Monday, November 20, 2017

Rev. Riley's sermon from November 19, 2017


In today’s gospel, Jesus continues to teach about the kingdom while he has a captive audience. His days are numbered. The cross is looming in the near distance. He has been challenged by the religious leaders of the day both politically and according to the religious traditions of his own people and has withstood their attempts to trap him. The kingdom of God remains the focus of his teaching.

Last week’s parable of the bridesmaids was one in which Christ stressed our need to be prepared for His coming again at an unexpected hour. In today’s parable of the talents, Jesus is reminding us of our eventual accountability for the use of the gifts God has entrusted to us.  It is a parable of stewardship in light of the unexpected return of the owner.

I have often heard it said, “I have no gifts.” This, however, is not true. God has created each of us with certain gifts and talents for the sole purpose of using them for the benefit of others and as Christians, for the building up of the Body of Christ - the Church.

Look at the story again. One steward was entrusted with five talents, one with two, and the other with one, each according to his ability. What did they do? Two of the stewards “invested” what was entrusted to them in ways that garnered a return. The steward who was given only one talent was afraid to risk losing it, so he buried it. On the day of accountability, the owner returned and the stewards were asked one by one what they did with what was given to them.

The two who invested what was entrusted to them were able to report to the owner that they had doubled the gift and were rewarded with a well-done and increased responsibility. However, the one steward who was afraid to use what was given to him handed it back to the owner with the excuse that he was afraid to risk losing it, so he buried it.

Instead of receiving the same reward as the others, the talent was taken from him and given to the one who had ten. If that was not enough, he who was afraid to invest found himself cast out from the presence of the owner.
 “For all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

I dare say we have all envied other people because of the perceived gifts/talents they appear to possess. It is only natural for us to look at such people, compare ourselves to them, and see ourselves in a lesser light, thus convincing ourselves that we do not possess any gifts or talents at all. That is a “cop out.” There is not one of us who are void of gifts.

True some people have more than others do. Jesus’ illustration points to that fact. It does not matter how many or how few talents we possess, even if it is only one, it is to be used for the “greater good” and not “hidden” for whatever reason. Our gifts are gifts of grace.

God has consecrated the gifts he has entrusted to us. Through we vary in our several capacities, the spirit of faithfulness and dependability in the use of our trust is equally required by all.

A steward is one who is in possession of resources/gifts/talents that belong to another, in this case, God. That is a hard pill for some to swallow. From an earthly point of view, what we have we deem as ours. It’s mine. I earned it. It is only when we think of it in terms of our relationship to God that we begin to see that what we have has been entrusted to us for a purpose.

As a steward, we have the responsibility to use it wisely for the benefit of others less fortunate. In addition as Christians, we have the awesome responsibility as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” That is, we are to share the faith that is within us, once delivered to the saints; to make disciples, baptize and teach, and to welcome others into the kingdom in the name of Him who died and rose again.

All of which is a part of our accountability in response to the generosity and love of God. The emphasis in today’s story is on the third steward. He was afraid because of his misconception of the owner (God), the feeling that he was hard and demanding. His misconception of the owner caused him to begrudge the labor and the sacrifice, which was asked of him.

When these two things exist, there is always fear and the “burying” of the talent. In contrast, the “good and faithful” servant is well disposed toward his master and so finds faithfulness easy. His labor is a labor of love in thanksgiving for all that has been given to him.

The gospel message is clear: each of us is of great worth in the eyes of God and is of value in God’s purpose.  Each of us has been entrusted with certain gifts and talents to be used for the good of the whole. Our gifts are gifts of grace.

It doesn’t matter what our particular talent maybe. What matters is how we use them. God never demands from us more than our abilities allow. You are not going to be asked to sing in the choir if you cannot carry a note!

What God does demand of us is that one uses to the fullest what one possesses. As servants of the Servant of God, we are expected to return, with interest, the talents that have been entrusted to us. It is not our purpose to compare our gifts with others enviously and to limit ourselves to meager tasks. We are to use what God has endowed us with for His glory.

Devotion and faith require risk. It is better to venture forth with what one has and fail than to try nothing and live an empty life. The one-talented man in the story could not see that his talent was of value to God. The other two dared to invest their gifts. The good and faithful servants received surprising rewards and with the rewards came greater risks.

Such is the reward in the new covenant in Jesus Christ. The reward of the “joy of the lord” is fellowship with Christ, to stand before His face forever in the glory of the kingdom. God does not show partiality in the ultimate reward, for all are invited to share the same joy. It is faithfulness that matters.

In the final analysis, God will call each of us to give an account of ourselves. Not just in the use of the gifts, He has entrusted to us, but in the sharing of our knowledge and faith in him. Did we share it? Or did we hide it? On the other hand, were we afraid to use it?

Any gift of grace provides an opportunity for divine investment. There is not an individual, or congregation that has not been blessed with the necessary gifts, that when used individually or collectively, can accomplish much for the glory of God. AMEN+

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Annual Thanksgiving Community Service

The annual Thanksgiving Community Service for Tensas Parish will be hosted by Maryland Baptist Church, Sunday, November 19th at 5pm.  Everyone is invited.  Cash and non-perishable food offerings will be greatly appreciated.

Thanksgiving Day Prayer (BCP pg 246)

Thanksgiving Day
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the
fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those
who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of
your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and
the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Facebook link for MBC:

MBC is located at 647 Highway 3024
Tele # 766-3745

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rev. Gregg's homily for November 12, 2017


I am sure you have heard the old saying, “don’t fall asleep at the switch?” I have heard it all of my life but it wasn’t until I was ten or twelve that I finally asked what it meant.

My grandmother told me about the switchman who watched for the oncoming train. He was the one who would manually turn a heavy lever that would switch the tracks so that the on-coming train would not collide with one coming from the opposite direction but pass safely parallel to it. Obviously, he could not afford to fall asleep!

Today’s gospel ends with Jesus’ admonition “keep awake!” It comes at the close of his parable of the ten bridesmaids. He is speaking about the kingdom of heaven and is using an everyday example the people could easily relate to, a wedding feast.

Jesus’ parable gives us a glimpse of first century Jewish wedding customs. The bridegroom was expected to come at night to the house of the bride that he might take her to his own house. He was expected to be punctual. She and her bridesmaids await the moment. The bridesmaids are to go forth to meet the bridegroom when the cry is heard that he is near.

The bride has ten maids of honor, and their lamps are to be ready, trimmed and burning while they wait. Therefore, the oil needs to be abundant in the event he is delayed. It is not like that today, where we receive a nicely engraved wedding invitation containing the exact time and location of the wedding. Moreover, it is usually not the bridegroom we wait for but the bride!

In Jesus’ parable, five of the bridesmaids were wise enough to bring plenty of oil, just in case, there happened to be a delay. Five of them did not. They all dozed off, but when the cry came that the bridegroom was about to appear, the wise ones trimmed their lamps and were ready to follow him. The others were left in the dark, their oil being depleted, and were left behind.

They eventually made their way to the wedding feast, but by then the door was shut. They found themselves outside looking in. The point of the parable is our need to “stay awake,” to be prepared at all times for the coming of the bridegroom, that is, Jesus Christ himself,  for we know neither the day or the hour of His appearing.

In the first lesson, the prophet Amos describes the “day of the Lord” as something to dread. “Why do you want the day of the Lord,” he asks God’s people. “It is darkness not light, and gloom with no brightness in it.” The prophet’s words were meant to be a warning to the king and the people of the Northern Kingdom to repent. If they did not the “day” of the Lord’s coming would be to them as the prophet described.

In contrast, St. Paul refers to the “coming of the Lord” as a means of encouraging the young Christians at Thessalonica to remain steadfast in the faith. It is a day to look forward to. What Jesus is saying in his parable of the ten bridesmaids is that when He comes again “with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet” those who have made themselves ready to receive Him will be gathered to Him and made like Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom.

For those who have not prepared for His return, well, they will left behind. That kind of shatters some folks idea of “I can do what I want with my life and in the end all will be well,” doesn’t it? Today’s parable may seem harsh to some. It paints a different picture of God than the one we prefer to think of. Why would God close the door on anyone? Maybe the question should be “why anyone would chose to close the door on God?”

There were ten bridesmaids waiting for the wedding to begin; only five brought enough oil in case their wait was longer than expected. These were “wise” Jesus said. Even though they feel asleep, they kept their lamps trimmed and when the cry came that they bridegroom was near, they rose and were ready to follow him to the banquet.

God desires that we should all be ready to come to him and join the bridegroom at the wedding feast when the cry goes out. All are invited. It is the choices we make here, that determines our preparation for that day, and whether or not we are welcomed into the banquet or find ourselves left out.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to follow him into all Truth. We don’t have the luxury of shifting through the gospels and deciding which parts we will accept and which ones we will discard. That is to fool ourselves into believing that it doesn’t matter what we do or say or what we truly believe as long as we love God, all will be well in the end.

Such thinking places us in the company of the five who Jesus said were not prepared to meet the bridegroom, because of their lack of oil, and thus missed the wedding feast. The delay in the bridegroom’s coming is a test of our hope and our love of God. We can’t afford to fall asleep.

In the life of the kingdom, here and now there will be inevitable delays where we long for visual manifestations of the Spirit of Christ. How invaluable in the church at such crisis are those whose cruses are full to the brim with the oil of patience, hope, and truth and whose lamps on the darkest nights are bright and incandescent.

“Stay awake,” Jesus said. We must be prepared for His coming by being prudent in building up reserves of strength and fortitude, so that in all circumstances, favorable or unfavorable, the light of our hope, faith, and love of God and our desire to be with him, does not go out.

Rather that it remains illuminated by the light of His presence, which shines forth in our hearts and awakens our hope in anticipation of His coming and our expectation of being united with Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb. AMEN+

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Rev. Gregg's sermon for November 5, 2017

ALL SAINT’S SUNDAY - A - 17        MATTHEW 5. 1-12

Today’s first lesson and the gospel reading present two different scenes: In the first lesson, St. John has a vision of what worship in heaven looks like. There is much singing and chanting. There are some who stand before the throne of God and there are others who fall on their faces and worship Him day and night.

This great company is made up of angels, elders, and martyrs who wear white robes with palm branches in their hands. St. John asks one of the elders who these are robed in white and where have they come from. They are the saints of God who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. They have endured the trials of this earth and are now at rest. They have been deemed worthy to stand before the throne of God and worship Him night and day, and Jesus is their shepherd.

If you ever thought heaven was a quiet place with a cherub occasionally strumming on a harp while sitting on the edge of a cloud, then, St. John’s vision tells us otherwise. Heaven is filled with music, singing, praising, and worshipping God. Consequently, I used to comment to the eight o’clockers at Grace, Monroe who made a point of telling me that the reason they came to the early service was that they did not like music, that they should be acclimated now. Who knows, God just might place them in the heavenly chorus.

Obviously, those whom St. John saw in his vision before the throne of God were “blessed” to be there. They are members of the church triumphant. And they in turn “blessed” the Blessed One crying out in their worship of Him, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

On the other hand, the scene from the gospel appears to be in contrast to the one St. John was privy to, but is it. Jesus is speaking to a mixed audience who have followed him up on a mountain over-looking the Sea of Galilee. Not all are there for the same reason.

Some indeed have followed him because they seek God’s kingdom. Jesus has feed them with his teaching and his deeds, yet they remain hungry. Others are there because they have heard of the things he has done, the miracles he has performed, and they want to see one for themselves. Yet others are there simply because they are curious.

Our gospel for today contains the opening words of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount.” What he says here in his use of the word “blessed” must have surprised all those who heard him. They didn’t feel “blessed.” They didn’t think of themselves as “blessed.”

On the contrary, the majority, if not all present, felt the opposite. They saw themselves one way, as oppressed and down trodden and separated from their God who seemed to be far away. Jesus was attempting to open their eyes to a “greater vision” of life now and in the age to come. He was bringing God to them and inviting them to come to God through Him.

The “poor in spirit,” Jesus tells them, have already inherited the kingdom. I wonder did they realize it. Those who are being persecuted and have been persecuted for righteousness sake, likewise, Jesus says, have already inherited the kingdom. I doubt they felt they had.

Jesus doesn’t call them saints, but that is what they are - the church militant. They are blessed by just being in His presence whether they realize it or not and God has blessed them because of who they are and because of what they have endured. Among the blessings Jesus pronounces are also promises of God that will one day be fulfilled.

How many do you suppose descended the mountain believing all that Christ had said? How many saw themselves as “blessed?” Do we? Of the two scenes presented in today’s readings, which one is easier for us to relate to? One speaks to the present the other to the future.

Most of us listen to these words of Jesus and seek to find our place in that scene. Which “blessing” is ours? Are we peacemakers? Are we meek? Are we pure in heart? Do we see ourselves as blessed by God and members of His household of blessed ones? I admit there are days I do feel blessed and give thanks. And there are those other days where I do not.

If we are honest, we must admit that we all feel pretty much the same way. Our faith and our hope in God are at best intermittent. Yet God’s love for us never fails. We don’t see ourselves as “saints.” We can’t imagine ourselves in that great company. For now we are members of the church militant engaged in spiritual warfare and struggling to obtain the beatific vision.

Of what value is this feast day? St. Bernard (12c.) writing on the occasion of All Saints said this “…the memory of the saints inspire in us and urge us to achieve their company, striving to deserve to be fellow citizens with and members of the household of the blessed ones…”

The way to the throne of God is in and through Jesus, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. He “will guide us to the springs of the water of life,” where we will stand before His face forever and where we shall see Him as he really is.

St. John’s vision of heaven is where we all hope to be one day. However, it won’t be due to any merits of our own, but our having been deemed worthy through the merits of Him who died and rose again. Through the eyes of faith, we are able to obtain the greater vision of our one day attaining fellowship with the saints in light; to share in their joy by being manifested with Christ in His glory.

As St. Bernard said “…to take our place in the gathering of the patriarchs and the ranks of the prophets; to be at home in the assembly of the Apostles and in the numerous hosts of the martyrs; welcomed in the college of confessors and the choirs of virgins, “in a word, to be united in the communion of all the saints. The church triumphant awaits us.

On that day we will realize the greatest blessing of all; to be invited to join the heavenly chorus in the worship of our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. AMEN+

Monday, October 30, 2017

Father Riely's sermon from October 29, 2017

21 PENTECOST - PROPER XXV - A - 17    MATTHEW 22.34-46

“When the Pharisees heard that Jesus has silenced the Sadducees…”

Just last week the Pharisees and Herodians had come together in an attempt to trap Jesus in his response to their question whether to pay the Roman tax or not.

In the verses that immediately followed the Sadducees approached him with their own challenge concerning the resurrection, an idea they did not believe in. It was just another attempt to have Jesus say something they could bring against him at a later date.

Now the Pharisees are back for a second time. This time they move their question out of the political realm to the world of religion. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” The Pharisees wanted to engage Jesus in a debate about which of the commandments of the law were great and which ones were of lesser consequence.

They had combed through the scriptures identifying 613 commandments and taught them to the people, causing many to realize they could never live up to the demands of God. Thus debating this very question was not an uncommon practice among the rabbis of Jesus’ day. Nor is it today.

I can recall on my last visit to Jerusalem to having wandered off into one of the many libraries that are adjacent to the Wailing Wall. There I witnessed rabbis and theological students doing this very thing in a highly spirited manner. The commandments were not simply among the things the Jews were supposed to do. They formed part of the prayer that every devout Jew prayed everyday, in a tradition that continues unbroken to the present day.

Matthew is not the only gospel writer to record the Sadducees’ challenge of Jesus. A similar encounter occurs in Mark and Luke. In Mark, the question is asked in a friendly manner, and Jesus commends the questioner. In Luke, the parable of the Good Samaritan follows as an example of putting love of God and neighbor into action.

The question could be rephrased as “what kind of commandment is great in the law?” The answer is “a commandment of love.” In this the second is “like unto the first.” The great point is that love is not primarily a matter of emotion but of self-devotion.

Many would have agreed substantially with the answer Jesus gave. What was new was not the content of Jesus’ teaching on the subject but his redefinition of what the love of God was, how it manifested itself, and who a man’s neighbor is. In his answer to the Pharisee’s question Jesus welds together two fundamental commands, which had long been held apart. They are to Jesus pivotal points of the new religion.

To love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind was a prayer Jews recited twice a day. (Deut. 6.5) This, Jesus said, is the greatest commandment and the second is like unto it. Both of these commandments in their original meaning rest upon the special relation of God to Israel. Jesus’ response was meant to expand their horizon in terms of whom their neighbor was. The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke was an expression of that expanded horizon.

While Israel was a people dwelling alone, and not reckoned among the nations their “neighborhood” was limited. However, when they took their place among the nations, and recognized that their God was “the God of the whole earth,” their sympathies should have expanded.

But their hatred of others, especially the Romans, and their pride in being God’s chosen people prevented them from fulfilling either of the two commandments Jesus is holding up to them as the answer to their question. The parable of the Good Samaritan was not enough for them to see the meaning behind Jesus’ having linked the two together. Thus, He fulfilled both on the cross.

Only in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, with the message of new life, do these commandments begin to become clear. Only when they are not seen as orders to be obeyed in our own strength, but as invitations and promises to a new way of life in which, bit by bit, hatred and pride can be left behind can love become a reality.

Unless the human heart is renewed by God’s love, we cannot produce words and deeds which reflect our love of God and our neighbor. When the heart is renewed, our outward actions will conform to the proper standard. Did the people actually keep all those commandments? Do we?

If we try and live our whole lives following Jesus and living by God’s grace and love, we all know there are still bits and pieces of darkness and impurity that lurk in its depths. It takes a lot of work and a lot of prayer to dig them out and replace them with the love, which we all agree should really be there. Thus we pray that God would increase in us the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love, so that we may obtain His promises by loving what He commands.

In the Christian life, two things need to be remembered: Though the love of God and the love of man are intimately connected, as Jesus has shown, we should think of them respectfully as well as together. Devotion to God, however real, in no way relieves us of the duty of serving our neighbor, and service to our neighbor, however devoted, in no way relieves us of the duty of loving God.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” Jesus answered. “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The love of God comes first, since our debt to Him is far greater of the two. Moreover to love God, if we understand anything of His character, brings the love of neighbor into play.

Chapter XXII is a chapter of questions. The Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees all seek to trap Jesus by their questions spanning both the religious and the political realm. Yet it is Jesus who ends the chapter with a question to the Pharisees, a question they were unable to answer: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

His commentary could be viewed as a protest against the all too earthly Jewish idea of Messiah. In using the opening lines from Psalm 110 Jesus is offering no solution to the dilemma he proposed. Instead, he leaves them to ponder for themselves the true answer behind his question, as he does each of us. AMEN+

Friday, October 27, 2017

All Saints' Day: November 1st, 2017, celebrated Sunday November 5th

All Saints' Day 2017 will be celebrated Sunday, November 5th at Christ Episcopal Church.  Following Episcopal guidance, All Saints' Day may also be celebrated on the Sunday following Nov. 1.  All Saints' Day commemorates all saints, known and unknown, on Nov. 1. All Saints' Day is one of the seven principal feasts of the church year, and one of the four days recommended for the administration of baptism.   Traditionally we remember our deceased family members on All Saints' Day by reading their names as part of the service.  You can include other saints you may have known who were not family members.  Please provide Father Riley or Jane Barnett the names of the saints you wish to be remembered prior to our service on November 5, 2017.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from October 22, 2017

20 PENTECOST - PROPER XXIV - A - 17   MATTHEW 22. 15-22

Today’s gospel passage follows three parables in succession in which Jesus has basically condemned the religious leaders of his day for failing to carry out their divine mission of being the light of God to the world. In doing so Christ implies that God was about to take the mission away from them and give it to the Gentiles unless they repented and recommitted themselves to the divine task that had been entrusted to them.

By the end of the second parable, the one of the vineyard, the Pharisees and scribes were conspiring against Jesus for they perceived that he was directing the parables towards them. The parable of the wedding feast, in last week’s gospel reading, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In today’s reading Matthew has the Pharisees and the Herodians, and unlikely duo, coming together to try and entrap Jesus into saying or doing something that they can use against him in a trail before the Sanhedrin or better yet before the Roman governor himself.

They begin the encounter with a compliment: “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show difference to no one…” They then proceed to ask their question whether one should pay the Roman tax hoping to trap him with his answer.

However, Jesus knows what is in their heart and avoids the trap. He calls them hypocrites. They are carrying around in their pockets the hated coinage of a self-proclaimed god. The coin was hated by the Jews because of what was on it. It was stamped with the image of Caesar and the wording proclaiming him as “son of god…high priest.”

Any self- respecting first century Jew would have shuttered at the thought. Hundreds of years before, the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed to God’s anointed, King Cyrus, that there was only one true god. “I am the Lord, and there is no other: besides me there is no god…”

Rome, since 6 A.D., had imposed a head tax of about 25 cents per person on the population of Judea. It was regarded as a badge of servitude to Rome. The Pharisees objected to having to pay the tax. The Herodians favored the tax, for they were sympathetic with the family of Herod, who ruled the Jews as Rome’s puppet.

For Jesus to have sided with the Herodians would have alienated all who longed for Israel’s freedom; to have sided with the Pharisees would have laid Jesus open to charges of subversion. Jesus asks to see the coin and they produce it.

He out flanks them with his response. His answer has the effect of thrusting his answer back to his interrogators, for one must determine what is rightfully Caesar’s and what can be claimed by God alone.

Of course, the Pharisees answer the obvious when asked whose image is on the coin - Caesar’s. “Then you had better pay Caesar back in his own coin hadn’t you?” Meaning they should pay the tax. Then to their astonishment, he adds “and you had better pay God back in his own coin too!” More astonishment. What did Jesus really mean?

Was he saying that the kingdom of God is more important than the kingdom of Caesar?  He was not trying to give an answer for all time on the relationship between God and political authority. That wasn’t the point. He was countering the Pharisee’s challenge to him with a sharp challenge in return.

We can only fully understand what Jesus was doing when we see his answer in the light of the whole story. The kingdom of God would defeat the kingdom of Caesar, not by conventional means, but by the victory of God’s love and power over the even greater empire of death itself. However, that day was yet to come.

What Jesus is revealing in his response to us is who we are, what we are, and what we can be. Israel was chosen by God and entrusted with a divine mission. However, she had become corrupt and had lost focus. Maintaining the status quo was more important than proclaiming God’s kingdom and teaching how one is to enter it.

Thus, Jesus’ first sermon/ teaching was to echo John Baptist - “Repent, for the kingdom is near.” But they turned a deaf ear to his cry as they had done to John. The more Jesus taught, preached, healed and proclaimed the kingdom, the more they knew they had failed.

Instead of turning back to God and resuming the mission, they rejected him and sought a way to rid themselves of him so that things could go on as before. But God would have none of that, even if it meant His Son would have to die on the cross.

The coin, then, is symbolic. It is the symbol of what some work for, even slave for. The world has come to believe that the coin is a measure of our value, the symbol of our worth. However, the true measure of our value has to do with the likeness and the inscription born on our bodies and souls.

As Caesar has cast the denarius in his image, God has cast each of us in His own image. Our souls have been stamped with the divine image and inscribed with God’s name. At our baptisms we were reminded of this as the sign of the cross was traced on our foreheads with the words “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

We may not be able to see that indelible mark as we stand before a mirror, but God sees it. It is there for all eternity. Neither can the world see the outline of the cross we bear. Our works testify to it. It is the things we say and do that are in accordance with God’s will that witness to the fact that we belong to Him and that our allegiance is to God and God alone.

The important word in Jesus’ response is “render,” it means more than just to give, but give back. Our dues to God and to man are alike for values received. To God we owe all and must pay all; though there are many things which are not Caesar’s, there are none which are not God’s. AMEN+

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from October 8, 2017

18 PENTECOST - PROPER XXII - A - 17    MATTHEW 21. 33-46


While serving with the Army in Germany many years ago now, I was fortunate enough to travel through the Rhine Valley. If you are not familiar with that part of Germany, it is Germany’s wine producing region. Vineyards dot the countryside much like the Napa valley in California.
In ancient Palestine for one to own a vineyard was a sign of wealth. It was not uncommon for the owner to be an absentee. Thus, the vineyard was rented to tenants who were responsible for keeping it up and producing the fruit the true owner expected to receive when he sent his servants to collect.
Today’s gospel along with the first lesson and psalm speak to the image of vineyards. In the first lesson, God is reacting to his disappointment in the house of Israel, which is His vineyard. She has not produced the fruit God was expecting. God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.
The Psalmist is crying to the Lord in time of distress. Israel sees herself as God’s vineyard; God’s planting, but now it is as if the protecting walls of God’s presence are gone, and enemies crowd in to strip the vine of its fruit and to up root it like wild hogs. The psalmist prays for the return of God’s saving presence.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is telling a second parable; one of a vineyard that has been lent to tenants. He is speaking once again to the chief priests and elders as he stands in the Temple. It is a follow on to last week’s parable of the two sons.
You may recall that when they were asked which son had done the will of the father, the religious leaders had answered correctly and thus convicted themselves. They do so again in today’s parable by giving Jesus the correct answer when asked what the landowner will do to the wicked tenants who dealt violently with his messengers and killed the heir.
Their answer is no sooner out of their mouths when they perceive that Jesus is speaking about them. They become angry and would like nothing more than to lay hands on him but are afraid of the crowd who regards him as a prophet.
God regards Israel as his vineyard, as his own planting and has now sent His Son to Jerusalem to confront the ones God has left in charge with His demand that they repent and turn from their refusing to follow Him and become at last what God has called Israel to be, the light of God’s world.
Unfortunately, it is a story of how Israel is going to refuse God’s demand. It is a story that shows the hard-heartedness or sinfulness of the people. It is a story that reveals that God’s Son will receive the same treatment as the prophets who preceded him. To the degree that the prophets are heard, they are rejected.
Jesus’ story, however, has a different ending. The rejected one becomes the chief cornerstone of the new foundation. In the first lesson, the prophet Isaiah makes it perfectly clear what God wanted, justice. In addition, he makes it clear what God received, violence. In the gospel lesson, not much has changed. Injustice and violence mark the response of the tenants.
When we stop and think about it, not much has changed in our own culture today. Injustice and violence seem to be our characteristic response in contrast to God’s overtures of care and love. Both Matthew and Isaiah are teaching us about hardness of heart and ingratitude to God. Both have to do with the choices we make in response to God.
God has made us in His image but some choose to present themselves in this world as anything but by the choices they make and by the things, they do and say. That’s why we have injustice and violence today. Evil exists. Not because God created it but because with the God-given gift of choice, some choose to rebel against God and to go their own way without any compassion or concern for others.
Las Vegas is an example of one man’s choosing to conduct evil. The secular press, the irreligious, the liberal minded can all claim that he acted out of this or that reason, but the bottom line is he chose to kill, wound and maim and in the end, he chose to kill himself.
No one made him do it. He made the choice. How sad. How unfortunate. How unnecessary. One man’s evil caused scores of lives to be lost and countless lives to be scarred forever, and for what.
Jesus confronts the leaders of God’s chosen people in his telling of these two parables as a means of waking them up, shaking them out of their lethargy, and re-orienting them to their divine calling. However, they chose to reject his demand that they become what God created them to be. In addition, they chose to reject Him whom God has sent and will eventually hand Him over to be crucified.
It is easy for us to stand back after hearing the parable and comment why God’s chosen would do that. Likewise, it is easy for us to listen to the reports coming out of Las Vegas and ask why anyone would choose to do something like that. None of us likes to think that Jesus is telling the parable against us, we are not like that. Yet the truth is we have all been guilty of acting without justice.
We are all capable of becoming violent, of living a life void of compassion, of focusing entirely on self based on the choices we make. Compassion keeps us human. To choose to be compassionate is dangerous, because it means we choose to live our lives in response to God’s overtures of care and love, instead of acting out of our own human will and emotions.
It is dangerous because to live with compassion runs crosscurrent with today’s society where it seems to be every man for himself. God, the compassionate one, longs for us to see things as God sees them. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day lacked compassion and Jesus called them on it.
They became defensive and their anger moved them to seek a violent way in which they could rid themselves of Him. Lack of compassion allows us to slip into evil; to contemplate and commit such violent acts as Jesus describes in the parable, and which befell Him on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and most recently occurred in Las Vegas.
However, the world does not have to be like that. In God’s eyes, we are his vineyard. We are His planting in the world. Like Israel, God expects from us a certain fruit: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6.8), in other words to live a righteous life.
Righteousness is God’s gift based on our faith in Christ. It is a gift given in response to our choosing to live our lives in accordance with God’s will and in response to His Divine Love manifested most perfectly in His Son, Jesus.
To live a righteous life is to shun evil, injustice and violence and forgetting all  which may have been part of our former lives “strain forward to what lies ahead; to press on,” as St. Paul says, “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” -  to share in His glory. AMEN+



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from October 1, 2017

17 PENTECOST - PROPER XXI - A - 17            MATTHEW 21.23-32


 In today’s gospel reading Jesus has re-entered the Temple a day after his having cleansed it by turning over the tables of the moneychangers and driving out the merchants. Now he appears to be calmly teaching when the chief priests and the elders of the people approach him and raise the question of by what authority he is acting the way he is.
“By what authority are you doing these things,” they ask, “and who gave you this authority?” What they really wanted to ask was “who do you think you are coming into the Temple and usurping our authority?” Only God or his Messiah could do that. Jesus does not answer them directly but rather he in turn asks them a question concerning John Baptist.
“Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it from human origin?” Both the elder’s question and Christ’ question require the same answer. If they were honest, it would lead them to confess that Jesus has come from heaven, as was John’s baptism. However, they waffle and respond that they do not know the answer to his question.
Jesus’ question, you see, would require them to take a stand on the role of John. They waffled because they were afraid to admit that perhaps they had been wrong about John. Maybe he was a prophet sent from God.
On the other hand, they were afraid to say John’s baptism was not God-sent for that would cause the people to rise against them. John had a good many followers and was quite popular with the man on the street.
Thus, Jesus’ question leaves them in a dilemma regarding the source of his authority. The religious leader’s ploy to judge Jesus ends up being one in which they are judged by their answer to his second question contained in the parable of the two sons.
Out of their own mouths, they condemn themselves when they answer correctly. Their own self-righteousness has blinded them to the continuity between John’s ministry and Jesus’.
God began a new thing with the coming of John and brought it to completion through Jesus. John had called them to repent; he promised the coming of the kingdom and the One who would baptize with the Spirit.
Now He had come and was standing in their very midst but they refused to acknowledge him as they had John. When they waffled and said, “We don’t know,” Jesus told the parable of the two sons. In the parable, Jesus is contrasting the chief priests and elders with the multitude of sinners who came to John to be baptized.
The religious leaders had every opportunity to know the will of God. They loudly professed that they did know it and said that they were forwarding their knowledge of it in preparing the people for the coming of the kingdom of God. Yet, they rejected God’s prophet (John) by refusing to cooperate with him as they would eventually reject God’s Son and crucify him.
But the sinners, who were open rebels against the laws of God, came and heard John, repented of their sins and were baptized. Even when the chief priests and elders had seen the positive effect of John’s teaching, they still refused to repent and believe.
Jesus’ response goes to the heart of the gospel message. What God calls for is repentance on the part of those who are in need of His grace and are willing to acknowledge their need. As God tells his people in the first lesson through the mouth of his prophet Ezekiel, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions… get a new heart and a new spirit…For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,” says the Lord God. “Turn, then, and live.”
The proud, the self-righteous, the holier than thou are blinded and ignorant to the fact that they need to repent, and thus remain in their sin condemning themselves. It goes without saying that each of us is responsible for our own actions.
Blaming others for what they have done or failed to do is no excuse for personal responsibility. As St. Paul reminded us just a few weeks ago, we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and will have to give an account of ourselves.

There is a cure, however, for hardness of heart and that is the light of grace that opens our eyes to see that we are not perfect either in our relationship with God or with our neighbor. We are not always right.

There are things done and left undone in our lives that need to be remedied. There are certain aspects of our lifestyles that need to be changed along with certain of our attitudes.

Change is possible. We can repent and live! We can get a new heart and a new spirit. Jesus Christ is the source. As Christians, we need be doing more than just saying that we know what God’s will is, we need to be doing it.

We need to put our faith into practice outside of one hour of Sunday morning worship. We need to take to heart the words of the dismissal: “Go in peace to Love and Serve the Lord.” We need to be doing more than just keeping up appearances.

We need, as St. Paul says, to imitate him, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…being born in human likeness, humbling himself and becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

The gospel challenge for us today, in light of Jesus’ teaching, is to make sure we are responding to Christ, allowing him to confront us at any point in our lives where we have been like the second son and said “yes” to God while in fact going off in the other direction.

Rather, we need to be like the first son, who turned from doing his own will to doing the will of the father. It is one thing to know the will of God and quite another thing to do it. To do it requires that we empty ourselves of self in order that we might be filled with the grace of God.

Then, as the collect says, “run to obtain His promises that we may become partakers of His heavenly treasure; through Him whom God has highly exalted and given the name that is above every name, even His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN+

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for September 17, 2017

15 PENTECOST -  PROPER XIX - A - 17         MATTHEW 18.21-35


 Today’s gospel reading continues where last week’s gospel lesson left off. You recall Jesus had just given his disciples a lesson on how to deal with forgiveness and reconciliation in the church. When he had finished speaking Peter asks and answers his own question looking for Jesus to confirm his response. “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive him? As many as seven times”?
Peter’s question presupposes the reality of his rights and the limitations of his duties. Among the Jews, the number of times one should exercise forgiveness varied. Three times being the fixed number, in other statements seven. However, that was according to the Old Covenant. In the pre-Israelite period vengeance toward one who had done wrong knew no limits.
We see from studying the gospels that the duty of forgiveness occupied a large place in the teaching of Jesus. The spirit of revenge had cast a dark shadow upon the life of his own race and upon society in general. God’s people were awaiting a Messiah that would wreak havoc on Israel’s enemies and restore Israel to nation status.
Unlimited forgiveness, however, was to be the dominant spirit of the New Society Jesus was ushering in, a hard lesson to learn then, as well as now. Jesus uses a parable to illustrate his point.
Christ said that the Kingdom of God is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. He then told the parable of the forgiving king and the unforgiving servant. The parable tells us more about the nature of God than about the nature of the kingdom.
It seems obvious from the parable that receiving forgiveness and forgiving are related. Because God forgives us, we are in turn are required (obligated) to grant the gift of forgiveness to others. How can we learn to forgive? Can we learn to forgive ourselves and is forgiving ourselves related to our being able to forgive others?
Jesus says that true forgiveness comes from the heart. It cannot be merely lip service.
When I was growing up, I had a younger brother. He was exactly five years younger than I was. By the time I was ten or so, he being five, he wanted to tag along with my friends and me wherever we went and be involved in whatever we were doing. However, we did not want him, told him so, and would send him home.
Of course, he returned home crying and telling our mother how awful we had been to him and that we did not want him to play with us. And of course when I returned home I was confronted by my mother who told me I was to apologize to my little brother and tell him I was sorry and I did so.
Looking back on it now, I must confess, I am not certain it came from the heart but more out of fear of not saying so. As we grow older in life, we discover that we have all been stepped on at some point and felt abused, neglected, rejected and taken for granted and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have treated others in the same way.
Many times, we have apologized for our behavior and perhaps have been on the receiving end of another’s apology. But were we really being forgiven and were we really offering true forgiveness? Did it come from the heart or were we merely giving lip service in order to try to smooth over an awkward situation with the aim of maintaining a friendship or relationship.
“What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us…” Joseph’s brothers asked in the first lesson. We can always tell when we have been truly forgiven, that is, when once we have expressed our sorrow at having offended another, they accept it and it is never brought up again. It is as if it had never happened, or never been said and the relationship goes on as if it never did.
Likewise, we can know when the opposite is true, that is, when the other person never let us forget it. The key thing is not that we should therefore swallow all resentment and “forgive and forget” as though nothing had happened. The key thing is that one should never give up making forgiveness and reconciliation one’s goal.
If confrontation has to happen, as it often does, it must always be with forgiveness in mind, never revenge. The parable, then, needs little explanation. The lesson to be drawn is that the disciple who does not forgive not only causes grief to the community, but also incurs the wrath of God.
There is not one of us who does not stand in the same relation to God as the unmerciful servant to the king in the parable. We have all been the recipient of God’s unlimited forgiveness. Moreover, we have all been guilty of the same sin of with holding forgiveness.
Ill will and a revengeful, grudging spirit involve others in the consequence of our own sins. And when we with hold forgiveness we impose on God’s good nature without regard to the consequences. As St. Paul aptly reminds us, each of us will stand before the judgment seat of God and will be held accountable for things done and left undone.
Every time we accuse someone else, we are accusing ourselves. Every time we forgive someone else, we are playing forward God’s having forgiven us. Our obligation to forgive others is a practical rather than emotional obligation, and, if we do not perform it, we must expect to find those blessings forfeited. God’s forgiveness is probationary and may be recalled at any time.
Mercy is enthroned in the heart of God. Thus, it should be in ours. To forgive is to be God-like. Our hearts must be open to forgiveness, never closed. If it is open, able and willing to forgive others it will be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness.
It is only when our true relation to God is grasped that we come to think and act in a God-like way. Jesus established the New Covenant and the way of life, which will mark out the New Covenant, is forgiveness. The cross is proof not only of God’s love for each of us but the sign that the blood of Christ has reconciled us to God.
Here, Jesus makes it clear that if we want to continue to receive God’s forgiveness we have to be prepared to give it. It is a hard lesson to learn, but even harder to put into practice. Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer says it all.
If we are still counting how many times we have forgiven someone, we are not really forgiving him or her at all, but simply postponing revenge. What Jesus is saying with his 70x7 answer is, don’t think about counting; just do it. AMEN+





Thursday, September 14, 2017

Shepherd Center needs and Morning Prayer

The Shepherd Center has need of household items like pots, pans, utensils, sheets, pillow cases; etc. Please help out the Shepherd Center.  Also, Jane Barnett has been conducting Morning Prayer every Wednesday at the Shepherd Center for over a year or two or three.  The service is, of course, open to everyone.  Please join us each Wednesday at the Shepherd Center at 10am for Morning Prayer.  The service usually closes with a special version of "Amazing Grace" sung by Eddie Sanders--you will love it!  At this Wednesday's service we were asked to pray for Mattie Davis--please keep Mattie in your prayers.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from September 10, 2017

14 PENTECOST - PROPER XVIII - A - 17   MATTHEW 18. 15-20


As I said in last week’s homily, it has taken a natural disaster to divert our nation’s attention away from demonstrations of hate to ones of love. Some might say that God has intervened by focusing our attention away from confrontation to one of interceding on behalf of those in need.
For none of us likes confrontation, not really. It is always a difficult thing. Moreover, few of us do it well. As human beings, we have become creative in ways to avoid it, unlike those we have seen on the nightly news in weeks past who seem to enjoy beating up on each other.
Most of us can keep our feelings pent up inside of us. However, there are some who can do it for so long then explode. Sometimes we tell everyone we know about a problem we are having with another person except the one we think is the problem. It is a rare person who can open a tinder subject, discuss it reasonably, and the leave it alone.
Let’s face it most of us fight dirty. We hit below the belt by bringing up things from the past that have nothing to do with the present issue. The natural response of the one on the receiving end is to become defensive.
Reconciliation goes out of the window. Both sides dig in. What began as an attempt to address an issue escalates into an argument. We have seen it all too often and been a part of it ourselves in our relationships with others, whether family or friend.
If it goes too far, relationships are broken and friendships end without either party willing to reach out to the other in an attempt to make amends. Our pride keeps us from doing this. Reconciliation is a huge issue today. We clearly see the results of not doing it. The media will not let us forget.
Campaigns of terror abound, wars and rumors of war continue to grow, and divisions of race and culture in our own country manifest themselves in a divisive manner on a daily basis. We live in a divided country, and yes, even the Church is divided much, I am sure, to the sorrow of Him who died for it.
The prophet Ezekiel, in today’s first lesson realized the sins of his own nation. “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, as we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” God gave him the answer: turn from your evil ways and live. As St. Paul does in his letter to the Romans, “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Sadly, many of us as Christians take a head in the sand approach and pretend there is no problem. We can refuse to face the facts, swallow our anger, or resentment, paste over the cracks and carry on as if everything is normal. On the other hand, we simply ignore and avoid the other person or the other group or issue and pretend it does not exist.
As Christians, we have come to convince ourselves that this is what forgiveness is all about. It means pretending that everything is all right, that the other person has not done anything wrong. But that is not it at all. Forgiveness does not mean saying it did not really happen, she did not really say that, or it did not really matter.
In either of those cases, you do not need forgiveness; you just need to clear up a misunderstanding. Forgiveness comes into play when it did happen, when he/she did say that, and it did matter, and you are going to deal with it. Jesus gives us a sequence in today’s gospel on how to put forgiveness and reconciliation into play, in other words, how to deal with it.
First, keep it between you and the one who has offended you. If you feel you have been offended then you be the one to initiate the action, but be prepared for the offender to offer a counter-accusation in which there may be some truth we need to hear. Above all, avoid becoming defensive.
If that does not resolve the issue, then take a witness or two who will serve as a realty check on your judgment. If you are right then they will confirm it.
If that does not turn the other person and move them to reconcile, then Jesus says we are to take it to the church.
If that fails the result is excommunication; a disassociation and separation - a permanently broken relationship.
Yes Jesus was giving his disciples a means of providing forgiveness and reconciliation for members of the church, ending with a disciplinary action that would be needed in the not too distant future if all else failed. However, the same sequence works for us as individuals in our relationship with other human beings.
Reconciliation is a hard challenge that confronts our world today, especially when one nation faces off against another and refuses to back down. The challenge exists in our own nation where our differences are being magnified by race and fanned by hatred and ignorance. It remains a hard challenge within our own families where politics, religion, and life-styles create a breach that sometimes result in permanent separation.
Hate and anger too often override love and forgiveness and we waste away as a people and a nation because of them. Thus, the prophet Ezekiel raised the question: “how then can we to live?” God in Christ gives us the answer: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
No one said it was going to be easy, perhaps that is why it is a rare thing to witness. However, Jesus’ warning about “binding and loosing” does not only apply to the church in her authority to pronounce God’s absolution, but to each of us in our relationships with one another when it comes to forgiveness.
If we fail to forgive we bind that person in their sin, and we bind ourselves to their sin, as God revealed to Ezekiel. However, if we forgive them, and become reconciled to them, then, we give them life, and we gain life; a life that is on based on love - the “new” life Christ gives to all through the merits of His life, death, and resurrection.
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor;” Paul writes, therefore “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” AMEN+