Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Forward Day by Day Meditation for August 31, 2016

WEDNESDAY, August 31

Psalm 38:21-22 O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Make haste to help me, O Lord of my salvation.
A priest at our parish was fond of saying that if you do not feel as close to God as you once felt, make no mistake about who has moved. Writing these thoughts and sharing them with you this month has brought me closer to my Lord and Savior.
Thank you for journeying with me. I leave you with my favorite blessing from Swiss poet and philosopher Henri-Frederic Amiel (1821-1881): “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be quick to love and make haste to be kind. And may the blessing of the One who made us, the One who loves us, and the One who travels with us, be with you and those you love this day and always.” Amen.

Today the Church remembers Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, 651.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from August 28, 2016

15 PENTECOST, PROPER XVII - C- 16              LUKE 14. 1, 7-14


 Of all the gospels, it is Luke who gives us more meal-time scenes. Jesus eats with his friends. Jesus eats with tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus eats with Pharisees and scribes.
In today’s gospel he has been invited to dinner at a leader of the Pharisees seemingly as the honored guest. It is the Sabbath. The motive, however, in inviting him was not to honor him but to try and trap him into saying or doing something the religious leaders could use against him at a later date. Thus Luke says, they watched him closely.
Our gospel reading begins with the first verse of the fourteenth chapter which sets the scene for us, then skips to the seventh verse where Jesus delivers two parables; one that deals with humility and the other charity. What is missing in between is the healing that Jesus performs on the Sabbath at the very beginning of the dinner party. It follows his question to the scribes and Pharisees who were present whether or not it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. However, they remained silent.
Following the healing, Jesus presents two teachings. The first is a lesson on humility. On the surface it would appear to be simply a lesson on social advice or practical wisdom. If you want to avoid embarrassment in front of your fellow guests, then, don’t automatically sit down in the place of honor. You just might be asked to move.
I almost had this happen to me once at a wedding reception. Over the years, I have been seated at the head table on more than one occasion in order to offer a prayer before the meal and a blessing afterwards. In this one case I automatically went to the head table and began looking for my seat. Name plates were in place. But I did not find mine.
Then, the mother of the bride came up to me and quietly informed me that my place was at a different table. Somewhat being embarrassed, I smiled and quickly retreated to my assigned seat. It happens. Needless to say I was humbled by it and afterwards never made the mistake of assuming where I was to be seated but instead would always ask the host first.
But Jesus did not come to offer good advice. His message was pointed towards those people in his day that were jockeying for position in the eyes of God, namely the scribes and Pharisees. They were eager to push themselves forward, to show how well they were keeping the law, to maintain their own purity.
The parable, then, is not so much about giving good advice for social occasions, but is found in the warning against pushing oneself forward in the sight of God. Not much has changed today. There are those who are eager to maintain their own place at the head table. They are so focused on that one thing they are incapable of grasping God’s great design of inviting all.
It has to do primarily with pride. Pride is the number one deadly sin because, among other things, like a dark cloud, it blots out God’s generosity. The enemy uses it to convince us that we deserve God’s grace, love and mercy, and that, at least in our eyes, there are others out there who do not deserve it. In the worst case scenario the enemy convinces us that we don’t need it at all.
Jesus, however, spent his entire earthly ministry trying to break through that cloud and bring God’s love to all. Christ’ parable dismisses the so-called honors and status of the world and calls everyone to the same meal, into the same place, into the presence of God, into the kingdom of God. In Christ the playing field is leveled. In the eyes of God each of us is of much worth.
Jesus concludes today’s reading with a second lesson; one of charity.
The object being “to give” and not “to get.” Sadly there is today not a little so-called charitable work the motive of which is at the very least mixed, and it get its reward, but not from God.
The charity Christ speaks of, is not meant to be rewarded in this life, but in the life to come. “To do good, and to distribute, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. Xiii.16)
In Christ, all Christians are called to depend on God’s love, and with the same generosity share it with those in need. We do so without regard to earthly rewards. God will see to all of that in His own time.
The motive again, is “to give,” and not “to get.” The lesson from Hebrews reminds us that the community of faith, the Church, is in the hospitality business. Charity is a virtue that reflects the Love of God. As God has invited us, so we are to invite others in His name.
In Christ we are all called to the same table, the altar of God. Here we kneel, rich and poor alike, young and old together, humbled by God’s presence. There are no distinctions. All share the same sacramental food, the Body of Christ. All drink from the same cup, the Blood of Christ. We kneel in all humility and stretch out our hands through the veil that separates heaven from earth, to receive the Bread of Life and to drink of the Cup of Salvation.
Because of Him who died and rose again we come to God’s altar in confidence to partake of the heavenly food. Our confidence in receiving these holy gifts is not our human pride in our own worthiness. It is, rather, the confident humility of the faithful. For we know that the Eucharist is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we hope, by God’s grace, to one day enjoy with all the saints in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
We are the Body of Christ here on earth, whose hands and hearts are strengthened through the grace of the sacrament to reach out in deeds of love and mercy. And our confident humility draws us into the promise that through Christ we will know God and His Love, and that through us, the world will know Him and the Love He has for all. Therefore let us keep the feast. AMEN+






Thursday, August 25, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from August 21, 2016

14 PENTECOST, PROPER XVI - C- 16     LUKE 13.10-17


There is a line from Hemingway’s “A Farewell To Arms” that I have often used when speaking to individuals or families that were undergoing a traumatic experience. “ Life breaks all of us, but some get strong at the broken places.”
Many times in life we suffer from poor decisions we have made, and when we do we have to learn to live with the consequences. There are those things, however, that happen to us that are due to no fault of our own. In the case of misfortune we call it bad luck, or simply an accident. In the case of a physical infirmity or disease we say it is hereditary, its in the genes, and we write it off to family history.
In the time of Jesus, the world believed that one like the woman in today’s gospel was bound by Satan by no fault of her own. Throughout the gospels the work of Satan stands in conflict with God’s work of Salvation. Thus God loved the world so much that He sent His Only Son Jesus to bring Salvation, freedom, and redemption to all who would accept Him as the One sent by God.
In today’s gospel Jesus is teaching in one of the local synagogues on the Sabbath and notices the woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. Obviously she was well known by the locals and someone told him of her lengthy plight. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. Jesus immediately had compassion on her.
He calls her over, and notice that he pronounces her free of her ailment even before he laid his hands on her. When he does touch her she immediately stood up straight and began praising God. The word of God and the touch of God healed her in the sight of all.
The synagogue leader, however, was not impressed, as a matter of fact, he was indignant, Luke reports, and tried to bring Jesus down in the eyes of the crowd because he had healed on the Sabbath. Citing the Law of Moses, (Deut 5.14) which strictly prohibited “work” on the Sabbath, he chided Jesus for what he had done.
What if Jesus had simply walked away and not responded as he did? How would the crowd have reacted then? Would they have seen Jesus as being in the wrong for having healed the woman? I wonder?
In first century Palestine the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees defined “work” to include healing. Thus the synagogue leader condemned Jesus for healing the woman on the Sabbath. But it was Jesus’ response that shed a poor light on the one who condemned him and in turn brought rejoicing from the crowd “for all the wonderful things he was doing.”
“Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”
Jesus’ actions speak to the fact that what better time than the Sabbath to be doing the work of God, declaring the message of repentance, and offering God’s Salvation. What Jesus did for the woman in the synagogue he longs to do for Israel and for us.
But God’s people, for the most part, do not get it. Again and again he runs into resistance of one kind or another that blocks God’s saving action. In this case, it is a strict adherence to the law, or at least, their interpretation of it that attempts to prevent God’s grace.
How do we block God’s grace? Let me count the ways. Last week’s gospel was an example of their’s and our misinterpreting the kingdom message. Many times our expectations of God are skewed. We pray, for example, for guidance, and say that we never hear from God, when many a time we have already decided what we are going to do in that situation before we pray and are merely looking for confirmation.
We block God’s grace when we refuse to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit. And that non-cooperation takes many forms, not the least of which is the quenching of the Spirit by placing self and self interests before all else, including our duty towards God. Religious legalism, like that shown in today’s gospel, blocks God’s grace as well. Unfortunately first century Judaism does not have a lock on that.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day believed that they served God by zealously keeping these peripheral traditions, but their legalism made them insensitive to God’s mercy. As far as the synagogue leader was concerned, the woman could have waited until the next day to be healed.
But thankfully, God’s grace doesn’t wait! God’s love never ends. God’s forgiveness is always there for the asking. Salvation has come to all through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. Humanity is “lifted up” by faith in Christ, who fulfills both law and grace.
It is not God’s desire that any of us be bound up by life. Yet we bind ourselves and we bind others by our words and actions; by things done and left undone. But if we “remove the yoke from among us,” as the prophet Isaiah says, in today’s first lesson, by turning from evil, from pointing fingers and from only thinking of self to meet the needs of others, then the grace of God will flow into our lives enabling us to live the life God intends for us to live; a life of compassion, mercy, love and faith.
The Church should never be in an attitude of mere resignation to human misery and suffering. But always in a mode of active hostility to it. It is our role as Christians; as followers of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, to do the work he has given us to do in cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit. This same Spirit Christ gave as a first gift to all those who believe in Him, to complete His work in the world and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.
To do the work Christ has given us to do in cooperation with the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit will always put the Lord’s adversaries to shame. In turn such “work” will elicit unending praise to the Glory of God from all who truly love Him, and who rejoice in all the wonderful things that He has done and continues to do, not the least of which is His having made us worthy to stand before him.  Amen+



Friday, August 19, 2016

A message from Governor John Bel Edwards, August 19, 2016

[A message from Governor Edwards]

 Once again, we find ourselves coping with the devastating effects of a severe storm and record flooding.

I've spent the last week traveling to the hardest hit areas of our state -- offering assistance, gathering information and making sure that every Louisianan had the assistance they needed. Our work is nowhere near finished.

Now, we're moving into the recovery phase, and it is my commitment to every person in this state who has been impacted by this storm -- we will not forget you. At my request, 20 parishes in our state have received a federal disaster declaration, meaning much-needed assistance is on the way for families across South Louisiana.

Please keep in mind, this event is ongoing. But right now, there are ways you can help.

As this continues to develop we would like to provide the following information:
  • First, there are people across South Louisiana that need assistance. If you're able, please consider making a donation to the Louisiana Flood Relief Fund by clicking here.
  • If you or a loved one has evacuated and needs a place to go, we encourage you to click here and check this list of up-to-date shelter locations.
  • Click here and visit FEMA's Louisiana disaster page to stay up-to-date with the latest information.
  • Click here to find open shelters, contact and locate loved ones, and stay prepared with the Red Cross’ disaster recovery guide.
  • If you've been impacted by this flooding, it is critical that you register with FEMA at This is the first step in getting you the assistance you need as quickly as possible.
  • If you need any additional help, please feel free to contact the Governor’s office at (225) 342-7015
  • You can follow the Governor’s office for continuously updated information on Facebook and Twitter.
Sam, Louisianans are resilient.

We know that in trying times like this, the best thing we can do is to come together and help our neighbors. I've seen this time and again as I've traveled the state in the wake of this flooding.

We will weather this storm together. We will do what Louisianians always do -- come together, look out for our families and our neighbors, and rebuild one day at a time.

Your safety is -- and will always be -- my number one priority. So please Sam, stay safe, stay updated and please continue to pray for our great state in the coming days and weeks.

Thank you and God bless,

Gov. John Bel Edwards

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from August 14, 2016

PENTECOST 13, PROPER XV - C- 16   LUKE 12. 49-56


“Can’t you read?” I sometimes hear myself asking that question out loud when another driver flies past me on the interstate obviously exceeding the posted speed limit. For some people it would seem, speed limits, do not enter, yield and other such signs are mere suggestions! Or else they choose to ignore them all together.
Our world is filled with signs. Signs tell us which way to go, or not to go. Signs tells us how fast we can go. Signs tells us when to stop. Signs communicate all kinds of things. But one has to be able to read and interpret the appropriate signs in order to understand them. Or we can be like some and simply choose to ignore them.
Today’s gospel seems a bit complex at the beginning. Jesus is talking about his coming to bring fire to the earth and he speaks of the baptism he is yet to endure. The fire he is bringing is the Word of God, echoing the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first lesson.
Fire is the proclamation of the gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It both enlivens the faithful and judges the faithless. The fire is God’s Truth, and the baptism Jesus is yet to endure is the crucifixion.
But God’s people just don’t seem to understand his kingdom message. They mis-interpret his message or else they ignore it altogether. How frustrating and disappointing that must have been for him knowing what lay ahead for him In Jerusalem.
So in the final few verses Jesus tries to bring it down to a level they will understand. “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘its going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘there will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
What did he mean? What were the signs of the present time? The sign of the present time was simply Jesus’ heralding the coming of the kingdom. He was the “sign” of the present time.
The prophets of old had spoken of kingdom “signs” centuries before Christ. Elijah would come, the prophecy said, before the Promised One. Jesus proclaimed Elijah had come in John Baptist. Some of God’s people responded to John’s message of repentance, as a means of preparing for the coming of Messiah, and confessed their sins and were baptized in the Jordan. Others ignored the “sign.”
John’s ministry of preaching and baptizing was a prelude to that of Jesus. Jesus began his ministry by exercising demons, and went on to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and heal one cripple after another, and even raised the dead all in fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Lord’s anointed.
But such divine actions only caused divisions among God’s people. Some believed, others doubted, and still others, who were in the know and should have recognized the “signs” planned to do away with him because of what he said and what he did.
The response of faith creates division, because not everyone wants to hear the Truth. Even the divisions Jesus spoke of in today’s passage are a fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy (7.6) written some 700 years before Christ. In our fallen world, divisions are necessary for Truth to be manifest.
Yet God’s people were blinded by their own expectations and thus failed to interpret the signs of the kingdom properly. Many thought that the Messiah would usher in a time of peace. But his presence and his words only seemed to inflame the people. The “peace” Jesus came to bring was the “Peace of God” which passes all of our human understanding; a peace that brings joy, and not the peace as we humans define it.
The difference being that human peace is basically a matter of “trade-offs. “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” As long as the arrangement is mutually satisfying hostilities will be avoided. It is a shallow harmony that results from ignoring the Truth.

The “Peace of God,” on the other hand, is basically a matter of Truth, Integrity, and Love. I’ll do this because it is the right and true and loving thing to do, not because of what I will get out of it.” The idea of peace, that is, the “Peace of God,” causes divisions because it means that we chose to avoid “trade-offs.”

Trade-offs seem to be the very stuff of human relations these days; our very identities are built on the trade-off of playing a role in exchange for approval and status. For people to suddenly claim that they can build their identity on another foundation namely, God’s love, shakes the whole system of human relationships to its roots. That is what Jesus did. His kingdom message upset the status quo.

Like Jeremiah before him, he spoke the truth. The fire he brought was the Word of God; a proclamation of the Gospel, and at the same time judgment and purification. The political and religious leaders knew he had to go. The fire Jesus brought threatened to burn up every false foundation upon which they and we try and base our individual and communal identities.

For casting this fire upon us, he was crucified. Neither then nor now can the powers that be permit the status quo to be confronted by the Truth because not everyone wants the truth. Division is a by-product. Yet divisions are also an opportunity to proclaim the truth.

The Church has from early on read this passage as a warning, and not as a suggestion. Each generation must read the “signs of the times,” that is, the great movements of people, governments, nations and policies, and must react accordingly.

If the Kingdom of God is to come on earth as it already is in heaven, part of the prophetic role of the Church is to understand the events of the earth and to seek to address them with the message of heaven. And if, like Jesus, we find that we seem to be bringing division, and that we ourselves become caught up in the crisis, so be it.

We can count ourselves in good company, the company of the Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs who in proclaiming the kingdom message brought “good news” to those who recognized the “signs” and knew how to interpret them and in doing so discovered, much to their joy, the Peace of God. AMEN+



Monday, August 8, 2016

Bishop Jake Owensby joined us at Sunday, August 7th, 2016

The congregation of Christ Episcopal Church enjoyed service and fellowship with Bishop Jake Owensby Sunday.  Bishop Jake presided over our 10am service, broke bread (and much more) with us at a wonderful lunch, and met with our vestry.  Bishop Jake expressed our togetherness in the Episcopal community.  You can follow Bishop Jake on Facebook at:

Bishop Jake's sermon can be read or listened to from his blogspot at:
[Bishop Jake enjoyed lunch hidden from the camera behind the flowers on the table near the windows.  Sorry, the amateur staff photographer couldn't get a better picture.]

Forward: Day by Day for Monday, August 8th

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Today we continue our journey with Jesus through John’s Gospel, encountering some of the most beloved messages of all time. Choose a verse from today’s gospel lesson and really think about it using lectio divina—divine reading—a way of intentionally reading a passage of scripture several times in order to explore the gospel wisdom. In preparing to write this meditation, I chose John 3:3, our framing quote for today.
This is how I practice lectio divina in my own way: I read the passage I’m studying out loud to myself, not for information but for understanding—to hear the words Jesus says spoken out loud. I read it again, slowly, and I ponder its meaning, applying it to my own life. I pray, seeking guidance: What is God saying to me here?
This new insight requires a surrender of the normal way of looking at things. Sometimes it’s more important to have a “viewing point” than a “point of view.” Lectio divina leads me to a different viewing point. I sense God’s redeeming love moving me to a different hilltop altogether.
Today the Church remembers Dominic, Priest and Friar, 1221.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from July 31, 2016

[Bishop Jake Owensby will visit with us Sunday, August 7, 2016.  Bishop Jake will lead the 10am service and join us for lunch in the Whitaker Parish Hall following the service.  Please join us to visit with Bishop Jake.]

11 PENTECOST, PROPER XIII - C - 16      LUKE 12. 13-21

Each of the four gospels has a story or two of Jesus’ healing individuals of demonic possession. In each of these cases the demon or demons had literally dominated the person and was controlling his or her behavior. Jesus has the power in each case to free the individual from their possession, and he does so. Christ frees them to become what God created them to be.

In today’s gospel Christ speaks to a different kind of “possession,” after someone in the crowd asked him to arbitrate a property dispute. Jesus responds with the parable of a foolish rich man. Within the parable he gives us a warning; “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The preacher, as he is sometimes called, in today’s first lesson, speaks of the “vanity” of toiling under the sun only to have what one has amassed in life in terms of one’s wealth and material possessions, fall into the hands of another who may or may not appreciate it.

Paul writes to the Christians at Colossae that “greed” is on the list of what we as followers of Christ are to “put to death,” that is, give up. We are to seek the things that are above, where Christ is. Could this possibly be what Jesus meant at the close of today’s gospel when he said we are to be “rich towards God?”

We are all “collectors” of one thing or another. Likewise we tend to hoard things. I have lived in the same house for more than thirteen years, longer than anywhere else. I must confess that there are boxes in the attic that were placed there when I first moved in that have never been opened.

I honestly cannot tell you what they contain. Whatever is inside I have not needed it in all of these years and obviously can live without it. The “preacher” would say that is “vanity” to hang on to such things.

Not too long ago I read an article that mentioned the fact that one of the fastest growing businesses was the building of these little storage places that seem to be popping up all over. People simply have too much “stuff.” We collect stuff and we hold on to our stuff. For some, possessions equal security for the future. But that kind of thinking is also vanity.

There are a number of things that can “possess” us in this life. Wealth and material things are at the top of the list. We can hold so tightly to these that they literally dominate our life and control our behavior as much as the demons Jesus exercised in the gospels. But demons are not part of the kingdom of God and neither is greed.

The obvious sign of “material possession” is greed. That is, the inordinate pursuit of more, like the man in today’s parable who decided to build a bigger barn to store more stuff in. “Vanity of vanities” the preacher would say. Jesus said he was simply foolish.

To set our minds on earthly things, making worldly success the goal of our life, or the standard by which we judge others, is to set our souls in jeopardy. Covetousness is one of the seven deadly sins. It can spill over into our relationships with others when we use others for personal gain; in the quest for status, power or security at their expense.

In essence we can dominate others, literally “possessing” them and controlling their behavior. We do this by imposing our will on others by force or intimidation, guile or whining, or our refusal to cooperate unless we get our own way. It is all about what we want and when we want it. False pride comes from quick wealth, no matter how we obtain it. Such behavior may bring earthly riches but we will be “poor” towards God.

We are simply diminished when things we possess end up possessing us. Being self-possessed is a condition which results from being seduced by self-centered, self-gratifying, self-serving purposes. To be all about self in terms of gaining more and more in life is to put the acquisition of things in the place of God which is idolatry.

Jesus’ farmer is called foolish not because of his gift of entrepreneurship. He is not called unjust because of his economic decision to replace old barns with larger ones. He is just foolish because he lives in and for himself. He will soon die and he has failed to make the distinction between what one has and what one is.

He is unable to know what is enough until he reaches the point of too much. His inordinate craving to hoard disregards those in need and places goods in the place of God. And he is never thankful for what he has, but is only interested in obtaining more. What does it profit him?

Greed is a sickness that preoccupies our mind, our thoughts, our action and our behavior. It dominates our life. Whatever possesses us, whenever there is a possession by possessions, needs to be exercised as much as any demon.

I admit that it is difficult to “let go” of things that we once placed so much value on, to turn from the life we once lived, where some equate possessions with security for the future. But Jesus says that we must for the kingdom is not like that. Our trust should be in the Providence of God alone and nothing should be in the place of Him.

To be rich towards God, as Jesus suggests, is to be God-possessed, that is, to live life in accordance with the values and priorities of God and His kingdom. Those who choose to follow Jesus and accept the kingdom message do so by emptying themselves of the quest for earthly treasure. Instead we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is…”

He alone has the power to free us from all that keeps us from being what God has created us to be. He alone has the power to strip us of the old self with its practices and clothe us with new life. For Christ is our life, as St. Paul says, and our future is with Him. AMEN+