Monday, June 27, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from June 26, 2016

6 PENTECOST, PROPER 8 - C - 16                               LUKE 9. 51-62

In last week’s gospel “the man of tombs,” after having been exorcised of his “legion” of demons, begs to follow Jesus. But Jesus says “no.” Instead he sends the man on a mission to go and tell all who would listen what God had done for him.
This week’s gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. The disciples are traveling with him from Galilee to Judea. They come to a Samaritan village. Jews and Samaritans have a long-standing enmity. Here Jesus is rejected because he intends to go beyond them to the Holy City.
James and John take it upon themselves to step into the role of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who at one time called down fire from heaven to consume the enemies of God(2 Kgs.1. 9-10). They do so in order to defend Jesus. But Christ rejects their plan. They have the wrong spirit. He has come not to destroy but to save.
Thus they pass through this village to the next. And here is where it gets interesting. An individual runs up to Jesus and volunteers to follow him wherever he goes. But Jesus tells him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Obviously that was enough to dissuade him, and yet Christ turns to another in the same village and invites him to join him, but he has a funeral to attend first. “Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus tells him.
To him, as to the man of the tombs, Jesus gives a mission, “but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Finally there is a third man, who like the first, volunteers to follow Jesus, but like the second man does so with a condition, he has to say good bye to his family before he can go. And like the first, Christ dissuades him. “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
What is the message here for us today? That is what we always want to know when we hear these stories, isn’t it? We are no different from the ones who heard it first hand from our Lord’s own mouth. We want to know what it has to do with us? It has to do with discipleship. Perhaps if we take another look at today’s first lesson we can learn the essence of the gospel lesson.
God has given the prophet Elijah a three-fold mission: to anoint Hazael king over Aram, Jehu king over Israel, and Elisah as prophet to take his place. And so he sets out and finds Elisah, a farmer, who was busy plowing. Elijah casts his mantle over him, symbolizing his anointing. Elisah recognizes what has just taken place and pauses his plowing long enough to run after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”
Elijah says, “Alright if you recognize the intent of what I have just done.” To symbolize his turning from his old way of life and his acceptance of his call to follow the prophet, Elisah, kills the oxen and burns the plow and becomes his servant. Where does the difference lie?
The two volunteers in today’s gospel laid out their conditions before they could follow Jesus but Christ rejects their conditions as he rejected James and John’s plan. It appears that neither of these two ended up following Jesus, nor the third for that matter whom Christ sent on a mission. How, then, was Elisah any different?
First, God chose him and anointed him through his prophet Elijah, to take Elijah’s place. His request to say goodbye to his family was granted, because God knew what was in his heart, and once accomplished, Elisah, the farmer, became Elisah, the servant of the prophet. His intention to accept God’s call was made abundantly clear in the destruction of the things that would have held him to his past. There was no looking back and no turning back.
In the gospel Jesus seems to be shifting out the would-be disciples he encounters on his way to Jerusalem. Many followed him, but few were chosen. Eventually there would be 70 others who would join the 12.
As Christians our initial response to God’s call came for each of us at baptism and again later at confirmation. But sadly many today who follow Jesus do so conditionally. The further some get away from the font and the laying on of hands, a morphing seems to take place, many simply become “conditional” Christians.
“I would do this for the Church,” they say, “but I just can‘t seem to find the time.” “I would like to be a priest, but I have a family to support.” “I would pledge more to the work and mission of the Church, but I need the money for other things.” And the list goes on. The pews are filled with “conditional” Christians.
Christ places no conditions on our discipleship and neither should we. God’s call is continuous. His Love unconditional. The Cross is the proof. Sometimes I think we forget that. As long as we are on this earth our work as His followers/disciples is never done. We can’t be part-time disciples. Either we are or we are not. It’s all or nothing.
The example to follow in the lessons for today, then, is that of Elisah, who recognized God’s call to him and turned from his former life/ways and never looked back, accepting the new life to which he had been called. To be a disciple is to be Obedient to God’s call to us, whatever form that might take.

We are not all called to be priests. We are not all called to be prophets. We are all called to be Faithful servants of Him who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Those who belong to Christ, who truly follow Him, do so unconditionally, and are led by the Spirit. To be led by the Spirit is to live by the Spirit, as St. Paul says, and the proof is in the fruit we produce that begins with Love. AMEN+

Sunday, June 26, 2016

"Speaking of Faith" by The Rev. Carol Mead

Speaking of Faith…..

As Episcopalians, we love our church: our liturgy, our Prayer Book, our churches, our view that intellect can be used in service of our faith rather than being in conflict with faith.  We love our tradition.  Sometimes, though, our love of church can lead us to disparage other traditions.  We may look down our noses at denominations whose worship and traditions do not resemble ours.  Distressingly often, I hear people (myself included!) make fun of or criticize other Christian traditions.
What effect does it have on Christianity in general if one denomination or sect looks down on or criticizes another?  “Outsiders”—people who have no grounding in church tradition—may resist even considering the Christian way because we will not show unity with other Christians.  I’ve even heard people say, “The Christians can’t even get along with each other.”  If we speak of a faith tradition which emphasizes loving others, while simultaneously bashing others within that tradition, can we retain any credibility with others?
We have to practice being inclusive not only in the social and ethnic sense, but in the Christian denominational sense.  Other Christians—whether they are Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, or any other denomination—are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Perhaps it will help us widen our circle of “acceptable” Christians if we remember the words with which we begin our baptismal service.  There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all.  I assume that when we speak of “one,” we are not to exclude persons who do not worship, pray, or study in the same ways we do. 
The odd part of this discussion is that many Episcopalians are much more accepting of widely divergent religious traditions—like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—than we are of other Christian traditions.  I don’t want to be too hard on myself or on anyone else with regard to our ways of speaking of other Christian denominations.  But don’t we go right to the heart of Jesus’ teaching and example if we love all persons, even (or especially) other followers of Christ?
While our traditions and ways resonate with us,not every God-seeker will be drawn to or fed by liturgical ways, books of prayer, or the other features of the Episcopal Church.  But if other people are drawn to Christian traditions very unlike ours, aren’t they still being drawn to God?
And if we distinguish too loudly and disparagingly between “us” and “them,” which of us is missing out in the true message of Christ?  Which of us needs to reexamine our commitment to the loving message of the Christian Gospel?Them, or us?

The Rev. Carol Mead
Rector at St. Peter’s by-the-Lake in Brandon.  
You can reach her at


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Presiding Bishop Curry leads service in Vicksburg, MS June 12th

A few communicants of Christ Episcopal Church, St. Joseph, joined hundreds of others from Mississippi and Louisiana (and further?) at the communion service and following reception with The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry Sunday, June 12, 2016.  The Bishop lead a beautiful service as a commemoration of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.  Music was lead by "Theodicy Jazz Collective" and was 'jazzy' throughout the service.  Bishop Curry gave a signature charismatic homily.

Reuben Metcalf was not shy and the Bishop gladly offered a picture moment with Reuben.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Father Riley's homily from June 19, 2016

5 PENTECOST, PROPER VII - C - 16       LUKE 8.26-39

Today’s gospel story is one of my favorites, and one that occurs in both Mark and Matthew with varying detail. It is a story of fear and reaction. It is a story of rescue and salvation. It is the only story in the gospels where Jesus gives permission to demons to destroy personal property! It is the only occasion in the gospels where Jesus is asked to leave, and the only one where he tells the one who begs to follow him - “no.”

On a clear day one can stand on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee and look Eastward across the sea to the Golan Heights. During the time of Jesus the land of the Gerasenes would have been to the South and East across the sea from where Jesus had heretofore exercised his ministry. In Galilee he healed the Centurion’s servant, raised the widow’s son, and prior to crossing the lake, in today’s story, had stilled the storm and calmed the sea that both frightened and threatened the lives of the disciples.

He now ventures across the waters into heretofore un-chartered territory. The land of the Gerasenes held a mixed population of Gentiles and Jews, mostly Gentiles. The greeting Jesus receives upon landing on the other side is not from the local leaders, but from the man of the tombs, so-called because he lived among the dead.

This poor fellow was demonically possessed, literally out of his mind. He went around naked, and thoroughly terrorized the local population by screaming and yelling at any and all who crossed his path. Everyone was afraid of him. No one dared come near him. Ball and chain could not contain him.

Jesus had barely stepped out of the boat when this unfortunate individual ran at him, fell at his feet, and shouted at the top of his lungs “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

It wasn’t the man shouting at Jesus but the demons who possessed him. They recognize Christ as the Son of God and know that he has the power over them to cast them back into hell from whence they came.

After having commanded them to come out of the man, Jesus asks their name. “Legion,” they respond, for they are many. Knowledge of a demon’s name, it is said, gives power to the one who attempts to exercise them.

As the town’s people are afraid of the man of the tombs, the demons are afraid of Jesus and what he is about to do to them. Demons are very averse to changing their abode and are terrified to be without an abiding place.

They beg Jesus not to send them back to hell but rather into a nearby herd of swine. Though their malice is great, they can do nothing against the will of God. They can only enter the swine with Jesus’ permission and surprisingly, he gives it.

What a scene that must have been? Mark records two thousand swine rushing over the cliff and drowning in the sea below. The swine herders are besides themselves and run away only to tell everyone they meet what had happened. Meantime the man of the tombs has been rescued, salvation has come to him through Christ’s divine intervention.

When the town’s people arrive to see for themselves if what the swine herders told them was true, they find the man of the tombs clothed and in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus. And they were afraid; afraid no longer of the one who had so long terrified them, but afraid of Jesus and what he might do next. So they ask him to leave; to go back where he came from.Jesus complies with their request and begins to step into the boat for his mission was not primarily to them in the first place. It was none to soon for the disciples, I am sure. With all of the drama that has gone on before, however, the real point of the story is sometimes missed.

The man Jesus has just rescued now begs Christ that he might go with him, but Jesus says “no.“ Instead, Jesus sends him back to where he came from with a purpose; to tell those who will listen what God has done for him.

Was the man of the tombs a Jew or a Gentile? We don’t know. But the story shows that the power of God is effective beyond the Palestinian orbit, beyond his own people, and that no one, however sinful or depraved, is beyond the pale of Christ’ grace.

God in Christ had rescued him from a life as good as dead and restored him to life anew. No doubt he must have been a bit afraid to return to his own country not knowing whether or not he would be accepted. He would now have to stand up and take responsibility for himself. Having experienced the good news in action, he must now tell it himself.

Each of us has, at one time or another, experienced the good news in action. It may have come at an early age, or at mid-life, or in recent days. It came as a turning point in our lives; for none of us would be here today if we had not been rescued by God in Christ from a life of sin and death and given life anew. Salvation has come to each of us by no merits of our own, but through the divine intervention of Jesus, the Son of the Most High God.

Like the man of the tombs, Jesus bids each of us to go and tell our story whenever and to whomever the opportunity arises. And to live the new life to which we have been called. To be a Christian is to assume a great responsibility, not only do we have our story to tell, but we have His.

May God who has given us this new life, give us the grace to live it to the fullest, and a steadfast faith to go and declare how much He has done for us through the merits of His Only Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN+


Monday, June 6, 2016

Father Riley's homily from June 5, 2016

[Morning Prayer is planned for 10am, Sunday, June 12, at Christ Episcopal.  Some of us will be attending the service in Vicksburg lead by Presiding Bishop Curry on that Sunday.  Join us for either service.]

3 PENTECOST - PROPER V - C - 16              LUKE 7: 11-17


“I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”  Each week we conclude the Nicene Creed with this climatic statement of our faith, but I wonder do we really believe it?
It may surprise you to know that there are professed Christians out there who readily admit that they do not. I vividly recall one such person, who was actually a member of my vestry at the time. She shared that shocking news with me as she greeted me while exiting the church one Easter morning! I’ve never forgotten it.
Sometime later I had the opportunity to ask her privately how she could stand week after week in worship and recite the Creed if she truly did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. She remarked, “Oh, well, I just remain silent at that point.” At least she was honest.
I am certain that most of those who heard Jesus speak of resurrection did not believe him. Even his closest friends, his disciples, and his own family did not believe. The story of that first Easter morning as recorded in all four of the Gospels reveals this fact. Yet Jesus did rise from the dead, as he said he would.
And it was the story of the resurrection, that is, the Easter story, that the Apostles took to the known world that in turn moved people to believe in Jesus as the Son of the Living God even though they had not witnessed that great event with their own eyes. Today’s readings mirror Easter. They all have to do with the power of God to bring life out of death.
In today’s first lesson God uses his servant, the prophet Elijah, to restore the life of a widow’s dead son. Her son restored to life, the widow responds, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
The apostle Paul, once literally the angel of death amid the early church, as he so admits in today’s Epistle, now preaches the gospel he once tried to destroy. On account of this astonishing news, the churches in Judea glorify God.
The gospel lesson for today is centered on a funeral. Funeral processions are all to common. They were in the time of Jesus and they are today. I can’t tell you how many I have been a part of. In small villages like Nain, the whole village would turn out. In the case of a widow’s only son having died, the tragedy was all the more devastating.
Today’s gospel is one of the three resurrections performed by Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Jesus raises the only son of a widow at Nain. According to Luke as Jesus enters the village he meets the funeral procession as it heading out of the gate of the village towards the cemetery.
He sees the mourners and the mother weeping and he has compassion on her. He is not following along behind the casket like all the rest, but meets death head on. He stops the procession and then does the unthinkable, he touches the casket rendering himself ritually unclean.
If that were not enough, He sends shock waves throughout the crowd of mourners when he says to the them and to the mother “Do not weep,“ and then to the dead, “Young man, I say to you arise.“ The dead man rose and began to speak and he gave him to his mother. “Fear seized them all,“ Luke reports, and “they glorified God saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us,” and “ God has visited his people.”
The phrase “God has visited his people,” was used in the old biblical sense to refer to God “visiting” Israel at the time of the Exodus and other great events. It means “God has come among us, to save and rescue us,” which is the very essence of Jesus’ ministry.
In last week’s gospel Jesus did not see nor did he touch the one who was healed, nor did he speak any words of healing. Today he touches the casket containing the dead body of the widow’s son and speaks the words of life showing that only the Son of God has power over both the living and the dead.
How many believed in resurrection before that event? How many could go away not believing after it?
The gospel is spoken today in the midst of death. And it is in the context of death that the gospel exercises its greatest power. In this context the gospel bears Easter power. It comes to people who have no hope, to people alone in their grief. It comes as a shock, a work that runs against the grain.
Christ’s words and action elicit a range of emotions from fear to praise. But something that is often over looked here is that His words and actions at Nain prefigure his own resurrection. His mother, a widow, will weep at the foot of the cross, at the death of her only son, but her tears, like the widow in today’s story, will turn to joy at His resurrection.
Christ’s words, “Do not weep. Young man, I say to you arise,” fly in the face of all we know and understand about life and death. Yet they are bursting with Easter promise. But no less so than his words spoken to his disciples in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed, “This is my body given for you. This cup is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you. Do this, in remembrance of me.”
In the Eucharist we taste a bit of Easter under the forms of bread and wine. These are elements common to us, yet redeemed by the crucified and risen Christ. In the Eucharist, God “visits” us and beckons us towards the great and promised feast of which the Eucharist is but a foretaste. In this feast, like the widow’s son, we are restored to the Glory of God.
And because we know that we have been restored, and forgiven through the merits of the crucified and risen Christ, we can stand in faith and not in silence and boldly proclaim, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” and believe it. Amen.