Monday, July 24, 2017

The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby to visit Christ Episcopal Church August 6, 2017


 

The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, Ph.D., D.D., IV Bishop of Western Louisiana, will officiate for our August 6, 2017 service at 10am.  The service will include the confirmations of John Godfrey and Sonia Hartner.  The service will be followed by our congregational dinner and meeting with Bishop Jake.  Everyone is invited to join us.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


7 PENTECOST, PROPER XI - A-17                 MATTHEW 13.24-30, 36-43

 


 Today’s parable builds on last week’s parable of the sower. Here Christ gives attention to the enemy who has sown his seed among the seed of Christ. This parable found only in Matthew, deals with the presence of evil in the kingdom of the Son of Man, in contrast with the kingdom of the Father, which is the new age, from which all evil will have been removed.
 
The kingdom of the Son of Man is a mixed bag, containing both good and evil. It is not a visible union of pious souls, but a visible commonwealth, to which it is possible formally to belong without being of it inwardly. The task of differentiating the worthy from the unworthy is not up to the church, but will be accomplished by the Son of Man as judge at the close of the age.
 
But for now, God allows the good and evil to exist together. It is the present mingling of the good and the evil that casts a cloud or mist that will one day be blown away by the breath of God. Then the sun will shine upon those deemed worthy to inherit God’s kingdom.
 
Thus, Jesus makes it plain enough that there will be a “harvest” at the end of time, as we know it. However, I have discovered over the years that some people have a much different view of God. They do not want to think about that. Future judgment, for them, is not a “hot” topic, no pun intended. Or else they have a different opinion altogether contrary to what Jesus has to say.
 
I have heard it said, for example, that God would not condemn or judge anyone. Others have said that they believe that God will hold out and postpone the “harvest” until every single “weed” has been turned into wheat. Then there is the idea that God is like an indulgent parent who lets his kids get away with doing whatever they wish and still rewards them at the end of the day.
 
There are many who hope that this is true. However, these views of God, and the idea of a lack of judgment that goes along with them are false.
 
If we want to know what God is really like, we look to Jesus. We listen to what he said and we look at what he did. Evil exists as much today as it did in Jesus’ day. Anyone who believes otherwise is simply looking through the wrong end of the binoculars.
 
So, why doesn’t God do something about it? That is perhaps the most frequent question people ask.
 
Tyrants and bullies, strongmen and hit men seem to get away with it. And sensitive souls ask again and again, why is God silent? Why doesn’t he step in and stop it? Jesus’ parables are not direct answers to the question. And probably there is no direct answer in this life.
 
But would we really want God to step in and stop every act of violence, every mistake and every evil impulse, including all those we still know and cherish within ourselves? That would bring God’s judgment now. Would we be willing to pay the price? Are we ready for that?
 
The parable is all about “waiting” something we all find difficult. Jesus’ followers did not want to wait. If the kingdom was really present in Jesus, coming to birth in what he was doing and saying, then they wanted it all right now. They were not interested in God’s timetable. They had one of their own, and expected God to conform to it.
 
What’s changed? Don’t we sometimes feel the same way? Let’s face it we are an impatient people. When we want something from God, we want it right now. Like the illustration of a monk I saw years ago who was on his knees praying for patience and asking God for it right now!
 
In Jesus, we see that God does not act straightway. The servants in the parable wanted to go immediately and start pulling up the weeds. However, Jesus says that the weeds are to grow alongside the wheat. That’s God’s way. Besides, there is the danger that the wheat might be destroyed in the process.
 
That is why the Church should neither condemn “nominal” members, nor judge those outside the Church (1 Cor. 5. 12, 13). Just as wheat would be destroyed in weeding out the tares, so also many people who might ultimately find salvation would other wise be lost if condemned before the Day of Christ’s judgment.
 
Unfortunately, most of us have been guilty of this, even the Church. We all know individuals who have turned away from the Church because of this very thing. They were made to feel judged and condemned rather than welcomed. May God forgive us.
 
Again, at the heart of today’s parable is the note of patience. Not just the patience of the servants who have to wait and watch, but also the patience of God himself. God didn’t and doesn’t enjoy the sight of a cornfield with weeds all over the place. But he doesn’t relish the thought of declaring the harvest-time too soon, and destroying wheat along with weeds.
 
The parable speaks to the compassion of God in that delaying his judgment allows more people to be saved at the end. Jesus taught that the kingdom had come in Him, but not yet fully arrived and would not in one big bang. It would come through a process of slow growth, a steady growth based on God’s time-line. Some might say that is a “cop-out,” no doubt they did in Jesus’ day.
 
Again, it has to do with one’s view of God. To say that God is delaying his final judgment seems outwardly that God is uncaring and inactive. If Jesus did what God does in combating evil and defeating it and is still working toward the final outcome when the enemy will be ultimately defeated, then it is false to say that God does not care about us now and that He is inactive.
 
We who live on this side of the cross know that He did indeed act suddenly and dramatically at the moment He gave the life of His Son for the life of the world. When today we long for God to act, to put the world to rights as it were, we need to remind ourselves that He already has by looking at the cross.
 
What we are waiting for now is the full outworking of those events. We wait with patience, and as St. Paul says, with hope, not like people in a dark room wondering if anyone will ever come and turn on the lights, but like people in early morning who have seen the sunrise and are now waiting for the full brightness of midday to shine upon us. AMEN+

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Forward Day by Day for July 22, 2017

SATURDAY, July 22      Saint Mary Magdalene, Apostle

 
 
2 Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Those of us who love Mary Magdalene love her fiercely, passionately, and steadfastly. Even the incorrect things I learned about her made her seem like someone I wanted to know. I loved her before I truly understood why, and I’m still learning new reasons to want to know her, to love her, to be like her.
 
We love Mary Magdalene because we all want to be made new—we all want to know Jesus as closely as Mary does. We each want to be her when Jesus calls out to her after rising from the dead. We all want to be the one trusted with the joy of Easter, to be the first to share the amazing story of his resurrection.
 
The good news is that you and I are Mary. We are broken, in need of healing and love. We are caregivers—each of us, God’s faithful ministers. We are fiercely protective like Mary, safeguarding the lives and bodies of our beloved. Like Mary, we loyally follow Jesus, listen to his word, and learn from him. Through her witness, we know that Jesus loves those who need him most—people just like Mary, people just like me.
 
MOVING FORWARD: Imagine being the first person to see and talk with the risen Lord. Would that change how you told others about Christ?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Father Riley's homily for July 16, 2017


6 PENTECOST, PROPER X - A - 17                     MATTHEW 13.1-9,18-23

 


 Today’s gospel is the beginning of a series of parables of the kingdom Jesus presents in the 13th chapter of Matthew. Parables are stories in word-pictures, revealing spiritual truths. The Hebrew and Aramaic words for parable also mean “allegory,” “riddle,” or “proverb.” Matthew is not the only gospel filled with parables. All four contain images drawn from daily life to represent and communicate the deeper things of God.
 
The truth communicated by Jesus’ parables, however, is not evident to all who hear them. The listener must have spiritual ears to hear, and even then, not all have the same degree of understanding. Individuals are responsible for their own receptivity. Parables challenge the hearer and call for faith to perceive the mysteries of the kingdom.
 
The use of parables was known in Jewish culture long before Jesus. Christ, however, brought the art of parables to perfection, relating aspects of the kingdom and speaking of God himself through vivid stories. His purpose was not only to reveal truth to those with hearts prepared. He wished to draw responsive hearts past the entrance and into the very reality of God’s kingdom, which he proclaimed and inaugurated.
 
In today’s gospel, we have one of the few parables Jesus goes on to explain to his disciples in an attempt to leave no doubt to its true meaning. It is interesting that he delivers it, not on land among a group of farmers, but while standing in a boat a little off shore on the Sea of Galilee most likely to a mixed audience, many of which made their living from the sea.
 
The parable reflects Jesus’ experience in his appeal to Israel, which is now drawing to a close. He is speaking directly to those who will be his messengers. He warns that much of their work in proclaiming the coming kingdom will be wasted effort, but promising them that God will bring forth results far exceeding their expectations as a way of encouraging them in their efforts.
 
The parable is filled with symbolism. The symbolism of the “soil,” for example, represents those who listen, or in some cases, those who refuse to listen. The “seed” of course is the gospel message, the coming of God’s kingdom, and the sewer is Christ.
 
After telling the parable, Jesus leaves the majority of the crowd. It is up to the individual to be open and receptive to the message. Each person who hears it has to interpret it for him or herself and discover what it means to them. To most of them, it should have been obvious especially to the disciples.
 
In the verses that are missing between Jesus telling the parable and his interpretation, however, the disciples have asked him what it meant. To them he gives the answer. Our hearts are the “soil” where the seeds of God’s word are sown. If they are closed, he says, like a well-beaten path, the seed takes no root. It is the enemy, Jesus says, which has closed our hearts to God.
 
While some might teach a person is permanently saved at the moment he or she professes faith, a view never held by the historic church, the teaching of Jesus is clear that it is possible to believe for a while and then fall away. Thus the one who hears and endures for a while, but again whose faith has no root, sadly falls away when trouble, hardship or disappointment arises.
 
Then there are the “thorns.” That is, the cares and concerns of the world that “chokes” out the word of God and thus produces no fruitfulness. That individual is too concerned with the things of this world, and or his or her own self-interests. The word of God cannot possibly grow in their hearts. There is simply no room for God.
 
The good soil is the heart that is open and receptive to God’s word. These are the ones who hear it and respond to it. Hearts and minds must appropriate the living word if there is to be fruitfulness.
 
Those who are receptive to the message of the kingdom manifest their “hearing” in the changes their understanding of God’s word makes in their lives. As St. Paul would say, they live no longer to themselves but to Him who died and rose again.
 
If we are honest with ourselves, we can all look back over our own journey to God and see times and places when our response to God represented each one of these “soil conditions.” We all had those times when we were closed to the gospel message altogether. At other times, we welcomed it but then something happened to turn us away from God.
 
In addition, we all struggled with, and still do, with the “thorns.” That is, the things of this world that catch our attention and hold our focus, that seemed so important at the time. Jesus would say that it is the enemy who continues to hold them up to us as being attractive. It is his way of tempting us away from God.
 
But can we recall what it was that broke open the hard pan of our hearts? What was it that caused us to hang on to our faith when we wanted to give it up? When did we finally realize that the things of this world that at one time meant everything to us did not satisfy our soul and what we needed was God?
 
What was it that finally drew us past the entrance and into the reality of God’s kingdom and enabled us to finally “hear” God’s message of salvation? God’s love opens our hearts to Him. God pursues us through His love for us in His Son, Jesus Christ who died and rose again.
 
Jesus’ spent his earthly life in an effort to get God’s people to “listen.”
 
The parable begins that way. That is the way the kingdom message is received by hearing, truly hearing.
 
Each of us, like those in the crowd along side the seashore that day have to allow God’s word to resonate in our hearts, mull it over in our minds and then respond out of love according to his or her native capacity.
 
God did not give each and everyone of us the same capacity, the same gifts and talents. Rather He gave us a plethora of gifts that are meant to be used in concert as the Body of Christ to produce much fruit in advancing His kingdom on earth. Recall the parable of the talents. One was given three, another two, and another one.
 
Likewise, Jesus is telling us, that what is sown on good soil is the one who hears and understand God’s message and learns to cooperate with His Spirit.
 
To hear and understand and to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit enables us to bear fruit that will yield in some cases, a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. AMEN+

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Service for Mrs. Pat Gray July 14, 2017

We had a beautiful service to remember Mrs. Pat Gray.  A large family and friend gathering enjoyed the service and reception offered at Christ Episcopal Church.  Brenda took the following picture of flowers placed for Pat's service.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Father Riley's homily for July 9, 2017


5 PENTECOST - PROPER IX - A - 17                                      MATTHEW 11:16-19,25-30



Today’s gospel lesson and Epistle both contain a paradox. St. Paul seems to be unable to express himself in his message to the young Church at Rome. “I do not understand my own actions,” he begins. I am sure that got his audience’s attention.

And from there on his words are both contradictory and confusing. “I can will what is right but I cannot do it.” In desperation, he seems to throw up his hands only to fall back on the grace of God, which has been given to us through Jesus Christ, both his and our means of rescue.

In contrast, Jesus begins today’s gospel with a game he most likely played as a child. It was common among Jewish children of his generation. The children are divided into two groups you see, those pretending to play musical instruments or singing, and the other responding in a manner opposite of what would have been expected. Think of a wedding and a funeral for example.

Christ is drawing a parallel to the Jewish leaders of the day who responded harshly to both John Baptist and to himself. John, they deemed as being too ascetic, remember the clothes he wore and the locusts he ate, not to mention the message he brought? Christ was simply too liberal in the company he kept and in his willingness to dispense the love, mercy and the hospitality of God to those deemed unacceptable by society’s standards.

As then, as now, people do not like the challenge of the kingdom message. It is either too ascetic for some, that is, too demanding. Or too liberal, meaning not everyone agrees that God’s love and mercy should be readily available to all.

They prefer to follow their own vision rather than “welcoming” God’s. Thus, the paradox Jesus presents. God “hides” the mysteries of the kingdom from those who refuse “to see” or “to welcome” because they are blinded to the true values of life by intellectual arrogance and by pride.

To those whom the world views as ignorant and incapable of understanding such things, Jesus says, God does give full understanding and revelation by the Spirit of God because they are open-minded, humble, and expectant.

When we stop and listen to St. Paul’s struggle, the paradox of his trying to live the gospel, in spite of himself, and Jesus’ illustration of the games people play in refusing to receive the grace and love of God we cannot help but see something of ourselves in both examples. What Paul is struggling with we all struggle with. “I can will what is right,” he says, “but I cannot always do it.” None of us can.

However, the point he is making is in his confession to the church at Rome and to us who hear his words today is that we can only be rescued from such a dilemma by the grace of God, which has been given to us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are all here today because at some point in our lives we said “yes” to God’s invitation to join His family through the waters of Holy Baptism and to commit ourselves to living out our baptismal vows in such a manner as to be pleasing to God. Each of those promises made concluded with the response and “with God’s help.”

For like Paul, once we commit ourselves to God we quickly discover that there is nothing good that dwells within us that, is our flesh. The spiritual side of our being will always be in competition with our physical side. We live with that paradox. Grace is the answer to the dilemma.

In Jesus’ example, we can go through life holding to a completely different and sometimes opposite vision than that of God’s. We do it when we try to avoid the challenge of the gospel. We want to pick and choose the parts we like and avoid the ones that are demanding. When we do, God “withholds” his revelation from us.

We do not see the world as God sees it. We are too busy looking at it from our point of view, which is narrow and biased. “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” Jesus says. Wisdom has been defined as the power to see the world, ourselves, and our concerns as God sees them and to order our lives in light of that vision. To refuse to do so is to continue to “play the game” of life the way we want by refusing “to see,” and by refusing “to welcome.”

Jesus offered his generation a chance to embrace a different vision. He taught it in their streets and their synagogues. He lived it wherever he went. He showed it in the love and mercy displayed in the many healings he performed. The people did not want it. For the most part, they refused to join in.

He offers it to us today in his closing invitation of what the Prayer Book calls the comfortable words “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” However, his words contain a challenge. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

The Rabbis of Jesus’ day spoke of the yoke of the Law of Moses. For God’s people the Law had become a burden and hardship due to the rabbi’s strict interpretation. Jesus is offering a different yoke, which, because it comes from his mercy and love, is easy to bear. The yoke of the Lord is lighter than that of the Pharisees in spite of the fact that His standard is higher.

The welcome Christ offers to all who abandon themselves to His mercy is the welcome God offers through Him. This is the invitation, which pulls back the veil and lets us see who the Father really is. Although St. Paul does not mention it, it is the yoke of Christ he struggled with as we all do if we choose to take it upon ourselves. However, the reward is greater than any effort we may put forth.

To wear Christ’ yoke is to abandon our own self-interest and the self-imposed burdens that come with them. Sustained by Faith, Hope, and Love every “burden” becomes light. No more is happiness and joy a product of our own making.

Joy grows knowing that God is Love and that our Faith and Hope rests in Him who has rescued us from the power of sin and death by His death, and through it opened the way to eternal life to all who believe in Him. AMEN+

Bishop Jake Owensby's blog

 
 
 
You may follow our Bishop's messages with his blog at:
 
 
A portion of a recent blog by Bishop Jake:
 
'And maybe, just maybe, when we’ve changed our minds about God, we will change our minds about each other. I believe that this is what Jesus is about. His way of living embodied God’s way of being.
Jesus never said, “If you hit me I’ll punch back ten times harder.” Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.”
Jesus never said, “Crush your foes and destroy their families.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”
 
"In the story of Isaac’s binding, in Jesus’ life and teaching, we see that God is not bloodthirsty. God blesses. God nurtures growth and makes peace. God gives live. The blood that we spill does not honor this God. This God desires only one kind of sacrifice:
“To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)'
 
 
 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from June 25, 2017


PENTECOST 3 - PROPER VII - A - 17     MATTHEW 10. 24-39



This portion of Matthew’s tenth chapter contains a string of teachings Jesus presented to his disciples as they were preparing to set out on their first missionary journey. We heard the details of how they were to carry out the journey in last week’s gospel: about what to take and what not to take.

Today’s passage picks up where that one left off. Here Jesus warns his friends that they are to imitate him in preaching the gospel and healing the sick, but to do so will bring down the wrath of the unbelievers upon them. He follows the warning by telling his disciples not to fear them. The responsibility to communicate the gospel is what is important. They are not to be intimidated by the threat of persecution.
 
Be prepared, he tells them, to shout from the rooftops what he has told them in private concerning God and his kingdom. Again, he tells them not to fear those who can physically harm them, but fear the one who can take their soul as well as their body; indicating that there is something eternal within each of us that only God can take possession of.
 
Matthew seems to have strung together a strange combination here. Perhaps these sayings occurred at different times and then again, perhaps not.
 
Our being of more worth than a bevy of sparrows does not seem to fit our being afraid of losing our soul unless the consolation lies in the fact that we are of much worth in the eyes of God who sees and knows all.
 
Again, Jesus comes back with “so do not be afraid” followed by a promise that if we remain loyal to him in this life, he will stand up for us before God the father in the life to come.
 
His “do not fear” three times in this passage was obviously meant to embolden the disciples’ witness of the gospel in the face of adversity, as it is meant to embolden us in ours. If there is one phrase mentioned more often than any other in scripture it is “do not fear.”
 
We find it in the Old Testament as well as the New. Human beings are naturally afraid of something. We are afraid of the supernatural for one, and afraid of facing the unknown for another. None of us likes to face the unknown and neither did the disciples.
 
Therefore, Jesus is trying his best in his instructions to his friends to prepare them for what they will face. It helps to know exactly what we are walking into does it not. We may be afraid of taking that first step towards the unknown, but if we know what to expect it goes a long way in our accepting the challenge.
 
To follow Jesus is to accept the challenge of the gospel to walk the way of the cross. The gospel challenges the way we live. It challenges us in the way that we think and act in terms of our relationships with others. It challenges us in terms of our loyalties. In addition, as St. Peter wrote, the enemy is always out there ready to derail our every effort in living and witnessing to it, as well as seeking to devour us in the process.
 
Yet Jesus tells us that we are not to fear the challenge but rather embrace it. The challenge comes with being a Christian. We were asked at our baptisms if we would “… proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?” At the font of life, we said “yes,” and accepted God’s invitation to join in the work of the Church, by becoming a member of His family.
 
However, the challenge does not come without a cost. Jesus’ words are very sharp. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace…but a sword.” The gospel is divisive causing divisions even among families Jesus warns.  However, he was not the first to predict this. The prophet Micah declared that such divisions always take place when God is doing a new thing.
 
The purpose of the Lord’s coming was to establish the reign of peace. The sword of division was but the necessary consequence of the condition of the world. Divisions among families can be the cross we bear in our living out the gospel. One’s devotion to Jesus must take precedence over one’s family obligations and affection. For Judaism, where the family with its mutual loyalties is the center of existence (honor thy father and they mother), this was an especially radical view.
 
For others the cross they bear may be different altogether. We all have one, sometimes I admit, it seems that there is more than one and with the passage of time they do not get any easier to carry. Regardless of the cross, we bear in Jesus’ name the reward is the same as Christ proclaimed in last week’s passage: “Those who endure to the end will be saved.”
 
The challenge of Jesus’ sayings in today’s passage is matched again by the promises he makes. He will “own” us before the father in heaven. Those who lose their lives will find them.
 
All of this is true but it cannot be ours unless we accept the challenge of the gospel to live and speak the truth of the Christian message, even in the face of opposition and rejection. That means taking up our cross and following him. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are the only ways to self-discovery.
 
We must reflect the values and faith that we profess. Anonymity is not an option. The challenge to be faithful to our identity as followers of Jesus is a daily one. Regardless of our weaknesses and infidelities, God continues to use us to advance his kingdom in the name of Him who died and rose again.

As we continue the journey, maturing in our faith the realization of the challenge increases and confronts us on a daily basis with the commitments we made at baptism. Implicit in the vows we made is the injunction to remain fearless in the face of humiliation, loss, and in some cases persecution. None of which, Jesus says, should cause us to fear.
 
God knows and cares about the details of our lives. His desire is that we come to know Him and live the life He intended for us to live. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of us, but what God thinks of us.
 
We may fail from time to time in living up to our commitments to proclaim the good news. However, God will not judge us on our failures as our failure to accept the challenge that comes with being a Christian: to walk the way of the cross.
 
It is our love of Christ manifested in the things that we say and do that shows the world that our allegiance is to Him above all else, and it is our allegiance to Christ in this world that makes us worthy in the eyes of God and assures our place in the world to come. AMEN+

Monday, June 19, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from June 18, 2017


2 PENTECOST - PROPER VI - A - 17                 MATTHEW 9.35-10.8-23


 
When I was a newly minted priest with perhaps two years or so of ministry under my belt, having just finished my curacy, I was fortunate enough to have been called as the assistant to the dean at Trinity Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa.
 
The dean had been without an assistant for almost a year, and thus had not taken any time off. After I had been there long enough to know which key opened what door, the dean left for an extended and much over due vacation. I found myself in charge of a church family of over 1000.
 
The Cathedral was a busy place. We conducted daily Morning Prayer in the chapel at 7:30 followed by Eucharist. On Sunday, there were three services of Holy Communion. In addition, there were the usual hospital calls, shut-in visits and the unscheduled walk-in “Father do you have a minute?” The normal day-to-day parish responsibilities now all belonged to me. It was a bit overwhelming as you might imagine but a wonderful experience.
 
The dean had not been out of town for a week when tragedy struck. A very popular young man from the parish was killed in a traffic accident. He was a member of a prominent family in the community who were also very active in the life of the Church. I had not personally met him or his parents other than to speak them on Sunday morning.
 
It fell to me to make that dreaded visit to their home and sit down with the grieving parents to discuss the funeral of their oldest son. It would be only the second funeral I had conducted since becoming a priest. My first one was for an infant. It was the kind of foot-in-the-door experience that no priest looks forward to and hopes he will ever have to endure.
 
The tragic nature of their son’s death only added to my anxiety as I knocked on that door not knowing how or what I would say in order to try and console and comfort them. Sometimes I don’t think people realize how stressful these types of pastoral situations can be for the priest. That was over thirty-five years ago, but as you see, I have never forgotten it.
 
I did my best to minister to them and as it turned out, they ministered to me. Their genuine display of faith in the face of death made a lasting impression on me as a priest. I sat there and listened as they reminisced about their eldest son. The more they talked the more their faith and trust in God was revealed.
 
They weren’t angry. They didn’t blame God. Yet their grief was evident in their tears and their what ifs, but their faith never wavered, then, or on the day of the funeral, or the months and years afterwards. We became very close that day and remained friends through the years.
 
Six months later, I found myself in the hospital room of the father of that very family who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He had only a few months to live. Just the two of us were in the room that day. We talked about life and death, family and God. I asked him how he was able to maintain his faith under the circumstances and having only recently endured the death of a son.
 
He said to me simply that he believed in the love of God and the promise of Christ and the hope of being re-united with his son in the life to come. It wasn’t that he did not wish that things could be different, but that he learned a long time ago to place his trust in God’s providence. He had to be strong, he told me, for his family. He wanted his legacy to his wife and children to be his faith.
 
It was his faith, he said, that enabled him to endure the death of his son and now to face his own. St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome that it was “suffering that produced endurance and endurance that produced character.” I learned a lot about genuine Christian character from this man and his family in the way they lived their lives in the face of adversity in witness to their faith.
 
Jesus said to his disciples in today’s gospel that those who endure to the end will be saved. But this was only after he had detailed the mission he was about to send them on down to what to take and what not to take as well as what to wear and what not to wear in order to teach them to depend on God.
 
His instructions also contained warnings that to choose to follow him would not be an easy thing to do. The world, he said, can be a most inhospitable place. He told them that they could expect rejection, physical and verbal abuse. Moreover, that they would be hated by some simply because they belonged to him. Sometimes, he told them, they would find peace and sometimes not.
 
Not many of us, if we knew exactly what awaited us in life would choose to march out and face it as they did. However, the disciples did, and in doing so set an example for others to imitate. The family I meet through tragedy as a young priest did likewise. They looked death in the face more than once and yet remained steadfast in their faith and love of God and the promise of His Son, Jesus, of everlasting life.
 
In doing so, they set an example for all who knew them and admired their ability to endure suffering, including me. Only by the grace of God were they able to maintain their faith, their hope, and their trust in a loving God that sustained them in their trials and enabled them to endure. It is by the grace of God that any of us are able to endure the trials, sufferings, and temptations of life that come our way without throwing in the prayer shawl.
 
Life is a challenge on a good day. When things go wrong, when tragedy strikes, when failures occur, is when our faith is truly tested. As St. Paul says, we have access to the grace in which we stand through Jesus Christ and through Christ the hope of sharing the glory of God. But as Jesus warned his disciples as they were about to set out on their journey, if we choose to follow Jesus, we can expect suffering in this life to precede the glory that will one day be revealed. In this, Jesus set the example for all of us.
 
The trials and temptations of this life are meant to temper us, in order that we might endure to the end. “Endurance produces character,” St. Paul wrote, “and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that had been given to us.”
 
It is this Hope that anchors our soul; that keeps us steadfast in our Faith, Trust, and our Love of God; a God who knows our sufferings only too well. For God proved his love for us in sending His only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross, but with the promise that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. AMEN+

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

CVI Workshop July 15, 2017 Everyone invited!


Congregational Vitality Institute presents:


What did Jesus Come for? An Appreciative Inquiry for Vital Congregations 

Presented by The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle

When
Saturday, July 15, 2017 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM CDT
Where
St. James Episcopal Church
1620 Murray Street
Alexandria, LA 71301  

Contact
Rev. Bill Bryant
Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana
318-446-0127
rectory@shreve.net 

This one day intensive will focus on how to discover and grow what is life-giving to you and the communities in which you live. 

Who Should Attend? This program is ideal for Vestry members, Congregational Vitality Leaders, and all church leaders of:
·          Churches wanting to discover and grow their purpose and mission.
·          Churches in transition and are seeking new Rectors.
·          Churches that need to embrace the future rather than run from the past.
·          Churches that want to grow in the love and joy of being Children of God.

In this program you will:
·          Learn the essentials of appreciative inquiry.
·          Learn how to ensure change is a sustainable blessing and not a curse.
·          Discover appreciative strategies for dealing with problems.
·          Discover new ideas about stewardship and fundraising. 

Please note:  Beginning in 2017, CVI programs will be on a "pay as you go" basis.  Each event will cost $15, payable in advance (check or credit card) or at the door (credit card, check, or cash).
Go to the DofWLa website for more info:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from June 11, 2017 Trinity Sunday


TRINITY SUNDAY - A - 17                       MATTHEW 28.16-20

 
 
Last week the waiting period ended for the disciples. Immediately before his Ascension, Jesus had instructed them to do just that, to wait until they had received power from on high before they dare to venture out.
 
The Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost and drove them out of their hiding place where they were empowered to speak to the crowds gathered for the feast in languages understood by all. Needless to say, the pilgrims from across the empire were astonished at this dramatic display of divine revelation; as I am certain were the disciples.
 
With the descent of the Dove Jesus’ promise to send the Comforter was fulfilled and the work of the Church begun. The Spirit was given on that day and the Spirit remains with the Church. He is personally and powerfully present. Individually and corporately, we enjoy a person-to-person association with the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and shows forth God’s love through the work of the Church.
 
Today is Trinity Sunday, a feast day that reminds us of this community of love to which we belong by virtue of our baptisms. The Church’s task is to reflect the love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father manifested through the Spirit of love that has been given to each of us in carrying out the mission Christ has commanded.
 
St. Matthew’s gospel alone contains the Great Commission, as it is called. Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples is filled with action words: “go, make, baptize, and teach,” and is sealed with a promise of presence.  The disciples did not hesitate to undertake the task once they recieved the gift of the Spirit.
 
However, when the disciples met Jesus in Galilee, prior to Pentecost, in the only post-resurrection appearance recorded by Matthew, Matthew says they worshipped him, yet some still doubted. What was it they doubted? Was their doubt focused on Jesus or themselves? Or both?
 
If they doubted their ability to carry out the mission, it was assuaged by His promise that they would not be alone. If some of them had a lingering doubt about Jesus, it too was assuaged by his pronouncement that all authority had been given to Him in heaven an on earth and now He was giving it to them.
 
Not only would they soon receive the Holy Spirit, but they now had Christ’ promise of his abiding presence in this age and the age to come. Though daunting and demanding to put into practice, this commission, or mission of the Church remains our focus, or at least, it should be.
 
Sadly, the Church in all of its various forms has got so much wrong down through the ages. She has made so many mistakes, has let the Lord down so often, that many people, including many who love Jesus for themselves, have lost faith in the Church’s ability to do what we have been given to do. Others have become so dissatisfied with organized religion altogether they suppose that nothing will ever change until the Lord comes again and sorts it all out.
 
Yet Jesus’ final commandment given on earth is to be lived out in the Church until He returns. It is the Church’s Apostolate to “Go, make, baptize, and teach.”
 
To “go” is to be active. It does not mean that we are to just sit here and wait for people to come to us, although, if we are doing what we should be doing in spreading the gospel, they will come - God will send them. On the other hand, we are not to be like one vestryman I knew from years ago who made the statement, “this church has been right here on this very corner for over 100 years. They know where to find us,” and be satisfied with doing nothing in terms of evangelism. Apostolic witness needs to be intentional.
 
Jesus said we are to “make” disciples. How do we do that? One at a time. As Christ called the fishermen by the sea of Galilee, and trained them up as “learners,” imitating his way of life and coming little by little to understand the kingdom message, so are we to “call,” that is invite, others to come and see what being a Christian is all about. It is what we say and do in reflecting the love of God that either attracts them or repels them.
 
In addition, we are to baptize. Jesus himself linked baptism to his own death. In baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised to new life in Him. In baptism we are given a new name - Christian - and with it the responsibility and the resources, Vis a Vis, the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the tasks we have been given.
 
To baptize “in the name of” means rather “into the possession of” or “into union with” that is, into the community of love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Christians we share in the responsibility of continuing Christ’ work in the world guided by the Holy Spirit of God.
 
Finally, the Church has been given the task of teaching all that Christ commanded. Here is where I feel that the Church has often failed. We do not have the option of “watering down” what Jesus taught in order to make it more palatable. Nor do we have the authority to add to or subtract from what He taught. Yet in recent decades, the Church has been guilty of this very thing and the result is a shrinking church.
 
The Christian lifestyle is meant to be quite different from the way of the world. If it were not, how would the world recognize us? Throughout the gospel, Jesus has highlighted this on various levels from the personal morality outlined in the Sermon on the Mount to the high demand for forgiveness, to His commandment to love as He loves us. Regrettable the task remains incomplete in our day.
 
If only we, as Church, would give as much time and energy to carrying out our commission as we do in other things not nearly as important, we would make much more headway in spreading the gospel than we seem to be doing. The consolation lies in the fact that we have not just been given a list of things to do, but a list that is held in place by a promise; a promise that is meant to encourage us in the task Christ has set before us.
 
The promise of presence given by Jesus to the disciples and through them to the continuing Church is the promise of the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God keep us steadfast in our faith and our worship of the co-eternal and equal glory of the Blessed Trinity.
 
And renewed by Christ’s promise of presence, one day accomplish the task Christ has given us, “to make disciples of all nations” by reflecting the Love of God in all that we say and do. AMEN+             

Friday, June 2, 2017

VBS wraps up a great week of sharing the God News!

Many thanks to The Rev. Mitzi George and her Vacation Bible School team from St. Barnabas, Lafayette, for directing the St. Barnabas/Christ Church VBS again this year.  VBS ran from May 29 thru June 2 this year.  We look forward to next year and a church and parish house full of children again!

Checking-in at our Parish House:

 
VBS underway.....
 
 
The end of a day on The Lake: