Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from Jan 24, 2016

3 EPIPHANY - C- 16                     LUKE 4. 14-21


“Jesus filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…” Saint   Luke has Jesus beginning his earthly ministry at or near his hometown of Nazareth following his baptism by John in the Jordan and his forty days of preparation in the wilderness. The Spirit of God is upon him. It descended upon him at his baptism and led him into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan to give up his divine mission by switching allegiances, which for our sake, thanks be to God, He refused to do.
The Spirit which he received at baptism becomes the ruling force in his whole ministry. The same Spirit now rests upon him as he reads from the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue. Luke presents Jesus as a faithful Jew. It is his custom to attend synagogue worship. Laymen were permitted to read from the scriptures and to make a comment on the reading if they chose to do so, as did Nehemiah and the scribe in today’s first lesson.
The portion of Isaiah that Jesus read on this day was a well know passage that contained a Messianic prophecy. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the  acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus’ comment, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” both shocked and amazed those who were present. They were not prepared for such a revelation especially coming from one they thought they knew from childhood. Christ seemed to be implying that he was Messiah, the anointed one, and the long awaited Day of the Lord had now come as announced in his commentary.
Jesus did go on to preach good news to those who had ears to hear; to both the poor and rich alike. He did perform many miracles of healing, including the giving of sight to the blind. He taught about the kingdom of God and what one had to do to enter it. He saw himself fulfilling Isaiah’s servant Messiah, who came not to inflict punishment, but to bring God’s love and mercy to all.
The Incarnation was the “acceptable time.” In Jesus the Old Testament prophecies concerning Messiah were fulfilled. But not everybody saw it that way then, nor do they see it that way now.
The reality is that the poor and homeless fill our streets, our prisons are over crowded and we are building more, and the world is coming apart country by country as refugees continue to flee war and oppression seeking asylum in other parts of the world and straining the limited resources of those countries that have openly received them.
Did Jesus somehow fail in his mission? Was it a mistake to announce that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled in this reading by Jesus? Some would say so based on the condition of our world today.
But did Jesus really fail or is it in the way we expect the world to be because of his coming? The Jews of Jesus’ day had their own expectations of what God’s Messiah would be like and the things that he would do to free God’s people from Roman rule. Their Messiah would reunite the twelve tribes and Israel would be a great nation once again ruled by one like David where peace and prosperity would reign.
Jesus of Nazareth, however, did not fill the bill. He did not fulfill their expectations as a military and political leader. He was not what they were looking for in a Messiah. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God and what God expected of his people, an expectation that long preceded Christ’ coming into the world. The world would be, could be a different place if only Israel would be what God called them to be - a light that reflected the Glory of God and drew all men to Him.
What about us? Does Jesus fulfill our expectations of God? Do we look at the world around us and see only suffering and death, war, destruction and oppression? Does our faith extend only to what we expect God to do and nothing to do with what God expects us to be and do?
Or do we, through the eyes of faith, see God’s hand at work in the world about us? Do we discern through the teachings of Jesus that we, as God’s new Israel, have been called to bring light to a world shrouded in darkness by proclaiming the good news of Christ’ salvation, by imitating his servant ministry by bringing the good news of God’s love and mercy to all, so that the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works and be drawn to Him. Is this not our vocation as the Body of Christ?
If we follow in Jesus’ steps from that early synagogue worship service to the hills of Galilee, on the road to Jerusalem, and the way of the cross, we discover that suffering is not God’s will. Life in the face of suffering is God’s will; courage in the face of fear, Faith in the face of doubt and abandonment, Hope in the face of hopelessness; Love in the face of hatred.
We are all in the need of healing; healing of heart and mind. We are all in need of freedom from our attitudes and outlook on life. And we all need hope for the beginning of each new day. In the deeper sense the entire ministry of Jesus produces a salvation which releases mankind from the forces which oppress him, whatever they may be. His presence brings salvation, release, freedom, and peace even in the midst of a world seemingly gone mad and bent on self-destruction.
With Christ the “prophecy” is fulfilled in you and me, and in all who receive Him as Lord of Life. Jesus came to give us life and to give it more abundantly by renewing a right spirit within us by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that descended upon him at his baptism, that sustained him in the wilderness, and became the driving force in his earthly life.
This same Spirit will lead us and guide us into all truth and along the path that God has called each of us to walk, so that together, as the community of Faith, Hope, and Love, we might become what God has called us to be - a light that reflects His Glory and draws all mankind to Him. AMEN+





Sunday, January 17, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for January 17th, 2016

Epiphany II - C - 16                           John 1.1-11


“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.”
Three days after Jesus’ baptism John has Jesus passing by as the Baptist is speaking to his disciples. “Behold the Lamb of God….” John announces to his friends, as he points out Jesus.  Two of the Baptist’s disciples follow after Jesus, namely John and Andrew.  Jesus invites them to spend the day with him wherein he teaches them about the kingdom of God and God’s plan of salvation.
Andrew is convinced they have indeed found the Messiah and goes to seek his brother, Peter and bring him to Jesus.  These three follow Jesus to Cana of Galilee where Jesus encounters Phillip and invites him to join them.  Phillip is so excited that he runs ahead and find his friend Nathaniel and announces the good news that he has found the Christ and he is Jesus of Nazareth.
Nathaniel hesitates to believe that anything good can come out of Nazareth, but when Jesus arrives and acts as though he knows Nathaniel inside and out, he is amazed and decides to follow along and see for himself who this Jesus really is and what he is up to.
“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.”
Jesus and his 5 new found friends are invited to attend the wedding.  This is one of only two occasions we meet Jesus’ mother in the gospel.  The other being at the foot of the cross.  Mary presses the issue of “wine” and the fact that she believes that Jesus can do something about the lack of it.  Thus she does not hesitate to urge him to do so.
But Jesus quickly replies that “his hour has not yet come.”  The wedding feast at Cana, looks on, as it were, through many other references to his “hour”, until at last the hour does come, and his glory fully revealed.  Events like the miracle at Cana point on to that moment as do the other “signs” John presents in his gospel that point to the indwelling of the creative power (God’s Spirit) within Jesus.
The wedding feast is a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet in store for God’s people (Rev. 21.2) and the wine symbolic of life.  The transformation from water to wine is meant by John to signify the effects Jesus can have, and still have today, on people’s lives.  He came, as he says later, that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
We are now in the Epiphany season which began on January 6 with the Magi’s visit to the Christ-child and will continue until we have the ashes from last year’s celebration of Palm Sunday imposed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross signifying the beginning of the season of Lent (Feb 10).
Epiphany is a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “revealing” in other words “making known”, or showing forth.  The Christ-child was revealed to the Magi at Bethlehem after having followed the star that led them on their way.  The Christ, the Messiah was revealed by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan.
In today’s gospel the miraculous powers of Jesus are revealed for the first time at the wedding feast at Cana in the changing of water into wine; a revelation, John says, that caused his new found friends to believe in him.  The Epiphany season is one marked by revelation.
Jesus’ miracles were not wonders to astound, but signs pointing to his Glory; God’s presence within him.  The miracle at Cana was the first of seven signs performed by Jesus in John’s gospel that point beyond themselves to the truth that the Kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus Christ.
The final manifestation/revelation is anticipated in Jesus’ remark to his mother’s urgent request that he do something about the lack of wine:  “my hour has not yet come,” referring to his glory that would be revealed by his death on the cross.  The miracle at Cana takes place on the “third day”, an unmistakable pointer to the resurrection and the exaltation of Jesus.
His glory refers both to his divine power shown by his signs and wonders, and to his humble service to mankind, shown most perfectly on the cross.  In both ways Christ reveals that he is the One sent from the Father.
The birth, baptism, and first miracle were not isolated events to be eclipsed by Calvary, but were part of a continuum that culminates in resurrection.  Given our disjunctive approach to word and season, it is possible to miss the progression, and instead focus on a single gospel event each week.  One challenge of the word, however, is to acknowledge the continuity in Jesus’ mission as well as the integrity it calls forth in our own lives.
Our “new life” in Christ began for each of us at the font of life where in our baptism we were buried with Christ in his death and raised to new life in him.  It doesn’t end there in a single event, however.  To be a Christian is to live a life-time road to God; a progression of day by day maturing in our own vocation; one strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit, and nurtured by word and sacrament that moves us away from the font of life and towards the throne of God.
As Jesus’ mission was not complete with one miracle late in the wedding reception, so is the essence of the Christian vocation not to be found in occasional acts of charity and obligatory Sunday worship.  It is not such individual moments, but the ongoing commitment in faithful love which is the true manifestation of God’s continuing presence among us, and a proper response to God’s Love that sent His only Son, Jesus to be the light of the world.  AMEN +

Monday, January 11, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for January 10th, 2016

THE BAPTISM OF JESUS                   LUKE 3. 15-17, 21-22

On Wednesday, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the world celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany with the Magi’ gift-bearing visit to Bethlehem to see the Christ-child. Today the Church’s calendar makes a quantum leap as we celebrate the baptism of the adult Jesus by John in the Jordan River some thirty years later.
The baptism of Jesus was a significant event in the life of the Messiah. All four of the gospels record it with varying detail. Luke alone, however, has Jesus praying afterwards as a prelude to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him in the form of a dove. The descent of the Holy Spirit in bodily form points to the event as an actual act of God; a sign that Jesus’ vocation was affirmed while he is praying.
What Luke wants us to know is that Jesus has the Spirit; he is the one through whom God acts. The descent of the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ ordination to his earthly ministry. The voice from heaven “you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased,” serves to confirm the Divine nature of Jesus.
But all of this was preceded by the crowd’s expectation and questioning in their hearts whether or not John perhaps was really the Messiah; an expectation and question which John quickly dispels. “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming…He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and fire.”
John stands, then, as a “sign” that points away from himself and to the one whose sandal John says, he is not worthy to stoop down and untie. From now on the focus is not on John but on Jesus, the one on whom the Holy Spirit descended.
Now that Christmas is over and a new year has begun what will our focus be? For many people a new year brings with it a bevy of resolutions that are normally focused on self, like losing weight, exercising more, spending less money, etc.
New Year’s resolutions, however, are easily made and just as easily broken. But the one thing that never changes for some people is the focus on self. The baptism of Jesus might help us to shift our focus. His baptism and ours might help us to broaden our horizons to see beyond ourselves.
Thus as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, and in lieu of the Nicene Creed, along with the absence of candidates for holy baptism, we renew on this day the baptismal covenant we made with God at the font of life as a right beginning of the new year.
The baptismal covenant contains no resolutions, rather it is made up of solemn promises; promises we made to serve God faithfully in his Holy Catholic Church, beginning with the renewal of our commitment to Jesus Christ to follow and obey Him as our Lord.
By His death and resurrection the way to eternal life has been opened to us. For in the waters of Holy Baptism “we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” (BCP 306)
Sadly these promises and vows can just as easily be broken as any new year’s resolution. They can only be kept with God’s help; a solemn reminder that we must look beyond ourselves and to the grace of a loving God who, in baptism adopts us as His “beloved” sons and daughters.
It is by His grace and the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism that we hope to keep the covenant we have made, and boldly confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
From the moment we are baptized the focus is no longer on us but on Jesus. To be called a Christian carries with it a tremendous responsibility to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. As Christians we are to be like John and stand as “sign-posts.” Through our words and actions we are to point beyond ourselves to Him who has come to give light and life to the world.
Advent begins a new Church year and the age old cycle of repeating the biblical stories of God’s saving help that culminates in the sending of His Son, Jesus. He humbled his divinity to share in our humanity. He lived and died as one us in order to redeem us from sin and death and make us heirs with him of God’s eternal kingdom, but He also came to teach us how to live as God’s beloved children in the here and now.
As we make his story our own in our own prayer, and in the living out of our baptismal vows we should expect both the fresh energy of the Holy Spirit and the still small voice which reminds us of God’s amazing, affirming love and of the path of vocation which lies ahead for each of us as God’s “beloved.”
If there are any resolutions to be made on this day, let it be to increase our vision, to improve our line of sight; to look beyond ourselves to include those whom we too easily overlook - the sick, the hungry, the homeless and destitute; to seek and serve them, even dare to love them in Christ’s name, thereby fulfilling our baptismal vow to love our neighbor as our self.
And so as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and renew our own baptismal covenant let our prayer be that our focus in this new year in the Lord will be less self -directed and increasingly other directed by pointing away from ourselves in all that we do and say, and to Him who came not to be served but to serve, and give His life for the life of the world.
May God grant us, and all who have been baptized in his name, the grace to keep the covenant we have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. AMEN+

Annual Meeting Jan 24, 2016


Christ Episcopal Church will hold it's annual meeting January 24th after our 10am Sunday Service.  Everyone is invited to join us.  As you can see in the image above, our Nativity figurines are in need of care.  We will work on them this year and we are searching for similar Magi.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Father Riley's Christmas Eve sermon

CHRISTMAS EVE - C - 15                 LUKE 2. 1-20

Tonight our Advent period of waiting is over. Tonight we pause from all the commercial and cultural turmoil, decorating and gift wrapping to worship the Christ-Child. Many of us, I am sure would prefer some peace and quiet, to be still and contemplate on our own what God’s coming to us in the flesh really means; to enjoy “a silent night” that takes us away from the anxieties of commercial Christmas.
What it is we really celebrate at Christmas, if not Christ’s taking on our human flesh; his taking on our human form to be among us, fully man and fully God. How Jesus could be fully God and Man simultaneously is incomprehensible to the mere workings of the human mind. The Incarnation is a “mystery,” something we would never have imagined had it not been revealed to us by God in Holy Scripture.
Thus Luke’s familiar story of the birth of the Christ-Child is our focus tonight. In the gospel Mary and Joseph fulfilled the requirements of the law - they were included in the census. That is why they left Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem in Judea. They did not expect the child to be born there, and they certainly did not expect the visit of the shepherds.
Jesus being born in Bethlehem, a city of David, confirmed the prophet Micah’s prediction of the place of Messiah’s birth. The shepherds finding the infant Jesus in the manger as the angel said, confirmed the angel’s message, and the shepherd’s telling Mary and Joseph what they had heard from the angel concerning the child confirmed what Mary and Joseph had kept secret in their hearts.
Luke turns the spotlight on the shepherds as they were the first to hear the good news of the Savior’s birth. It was something they never would have imagined had it not been for the angel’s revealing it to them. The appearance of the angel of the Lord and the bright light that accompanied the angel’s presence both frightened the shepherds and interrupted their routine.
“Be not afraid,” the angel told them, “for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
After overcoming their fear and the angelic choir’s departure, the lowly shepherds do the unthinkable; they leave off watching over their flock and descend the Judean hillside to the little town of Bethlehem to seek out this newborn king; to see if what the angel said was true.
Were it not for the angel’s revelation the shepherds would not have known what child to seek, or where to look. Bethlehem was filled with people, men, women, and children, not only the locals, but now, with all those who had come to be counted. Surely the infant Jesus was not the only infant in town. But the only one, the shepherds found lying in a manger.
The story of the excited shepherds created a temporary astonishment in the village, as you might imagine, going from manger to manger as they did until they finally found him of whom the angels did sing. With bated breath they revealed to Joseph and Mary what the angel had told them concerning this child. But Luke says, Mary kept a resolute silence.
What does God’s coming to us in the flesh demonstrate if not His desire to have an authentic relationship with us? He has dwelt among us in the most humble of settings beginning with His birth which Luke presents  in perfect simplicity. The same Lord who came among us in Bethlehem, and who will return as our King at the end of the age, is also among us in the present - in the here and now. I wonder how often we pause to realize that?
We encounter Him in the liturgy and sacraments of the Church, in the silence of prayer and contemplation, and in the faces of His people, and yes, even in the midst of commercial and cultural turmoil. He knows where we live and how we live and the anxieties we all face. In all these ways He makes His presence  known, He builds us up in the Love of God and neighbor.
The Word made flesh demonstrates God’s Love for us and just how much He regards His relationship with us. Our life in Christ has nothing to do with our riches and prosperity. It has everything to do with accepting that we are nothing, save the grace and mercy of God given in Jesus. What matters is not the beauty of our language or our liturgy, but our actions - actions that reflect and glorify Him.
He is not a gift we would have thought to purchase for ourselves in a million years. Beyond all utilitarian value and yet the only gift we all truly need. The coming of Jesus is an extravagant expression of incalculable Love; the Love of God for the world which He has made.
God has invited all of us here tonight to renew our commitment to the Christ-Child and to accept the herald angel’s invitation to worship the new-born king whose humble birth is a sign that points to the great things that God will do through Him for us and our salvation, and for the life of the world.
Christmas points to the Love of God for all people. Christmas points us to the young Mary who said “yes” to God’s invitation and to her child’s name, Immanuel, God with us. Christmas points us to God’s becoming one of us and suffering with us and for us so that we may become “partakers of the divine nature.”
I wonder, with all the commercial and cultural turmoil surrounding Christmas, just how much we truly take pause to realize that God so desires a Loving relationship with us, that He became one of us, so that we might become one with Him.
The Incarnation is a “mystery,” something we could have never imagined if it had not been revealed to us by God in Holy Scripture and confirmed again and again in all the ways Christ continues to make His presence known by building us up in Love - Love for Him and love of neighbor.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…And suddenly there was with the angel a heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is well pleased.” AMEN+