Monday, September 19, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for September 18, 2016

[News:  In honor of St. Francis Day (Oct. 4),  Father Riley will have a "Blessing of the Animals" service at Christ Episcopal Church, Sunday, Oct 2nd at 3pm.  Dogs should be leashed and cats can be held.  The service will be held in the front yard of the church.]
18 PENTECOST, PROPER XX - C - 16      LUKE 16. 1-13

Of all the passages in Luke, today’s gospel reading is the most confusing and to some even disturbing. The problem comes in discerning what it is Jesus is really saying to his disciples; what it is he is commending to them by using the illustration of what some call the dishonest steward.
The parable is spoken directly to his disciples, that is, the twelve, including Judas who loved money. We don’t know that anyone else was standing close enough to hear it. By telling the parable to the twelve Jesus intimates that some “unfaithfulness” in respect to money was observable in the company, that is, some desire to cling to it, corporately at least.
Jesus tells his disciples the story of a rich man who receives a report that his steward is not looking out for his interests as he should. He calls his steward on the carpet. He is told to open the books and give an accounting and then the bad news, he is fired.
It is bad enough that he got caught, and that he is losing his position as steward, but he cannot bear the idea that he will lose face in the community, and have nothing to look forward to. “I am not strong enough to dig,” he says, “and I am ashamed to beg.” So he devises a plan to keep the relationships going that were acquired while he was steward in hopes that one day he can call on them in time of need.
Stewards were like tax collectors, they worked on commission. The steward in the story was not accused of fraud, but of mismanagement. We don’t know the details of what he did that caused him to be dismissed, but we do know what he did in order to maintain his friends after his dismissal; he cut his commission.
The owner got his due without interest. The debtor paid less, and the steward prepared for his future by obligating those he helped. One day he would call on them for a favor. The steward, we say, was prudent.
To be prudent is to be wisely cautious in practical affairs, careful of one’s own interests, careful in providing for the future. The steward in today’s story fulfilled the definition and then some. Jesus commends the steward’s prudence, and not his dishonesty. Just as the unrighteous are prudent in the affairs of this world, Jesus says, so the righteous must be prudent in regards to the matters of the kingdom of God.
Preparing for the future is part of the lesson to the disciples; a lesson they must learn in order to teach it to others. The steward put others in his debt so that they will be obligated to him. He foresees his future, and provides for it. Where does our future lie?
Too often we go from event to event in life as a way of foreseeing our future and make our preparations accordingly. Preparing for college, for example, then life after college, that is, getting a job. Then for some there is preparing for marriage, then life after marriage.
As parents we prepare for the future of our children, seeing that they get a chance at education and having more opportunities than we did. Finally, through all the above, we prepare for retirement and hope we live long enough to get there and have enough money to live on, if and when we do. Such is life.
What we don’t prepare for is death. None of us likes to think about that. Although it is inevitable, we put it on the back burner, as we like to say. As Christians, however, our chief concern should be our preparation for getting into heaven after death. Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us. We need to be prepared to meet Him when the time comes.
Some people, however, prefer to live in the present moment without regard, it seems, for the future either here on earth or beyond. But to dismiss all thought of the future is foolish. And again, as Christians, concern for the future is a necessary consideration. And this too is the point Jesus is making in the parable of the prudent steward.
We need to understand that the future does not begin at some distant time. It began for all us at baptism where we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’ own forever. We may, from time to time forget who we are in terms of our relationship to Him who died and rose again, but He never forgets that we are His. What we do and say now has an effect on our future for our future is with God.
Our hope for the future is shaped by our today and, God willing, our tomorrow. When we were baptized we were baptized into the future. When we receive the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the future comes to us, as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to which we hope one day to be seated. For us, as Christians the future is now. Therefore, we are called to live as we expect to live when the fullness of the heavenly kingdom is ushered in.
If the first part of today’s gospel lesson is about preparing for our future; the latter part is how we are to go about it as stewards of God. As stewards of God our concern should not be in the accumulation of wealth and possessions but their circulation. Like the steward in the parable, we work on commission, being allowed to use a portion of these goods for ourselves in return for service to the community.
The key to the last part is faithfulness. Money is not a possession it is a trust. God entrusts property to people and expects it to be used to His glory and the welfare of others. Money points beyond itself to the “true riches” that awaits us in the life to come. We can hardly guess what they might be, but there are “true riches” which really belong to us, in a way that money doesn’t, if we learn faithfulness here and now.
Unfaithfulness to the trust committed to us in such small matters, such as money and property, is a sign that we will be equally unfaithful in the higher things. If we misuse what we have been given by God in trust, we show that we are not to be trusted with the higher stewardship of the Mysteries of God. That is what Jesus meant when he said we cannot serve two masters.
Life as ordered by God, depends on giving and taking. It is not selfishness, but humility, that is, our willingness to faithfully use the gifts and talents God has so graciously given us in the service of others. Knowing that one day we will have to give an account of ourselves as God’s stewards. Faithfulness in the use of what has been entrusted to us  paves the way for the future and the inheritance of the “true riches” which really belong to us, and awaits us in the world to come. AMEN+


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Christ Episcopal Church mission...and news

+++ The mission of Christ Episcopal Church is to restore ourselves and all people in our community to unity with God and each other in Christ.
+++ We pursue our mission as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love.
+++ Our mission is carried out through the ministry of all our members.
(Adapted from the BCP page 855)
On Sunday, September 18, we will have some old records of our church’s history on the large table in the Whitaker Parish Hall for everyone to review.  The history of our church’s congregation goes back beyond our 1872 building -- our present beautiful structure.  I encourage everyone to take some time and review these interesting records.  To get started, you may wish to research/Google:  Samuel and Sarah Dorsey.  (Sam Corson, Junior Warden CEC)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Father Riley's homily for September 11, 2016

17 PENTECOST, PROPER XIX - c - 16                          LUKE 15. 1-10

Today’s gospel passage picks up where we left off last week. Luke reported that great crowds were beginning to follow Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and the cross.
The crowds were made up of all sorts and conditions of people from the very rich to the very poor and everything in between. They came from all walks of life from the religious elite to the core of society’s outcasts. But those who had ears to hear Jesus’ invitation to enter the kingdom of God were eager to accept it, and pushed through the crowd to be near him; namely the tax collectors and sinners.
The tax collectors we know. They were Jews employed by the Romans to collect taxes from their own countrymen and profited by it. They were disliked and despised by all. But who were the “sinners?” In the eyes of the Jewish elite they were the irreligious, the non-practicing Jews, and that also included the Gentiles. By pious Jewish standards they were social outcasts.
The pious Jews, who were self-satisfied with their relationship to God and who would have considered themselves defiled by standing next to such people, much less eating with them, dropped back in the crowd making their dissatisfaction known. They grumbled against Jesus’ association with such as these, and especially his eating with them, and Jesus heard them. In contrast to the Pharisees’ grumbling, Jesus responds with two stories filled with joy and rejoicing; that of the lost sheep and lost coin.
Commentaries are filled with interpretations of the 100 sheep. One such early interpretation has the 100 sheep representing all natural creation. The one sheep who goes astray symbolizes mankind, while the 99 represent the angelic realm who rejoice in heaven over the repentance and return of the lost. Christ descended from heaven to pursue the one sheep, man, who had fallen from grace.
The interpretation of the lost coin is similar. The lost coin, which carries the image of the king, symbolizes mankind, who, though bearing the image of God, fell from grace. The message is clear; the joy of God is in the recovery of the lost. The Epistle and the Gospel go hand in hand as St. Paul makes Christ’s mission clear in his confession to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Those who pushed to the head of the crowd knew they were in need of redemption. Those who drew back and grumbled were self-satisfied and in their mind’s eye had no need of repentance. What alienates from God is self-satisfaction which leads to the image that there is nothing wrong with us, and to treat with contempt the disreputable sinner.
These two stories explain the principle of Jesus’ actions and the method of divine love. N. T. Wright in his commentary on Luke, expands our understanding of these two little stories by explaining the Jewish belief that the two halves of God’s creation, heaven and earth, were meant to fit together and be in harmony with each other.
If you discover what is going on in heaven, the Bishop writes, you will discover how things were meant to be on earth. That is what we mean when we pray that God’s kingdom will “come on earth as it already is in heaven.” Jesus was teaching that heaven rejoiced every time a single sinner repented and began to follow in God’s way.
Imagine the impact of this on those who pushed forward in the crowd to be near him and heard these words. Imagine the impact it still has on these who long to hear it today. They didn’t have to earn God’s love or Jesus’ respect. He came to look for them, and celebrated in finding them.
What Christ was doing, God was doing though Him. The tax collectors and sinners could see it in the way Jesus said it and they could feel it in their hearts as he spoke. While the Pharisees objected by closing a blind eye and a deaf ear.
Jesus’ actions on earth corresponded exactly with God’s love in heaven. God’s love persistently seeks the lost and rejoices at their redemption. Luke’s gospel is filled with story after story of the hospitality of God; that is, God’s open invitation to all to enter the kingdom through repentance, faith, and obedience.
The Church’s role is to carry out the idea of God‘s hospitality by inviting others to come and see and to hear for themselves the “good news” that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. None of us can earn God’s love or Jesus’ respect. Christ came and continues to come seeking the lost and celebrates when he finds them. The kingdom remains open to all who choose to walk in God’s way, responding to His Love with repentance, faith and obedience.
Our calling is to exemplify the acceptance that is in Jesus. But how difficult it is to surrender our prejudices and our own sense of self-satisfaction. However, we can not afford to forget that we are all sinners in need of redemption and that repentance is an on-going process for each of us. God’s Love and Grace stands ready to accept our return, and Jesus says that the angels rejoice when we do.
Evangelism is the mission of the Church. We are to invite and welcome in Christ’ name, remembering that Salvation belongs to God. We do evangelism best by living in the way that manifests and exemplifies the life and grace of Christ, the gentle, self-giving love that empties itself, being a servant and host to the other.
There are many challenges before the Church today, but none greater than inviting and welcoming others in His name so that those who come  might know the height and depth of God’s redeeming Love and accept the Salvation that Christ brings.


Think of what we might do outside the confines of these four walls today that would make people stop and ask “why are you doing something like that?” That would, in turn give us, as the Bride of Christ, the opportunity to respond with the right answer by telling them stories about the lost and found and how God’s Love persistently seeks the lost and rejoices at their redemption. AMEN+    


Monday, September 5, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for September 4, 2016

PENTECOST 16, PROPER XVIII - C - 16           LUKE 14. 25-33

As we follow Jesus through Luke’s gospel we can see his popularity is growing. Not only is he being invited to dinner, but large crowds are beginning to follow him wherever he goes.
Christ is followed on his way to Jerusalem and the cross by multitudes attracted, we may suppose, partly by his miracles, partly by curiosity, partly because he took the side of the poor, partly by half-hearted would be disciples, and so he turns and delivers a stern, even repellent claim.
Not the kind of words one would speak if trying to encourage those following him to continue to do so. Hate is a strong word, even today. The command to hate one’s kindred and his own life also, is not to be taken literally. The word Jesus uses here goes back to an Aramaic word which means to “love less.” It is of the will directed toward action that he is thinking of, and not the feeling or the emotion.
With that said the claim for absolute renunciation of all natural ties and every kind of self-interest is the first condition of discipleship. The cross is the ultimate symbol of renunciation. The parables of the tower and war are calculations. Jesus is warning his would be disciples of the cost of discipleship.
As a parent I have sometimes found myself speaking like my mother. I mean, reciting “warnings” she used to give to me and my younger brother. I am sure some of you have heard similar words, like when you wanted to do what everybody else was doing even if it included jumping off the bridge. She would say “do you know what you are getting yourself into if you choose to do that?”
At the time I counted it as another attempt to control my actions. But, after many years of reflection I now see there was wisdom in what she said, similar to Jesus’ warning in today’s gospel. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to those who were following him they should first count the cost; they needed to know what they were getting themselves into.
Before young parents present a child for baptism they need to know what they are getting themselves into. The promises they make on behalf of that child at the font of life are irrevocable in the eyes of God. They are responsible for seeing that the child they present is brought up in the Christian faith and life. They need to know that their prayers and witness are called for in order for the child to grow into the full stature of Christ.
Before an adult kneels before the Bishop and receives the laying on of hands at Confirmation, he or she needs to know what they are getting themselves into by vowing to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior; promising to put their whole trust in His grace and love, and to follow and obey him as their Lord.
The demands of the kingdom are absolute, all must be renounced. Nothing can be more important than following him. Not family, not possessions, not even one’s own life. The demands of Jesus are uncompromising. It is costly to be a disciple.
I prefer the word “sacrifice.” That’s what we all have in common if we choose to follow him; we have to be willing to “sacrifice” all that we are and all that we have for Him as He did for us on the cross.
Alas not many can commit totally to following Jesus. They didn’t then and they don’t today. The disciples he chose are the real examples of those who learned to “sacrifice” all that they had to follow him; family, possessions, and positions, even the ultimate sacrifice would one day be demanded of them. How many of us are that committed to Christ today? That is a question each of us has to answer for ourselves.
For the most part we have both feet of clay firmly planted in this world. It is not that we do not hope to one day enjoy the fullness of God’s kingdom, but not yet. We are not yet prepared to give up all that we own; not yet prepared to break relationships, not yet ready to surrender or set aside our vision of the future for a larger one.
Yet the message from Jesus is clear. It is costly to be a disciple and taking up one’s cross is not an option. Each of us has to take up his or her own cross. The burden in this world is different for each person, and each has been chosen by God to bear certain struggles for his own salvation and the salvation of those around him.
Secondly the cross is to be taken up daily. Commitment to following Christ is not just a one time event. Rather it is a continual practice of Faith and Obedience. The “warning” of Jesus is to count the cost before making that commitment.
There is wisdom in the Church’s practice of the Catechumenate. A required attendance of a lengthy period of instruction into the Faith and Practice of the Church before one makes a commitment is important. But ten or twelve weeks or even months are not enough. To live the Christian life is a day to day commitment; a lifetime road to God that begins and ends with obedience.
Each new day is an opportunity to renew that commitment, and to ask for the grace to keep it. We have to learn to set aside the confidence in our own strength and to trust in God with all our hearts. Obedience is the key. The daily choice is to obey or disobey.
To set aside one’s family, to deny oneself; to take up our cross and follow Him who was crucified is not appealing. So why then, would anyone count the cost from the beginning, knowing what one is getting himself into, and commit to a total renunciation of this world and all that is in it and chose to follow the crucified Lord?
Because it is to choose life rather than death. The command given to Israel in today’s first lesson remains. To Love and Obey God, that is life rather than death. To participate in the death of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, that is life now and a foretaste of the life to come.
No one would deny that these were hard sayings of Jesus to those who were following along behind him then, but they apply to the on-going life of the Church today as well. At every stage of its life the Church has faced the challenges, not only living up to Jesus’ demands, but of placing them before the world.
But before the Church can summon the world to costly obedience, we, as individual members of the Body of Christ have to commit ourselves to Love and Obey God first above all else, thereby setting the example for a world busy building towers and fighting wars, to follow. AMEN+