Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Services for December 2017 and January 2018

Services for December 2017 and January 2018:

Morning Prayer Rite II, Dec 31

Morning Prayer Rite II, Jan 7

Holy Eucharist, Jan 14, 21; 28

(all services at 10am)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for Christmas Eve, 5pm December 24, 2017

CHRISTMAS EVE - B - 17            LUKE 2:1-20

Tonight’s gospel from St. Luke is such a familiar story. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be enrolled for the purpose of taxes! Mary is with child. Perhaps the rigors of the journey from Nazareth to the city of David ended her pregnancy.

It seems they arrived later than many others did for there were no rooms available. In such a small town as Bethlehem, the rooms would have been few and far between. Those who did not have to travel as far got there first and were fortunate enough to find proper accommodations.

Surely, there were others families there with infants and small children. Perhaps other babies were born that same night. However, this child of Mary was different. No other child in the little town of Bethlehem on that silent night was introduced to the world by an angel of the Lord.

It is a story we could all repeat in detail. The question is do we? Luke tells us that the shepherds to whom the angel announced the good news of great joy did just that. “…they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed…”

Isn’t that what we do when we have received good news? We can’t wait to go and tell it. This is the Church’s mission and has been for over 2000 years - to go and tell the familiar story - that the Word became flesh on a starry night in the little town of Bethlehem and has dwelt among us full of grace and truth.

So why is the world we live in today in such a state of spiritual disrepair? What happened to the good news of great joy for all people? Did the world simply stop believing?

Or did the Church stop telling the story in a convincing manner of the night when the grace of God and the hope of salvation came into the world wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a common manger because there was no room for him anywhere else?

I have been fortunate over my lifetime to travel much of the world. In recent years, I have visited countries that were once predominately Christian, countries for example, that one reads about in the Acts of the Apostles. These were converted by the efforts of St. Peter and Paul who eventually gave their lives for their efforts.

They thrived for many centuries sustained by the faith of those who followed in the apostle’s footsteps. The fruit of their witness produced more than one saint. Today those countries have been lost to the gospel and to the Church. It is as if the good news was never heard in those lands.

Sadly, I have seen Churches that were built to the Glory of God and are now in a state of disrepair. Some are even being used as warehouses. Others have been converted into mosques. All vestiges of the Christian faith have been removed. Medieval frescoes that once adorned their ceilings and walls have been painted over.

The few faithful who remain in these once predominately Christian countries have all but gone underground. They are no longer free to share in detail the good news of the Savior’s birth or any other aspect of their faith for fear of persecution. It is as if the hand of time has been turned back a thousand years or more. Like Mary, in our Christmas story, they still “treasure the words and ponder them in their hearts.”

What of us who are free to express our faith, free to share the familiar story, and are here tonight to hear it told once again? Do we “treasure the words and ponder them in our hearts” keeping it all to ourselves? Or do we take up the role of the shepherds who were surprised by the announcement of the angel and go and tell all we come in contact with the “good news” that the Savior has been born?

That is how the shepherds responded. They even did the unthinkable when the good news was announced. They abandoned watching over their flocks and went to see for themselves if what the angel had told them was true. They stood in awe at the crèche’ where the Christ-child lay and told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said concerning this child.

Leaving the manger, they did not hesitate to make known what had been told them about the child they had just seen and all who heard it were amazed, and people still are. Why, then, would not the whole world readily receive Him?

The answer is simply because not everyone is looking for a savior. Not everyone sees the need of a redeemer. Not everyone is willing to humble themselves and become obedient to a King. The Church has yet much work to do in sharing the “good news,” and rekindling the hope and joy His coming into the world brings.

The Christmas story is so familiar that we often miss the import of the shepherd’s role. Of course, the focus is on the Christ-child as it should be. He is at the center of the scene. It is His birth we celebrate tonight. He came that we might believe in Him and so believing inherit new life.

He has given the Church the mission of the shepherds who were the first to tell of the saving grace and Love of God in the Word made flesh. The Apostles picked up their mantle and their mission. As the Church, you and I have inherited it.

Such a familiar story, yet with such a powerful announcement that has and continues to impact the life of the world. Does it still amaze us? Still surprise us that God so loved the world that He humbled his divinity to share in our humanity that we might one day come to share in his glory?

The shepherd’s role is ours to take up in joyful response to our belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. For there are yet parts of the world today that have never heard the story as well as those parts that have forgotten all about it and the meaning behind it. Sadly there are still others that have heard it but do not yet believe it.

All the more reason for us who do believe to leave the manger tonight with the same joy in our hearts as those shepherds did on that first Christmas Eve, willing to tell the story of the Savior’s Birth to all, as if we have just heard it for the first time, so that the message of this familiar story shall never be lost.

“Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign.” (Hymn #84, v1) “O Come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord.” Amen+

Monday, December 25, 2017

Father Riley's homily from Advent IV, 10am Sunday, December 24, 2017

ADVENT IV - B - 17                     LUKE 1. 26-38

For weeks now, we have been receiving Christmas greetings, via cards, and the playing of Christmas music and carols through loud speakers as we shop for that last minute gift or listening to them on our car radios as we drive around looking for a parking space at the mall.

The many wishes of a Merry Christmas are in themselves an announcement that the day is drawing near when we will celebrate once again the birth of the Savior of the world. Advent is a season of patiently waiting. This morning we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath in anticipation of our journey to Bethlehem coming to an end, but not quite yet.

There is one more announcement to be made; a birth announcement that comes in today’s gospel. It is a divine announcement delivered by a messenger of God to a young maiden in the village of Nazareth. Her name is Mary. Today the Virgin Mary is our focus.

Mary we are told, has found favor with God, but we are not told how or why. Could it possibly be that God knew that Mary would consent to be the mother of His Son? I have always envisioned the scene of the annunciation as being a routine day for Mary. It started out like any other day.

I can see Mary sweeping and cleaning the house or perhaps involved in preparing a meal. Her day was like any other day until she was not only suddenly surprised by the appearance of an angel, but of his greeting! “Greetings favored one.” What did he mean that she was favored by God and that God was with her?

When the angel announced that she had been, she reacted as any of us would. She did not ask to be chosen. It was only natural that she be somewhat perplexed and not a little afraid. I have often wondered was her fear do to the angels’ sudden appearance or was it the message he brought?  Perhaps it was both.

She listened, as the angel Gabriel not only told her the name of the child she was to bear, more importantly who the child was and what he would become.  His name will be Jesus, Gabriel told her.  He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High. He will be a king and his reign will be forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.

What could it possibly mean for her to be the mother of God’s Son? What could it possibly mean for the life of the world?

Months later, she would find herself delivering her first-born son in a common manger in the little town of Bethlehem. Some might say a strange place for a “king’s” birth. Once again, unannounced visitors would surprise her. This time it would be a contingent of local shepherds who would uncharacteristically abandon their flocks on the nearby hillside and hurry to the manger to see what the angel had told them was true.

Mary will watch as they kneel in humble obedience before her child, as if they are in the presence of a king. They will tell her and her husband Joseph what the angel told them concerning the child, that he would be the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Once again, Mary will listen and hold their words in her heart uncertain of what it all would one day mean. At that moment, she would be unable to contemplate the day when she would kneel at the cross and watch her son die a cruel death. That day would come, but for now, she could only ask how what the angel is announcing could be happening to her.

Unlike the old, priest Zachariah, John Baptist’s father, whom Gabriel had announced earlier that he would have a son in his old age and then in his unbelief asked for a sign, Mary simply asks for an explanation.

How can this be since I am still a virgin? The angel gives what looks like a double explanation: the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary, enabling her to do and be more than she could by herself. The power of the Most High will overshadow her.

Mary was given special grace to become the mother of God’s incarnate Self. She is the extreme example of what always happens when God is at work by grace through human beings. God’s power from outside, and the indwelling Spirit within, together result in things done which would have been unthinkable any other way. For with God all things are possible.

We read the stories in scripture where God appears to individuals and delivers His will for them. Other times He sends a messenger to speak for him, like the prophets of old, or in Mary’s case, an angel. When we read them, we say to ourselves “God has never spoken to me. I have never seen an angel.” But can we be so sure?

I can only speak for myself and confess that there have been moments in the past when I have been certain that it was God who was speaking. Oh, not directly, like “hello Gregg, this is God.” But moments and occasions when He sent a messenger who spoke for him and delivered the word I was listening for or pointed me in the direction I needed to take.

Sometimes it was an answer to a prayer. Other times it was a solution to a problem I had been struggling to solve. Always these “announcements” came as a surprise, and I might add were not always delivered by individuals I was acquainted with. Some were total strangers.

Think about it. How many times has God “announced” his will for you? Did you listen? Did you question? Did you give Him your “yes?” Did you, like Mary, simply ask how or were you more akin to the old priest Zachariah and ask for a sign so that you could know for sure that it was indeed God speaking? Faith allows us to ask “how?” Our unbelief always seeks a “sign.”

The only legitimate attitude of man to God is represented in Mary‘s; “let it be with me according to your word.” As always, the divine purpose of God for each of us waits for our “yes” and our cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit so that we too might be filled with God’s grace and enabled to do and be more than we possibly could by our self.

It is the Virgin Mary’s “yes” to God, her humble obedience that has rung down through the centuries as a model of the human response to God’s unexpected vocation. Her “yes” answers the question why God chose her to be the mother of His Son, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

It is Mary we focus on today as we draw near the crèche. It is her example of humble obedience we seek to follow by giving our “yes” to God. AMEN+

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Eve Services: 10am and 5pm

Since Christmas Eve is also the 4th Sunday in Advent, we will have two services this Sunday.  We will have Holy Eucharist at 10am for our 4th Sunday in Advent service and we will have Holy Eucharist at 5pm for our Christmas Eve Service.  Of course, everyone is welcome to join us at both services.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Saint Joseph Arts and Orchestra Christmas Concert

The St. Joseph Arts and Orchestra presented it 's Christmas 2017 concert in Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday, December17, 2017.  

The 2017 Orchestra included:
Violin I:  Dwain Traylor; David Troutman
Violin II: Dawn Hess; Steve Maynord
Viola:  Suzie Rush; Laura Walizer
Cello:  Cecil Evans
Double Bass: Louis DeVries (Conductor)
Flute:  Allyn DeVries; Vicky Sanders
Clarinet:  Nancy Eidt; Jane Vaughan
Piano:  Beth Mitchell

Priest in Residence The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley opened the concert with prayer.

Christ Episcopal was filled to near capacity as we all enjoyed the orchestra’s offering of beautiful Christmas music.

A reception was held following the concert in the Parish House to thank the orchestra and for community fellowship.

Wonderful hors d’oeuvres were provided by many in the community.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from December 17, 2017

ADVENT III - B - 17               JOHN 1. 6-8, 19-28

 “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”

Last week we were introduced to John Baptist at the beginning of St. Mark’s gospel. Today we have St. John’s introduction of the Baptist. St. Mark emphasized John’s preaching of repentance and his appearance like one of the prophets of old. St. John emphasizes the Baptist’s witness and his confession.

John was given a divine role to witness to the “light,” one of the author’s favorite references to Jesus as the light of the world. In today’s reading, John’s identity is questioned by a group of priests and Levites who have been sent by the Pharisees to check him out. They want to know who he is.

He confesses that he is not the one they suppose him to be. He is asked the question of his identity within the specific context of the messianic expectations of the religious leaders of his day. John confounds them by his denying any of the titles they try to hang on him. I am not the messiah, he says. I am not Elijah. I am not another prophet.

Yet he quotes the prophet Isaiah when he says, “I am only a voice…” Stifled by John’s response to their question of his identity, his inquisitors now move to their next question, why he is baptizing.

Ritual purity was a significant category of ancient sacrificial Judaism. A person or a thing had to be ritually pure before they could enter the Temple, that is, to approach the divine. The primary mode of removing impurity was “mikvah” full immersion in a body of living water.

In earlier ages, only priests tried to remain in a state of ritual purity since they went daily to the Temple. The common Jew who went about his daily business found it impossible to remain ritually pure because of the people and the things he came in contact with during the course of the day. Thus, he purified himself only when he visited the Temple.

The Temple complex was surrounded by mikvah baths so that the Jews could purify themselves on the way to the Temple mount. Archeologists have just begun to uncover them at the foot of the Temple steps. I was privy to view their work on my first trip to Jerusalem and was amazed at the number of them.

In the first century, ritual purity became a major aspect of Jewish piety. Some Jews began to see a higher spiritual significance to ritual purity. It represented a state of nearness to God. Since sin generates distance from God and atonement generates nearness, just like impurity and purity, there was by analogy an aspect of penitence in the act of ritual purification.

The correspondence between ritual purity and atonement was made explicit in the career of John Baptist. John was not a Christian but a Jew. His immersions in the Jordan River were not baptisms into faith in Christ, but Jewish ritual immersions. John gave ritual immersions heightened spiritual significance. It was his way of preparing the people to approach the divine - Jesus, the Son of God.

John was the first witness to and believer in Jesus as the promised one. He was a light that testified to the true light. Being sent from God, he spoke for God. But who and what was John apart from Jesus?

By quoting Isaiah, the Baptist gives an answer that comes from the spiritual tradition of his questioners. As “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”, the Baptist defines himself as deriving meaning through his relationship with another.

What John was doing and saying down at the Jordan was not about him. It was about the one who was coming after him. His task was to prepare the way, and then get out of the way.

What about us? Who are we in the eyes of the world? Better yet, who are we in the eyes of God? Who and what are we apart from Jesus?

As Christians, we live within the context of our relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ. John knew who he was and who he was not. John refused all of the titles the priests and Levites tried to lay on him. He knew what God had sent him to do and he remained true to his purpose. “I am only a voice…”

There is his humility, and his true greatness. He was a signpost that pointed away from him and to the one who was to come after him. Such as, it should be with us as followers of Christ. Our witness is not to call attention to ourselves but to Him, who is the light of the world.

God recognizes our unique abilities that enable us to share the good news. Our role, like that of the Baptist, is to be a “voice.” Not that we can speak for God, as John did, but that we can speak about God, especially His Love, manifested in His Son, Jesus, and His grace given that enables us to do just that, and to do it with a sense of joy.

As St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle to the Church in Thessalonica, we are called to be open to doing the will of God in joy. In this passage, the will of God is to “rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.”

Giving thanks leaves us open to the leading of the Spirit. Giving thanks will give us the ability to discern good from evil. Giving thanks opens our hearts and minds to the will of God and allows us to let God work in and through us.

Giving thanks in all things prepares us for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, both as the child in the manger whose birth we are preparing to celebrate, and a fullness of the revelation of Christ now and in the age to come as the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

So that when He shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold His appearing. AMEN+

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry Christmas Message 2017

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
Christmas Message 2017

In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says,
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new is come.

At a point in that passage, St. Paul says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself,” and he also says at another point in the same passage, “and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.”

Have you ever gone to the movies or read a story or a novel, and the novel starts with the end, so you know where the story ends, but then the rest of the story or the novel is actually the story behind the story. We know about Christmas. We know about Mary. We know about Joseph. We know about the angels singing Gloria in excelsis deo. We know from our childhood the animals in the stable. We know of the magi who come from afar, arriving around Epiphany, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know of the angels singing in the heavens, and the star that shown above them. Therein is the story.

But the story behind the story is what St. Paul was talking about. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and Jesus has now given us that same ministry of reconciliation. God was reconciling the world to himself by becoming one of us. The divine became human. God entered history. Eternity became part of time. God was reconciling the world to himself by actually living it himself. In Jesus, God came among us to show us the way, to be reconciled with the God who has created us all and everything that is. And God has likewise come in the person of Jesus, to show us how to be reconciled with each other, as children of the one God who is the Creator of us all. That’s the story behind Christmas.

God is showing us the Way to become God’s children, and as God’s children, brothers and sisters of each other. God is showing us in Jesus how to become God’s family and how to change, and build, and make a world where everybody is a part of that family. Where children don’t go to bed hungry. Where no one has to be lonely. Where justice is real for all and where love is the ultimate law.

Know there is a story behind the story, and it’s a story worth singing about, and giving thanks for, and then living.

One of my favorite writers, the late Howard Thurman, composed a poem many years ago about Christmas, and he says it probably better than I:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
Then the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace to others,
And alas, to make music in the heart.

The story behind the story is that God so loved the world, and so loves you, and so loves me.

Have a blessed Christmas, a wonderful New Year, and go out and make music in the heart of the world.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from December 10, 2017

ADVENT II - B - 17                  MARK 1.1-8

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The opening line of Mark’s gospel leaves no room for misunderstanding. What the author is about to reveal is indeed good news. It was the news God’s people had long been waiting to hear. God was about to act on their behalf.

However, they were not expecting to hear it from the likes of John Baptist. Who was he? Where did he come from? What was he saying?

The second Sunday of Advent is always about John the Baptist, the man. John played a crucial role in the history of salvation. God chose him before his birth to be the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. He was a man with a message direct from God and he delivered it to God’s people like one of the prophets of old. He even dressed the part.

St. Luke writes of John’s miraculous conception (LK 1.24). He then records that when the B.V. Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped at the sound of Mary’s voice (LK 1.41).

We hear nothing more of him until he unexpectedly appears out of the desert and on the banks of the Jordan River “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Here he carries out the prophetic role assigned to him some thirty years before.

Jesus taught that John fulfilled the prophecy of the return of Elijah (Matt. 11.14), who was to precede the Messiah, as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” John’s work was crucial to Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus considered John’s testimony important, not because Jesus, the Son of God, needed to be validated by any human witness, but because the people’s acceptance of John as a godly man prepared them to accept Jesus as well.

The season of Advent begins each year with Jesus’ warning of the coming of the end of time and our need to prepare for it as we heard in last week’s gospel. From the future, we go backwards to the coming of John Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. The Advent season is filled with signs, symbols and hymns that announce the period of waiting, expecting and anticipating.

Mark’s gospel opens with the announcement that the period of waiting was ending. John baptized and preached repentance, as a means of preparing God’s people for the coming of the Promised One who he said would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Israel had been looking for a sign from God, but they had not expected it to look like this.

Many had wanted a Messiah to lead them against the Romans, but they were not anticipating a prophet dressed like Elijah telling them to repent. God’s people wanted freedom but they had no idea what freedom would look like when it came.

John’s message was a “wake up call.” Here he was literally splashing cold water in their faces and telling them to get ready for the greatest moment in Jewish history, in world history. They certainly were not ready. They needed smartening up a bit.

Their expectations were all wrong. They were looking the wrong way and going in the wrong direction. It was time to turn around and go the right way. That is what repentance means.

It was time to stop dreaming and wake up to God’s reality. John’s message produced a religious awakening that rattled the Jewish leaders of his day and sent shock waves as far as Rome itself. His task was to make “straight” in the desert a highway for our God by preparing the people to meet their king.

I have traveled the present day road from Galilee to Judea and to the Holy City of Jerusalem. The terrain is rugged. The topography varies from hill to valley. There are lots of twists and turns along the way.

The Jordan Valley is anything but a straight shot from one end to the other. For those pilgrims that made that journey on the high holy days it must have seemed like a lifetime getting there. However, they never lost sight of their goal.

Our journey to God is no different. It too is a life time road; a journey that began for each of us at the font of life where we were buried with Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism and raised to new life in Him. From the font, we are called to walk the way of the cross. Along this road, we are called to live lives of holiness and godliness until Jesus comes again.

Those of us who have been making that journey for many years now can attest to the fact that there are up hill climbs, rapid descents, and sometimes a valley here and there. The path is not always a straight one. We go forward in faith and hope waiting, expecting and anticipating the day when Christ will come again and usher in the fullness of God’s kingdom.

God has given us the Holy Spirit to direct our path. God has given us the sacrament of the altar we now approach as a means of feeding us with but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we hope to one day enjoy in the eternal presence of the One neither John nor any one of us is worthy to stoop down and untie the thongs of his sandals.

The Church has given us the Advent season as an opportunity to “smarten up a bit,” by reflecting on our Christian pilgrimage, our personal walk to Bethlehem. Where do we find ourselves on the road to fruitfulness as God’s children? What areas of our lives need straightening out?

We are on a lifetime journey to God. Our hope is in the coming of the kingdom of God. We should live our lives in such a way that we shall arrive at that goal. We must not lose sight of it.

It sounds simple enough but we all know the struggle to maintain a holy life in a world of bright lights and tinsel that seeks to divert our attention by calling us to focus on the here and now.

It takes intention and effort to keep our eyes on the goal of God’s coming kingdom. It takes intention and effort to follow Him who has opened the way for our Salvation. It is by intention and effort, faith and the grace of God we are able to continue the journey from crèche to cross to unfading crown. AMEN+


Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Concert at Christ Episcopal Church

Please join us this coming Sunday, December 17th at 3pm for a Christmas Concert performed by members of the Saint Joseph Arts Orchestra.  There will be room for many; so, invite others to join us for this Advent season offering by our local musicians.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Pax Vobiscum ~~ "Peace be with you"

In the narthex/entrance to our beautiful church, you can see the following prayer:

If you have trouble reading the beautiful calligraphy, here is the prayer in modern text font:

Friend, you have come to this Church, leave it not without a prayer.  No man entering a house ignores him who dwells in it.  This is the House of God and HE is here.  Pray then to Him Who loves you & bids you welcome and awaits your greeting. 
GIVE THANKS for those who in past ages built this place to His glory & for those who, dying that we might live, have preserved for us our heritage.
PRAISE GOD for His gifts of beauty in painting & architecture, handicraft & music.
ASK that we who now live may build the spiritual fabric of the nation in TRUTH, BEAUTY, & GOODNESS & that as we draw near to the ONE FATHER through our LORD & SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST we may draw nearer to one another in perfect brotherhood.
The Lord preserve thy going out and thy coming in.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent begins Sunday December 3rd!

Upcoming at Christ Episcopal Church:

Advent starts this Sunday, December 3rd.  Morning prayer will be offered at 10am.  Father Riley will return for services December 10th.  The outdoor crèche will be placed in front of our church with no figurines this Sunday.  Animals and people of The Story will be added each week through Advent with Baby Jesus arriving for Christmas.

In our church, on Sunday evening, December 17th at 3pm, the St. Joseph Orchestra will be holding a Chamber Christmas Concert.  Please join us for this beautiful welcoming of the season and invite your friends.

And Santa Claus (a follower of Jesus Christ) will be seen in St. Joseph at the Shepherd Center Christmas on December 9th, for a brief appearance with our friends a First United Methodist Church on December 10th and at our local Head Start on December 19th.  You better watch out....

Thoughts and quotes from our friends in Mississippi (from The Mississippi Episcopalian, November 2017):
"All Saints' Day is the feast day honoring our family members and our dear friends who have died, but who continue to live within our hearts as part of our lives.  We are in communion with all the company of heaven.  Our relationships don't die with those who are deceased.  Rocky relationships can be reconciled and loving relationships can be enhanced." (The Very Rev. Billie Abraham, St. Alban's, Bovina)

"Loving behavior is learned behavior.  To love another human being is a decision, not happenstance or coincidence.  We best learn to love other by practicing it:  at different times, places, and intervals." (The Rev. Carol Mead, St. Peter's by-the-Lake, Brandon)

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+