Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from April 24

[Father Riley's Episcopal class continues Sunday, May 1st at 9am in the Parish Hall.]

EASTER V - C - 16                          JOHN 13. 31-35

How does anyone know that you are a Christian? As Episcopalians we have something going for us - our church’s logo. The Episcopal shield is so distinct that it is easy to spot on the rear window, or the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of you. I see it often when I am traveling on I-20.
But only another Episcopalian would readily recognize it and know that they had just passed or been following a fellow churchman.
Then there are the yard signs different denominations give out to their members to display in their front yards that announce the name of the church and the statement: “this family worships at…” or something to that effect printed on the face of it. But the fact is, one has to drive by that particular house and read the sign to know that the family that resides there is Christian.
Finally I would be remiss if I failed to mention the display of religious jewelry, namely the cross. All I have to say about this subject is that too often those who wear religious symbols are more interested in making a fashion statement than announcing their faith. Let’s return to the opening question. How does the world we live in know that we are Christian?
At the Last Supper, when Judas had gone out to conclude his act of betrayal, Jesus delivered the 11th Commandment. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But we all know that it is difficult at times to put into practice the kind of love Christ is calling us to, even with those who are the closest to us - our family and friends. We are called to love one another, as Jesus loves us, but lets be real, there are some people only God can love!
Remember the question Jesus asked Peter on the beach? “Do you love me more than these?” In this Jesus was referring to the others disciples, Peter’s closest friends. And the word Jesus used was “agape,” a higher form of love than what normally passes between friends. Jesus meant, “do you love me as I love you?” Christ’ love is a sacrificial, self-emptying love that God has for each of us and that we can only hope to obtain through maturing in God’s grace.
That question to Peter came on the beach after the resurrection. Jesus’ commandment in today’s gospel is given in the upper room to all of his disciples prior to his arrest, trial and crucifixion, but it is the same love Jesus asked of Peter, and the same question Jesus asks of all who would follow Him today. Christ says, “you also should love one another, just as I have loved you.”
OK, we say, I understand the kind of love I am supposed to have for others, but that still does not tell me how to love as Christ loves us. First of all, it doesn’t come natural. It’s kin to forgiveness. If someone has wronged me, hurt me, persecuted me, I don’t find myself in a loving attitude towards them, on the contrary. The natural reaction to that kind of situation is to say “I don’t care for that person. I don’t like them,” or simply “I have no use for him or her.”
Or in the case of forgiveness, we say, “I will try and forgive them, but will never forget what they said or did.” By this kind of action we place them in the category of “unlovable.” But is this really the behavior that defines us as Christians? Will others be able to guess that we are followers of Jesus by that kind of attitude? Does not the self come to the forefront here?
It didn’t come natural for the disciples in the beginning either. Peter responded to Jesus’ question with the only kind of love he knew at the moment, even when Jesus was asking more of him. “Yes Lord, I love you, the same way in which I love them,” that was all Peter could give. Many religions and philosophies teach people to “love one another.” What makes Jesus commandment new is the measure required of our love.
We must love as Christ loves us with a love that does not discriminate; a love that sometimes calls for “sacrifice,” and a love that always requires the emptying of self in order to put the other person first. To love as Christ loves us has to be learned and put into practice over and over again until it becomes a spiritual habit. It is not something we can choose to use on occasion. We learn it by experiencing it.
Peter experienced it on the beach, when with each question of love he was forgiven. In today’s Epistle he gets a chance to put it into practice. Afterwards he defends his actions before the elders in the church at Jerusalem. “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
Out of obedience, Peter set aside his natural and personal prohibitions and followed the leading of the Holy Spirit that brought the love of Christ to those who heretofore had never know it. It was the love of God that sent Peter to the Gentiles, and the love of God in Christ that Peter proclaimed without prejudice that brought about their conversion.
Peter’s willingness to proclaim Christ’s love opened his eyes and the eyes of the early church to the fact that God desires that all should come to Him, both Jew and Gentile alike.  And the “way” to God is through faithful obedience to God’s commandments, not the least of which is learning to love as Christ loves us with a sacrificial and self-emptying love that can be readily seen and recognized for what it is.
May our learning to put into practice, by God’s grace, the love of Christ, become for each of us a spiritual habit that is best shown, not through signs and symbols, but through a life lived in faithful obedience to Christ’ command.
“By this,” Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” AMEN+

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Storm windows being added to Parish House

To help insulate our Parish House and to help protect the windows, the old non-insulated windows are having 'storm' windows added to the exterior.

Monday, April 18, 2016

[Father Riley's Episcopal class continues Sunday, April 24th at 9am in Parish Hall.]
EASTER IV - C - 16                                                JOHN 10: 22-30


 “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem.” One of the characteristics of John’s gospel is he always sets the scene for us by giving us the time and place. It was winter, John reports, and Jesus is walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon.
Between the 7th and the 10th chapter of John, Jesus attends two Jewish festivals over a period of some three months, indicating that Jesus made more than one trip to Jerusalem during his earthly ministry. Chapter 10 begins with Jesus in dialogue with some Pharisees following his healing of a man born blind that occurred during the festival of “booths,” an agricultural festival commemorating the wilderness wanderings that takes place in the fall of the year.
It is during this earlier exchange that Christ declares himself the “good shepherd” contrasting his ministry with their failed ministry. The word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd.” They have failed, then, as pastors of God’s people. Their leadership has been marked by deceit and pride and a lack of compassion.
It was Christ’ words, however, concerning the laying down of his life for his sheep and taking it again because he has the power to do so; a power he declares that has been given him by his Father, that causes a division among the Jews. Some say he is mad and has a demon; others argue for him because he cured the blind man, something they say, a demon would not do.
At the festival of the Dedication, three months later, Jesus is approached again by those who want to know who he really is, or better yet, who he thinks he is. The healing of the blind man should have been sufficient evidence, identifying him as one sent by God. No one had ever healed a man born blind, even they admitted that. But obviously it was not enough.
Throughout the gospels Christ’ words and actions are veiled to those who reject him. “But you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep,” Christ says “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they know me, and follow me.” The true shepherd not only cares for the sheep with a devotion even to death; but he knows them and is known by them.
The festival, that is the backdrop of today’s gospel, is Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights. It commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in 167 BC after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes. At the festival, the leaders of Israel’s past are commemorated, many of whom were themselves shepherds.
Jesus’ parable of the “good shepherd” is an apt prelude to the feast celebrating the purifying of the temple for one of the lessons read at the festival was from Ezekiel 34 that speaks of God himself coming to shepherd his people; to rescue them, as it were, from the hands of the failed shepherds. 
Jesus has come to do just that; to rescue God’s people and to lead them into the kingdom. Jesus fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy, and is the shepherd, St. John sees in his vision, that will lead God’s people to springs of living water.
How could the leaders of God’s people miss it? Why could they not draw the right conclusion based on his words and actions? The contrast, then, is not only in terms of leadership, but a “blindness” as opposed to those, who through the eyes of faith “see” Jesus as the Promised One.
Today’s gospel, then, takes us back to a time before his arrest, trial and crucifixion when those who were opposed to him were gathering evidence against him. They wanted Jesus to say “plainly” if he were the Messiah or not. But Jesus lets his actions speak for him until the last verse, which is plain enough for all: “The Father and I are one.”
It’s all about relationship and so Jesus returns to that theme. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” He will look after them, and even death itself, the last great enemy, cannot ultimately harm them.
The reason Jesus can be so confident of this is that the guarantee is his own unbreakable bond of love and union with the Father (The Father and I are One), and the fact that the “sheep” he owns are the ones the Father has given him. Here Jesus is describing a relationship; a bond, that gives life; a oneness that creates community; a community based on Love.
This doesn’t mean that as His followers we will be immune to suffering, trials and tribulations, or that we will escape death in this world; but at the last we will be found safe in the hands of the Good Shepherd.
Christian confidence about the future beyond death, in other words, is not a matter of wishful thinking, a vague general hope, or a temperamental inclination to assume things will turn out alright. It is built firmly on nothing less than the union with Jesus and the Father - one of the main themes of the whole gospel, and the focus of the Church’s worship.
God the Father created a new relationship between the risen Christ and his followers by raising Jesus from the dead. Because of Easter our relationship to God, through Christ, is stronger than death itself. As St. Paul boldly proclaims in Romans “nothing, not even death, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, Our Lord."
This is the Hope of Easter for all who believe in the Risen Christ; that where evil has destroyed all possibility of relationships, God can create new bonds of life through His Love for each of us manifested in and through the relationship between the Father and the Son.
On the cross, God the Father elevated His Son Jesus, from Lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the world, to the Good Shepherd who will lead us to springs of living water, and where, by God’s grace, we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” AMEN+

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from April 10, 2016

[Father Riley's Episcopal class continues this Sunday (April 17) at 9am in the Parish Hall.]
EASTER III - C - 16                  JOHN 21:1-19

“Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias…”
St. John makes it clear that once the disciples had been surprised by the risen Lord in the upper room, where they had been hiding for fear of the Jews, they no longer did so and were not afraid to venture out. Today’s gospel is a case in point. Simon Peter decides to go fishing, to resume, as it were, his former profession that he has laid aside for some three years now after having decided to follow Jesus of Nazareth.
The other disciples who were in his presence, some who were fishermen, and some who were not, decide to go with him. St. John says, they all went out and got into the boat and fished all night coming up empty handed. As they were returning to shore at daybreak, a man on the beach hailed them “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”
Whether he was a fisherman or not he talked like one and suggested that they cast their net one more time. Surprisingly they did, and were amazed by the size of the catch. So numerous were the fish, 153 in all St. John reports, that they were unable to haul it in without fear of tearing the net.
The “beloved” disciple was the first to perceive that the man on the beach was the risen Lord, and announces Jesus’ presence. It was his love for Christ that brought spiritual insight. Impulsive Peter, who was stripped for work, in his excitement puts on his clothes before plunging into the water and swimming and wading some one hundred yards to greet the Lord.
The others, remain in the boat, dragging the net behind until they too reach the shore and join the dripping wet Peter and risen Lord next to a charcoal fire where fish and bread await them. Jesus says, “bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Peter returns to the boat and drags the net ashore all by himself.
Obviously there was something different about this resurrection appearance of the crucified Jesus. He did not appear to the disciples as he had in the upper room on that first Easter eve. Because Christ’s resurrected body was transfigured and incorruptible, it was not visible unless he willingly “showed” himself.
His form was altered in a way that amazed them. Yet, not one of them asked “Who are you?” for in their hearts they knew it was He.
St. John says, this was the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he had risen from the dead.
The real crux of today’s gospel, however, comes after breakfast when the risen Christ takes Peter aside and asks him if he loves him. Peter is Christ’s chosen leader of the disciples, and has been from the moment Jesus first called him to “follow me.” Thus, Peter has to be the first one to profess his love for the Lord.
Jesus’ question to Peter could be his question to any one of us, “Do you love me?” However, Jesus’ question surprised Peter. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” It surprised Peter on two accounts. First, Peter has met the risen Lord on two previous occasions (the upper room) and on neither of those occasions did Jesus ask him if he loved him.
Secondly, Peter is surprised and somewhat puzzled that Christ would ask him three times if he loved him. In the Greek there are three words for love. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Christ uses the Greek word for “agape” love, that is, the highest form of sacrificial, and self-emptying love, the kind of love God has for man, and that man can only develop through maturing in God’s grace.
Each time Peter responds with “philo” a form of brotherly affection, being unable to claim such a lofty love. The third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Christ uses the same form of the word for love as Peter, condescending to Peter’s weakness and accepting whatever love Peter is able to give at the present moment.
For Christ knows Peter will develop “agape” love for him, as Peter will eventually accept martyrdom for Christ’ sake under Nero (AD 67) and even choose to be crucified up side down not deeming himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.
What matters is that the question was asked and answered, and even more, that with each question and answer comes a fresh challenge; a new commission: “feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.” With each “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Peter is able to give, Christ issues a forgiveness that negates his earlier denials and calls forth a reaffirmation of Peter to follow Him.
Christ restores Peter with a three-fold confession of love. Peter is now to share in Jesus’ work; the work of the good shepherd. On the beach, Peter is elevated from fisherman to pastor. No more nets for Peter, from now on he will lead and feed Christ’ lambs and sheep, as shepherd.
Within today’s gospel lies the secret, as N.T. Wright calls it, of all our Christian ministry, lay and ordained, yours and mine, full time and part time. If we are to do anything for Jesus it has to be based on Love. We all know how often we have let him down, yet He continues to call forth our love for Him, giving us a chance to express it.
He forgives us and in His forgiveness challenges us with new work to do, not only as a means of expressing our Love for Him, but a reaffirmation of our willingness to “follow” him.
With each “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” we offer the risen Christ what love we have at the moment, resting our case on Jesus’ knowledge of what is in our hearts, and praying that one day, with God’s grace, we will be able to Love Him as He Loves us. AMEN+






Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Classes resume 9am Sunday, April 10th in Parish Hall

Father Riley will continue his Episcopal informational classes this Sunday at 9am in the Parish Hall.  Everyone is welcome to join us.

From the "Forward: Day by Day"


1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
I sometimes forget that it is still Easter. I forget that the transformation of Jesus from death to resurrection is my transformation—and the transformation of the whole church. In this season, in the waking world, flowers open to announce new life and help to proclaim the story of resurrection.
As the daylight hours grow longer, tipping past the equinox, the whole world declares the reality of resurrection from the dead. When I forget that we’re in the fifty days of Easter, and that I too am resurrected with Christ, nature offers plenty of reminders of the mercy of God: reminders that we are God’s resurrected people, walking around like spring flowers, shining God’s presence in this great, living Easter proclamation of life.