Monday, May 30, 2016

VBS team here this week!

The Vacation Bible School team from St. Barnabas, Lafayette, joined us Sunday, May 29 for communion service and fellowship brunch.  The VBS team will offer VBS at Christ Episcopal Church May 30 thru June 3 in the Parish House.  This is the 4th consecutive year the team has made this offering to the St. Joseph area.  We greatly appreciate their time given to the children of our community.
Father Riley's homily for May 29, 2016

2 PENTECOST - C- 16,  PROPER IV   LUKE 7:1-10




Today’s gospel is one of those rare ones, in which Jesus heals without any direct contact with the one who is in need of healing. It is also another example of intercession and how powerful that can be. The Centurion in the story intercedes on behalf of one of his servants and because of his faith his servant is healed. And it is a story that deals with the question of “credentials” or to put it another way, “worthiness.”
Jesus is in the region of Galilee in the city of Capernaum. You have heard me say before how much I was impressed with the ruins there. They extend over one half mile, not the least impressive are the remains of the first century synagogue, where according to St. Mark, Jesus performed his first miracle healing a man possessed with a demon.
Portions of the walls remain, as well as the columns that were at the entrance. The stones are elaborately carved and are quite massive, some weighing up to 5 tons! The appearance of a Roman eagle over the porch suggest that a Roman was the builder. Obviously it was magnificent to behold in its day.
Luke tells us that while Jesus is in Capernaum, some of the Jewish elders approach him on behalf of a certain Centurion, a Roman soldier, who it appears has a highly valued servant that is ill and close to death. The Centurion is a God-fearer sympathetic to the Jewish religion and according to the elders that approached Jesus on his behalf, he was the one who built their synagogue.
The elders commend the Centurion to Jesus, as Solomon commends the foreigner to God who comes to pray towards God’s house in today’s first lesson. The elders in today’s gospel deem this Roman, this foreigner, worthy of Christ’s intervention. We would say that his credentials are in order.
Jesus, then, agrees to accompany them to the Centurion’s house. The procession had almost arrived when friends of the soldier stopped them to deliver a message from him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…but speak the word only and my servant will be healed.”
The soldier did not even see himself worthy to come to Jesus, to stand before him face to face, much less have Jesus come to him, or to enter his house. Instead, the Centurion manifests his faith in Jesus’ authority to heal, even at a distance.
Jesus is impressed with his faith. He turns to the elders who are with him and surprises them by saying that not even in Israel has he found such faith. Where the Centurion got his faith we do not know. If he had lived in Capernaum for a while undoubtedly he had heard of Jesus, perhaps he had even witnessed Jesus’ healing power.
He is a man of authority, authority under Herod is absolute and he recognizes in Jesus a likewise authority under God. Christ does not have to come to his house to restore his servant’s health, all he has to do is say the word. No wonder Jesus was impressed.
The heart of the story is not the healing of the servant, that is important, for without it the story would not exist, but it is just the framework. What matters is the Centurion’s faith. Jesus is surprised at his faith. His faith is not abstract belief about God, or the learning of dogmas. It is a simple, clear belief in Jesus’ divine authority that when he commands that something be done, it will be.
One of the most human fears is rejection. It is a fear that runs from top to bottom in society. The rich and famous, even the poor have a fear of being rejected, or should we say, found unworthy of their position or title. They fear that one day the truth would be known, that they had somehow “made it” under false pretenses and that they really lacked the proper credentials. Their fear of rejection comes with their fear of being unmasked.
Likewise too many people feel as though they lack the credentials necessary to approach God and thus they ask others to intercede for them. Some feel they are simply unworthy to ask God for anything, or because of their feelings of guilt or sinfulness, or what ever, they don’t expect God to do anything for them. They don’t deserve it, they say. What are the “credentials” for worthiness?
Others feel that they are not on the same plain with most Christians in terms of their faith and thus do not ask of God or are afraid to approach him, or simply say that they do not know how. Such feelings are one reason many Christians stay away from church. They feel that their “credentials” are lacking, and without the proper “credentials” there will be no blessing. Who is worthy of God’s grace?
It is not that they view the rest of us as some kind of super Christian because we go to church every Sunday, but that they view us as somehow standing closer to God, and because of their lack of trust and faith in God they see themselves as simply unworthy to be in our company. How sad is that?
We have the “credentials” they say to themselves to come before God, to be in this place; to pray and praise and to receive God’s grace through the hearing of His Holy Word and by the partaking of the Blessed Sacrament and they do not.
Their faith, hope and trust in God is not strong enough. If they only knew that those of us who come to worship in this Holy Space week in and week out know that we do not possess the proper “credentials” either, and that it is precisely why we are here.
It was and is the Love of God manifested in the sacrifice of His only Son Jesus on the cross, and our response to that Love that opens the way for each of us to approach Him. We are spiritual weaklings, whether we realize it or not and God knows it. Our approach to God’s altar, comes by putting our trust in His Grace and Love, not in any sense of our own “worthiness.”
It was precisely the Centurion’s sense of unworthiness before Christ, his vulnerability in the face of Jesus’ power, his openness to what he needed but knew that he did not deserve, his reaching out to what can only be called grace, that Jesus calls Faith - that was the one and only credential necessary to draw near to God - and so it is for each of us.
The centurion’s cry, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…but speak the word only,” to which we add, “so that my soul shall be healed,” is the cry made by every honest person before God.
It is a cry that God will never reject, but will always respond to through the intercessions of His Beloved Son, Jesus, who by His sacrifice on the cross “has delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before Him.” AMEN+

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Morning Prayer Sunday 10am -- VBS starting soon....

Morning Prayer this Sunday at 10am.  Father Riley will be with us May 29th at 10am for Holy Communion service.

Vacation Bible School will be conducted in our Parish House again this year for the 4th year in a row by the stellar team from St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Lafayette.  VBS runs from May 30 thru June 3rd.  The St. Barnabas VBS team will also join us 10am  Sunday, May 29th in church.  Please come and join us as we welcome the St. Barnabas VBS team.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from May 8, 2016

[Father Riley's classes have concluded for the time being. 
Morning Prayer this Sunday at 10am.]

EASTER VII - C -                 JOHN 17: 20-26

“O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us…” thus we prayed in today’s collect on this Sunday after the Ascension of Christ into heaven.

Unfortunately the feast of the Ascension itself falls during the week and is poorly attended and thus often overlooked. Yet it is one of the major feasts of the church and ranks in importance alongside Christ’ death and resurrection as we are reminded each week in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

According to tradition the ascension occurred forty days after Easter and completed the glorification of Christ. At the Incarnation Christ brought his divine nature to earth. In the mystery of the Ascension, Christ brings our human nature to the divine kingdom. The ascension is the last of our Lord’s earthly appearances and is described at length by St. Luke in Acts 1. 6-11. According to St. Luke Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of the disciple’s sight.

Jesus moved from earth where his presence was a matter of fact to a cloud where his presence with us is a matter of faith. A cloud is a biblical symbol of the presence of God who can be seen only by faith. Thus the ascension is not about Jesus being taken away from us, but Jesus being given to us for all times and in all places as a matter of faith.

The ascension completed Christ’s earthly ministry bringing the Incarnation full circle. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven where he reigns in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit and intercedes on our behalf until he comes again in power and great glory to judge.

Today’s gospel is a portion of the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus that focuses on Christ’ future disciples. It was Jesus’ hope, his desire, that those whom the Father had given him would one day be with him in glory, and that we, who continue the mission he began, would be one, as He is one with the Father.

Love is the unifying factor, it permeates Christ’ prayer: “so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them,” and  “… so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me,” Jesus prayed.

The unity Jesus prayed for is centered on relationship - our relationship to God and through Christ, our relationship with one another as his followers. The essential aspect of relationships is thinking, hoping, dreaming, wishing and praying for and about the future. That is exactly the essence of Jesus’ prayer - the future of the mission which he began.

Today’s prayer is part of the farewell discourses of Jesus, his final words to his disciples before the crucifixion. It is a prayer addressed to the Father, but said loud enough so that his disciples can hear it. It is about them and the future of the church’ mission Christ is entrusting to them.

This prayer is an especially appropriate one for us to hear this day. The 7th Sunday of Easter finds us waiting between the feast of the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is a time for us, as it was for the disciples, to wonder about the future. We know that the mission of the church, to make disciples of all nations, has not yet been fulfilled, and that, sadly, the church is not one in spirit as Jesus prayed and hoped for. Thus there is still much work to be done on both accounts.

Today’s gospel reminds us of Jesus’ hope for the mission of the church. He continues to pray that through us the world may come to see and know the love the Father has for each of us and for the world which he has made. That is the desire and the confidence that Jesus had for the future of his first followers; a desire and confidence he made known to them in uttering his prayer. It is the hope yet held out for our future.

The Eucharist, as the “memorial of our redemption,” recalls Christ’ death, resurrection and ascension. The Eucharist reminds us of God’s love that sent his only Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it; God’s sacrificial love manifested on the cross; God’s everlasting love that binds us together in one community and fellowship.  In the Eucharistic prayer we ask that we be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him, as we receive His Body and Blood. These words echo the prayer of Jesus in John’s gospel.

It is here at God’s altar, we come to experience the presence of God. It is here we come to remember Christ’ death, resurrection and ascension. It is here that we come to be filled with the indwelling love of Christ. It is here that we are feed and strengthened with that love to be sent into the world to face the future having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

In any relationship, it is natural to have hopes and dreams for the future for those we love. Even though Jesus vanished from the sight of the disciples, the love of the risen Lord did not disappear. It is among us and with us each time we come together to break the bread and share the cup. In it we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus and claim the hope that one day “we will be exalted to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before.”

In the sacrament of his Body and Blood we are assured that Jesus dwells in us, and that if we dwell in him, others will come to know and to have faith in that love. Love is the unifying agent; faith is its expression. The hopes and dreams of Jesus for us and the future of His Bride, the Church, will be fulfilled, if we continue to share the love the Father has given to the Son, to a world, which for the most part, has yet to know him.

There is no need, then, to wonder about the future, ours or the Church. For our future rests in Him who died and rose again, and who now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf until He comes again in great power and glory to judge the world. Even so, Come Lord Jesus. AMEN+

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from May 1, 2016

[Father Riley's Episcopal class continues Mother's Day, May 8th at 9am in the Parish Hall.]

EASTER VI - C - 16                                  JOHN 5. 1-9

 I consider myself fortunate to have been able to travel to the Holy Land on two separate occasions, the most recent being with a group from Grace Church in Monroe some six years ago. My first visit, however, was as a participant in the Gafcon Conference in 2007 with Bishops and Priests from around the Anglican Communion.
One afternoon, we were allowed into a portion of the Temple mount normally closed to the public. We gathered on the steps leading up to the Temple site to pray Evening Prayer. Amazingly the steps are still there on the East side facing the Mount of Olives.
It was both a humbling and emotional experience for me to sit there and contemplate Jesus having walked up those very steps on more than one occasion as he entered the Temple, first at the age of twelve, and then on his last visit to the Holy City when he entered the Temple courtyard  and overturned the tables of the money changers.
The old city is surrounded by gates, some that go back to the time of Jesus and some that were later additions being the result of successive siege and occupation. According to tradition the Sheep Gate was some 100 yards North of the Temple. The pool located there, which modern archeology has discovered, was fed by an under-ground spring. If you go there today you can see it for yourself.
The story goes, that on occasion the waters would bubble up. A disturbance caused by an angel, some believed. When this occurred, the first one to enter the water would be healed. It is worth noting that the waters from this pool were also used to wash the sacrificial lambs before they were led to the Temple courtyard to be slain.
Because of its supposed curative powers many invalids, blind, lame and paralyzed came day in and day out hoping to be healed and believing that they could. According to John, Jesus passed by the pool of Bethesda on his way to the Temple. It was the Sabbath Day. Seeing one who had been there for a long time he asked “do you want to be made well?” Obviously the man in today’s story was unable on his own power to be the first to enter the water at the appropriate time. But he believed that if somehow he could, he would be healed.
Jesus’ question “do you want to be made well?” may seem irrelevant. But is it? The Son of God has insight into the suffering of man and its causes and stands ready to heal all those who obey him. This third “sign” in John’s gospel exemplifies the divine power to restore a person to wholeness.
His question to the paralytic is relevant, then, on more than one account. First it makes public the fact that the sick man kept his faith, even in a situation that was seemingly hopeless; for how could a paralytic ever be the first into the water? Secondly, the Lord draws attention away from the water and toward the need we all have for help from God; a need that is fulfilled in Christ.
Finally, and this is important, not everyone who is ill actually desires to be healed. Sadly, some prefer to remain infirm in order to have license to complain, to avoid responsibility for their lives, or to continue to excite pity from others.
It appears that the man Jesus healed had made a way of life out of his long wait for healing. To put it another way, Jesus’ question to him was perhaps quite pointed “ do you really want to get better, or are you now quite happy to eke out your days lounging around here with the excuse that someone else always gets in first?”
Today’s story is about the healing of a cripple, but it could be about spiritual healing, or getting one up and out of a way of life that in itself has “crippled” the individual. There are those out there who have developed a “crutch,” a reason, why they are the way they are and live the way they do, in essence “crippling” themselves. It is always someone else’s fault.
They are simply products of their environments others like to say. They didn’t do anything and can do nothing to change their fortunes. And sadly, many are quite happy being what they are and being in the state they are in.
However, there is always more than one way out of their present condition be it education, medical care, or God. But they choose not to take advantage of the opportunities that would better their life or renew their faith. Instead they prefer to live on their excuses. Unfortunately we all know or have known people like this.
The difference between people like that and the man in today’s story is faith. He may not have been able to get himself into the water, but he still believed that if he could, he would be made well. Jesus, then, does what the pool stands for. All it takes is a word.
“Stand up, take up your mat and walk,” and the cripple was no more - through faith and obedience he had become a new creation. Now he was launched on a much harder, but more satisfying way of life - in essence, he was “resurrected.”
We are still in the Easter season and are reminded of that fact as we listen to the gospel stories, like the one today. Easter is about resurrection. But we often overlook the daily resurrections that take place in individual’s lives that are not as dramatic as the man in today’s story, or the relative longed prayed for that suddenly one day turns his or her life around and becomes a new creation. It could be a renewal of Faith for one who had turned away from God, or the gift of Hope where despair had heretofore reigned, or an expression of Love from one who had always seemed incapable of the giving of oneself.
Resurrection is God’s Easter gift through the merits and death of His Son, Jesus Christ, to all who are willing to obey Him; a life-changing  gift that launches us on a new way of being and doing based on our knowledge of our need of God, and our seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of that need. God will heal all the broken places in our lives, if we will let Him.
God will take away all of our “crutches,” remove all our excuses, and replace them with His grace and Love. We only have to believe that He can and respond out of obedience to His Love. All it takes is a word: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” AMEN+