Sunday, February 28, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for February 28, 2016

REMINDER:  No class March 6th.  Informational classes resume March 13, 2016 at 9am in the Parish Hall.
LENT III -C - 16                           LUKE 13. 1-9


Today’s gospel is concerned with repentance; a timely reading as we approach mid- Lent. It serves as a reminder of our continual need to repent and renew our faith, which the Ash Wednesday liturgy exhorted us to do as we began yet another Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross.

In last week’s gospel Jesus is warned by some Pharisees that Herod plans to kill him implying that it would be in Jesus’ best interests to avoid Jerusalem. But his destiny lies in the Holy City, and neither the threat of Herod, nor the cross looming in the distance are able to persuade him to change course.

In today’s gospel Jesus is again on the road to Jerusalem traveling through the region of Galilee. Some locals are following him and when they learn of his destination they too, like the Pharisees in last week’s gospel, try to deter him from continuing the journey.

They tell him of a recent event which occurred within the courtyard of the Temple where pilgrims from Galilee were massacred by Pilate’s soldiers; their blood being mingled with blood of the sacrifices they offered to God. How could this happen? What did they do to deserve their fate? It was a shocking report.

Jesus responds by reporting on the 18 who were killed in a construction accident in Siloam, a small area of Jerusalem, close to the center of the city, and a little south of the Temple itself. Did these victims deserve what happened to them any more than the pilgrims who were killed in the Temple courtyard?

Christ draws the conclusion from both incidents that those who perished were not worse offenders in the eyes of God than those who escaped. It was a shocking response to those who heard him. Instead of what Jesus said, they were looking for an explanation, or some way to make sense out of it all.

His point, however, is clear and he repeats it twice: “unless you repent you will perish as they did.” By doing so, Jesus refutes the Jewish doctrine of retribution that states that those receive special punishment must be guilty of a greater sin. What Jesus is saying is, that all are guilty before God; all are in need of repentance.

Why is it when we sometimes hear of certain tragedies we blame the victims for their circumstances? We ask, “I wonder what they did to deserve the misfortune?” What offense did they commit to bring such hardship onto themselves? Implicit in the question is the connection between sin and suffering.

Behind the asking is a need to separate ourselves from “them.” We tell ourselves that what happened to “them” cannot happen to us. By doing so we put distance between ourselves and those who suffered. What we really want to know is why? We want an explanation, a cause and effect equation that we can wrap our minds around in order to make sense out of something that seems so senseless.

That’s really what those who approached Jesus in today’s gospel wanted to know. Why were those killed in the Temple courtyard? What did they do to bring that on themselves? Why were those crushed at Siloam? Were they such terrible sinners that such suffering befell them?

By making his point, that unless those who are asking repent the same will befall them, Jesus is shifting the focus from “them” to “all of us.” He doesn’t give an explanation, rather he rejects the notion that such tragedies come to people in some kind of payment for their sins. His point, again, is that all sinners will perish unless they repent. And there is an urgency in his appeal for all to do so.

The sign of the cross traced on our foreheads with the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday celebration reminds us of our vulnerability to sin, suffering, and death thus our continual need to repent and renew our faith as none of us knows when our journey will end. As I have said before, being a Christian does not inoculate us from any of the above.

With that in mind, the question is how do we respond to pain, suffering, and death? Does it lead to faith or despair? Does it lead to apathy or compassion? The Church’s calendar was built around the deaths of the early martyrs. The martyrs were and are people who die in such a way as to witness to their faith. We remember them as examples of how to respond to the testing of one’s faith. Their witness is meant to strengthen our faith.

On the other hand, those who despair and disbelieve because of their suffering and death weakens other people’s faith in God. It is not, however, the circumstances of their death that makes their witness for or against God. It is our response to their death. Illnesses, accidents, human tragedies kill people. But they do not necessarily kill life or faith. It is how we respond to those situations that matters.

Today’s gospel concludes with a parable, that at first glance may seem out of place with Christ’ focus on repentance, but is it? Jesus has been seeking the fruit of repentance throughout his ministry. So far, apart from a handful of followers, who are themselves not really sure of who he is and what he is all about, Jesus has found none; no repentance, not even in the cities where most of his miracles/healings had been done.

He is prepared, then, to give Israel, and particularly Jerusalem, the Temple, and the ruling priests one more chance. If they refuse, their doom is sealed. We know how they responded. The parable of the fig tree at the close of today’s gospel betrays the hope of Jesus as he approached the Holy City and reminds us that there is still time to heed his call to repent, still time to receive God’s forgiveness, still time to live with faith and compassion.

The journey is not over until God says it is, until then, we continue our journey towards the new Jerusalem knowing, as today’s collect prays: “that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves, but, with God’s help, we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen+

Friday, February 26, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for February 21, 2016

LENT II - C - 16                                          LUKE 13. 31-35

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem.."

Jerusalem - old city, Geography of Israel 

The Lenten journey is one in which we travel with Jesus to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus has not yet arrived, but is near; near enough that some Pharisees came out to warn him not to go forward because Herod plans to kill him. Whether the Pharisees that warn Jesus mean to be friendly or not is not clear; in any case he is not going to move on before his time to please either them or Herod.
Jesus is determined to finish his work and then go voluntarily to His Passion. The threat of death does not deter him from continuing the journey. He knows what lies ahead for him in Jerusalem. He predicts his triumphal entry. He knows he will be rejected by Israel, and he knows the cross awaits him.
How important was Jerusalem to Israel? To Jesus? To God? The Temple was in Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s abiding presence. The Holy City was identified with God’s people, Israel. The people believed that the Holy City would always survive, no matter what.
Even though living under the oppression of Roman rule, Israel believed that God’s blessing would eventually flow from Jerusalem again. The hope was that God would create a new Jerusalem inaugurated by God’s Messiah. God would send His Messiah to draw all nations to the Holy City and recall the faithful remnant from the furthers corners of the empire to the new Jerusalem where peace and prosperity would reign.
Jerusalem, however, was also the focus of God’s judgment. The prophets of old ascribed the sins of the nation and its citizens to the city. Jeremiah saw the city as oppressive. Micah saw its ethical and social sins as arising out of the people’s religious sins. For their warnings for the people to repent and return faithfully to God they suffered rejection, punishment, and even death.
Jesus has a destiny to go to Jerusalem and die. The warning of the Pharisees concerning Herod’s threat cannot interrupt his destiny, nor diminish his lament of the Holy City.When Jesus laments over Jerusalem, he evokes in his listeners a host of images and expectations: Jerusalem as the center of political and religious power, the symbol of God’s people, the sign of the people’s rejection of God word, the focus of God’s judgment, the hope for peace and prosperity.
To all this Jesus preaches judgment. The prophet is going to Jerusalem to pronounce God’s word and to face a prophet’s death. God’s word will be rejected, and God’s Word Incarnate will be killed.
Jerusalem has a long history of rebelling against God. Jesus’ intention, in obedience to his vocation, is to go to Jerusalem, and to take upon himself the full force of the disaster which he is predicting for Israel and the Temple. The one will give himself on behalf of the many.
The fate of Jesus and the fate of Jerusalem are related. Jesus will be rejected just as the ancient prophets were stoned and killed. The rejection of Jesus will doom the city. The Temple will be destroyed by the Romans(AD70) and Judaism will be transformed forever.
Christ’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was a triumphant one, just as he predicted. He spoke God’s prophetic word and he died a prophet’s death as he knew he would. His resurrection, however, ushered in a new Jerusalem so that we now live in a different world.
Those who rejected him then never realized it, nor those who reject him today. For then as now people hold tightly to their “Jerusalem” and defend it fiercely even to the point of denying the truth when it is standing before them.
What is our Jerusalem? What do we believe in so strongly that nothing will ever shake our confidence? What it is we hold so tightly to that it controls every aspect of our lives? Is it self? Power? Wealth? Status? Is it religion? Politics? Where does our security lie? Our trust? Our hope? To what or whom do we identify with?
Lent gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves these questions and to reflect on our answers as we offer our penance to God and seek to renew our faith. To continue the Lenten journey, to follow Jesus, reminds us that we are a sinful and broken people living in a sinful and broken world.
Our world today is one in which we still encounter injustice, rejection, war, and oppression. And yet at the same time we are reminded that we are a redeemed people, living in a redeemed world. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has brought salvation to all of us, to those who realize it as well as to those who do not, and it marks the new Jerusalem in our midst.
Let us, therefore, avoid setting our minds on earthly things, as St. Paul exhorts the Christians at Philippi, and see ourselves as citizens of the new Jerusalem Christ came to usher in through his life, death, and resurrection; a new Jerusalem where all nations will be drawn to him and the faithful will return with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of God’s Holy Word, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns one God, for ever and ever. AMEN+




Sunday, February 14, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for 14Feb16 and class notice

REMINDER!  Father Riley will be leading Episcopal informational classes designed for long-term and new Episcopalians to learn more about who we are as Episcopalians.
Starting 9am Sunday February 21 in our Parish Hall.

LENT I - C - 16                                                                                  LUKE 4. 1-13

The gospel for the First Sunday of Lent takes us back to what happened to Jesus immediately following his baptism by John in the Jordan. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness where Jesus prepared for his earthly ministry by prayer and fasting. It was after he ended his 40 day fast that the devil tempted him.
I have never thought that Jesus expected to be tempted when he was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert in preparation for his earthly ministry, but he was prepared, after his period of fasting and prayer to counter the enemy’s challenge by relying solely on God’s Holy Word.
The Church designates two days out of the year as fast days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Anyone who has done their best on purpose to abstain from all food for 24 hours as part of their spiritual discipline knows how hungry one gets. And how easy it is to give in to one’s physical cravings? Our good intentions are too easily swept aside in order to meet our own physical needs.
Jesus had fasted for 40 days! He must have been starving. Satan’s presence never left him. The devil’s first attempt at getting Jesus to surrender his will to him was for Jesus to turn the stones that must have literally covered the ground, into bread to satisfy his physical need. In other words:  to get Jesus to use his divine powers to feed himself. But he didn’t do it.
I have always found this first temptation of Jesus interesting in light of the fact that Christ’s very first miracle at Cana was the turning of water into wine, not for his own benefit, but in order to meet the desires of others.
Temptations are often camouflaged as blessings which offer the unsuspecting an exit when there seems to be no way out. The most dangerous are in the guise of goodness when the person is down for the count. Such was that of the temptations of Jesus.
Such are the temptations we too encounter as we strive to live the new life to which we have been called in Christ Jesus. Being marked with the sign of the cross at the font of life following our baptism does not make us immune to temptation.
On the contrary, since we have promised to follow and obey Jesus as our Lord, we should expect them and prepare ourselves to counter them in the same manner as he did, by prayer, and in some cases fasting, and always by relying on the Word of God. In other words, with God’s help.
At the heart of temptation is the tiny word “if.” If you really are the Son of God, Satan said to Jesus. It was Satan’s attempt to place doubt into Christ’s mind as well as challenging him to subordinate his humanity by displaying his divinity. That’s what the tiny word “if” does to our human mind, it brings up the cloud of doubt that causes us to question who God really is and who we are in relation to Him.
We often play into Satan’s hands when we doubt and challenge God by our “if there really is a God,” which we are prone to say in times of anguish when we want what we want to be done for us and we want it right now. That “if” is the evil among us. No wonder Jesus taught us to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus endured three temptations in the wilderness. Thankfully he resisted all three on our behalf. The final two seem intertwined. One addresses political power and the human tendency to dominate and control other people; the other religious power, as it puts to the test the extent to which religion seeks control over God. If Jesus was vulnerable to all three how much more are we?
There is no escaping the wilderness. It guards every promise and surrounds all successes. The wilderness is teeming with temptation. It is the enemy’s domain. True Satan departed the wilderness after Jesus defeated him. But he would return to tempt Christ again at those low points in his earthly life - the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross.
How many times in the course of a single day are we tempted to doubt and challenge God? To use what earthly powers we possess in status and wealth to dominate and control other people? How often does the enemy tempt us with that tiny word “if”?  “If you are a Christian…” Do we really think that we can withstand the assault of the enemy without God’s help?
Our baptismal covenant begins with our renouncing Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God; followed by a renunciation of evil and all sinful desires that draw us from the Love of God. We cannot serve two masters. We have to renounce our dark side in order to follow the Lord and giver of Life.
But we are not perfect. God is not the only one who knows our weaknesses. The enemy knows them as well and tempts us at the low points in our lives and in our times of anguish and doubt. Thus our baptismal covenant acknowledges that we are vulnerable to sin and evil and calls us to repentance and a return to the Lord when we have fallen into the enemy’s hand and realize it. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Our fallen nature can only be cleansed by turning to the One “who was in every way tempted as we are, yet did not sin; by whose grace we are able to triumph over every evil, and to live no longer to ourselves, but unto him who died for us and rose again…” (The Proper Preface for Lent)-- Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer. AMEN+


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Father Riley's Ash Wednesday Meditation Feb 10th, 2016

ASH WEDENSDAY - C - 16 - A       Lenten Meditation

Today’s Lenten scriptures are consistent in their message. They all point to the reason for Lent - a time to renew a right relationship with God through repentance and renewal of our faith which reminds us of our perpetual need of God.

In today’s first lesson the prophet Joel announces God’s desire that we “return” to him with all our heart which implies that we have turned away from God, and our turning back to God cannot be half way but all the way; with our whole heart.

God anxiously awaits our “return” as did the father in Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son. He awaits with open and outstretched arms to those who come to Him with broken and contrite hearts seeking His mercy and forgiveness.

St. Paul, likewise, entreats us in today’s Epistle to be “reconciled” to God implying that a broken relationship exists that is in need of  mending; one that will require forgiveness on God’s part, and confession and amendment of life on our part if we are to be truly reconciled to Him.

To be reconciled to God; to return to God, means we have to be willing to make the move toward God, acknowledging not only our sinfulness but our need of Him.

Such a move will call for our lamenting our sins and admitting our having falling short of His expectations of us as his beloved children. It also means that we must be willing to humble ourselves by not only asking for God’s forgiveness, but the grace to overcome our sins in order to live the new life to which we have been called in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.

In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us what true piety, that is, covenant behavior, consists of - a right motive. We are to pray, fast, and give alms simply for God’s eyes only. If they are done with an eye on the audience they are done for the wrong reason. Giving money to those in need, praying to God day by day, and fasting as a spiritual discipline when done simply to and for God alone brings the reward of knowing God.

As today’s readings remind us of the reason for Lent the ashes of Lent remind us of our mortality and our penitence. They remind us of our continual need to renew our faith. They remind us of who we are and to whom we ultimately belong.

When I think of ashes I am reminded of the times when as a young boy I was allowed to clean out the fireplace in my grandmother’s country home with one of those little tin shovels and place them in a bucket to be carried outside. I was instructed to spread them in the garden area for when the spring comes, she would say, they will help to bring new growth.

When I think of ashes I am reminded of the times I have walked through blackened forests following a fire; one either sparked by lightening or a controlled burn that leaves the forest floor covered in ankle deep soot; a depth of ashes that will give way to new growth and a renewal of life once they are washed away.

The ashes on our foreheads this day are a mark of our mortal nature and a reminder of our need of repentance as we begin again this Lenten journey in which we will follow the footsteps of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and the cross.

Lent is a season of the Church’s year, but the Lenten journey of self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial, is one we travel throughout our earthly life. Throughout the journey the focus should be both on the cross, the price that was paid for our sins, and the empty tomb - the promise of new life.

Lent is not a time, then, to be preoccupied with the what ifs of the past, that is, with our past sins and offenses, although the Lenten season gives us time to reflect on them, as well as acknowledge them before the God of all mercy, rather Lent calls us to be forward looking.

This season of repentance and re-conversion of the heart should not invite us to discouragement and despair - the preoccupation of a soul obsessed with guilt, but rather for profound optimism in this season that will see, even in nature, a spring-time renewal; a bursting forth of new life.

What we anticipate during this season of penitence and renewal is the greatest victory of life over death. What we foster in our efforts to observe a holy Lent, to which the Church now invites us, is the growth that can occur when the ashes of sin and guilt, that prevent new life, have been washed away by the God of all mercy.

It is His perfect Love, remission and forgiveness that is manifested for the whole world to see on the hardwood of the cross in the outstretched arms of Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Savior. AMEN+


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Re-scheduled Annual Meeting after 10am service February 14, 2016

Annual Meeting and Lunch: Sunday, February 14

Due to conflicting schedules and grand babies arriving, the CEC Vestry had to reschedule our 2016 annual meeting for February 14 following the 10am service.  A lunch will be provided.  Everyone is welcome to join us as we begin another church year.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from Jan 31, 2016

4 EPIPHANY - C - 16                            LUKE 4. 21-30


Today’s gospel begins as did last week’s with Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue at Nazareth and his comment that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It continues, then, with the congregation’s reaction, a double reaction I might add. The first being one of praise. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
But some doubted, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Jesus responds with two well-known proverbs: “Doctor cure yourself, and no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” to which he adds two biblical illustrations pointing to what He is doing and going to do according to God’s purpose in His coming. All of which caused the initial reaction of praise to turn into one of rage.
Why did the local’s praise of him suddenly turn to rage? What went wrong? Was it because he aligned himself with the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha who were both rejected by Israel, and sent by God to outsiders?
The people of Nazareth knew him, or at least they thought they did. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” How, then, can he say he is a prophet like the prophets of old? Why doesn’t he just do a miracle like they have heard that he did in Capernaum? What Jesus is saying is a challenge to his hearer’s understanding of God and brings a violent reaction. The people drive him out of town and to the brow of a hill with the intent to hurl him to his death. But he escapes.
We like for our religion to be familiar, like our hometowns. We like for our traditions to remain unchanged, a constant in a chaotic and fast moving world. We want our religion to stay the same, to look as it looked when we were younger. We want to sing the hymns with tunes that we know and to be able to follow the service without opening the Prayer Book. This is the religion of those who came before us, who introduced us to the faith we now hold so dearly, and to the church we love. All of which makes it easy to wrap our familiar religion around us like a warm/comfortable blanket, assured that God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.
All seemed right in Nazareth when they heard Jesus read and listened to his comment, for “all spoke well of him, and wondered at his gracious words…” But then, something did gone wrong, something that moved those who knew him from praise to rage. It was more than disappointment over not seeing a miracle. It was his implying that he was in the same company with Elijah and Elisha, and like these two would be rejected by his own people because of the purpose for which God sent him - to bring the good news of Salvation to all men.
Israel’s view of God was eschewed, you see. She believed that the God of Abraham and Isaac was exclusively hers. Israel believed that the Messiah that God would one day send would come exclusively for Israel’s  redemption and her redemption alone. But Jesus seemed to be implying otherwise.
Jesus’ reminding them of what, where, and to whom God sent Elijah and Elisha, and was now sending Him literally stripped them of their blanket, their ancient blanket, worn and familiar, that assured them of God’s favor. This, and this alone, caused their praise to quickly turn to rage and brought a violent reaction.
They knew the stories Jesus was referring to concerning the Old Testament prophets. They had heard them read many times in the very synagogue they were now gathered in where Jesus was speaking, but it was as if they were hearing them for the first time, or at least were understanding them for the very first time.
Jesus gracious words “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” was pleasing to the ear, but when followed by the proverbs and biblical illustrations Jesus used to make his point, the real meaning began to dawn on them, and became ever so clear and they did not like what they were finally hearing. God’s love and mercy is bigger and broader than one nation or people. Much bigger and broader than our limited human understanding of God or His ways.
Jesus came to shed “light” on the true nature of His Father and the Kingdom to which God’s people are called. Christ came to bring the good news of Salvation to all people, as the angel announced to the lowly shepherds at his birth. It was news, some in Israel did not wish to hear for it shattered their understanding of God as belonging exclusively to them an idea that shook up the religious status quo.
Religion can be like that, so comfortable and familiar that we are unable, or unwilling to see beyond ourselves, beyond our needs, beyond our limited understanding of God. Jesus astonished his hearers with the idea that God’s grace included others besides Israel. He illustrated his message by reminding them of specific incidents in the lives of the two great prophets that pointed to God’s wide mercy.
Jesus saw himself in good company with the prophets of old. They were rejected and he would be rejected. The final rejection for him would come in Jerusalem before Pilate. The mission to others, however, was the very purpose of God sending him into the world. He made God’s purpose known by his teaching about God and the kingdom to any and all who were open to receive it. He demonstrated it again and again in his healing ministry to those who were not of the house of Israel.
Here, as at the climax of the gospel story, Jesus’ challenge brings about a violent reaction. The violent reaction of the people, in their effort to execute Jesus at Nazareth, is prophetic; it looks forward to his death in Jerusalem. Just as Jesus is rejected in his hometown, so he will be destroyed by the rulers of Israel. So far as we know Jesus never returned to Nazareth. His escape in Nazareth, however, made possible his mission elsewhere, just as his resurrection has made possible the Church’s mission to the world.
The gospel continues to challenge today. It challenges all our self interests and our personal agendas, including the warm blanket of the status quo we so often cling to with the news of God’s surprising and amazing grace; a challenge that leaves the way open for any and all who hear it to either react by rejecting it, or respond by accepting it. For God’s purpose has been worked out through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.  AMEN+