Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter ...Alleluia! 2016

Father Riley's sermon for Easter 2016
EASTER - YEAR C - 2016                     LUKE 24: 1-12



On Friday, those of us who were here, heard St. John report that after Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were secret disciples of Jesus, asked Pilate for and received Jesus’ body. Because it was the Jewish Day of Preparation they hastily wrapped it in a linen cloth adding one hundred pounds of spices and laid it in a new  tomb that was nearby.
The women who watched the crucifixion followed at a distance noting where Jesus’ body was being buried. On the first day of the week, St. Luke says, these same women came to the tomb carrying spices to complete the burial according to the custom of the Jews. Tombs were commonly sealed in those days with large stones rolled across the face  blocking the entrance.
The women seem to have never given much thought to how they might remove the stone in order to enter the tomb and accomplish their mission. However, when they arrived, much to their surprise, they found the stone rolled away. The tomb was open, they entered it, but the body of their Lord was not there.
Instead two angels appeared next to them in dazzling apparel which frightened them terribly. They were too afraid to run; to afraid to speak. All they could manage to do, according to Luke, was to bow their faces to the ground in order not to look directly at them. It is the angels who do the speaking. They question the women as to why they are there. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
That was the Easter question posed to the women who had come to the tomb to anoint a dead body on that first Easter Day. The angels then go on to remind the women of Jesus’ words concerning his betrayal, trial, and death - but also that on the third day He would rise from the dead.
Had they not heard Him? Had they not believed? Were they afraid of the good news? Now remembering His words, Luke says, they pulled  themselves together and returned to the 11 disciples and reported that they had seen angels who announced to them that Jesus was risen from the dead. However, the disciples did not believe the women’s report. Was it because the women did not believe it themselves and thus their words were far less than convincing? After all, they had not seen the risen Lord.
What about us? Why are we here today? That is the Easter question today’s celebration of Christ’ Resurrection poses to each of us. If we believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, How do we prove it? How has Jesus’ resurrection made a difference in our lives?
Sometimes I think we don’t ponder that question deeply enough or often enough. It is a personal one, to be sure, and can only be answered individually. True Jesus Christ died once for all but not all believe in Him, not all believe that He rose from the dead, not all have encountered the risen Lord.
His disciples, the women and some others who believed in him were privy to His resurrection. They ate and drank with Him after he rose from the dead. That experience completely changed their lives forever. “…God raised Him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but, to us who were chosen by God as witnesses…” Peter proclaims.
Peter who had denied him was given the opportunity to recant by the Risen Lord, which he did, and became the leader of the Apostles. James, the brother of the Lord, who did not believe in Jesus prior to the resurrection, became the first Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. And Saul of Tarsus had his dramatic encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and because of it through his untiring efforts to witness to the Risen Lord, the gospel was preached to the Gentiles throughout much of the Roman Empire.
These individuals and countless others throughout the life of the church have manifested their believe in the way they lived their lives, in a day to day witness, that has in turn, brought others to Christ. People down through the ages have believed in His resurrection, not because the Church has taught them to believe by reciting the Creed, but because they too have encountered the living Christ and in doing so, have had their lives changed forever.
The disciples did not believe because the women said so. Neither did proof of the empty tomb cause them to believe. Their Easter faith, our Easter faith, is not based on another’s report, or a dark empty hole in the ground but in the Living Christ.
The disbelieving disciples, who on that first Easter morning received the women’s report, would eventually see Him for themselves still bearing the marks of the crucifixion. Then they would come to know that what the women had reported was True, better yet, they would come to know what Jesus had told them beforehand was True. From that moment on, they would live their lives according to the resurrection.
Because they had seen him with their own eyes they preached the good news convincingly even in the face of persecution. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. It changed their lives by changing death. No longer would they, nor can we who believe in Him, look at death and see only death. Remember your baptism. “In it we were buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we were reborn by the Holy Spirit.”
“For we have died,” St. Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle, “and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.” What a powerful statement. Paul goes on to say “When Christ who is our life appears, then we will also appear with him in glory.” That is our Easter hope. That is the Easter promise; a promise that only brings hope to those who truly believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and live their lives accordingly.
The answer to the Easter question, “why are we here today?“ rests on the fact that each and everyone of us at some point in our lives, at some dark and unexpected moment, has met the Risen Lord.
Our experience may not have been as dramatic an encounter as St. Paul’s on the road to Damascus or that of the Apostles in the upper room, when the risen Lord appeared behind closed doors to a huddled group of frightened disciples bearing the marks of the crucifixion, but for us it was and remains just as real. And in that moment our lives were changed forever. That is why we here. The proof is in the way we live our lives according to the Resurrection.
Today, then, we come, as members of the family of God, to witness to our Easter faith giving Thanks for the new life the risen Christ brings to all who believe in Him and for the Hope of the life to come where “we may evermore live with Him in the joy of His Resurrection.” AMEN+

Friday, March 25, 2016

Father Riley's Good Friday sermon, March 25, 2016



 Today marks the second time this week we have sat and listened to the Passion Narrative. On Palm Sunday we heard St. Luke’s version that contained the beautiful scene of the thief on the cross asking to be remembered by Jesus when he came into his kingdom. And we heard the promise made to him by Christ from the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We are veterans of numerous Holy Weeks. We have heard it all many times before from Matthew, Mark, Luke and now again from John. Nothing new here. The gospel writers all report the same thing albeit with varying detail. Ask anyone of us here today and we can tell you what happened to Jesus on Good Friday.
Not unlike the citizens of Jerusalem, or the countless pilgrims who were pouring into the city to celebrate Passover. Crucifixion was common, all to common. Jesus’ crucifixion was one among many. It was Rome’s favorite means of dispatching criminals, and the Lord of Life willingly took the place of one.
The roads leading in an out of the Holy City were lined with crosses containing the dead and the dying; those unfortunate ones, who for one reason or another, found themselves at cross-purposes with the Empire. So common was the sight that most of the populace paid little or no attention as they passed by but simply went about their business as usual. Can’t you just see and hear a young mother holding tightly to the hand of her child and insisting that the child not look up or point at those dying on the cross?
According to John, Jesus’ mother, along with two other women, and the beloved disciple stood close to the cross of Jesus; close enough to hear Jesus speak; close enough to see the water and blood that issued from his side when pierced by the soldier’s lance.
Before he died Jesus gave his mother to John to look after, and John to his mother as a son. No promise issued forth from his lips that day, according to John, only the words “It is finished,” and then he died.
There were others close by as well, namely the secret disciples of Jesus; Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee, Nicodemus. Having asked for and received the body of Christ from the authorities they carried out their act of compassion by wrapping it in a linen cloth, covering it with spices, and hastily laying it in a new tomb nearby before the Sabbath began.
After witnessing his burial, his mother, and the other women, left the scene with the beloved disciple most likely to return to the upper room where the rest of the disciples were in hiding. Joseph and Nicodemus went home. The rulers and the other religious leaders that helped to nail Jesus to the cross dispersed as well believing that they had done a great thing for God.
While the soldiers who had drawn the nasty duty of crucifying him, along with the two thieves on either side of him were, as they say, just doing their duty and nothing more and were glad it was over quickly. The curious on-lookers that may have stopped to view the scene read the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” But it didn’t mean a thing to them and when they realized all three were dead, simply moved on. Nothing more to see here.
What about us? When today’s service has ended do we simply move on? Move on with our lives as though what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem doesn’t matter? Have we become so insensitive to his suffering and death on the cross that we choose not to look at it, much less contemplate what it might mean for us and for the life of the world?
Have we been veterans of too many Good Fridays to the point that we have lost it’s meaning?
The cross reminds us, as Isaiah proclaims in today’s first reading, “that he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,” and in addition the author of Hebrews aptly reminds us Jesus “is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Today is a day to focus our attention on Christ crucified, not to look away, but to look at the cross with body of the dying Jesus hanging upon it; even point to it if need be, in order to ponder what it all means to us. There is really no other reason for us to be here.
Hopefully we came to listen to the Passion narrative as if we were hearing it for the very first time; to meditate on the words of the Servant Song of Isaiah as they relate to the one who died for us, and to receive with Thanksgiving the Hope that rests in Christ, as the passage from Hebrews reminds us.
We are here, then, to give Thanks for His willingness to suffer for us, for our sins, and the sins of the whole world, so that we might live anew to the Life God has given us, and to embrace the Hope of the Life to come.
Taken collectively these three readings open the way for us to enter into the true meaning of the day. For they proclaim what God has done for us in Christ and together bid us anew to receive the gift of God’s redemptive Love; an undying Love that manifests itself from the cross; a Love that invites us, in the name of the Crucified Lord Jesus, to share it in our service to others. AMEN+



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for Palm Sunday

Upcoming services and activities: 
..Everyone is welcome to join us March 25th at noon for our Good Friday service.  Father Riley will be officiating for Good Friday and in our joyful Easter Sunday service at 10am March 27th.  Please bring fresh flowers to add to our Easter Cross Easter Sunday.  Fellowship will follow in the Parish Hall following the Easter service.
..Father Riley will start back up our informational classes Sunday April 10th at 9am in the Parish Hall.  The classes are open to all interested in the history and teachings of the Episcopal Church.
PALM SUNDAY - C - 16               THE PASSION  OF LUKE



 The Palm Sunday liturgy is the only one that has two gospel readings; the one containing the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem that is associated with the liturgy of the palms and the reading of the Passion within the Eucharistic liturgy.
The two readings cover a matter of days in the life of Jesus, but for us a matter of minutes. Because our time is short in reflecting on these two readings that taken together represent the beginning and the ending of Holy Week, we often miss the depth of their meaning.
Traditionally we participate in the liturgy of the palms by processing and singing “All Glory Laud and Honor,” this being the closest thing to our being there as He entered the Holy City and laying our coats on the road for Him to ride on. In this we take our place in the crowd that welcomed him to Jerusalem by singing Alleluias and waving palm branches in their hands.
At the reading of the Passion we remain seated listening as the all too familiar drama is played out: the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the trials before the Jews and finally Pilate, until He is crucified, and then we stand, as those stood who watched him die on the cross; those who stood close to him and ridiculed him, as well as his friends who stood at a distance and wept. Christ has finally met his destiny.
Jesus does not die alone. Luke tells us that there were two thieves crucified alongside him, one on his right and one on his left. The leaders scoffed at him saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers joined in as well  ridiculing him, even one of the thieves dying next to him mocked him, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other did not. The other thief was the only one who stood up for Jesus that day. Not only did he defend Jesus as an innocent man, but he believed that Jesus was who he said he was and asked that Christ remember him when he came into his kingdom.
The faith Christ had been looking for so long within Israel throughout his earthly ministry manifests itself in a dying thief crucified next to him; “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus then gives one last earthly promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Isn’t that what we all want? When this earthly life has ended to be remembered by God?
With each Lent the image of the dying Jesus on the cross is impressed on the eyes of the world, even on those eyes that see only TV or some aspect of social media. How do people react? Better yet, how do we react?
There are those who possess the same unbelieving demands, who in times of despair and pain, or simply out of ignorance wag their heads and say “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Others look at the dying Jesus and acknowledge their own failures and admit responsibility, even going so far as to rebuke the unbelievers, “Do you not fear God? We are receiving the due rewards of our deeds.” But those, alas, are far and few between.
Some concede that he was merely a good man who came to a terrible end who got caught between politics and religion because his words and actions threatened the status quo. “This man has done nothing wrong.” And there are some who look to Jesus on the cross and simply cry for help.” Jesus remember me.”
What do you see when you look at the cross? I can only answer for myself. I look at the cross with body of the dying Jesus nailed to it and my problems and my pain are pale compared to His suffering. When I look at the cross I see myself next to him, in the thief who asked to be remembered, and who acknowledged his own sins and believed in Jesus. I too want to, as we all want, to be remembered by Him.
That’s why I have a crucifix in every room of my house, to remind me of what is really important.
The thief who asked to be remembered  lived with the hope of paradise; of being in the presence of God not really knowing what that might mean. He was on the other side of the cross. You and I live with the hope of the resurrection. We are post-Easter Christians. We live on this side of the cross.
What a difference it makes in our day to day living to live with faith in the promises of God as seen through the Resurrection.
The central act of Christian worship is the Holy Eucharist. In it we take our place in the upper room as the drama of that mystical event is reenacted. In it we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus as we participate in the Last Supper. It is the closest we can get to actually having been there. What a difference the words “Take eat; take and drink” mean when viewed through the Resurrection.
In receiving the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood we remember Him, as He commanded us to do and the price He paid for our sins and the sins of the world in the Hope that one day, like the thief  on the cross, we too will be remembered by Him. AMEN+


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Father Riley's homily for March 13, 2016

Father Riley's Episcopal classes continue next Sunday, Palm Sunday, March 20th in the Parish Hall.  Please join us as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter.
5 LENT - C - 16                                              JOHN 12: 1-8



“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany…” Our Lenten journey has brought us very near to the Holy City to the small village of Bethany, a mere two miles southeast of Jerusalem on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his disciples have been invited to a dinner party in the home of his dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom he has recently raised from the dead.
As usual, Martha is serving while Lazarus sits at table with Jesus and the disciples. Mary is again sitting at Jesus’ feet not merely listening as she did on his prior visit to their home, but instead she is engaged in an act of love. She anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment and wipes them with her hair.
The disciples are dumb struck. No self respecting Jewish woman would ever let her hair down in public, must less in the company of so many men.
Judas alone speaks, but not to condemn Mary for breaking social protocol, but to object to the use of such expensive ointment that could have been sold and the money given to the poor.
Does Mary know something that the disciples do not? No, for Jesus has told his disciples on three separate occasions that he will die in Jerusalem. If anything, Mary is anticipating not only his death, but a hasty burial without the proper preparation. Thus her act of love towards Jesus is done without regard to what the others in the room may think of her or her actions.
Jesus quickly stifles Judas’ objection and in his response to him implies that Mary should keep the rest of the ointment for that very day; a day now looming in the near distance. The preparation to come is more important than their going out to sell what remains of the ointment as Judas suggests.
If his disciples have failed to comprehend his earlier warnings about his impending tragedy, Mary’s actions and Jesus’ words make it clear. They are literally standing in the shadow of the cross. His destiny awaits him.
To follow Jesus implies a proper motivation - to want to be what God created us to be - to worship, love and obey Him above all else. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus could not love Him any more. They have witnessed his power of resurrection; Lazarus is the living proof. They know in their heart of hearts that He is Messiah, the Promised One of God, and they would follow him anywhere.
The disciples have now been with Him for three years. They have witnessed his many miracles and healings, listened to his teachings concerning God and His kingdom. They themselves have been given authority to heal, preach and teach and have been amazed at the people’s response. Yet they seem oblivious to his warnings of his impending death, and at times their faith is intermittent. What motivates them to continue to follow Jesus if not their love for Him?
Judas’ objection to Mary’s use of an expensive ointment that could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor seems admirable, but St. John is quick to point out that Judas is a thief. They all know it. His motivation is greed. Why would Jesus put him in charge of the money box knowing what is in his heart? That Jesus put him in charge of the alms shows that by every means He attempted to save him. Jesus fulfills Judas’ lust for money.
He allowed Judas to exercise Apostolic authority like the rest. Jesus will wash Judas’ feet along with the others and will allow him to sit at table in the upper room to partake of the Mystical Supper of His Body and Blood, because He loves him no less than the others. He will die for his sins as well as the sins of the world whether Judas realizes it or not.
Sadly greed motivated Judas more than love. Judas’ greed drove him to guilt. It was his guilt that lead to his death by his own hands. I have never thought that Judas was unrepentant, but that he was unable to forgive himself for what he had done in betraying the Lord of Life, and by being unable to forgive himself, he was incapable of knowing and receiving God’s forgiveness.
What motivates us to follow Jesus? To continue the journey? Perhaps if we take time to look closely at each of the characters in today’s gospel we can see which one best reflects our relationship to Christ and in doing so discover the motivation behind our continuing to follow him.
Are we most like Martha always busying ourselves to the point that we are oblivious to what’s going on around us? Or at least pretending that we do not notice. Perhaps we are more like Lazarus, having been the recipient of a miracle, a second chance at life, an undeserved blessing and yet we choose to remain seated on the sidelines not wishing to get involved with the life or the mission of the church, being more than willing to have someone else do what needs to be done.
Then there is Judas who objects and complains who has his own opinion of what should be done and the way it should be done and does not hesitate to say so. Can we see ourselves reflected in him? Do we complain and object to what the Church is doing? What about Mary who simply loves to be in Jesus’ presence and makes herself present to him taking in His every word and being willing to follow him and obey Him as her Lord. Does she not represent what we should all be in terms of our relationship to Christ?
Finally there are the disciples who yet follow him, even with their doubts and wavering faith. Imperfect as they are, he chose them, including Judas, and they followed him not knowing where their “yes” to him would lead or how it would all end. Can we see ourselves as true disciples giving our “yes” to Jesus and following wherever He leads? Putting our whole trust in Him?
The Church is made up of Mary and Martha, Lazarus and Judas, and there is something of each of them in each of us. Imperfect as we are, like Judas, God gives each of us every opportunity to receive His saving grace and to become what we were created to be: lovers of God who manifest our love for Him through worship and obedience, and who are motivated by His Love “to press on,” as St. Paul says, “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, the completion of our salvation, the resurrection to eternal  life. Amen+

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Yes. It's almost time to move your clocks forward 1 hour....this Sunday morning--March 13

Also,  Father Riley's Episcopal class: Sunday, March 13, 9am in Parish Hall.  For all of us whether we have never had the classes or had them many moons ago.