that the more details that are given the more believable the report.

Don’t worry, Jesus tells them, when you hear of wars and insurrections, these things must take place, but the end will not follow immediately. In addition, he says that earthquakes, famines and plagues will occur along with cosmic displays that will frighten many people, and shake their faith, but again, the end is not yet.

Then follows a key verse that often goes over looked, before all of this occurs, Jesus tells them, you will be arrested and persecuted, that is, put on trial for your faith. The disciples are not to be perturbed by persecutions which await them from the Jews and Romans, for these will be opportunities to witness to their faith in Him. And they are not too worry about what they are to say, they will be given the right words when the time comes to make their defense.

Their discipleship will be costly. Their faith tested. Divisions will occur in their families. Many of their friends will abandon them. But the promise of God in Christ is that by their endurance they will be saved. Can we imagine that these men who had yet to fully trust and believe in Jesus as the Son of God could believe in what he was saying to them now?

Can we imagine that the naïve faith these 12 lived by could possibly grow into such a mature faith that they would be able to endure all that Jesus warned them of and then some? Looking at the first four centuries of the Church’s life and all that it endured we see that the Apostles and those who followed them indeed endured and grew in their faith.

The persecutions that dogged the Church did not stop the spread of the gospel, indeed it could not. The church was built on the blood of the martyrs, and the earliest martyrs were the Apostles. As has been noted by more than one historian the Romans subdued countless Jews following the crucifixion of Christ, but could not prevail over 12 who were unarmed with anything except the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Somewhere along their journey the disciples forsook the details and focused on the promise. They remembered His warning about being led astray, of being derailed as it were, from their mission and purpose and instead concentrated on spreading the “good news.”

Jesus was trying to prepare his friends for what lay ahead of them. They were to go before their enemies and accept their fate without defense. They were to go into an uncertain future with a naïve faith trusting in the Promise of Christ that by their endurance they would be saved.

What leads us astray today? What is it that threatens to derail us from the path God has chosen for each of us to walk?

Do we sometime get caught up in the details of life, of what’s happening to us and or what’s happening around us and loose sight of the promise? We may never have to endure such persecutions and calamities as those the early Christians endured, but most of us, if not all of us, have or will find ourselves in situations in life that will test our faith, frighten us, shake us to the core and even cause divisions in our families. In addition so-called friends will abandon us.

Don’t be swept away by fear, Jesus warned them, and don’t think for a moment that you can calculate your own survival and triumph. His warning to the 12 is just as relevant today to those is who choose to follow Him. Our faith and our trust must be in Him. Our trials will be opportunities to witness and our faith will be tempered by them.

“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.” - James 1.

God’s promises are our Hope. God’s grace gives us the Faith to live by them.  Both Faith and Hope are God’s gifts for those who truly Love Him and they enable us to embrace and hold fast to ultimate Promise of everlasting life, through Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

2016 Diocese of Western Louisiana Convention, St. Mark's Cathedral, Shreveport

Jane and Lamar Barnett and Sam Corson attended the 2016 convention November 4th and 5th.  It is inspiring to gather with our fellow Episcopalians from throughout Louisiana.  Jane presented the work, blessings, and needs of The Shepherd Center.  St. Mark's is a gorgeous cathedral and you should visit them when you find time.

The Shepherd Center's presentation offered by Jane Barnett to let others know of the work and needs of the Shepherd Center here in St. Joseph.

My attempt to photograph inside the cathedral does not do the beauty justice.  I hope you can visit St. Mark's Cathedral in Shreveport in the near future.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Father Riley's homily for November 6, 2016

(Blog note:  Please join us for the Saint Joseph community Thanksgiving service at 5:30 pm, Sunday, November 20th in our church.  Canned and other non-perishable food donations will be accepted to be given to The Shepherd Center for distribution to those in need.  The Thanksgiving service is an activity of the Saint Joseph Ecumenical Council.)

ALL SAINTS SUNDAY -C - 16               LUKE 6: 20-31

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and combine it with that of All Souls. The Feast of All Saints was originally created to commemorate the early martyrs of the Church. Thus the names of the early Christian martyrs were placed on the Church’s calendar. But as the persecutions of the first four centuries continued, the martyrs became too numerous to be mentioned individually and to have a day of commemoration assigned to each of them.
The Feast of All Saints, then, was created to commemorate all the saints who gave their lives in defense of the faith once delivered, and later, the Church added the names of those who made a significant contribution to the life of the church in their respective generations.  November 1, is the date of the Feast, and November 2 that of All Souls.
Traditionally the two are celebrated together on the Sunday following November 1. We submit the names of our loved ones and friends who have died in the faith to be remembered before God’s altar along with all the saints who have gone before us and who now stand in the greater presence of God.
All Saints Day is a Principal Feast of the Church and the only one that can be observed on the Sunday following November 1, in addition to its observance on the fixed date.
I doubt any of us consider ourselves “saints,” any more than those who were in the presence of Jesus, as he spoke to them in today’ gospel, including the disciples. The concept of a “saint” is not limited to the New Testament, but appears in the Old as well. It refers to those who remained faithful.
The scene of today’s gospel is a “level place,” according to Luke.     Jesus has just come down from the mountain where he has chosen the 12. There is a large crowd waiting for him. They have come to hear him, see him, and touch him. They have come to be cured of their diseases and infirmities and to be exercised of their demons. Luke says Jesus healed them all.
At first glance, the sermon on the plane or level place as it is called, appears to be similar to that portion of Matthew’s gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount. There are indeed similarities, but Luke’s version is shorter in the number of “blessings” and in addition he adds four “woes” that are absent in Matthew.
The “blessings” are easy to relate to. Jesus speaks to those present, including his disciples, addressing those who are “now” poor, “now” hungry, who weep “now” and who are reviled, and defamed “now.” His promise is that all who endure these various situations in this life “now” will be rewarded in the life to come when the fullness of God’s kingdom is ushered in.
The “woes” together with the “blessings” represent the reversal of values in the fulfillment of the kingdom. The “woes” appear to condemn those who live their lives in contrast to the ones Jesus is blessing. But there is a way out for those who listen - Love. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
The Love Jesus speaks of here is of the kingdom, and not of this world. It is the Love of God we as his disciple are to practice; a love that extends to those who do not deserve it - our enemies, those who hate us, who curse us, and who abuse us. The way out of a life lived in contrast to Christ’ teaching is to Love as God loves us, for we do not deserve it either.
The example Luke gives of this love in action, which is also found in Matthew, is the giving of the “coat and shirt.” Our hope is to be found in our sacrificing our earthly blessings in showing mercy to others. To “do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The “Golden Rule” that concludes today’s gospel is a minimum of Christian virtue, as it places man’s desire for goodness, as a basic standard of how to treat others. It is but the first step on the path to the perfection of virtue. This perfection, Jesus commends in a verse or two following today’s passage, where God’s mercy, rather than man’s desire, is the standard.
The point is obvious that Christ’s flock is made up of individuals who go to extremes in self-suppression and joyful endurance of wrong, who let no ill treatment deter their faith, who are willing to sacrifice all that they have and all that they are to maintain their faith and trust in God, and who demonstrate God’s love towards all. The early Church called them Saints, as does St. Paul in today’s Epistle.
Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus encouraging the young Christians there to continue in their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love towards all the saints, for their inheritance is with the saints.
“I pray,” Paul writes, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…”
To commemorate the memory of those “saints” we have known and loved, and who are now in the greater presence of God, along with those the Church remembers with a day on its calendar should inspire us, even urge us, to achieve fellowship with them.
As St. Bernard (12c) wrote our desire should be; “to take our place in the gathering of the Patriarchs and the ranks of the Prophets; to be at home in the assembly of the Apostles and in the numerous hosts of the martyrs; welcomed in the college of the confessors and the choirs of virgins;” in a word, to be united, not only with those we love, but in the Communion of All the Saints.
Can we see ourselves in this great company of the saints in light? Only when we have the “eyes of our hearts enlightened,” only then can we come to know what is the Hope of our calling. Pray that by God’s grace we may learn to follow their blessed example in all virtuous and godly living, so that we may come to those ineffable joys that God has prepared for those who truly Love him, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+