Sunday, January 29, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for January 29, 2017

EPIPHANY IV - A - 17                     MATTHEW 5. 1-12

One of the oldest images of Christ depicted in an early Eastern icon is that of Jesus as teacher. He is seated, the traditional position for teaching with authority, wearing his priestly vestments and holding an open book containing the gospels. Matthew’s fifth chapter begins with Jesus going up on the mountain. After he is seated, he begins to teach the crowds that have followed him, including the disciples.
His being on a mountain is significant. Throughout the Old Testament the place where divine action enters human history is always on a mountain. It is where God reveals himself to man. In the Old Testament only a select few were chosen to hear God directly. Here God Incarnate speaks to the multitudes face to face.
What is it Jesus is offering? These first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount, we know as the beatitudes or blessings. They serve as an introduction to chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew that constitute the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes (blessings), are not clear - easy answers to life’s situations by any means. In some cases they speak of the cost of discipleship. Many appear to be unfulfilled aspirations of God’s people then and now.
What Jesus is offering is a new set of attitudes; criteria for kingdom living, if you will, that places the Christian smack dab in the midst of this world, which runs cross-purposes to the will of God, with promises of the world to come. It is the life God intends for us to live. The reward is in heaven, but the vocation we are called to is here on earth.
Micah, God’s prophet some 700 hundred years before Christ, taught what man needed to do to be living the life God intended. His response was the classical definition of ‘true religion.’ In one verse Micah knits together the basic themes of the book of Amos( righteousness - to do justice),Hosea( steadfast love - to love mercy), and Isaiah( humility and faith - to walk humbly) with the Lord your God.
In the beatitudes our Lord draws the outline of the character of the “Sons of the Kingdom.” They describe not different types of men, but different aspects of the one type the Lord desires. Here Jesus introduces the kind of life those who seek the kingdom of God must lead. They refer to the proper attitudes we as the people of God should display in the face of the world around us.
“Follow me,” Jesus said to his first disciples; because in him God is doing a new thing. Today’s gospel is an announcement. It is about something that is starting to happen. Its gospel: good news, not good advice. So when do these promises come true?
Most of us would answer in heaven. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And where then is heaven? Heaven is God’s space. A thin veil separates heaven from earth. But one day the two will be joined. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” as Jesus said.
Heaven, then, is where full reality exists. At present it is out of sight, but one day will be unveiled. It is something which is beyond, behind and within; real, yet waiting to be realized. As Jesus taught us to pray, God’s kingdom will one day come as it already is in heaven, and then heaven and earth will be joined.
What Jesus is teaching is the life of heaven, the life of the realm where God is already King. This life is to become the life of the world, transforming the present “earth” into the place of beauty and delight that God has always intended.
We who choose to follow Jesus today are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That is the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these beatitudes in particular. They are a summons, an invitation, to live in the present in a way that will make sense in God’s promised future; for that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth.
How do we do it? Where do we begin? Jesus begins his teaching by blessing the “poor in spirit.” Who are they? The poor in spirit are not just those who are materially poor, but are the faithful among God’s people. They are totally dependent on God with a complete confidence in God. God is their only source of strength and they trust in Him.
Jesus says theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Second there are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. In Jesus’ time they literally were, and even in our own time we hear of it happening to Christians in different parts of the world. We can’t imagine a time when we would be so tested.
We are not all called to be martyrs in the literal sense. We are called to uphold the truth. There is only one gospel and we who follow Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, are to refuse to compromise with the ways of the world. Again, Jesus says, to those who are persecuted for up holding the Truth, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
In the same vain, Christ says that those who suffer persecution for their devotion to Him should rejoice and be glad, literally leap for joy. For they walk the road of the prophets, the saints, and the martyrs. Their reward, Jesus says, is great in heaven, as is ours who are reviled and falsely accused because of our devotion to Him.
To point out these three “attitudes” is not to take away from the other blessings Jesus speaks to in today’s gospel. But only to emphasize these three aspects of the life of heaven we are called to live now: our total dependence on God, our steadfastness of Faith, and the realization of our place in the company of the Saints in Light.
This is not to say that we will always be successful in living the new life to which we have been called. The intent and aim of our lives is the all-important thing in the sight of God. The grace that is discovered in our struggle to live out these “attitudes” is our coming to a fuller knowledge of God.
Jesus is the heavenly Rabbi who invites us to wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge of God is learned in discipleship and service that comes through our accepting Christ’ invitation to live in the present in a way that will make sense in God’s promised future.
God is the source of our life in Christ Jesus, whom God makes our wisdom. Such wisdom enables us to live in this world until the fullness of God’s Heavenly Kingdom is ushered in and earth is transformed into a place of beauty and delight as God has always intended. AMEN+

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Christ Episcopal Church annual meeting and dinner, Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reminder:  Our Annual Meeting will be held in the Parish Hall following the 10am service, Sunday, January 29th.  A meal will be provided.  Volunteers have already come forward to provide the meal for the annual meeting and you need to just 'show up' with no pot-luck needed!  Easy.  "What are you looking for?"  "Come and see."

Monday, January 23, 2017

Father Riley's homily from Sunday, January 22, 2017

EPIPHANY III - A - 17        MATTHEW 4. 12-23

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.” Jesus was born in Bethlehem and spent his toddler years in Egypt. After the Holy Family returned to Israel, he grew up in Nazareth. Upon hearing that John had been arrested, Jesus leaves his boyhood home and moves to Capernaum by the sea in the region of Galilee.
Capernaum is a cross-roads town on the North/South trade route. It is also a commercial fishing port. Matthew is the local tax collector. Simon, Andrew, James and John are local fishermen. The region contains a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, cultures and religions. It was very much a cosmopolitan city and not considered particularly Jewish by the Jews of Judea.
Matthew tells us that Christ began his ministry here by repeating John the Baptist’s call to repent. The word in Greek literally means to change one’s mind, or more generally to turn around. Repentance is a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart, a complete reorientation of one’s whole life. It wasn’t his call to repentance, however, that drew people to him, but his power to heal.
The news of John’s arrest comes to Jesus just as he has ended a 40 day preparation for his earthly ministry. He had been in the desert where he prayed and fasted and was tempted by Satan to surrender his humanity in favor of his divinity; an act that would have derailed his God-given mission altogether. Thankfully for our sake he refused.
Now he has come out of the desert much as John Baptist had done, preaching the same message, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The whole of Jesus’ ministry is in a sense a sign that in his person and work the reign of God has drawn near. Matthew sees in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Surely there were those in Galilee who had heard John preach and speak of the one who would come after him; the Promised One of God. Perhaps even Simon and Andrew, James and John had heard him and were prepared to accept Christ immediately.
At best these newly minted disciples were nominally religious, illiterate and unlearned in terms of their religion, even unworthy by the religious standards of the day, but after Pentecost would be deemed the wisest of all.
For now, they left everything and followed alongside Christ as he taught in their synagogues and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom. They were amazed as they witnessed Jesus’ power to heal and cure every disease and sickness among the people.
They had no idea where their following him would lead, or what the cost of discipleship would be for each of them. What they knew in their hearts, what God had revealed to them, was this Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long awaited Messiah, the Promised One of God and they wanted to be with him.
As the prophet Isaiah said, “a great light has shined on them,” and there was no going back. It was the dawn of a new hope. Their old way of life, their daily routines, and their old identities were no more.
How our lives are routine. What we do day in and day out defines us. It locates us, provides a sense of security, shapes our identity. We are identified by what we do. Believe me I know. When I step into a crowded elevator at the hospital wearing a black suit and a clerical collar, there is no doubt in the passengers mind who I am and what I do.
It is interesting how power, the power of expectation, weaves its way through daily routine. We find security through work and play, but we buy into some authority or other defining our lives. We find that instead of shaping our own identity, we are being shaped by outside influences, whether it be political, social, or religious. We get caught in our own nets.
Into our world Jesus comes. “Follow me,” he announces, calling us by name. Jesus summons us to leave our “nets” behind. His call demands a response. The four men he called in today’s gospel did just that, they left their nets behind, their daily routines and their old way of life.
Jesus’ “follow me” is our invitation to do as the disciples did and drop everything and go with him.  We all received the same invitation at our baptisms. Jesus walks into our world and calls us out of it. He invites us to be his disciples. But there is a cost involved.
The way of Christ, is the way of the cross. The invitation is to share in the work of Christ, to allow His light to shine forth through us to illumine hearts and minds; to show forth God’s dominion. In Him we have a new identity and we are identified by what we say and do. We are a new creation. The old identity no longer sticks.
The call to follow Jesus is a continuous call. We won’t always know where it is all going to lead, and we wouldn’t perhaps be quite so eager if we did. Certainly Simon and Andrew, James and John had no idea their following Jesus would lead them to martyrdom. Jesus promised them glory. Their life with Jesus was anything but routine.
But that is where Faith comes in. With each step that we take on the path that God has chosen for us to walk, He, in his mercy will reveal things little by little. These four men saw neither the glory or the pain that following Jesus would bring to each of them. They only saw him, and that was enough to cause them to leave their nets behind.
In Him all the treasures of glory and pain are hidden, as St. Paul would say. That is what the gospel is all about. And we who choose to follow Him today, and leave our “nets” behind can expect that our life with Christ will be anything but routine.
For the way of Christ is the way of the cross; “foolishness to those who are perishing,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” AMEN+



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Christ Episcopal Church annual meeting January 29, 2017

The vestry has set the date of our annual meetings as Sunday, January 29, 2017.  The meeting will follow the 10am service.  The budget approved by the vestry for 2017 will be presented.  Everyone is invited to join us. Of course, only members of CEC may vote on any issue that may require a vote.  We welcome suggestions and feed back from everyone to help us carry on God's mission in Tensas Parish.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Father Riley's homily for January 15, 2017

EPIPHANY II - C - 17          JOHN 1. 29-42

“John saw Jesus coming towards him…” The scene in today’s gospel reading takes place after the Baptist has been questioned by the religious leaders of Israel over who he thinks he is and why he is baptizing. John responds to his inquisitors by telling them that he is not the Christ (Messiah). His baptism is of water, whereas, the baptism of Christ will be with Holy Spirit. His job is to prepare the way and then get out of the way.
The words and actions of John, nevertheless, have attracted a small band of followers who are with him when “John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” After making his declaration John adds his testimony. Jesus is the one whom God has sent; the one who will baptize with Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son of God.
I can only begin to imagine what must have gone through the minds of John’s disciples when they heard this. What could all of this possibly mean for Israel, and more importantly for them? John’s words and actions had stirred their imaginations, warmed their hearts and raised their hopes that one day they would find Messiah. Now, John was pointing him out! Could it really be true?
The next day when John was standing with two of his disciples, Jesus passed by a second time. Again John declared him as the lamb of God. By doing so John pointed away from himself and towards Jesus. The two disciples of John were moved to follow Christ. As Gentiles, so far removed from this scene and the times, we overlook the significance of the title “Lamb of God.”
John’s designation of Jesus as God’s lamb is significant in that it points to how things are going to end and why Jesus dies a sacrificial death for the sins of the world. For the disciples of John, who were Jewish, his words evoked certain images. The title “lamb of God” makes one think, first of all, of the Passover lamb.
John is explicit in dating the death of Jesus on the afternoon of the “preparation “ day when the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple courtyard. Thus we say in the Eucharist that Christ is our Passover sacrificed for us.
A second image, and just as important if not more so, comes from Isaiah. The lamb signifies the servant of God who would be lead as a lamb to the slaughter bearing the sins of the world. The image John evokes, then, points to the function of Messiah.
“Look here is the lamb of God,” John said. He might have just as well said “go follow him. He is a leader who can save you from sin and will lead you to victory.” Both thoughts may have been combined which moved Andrew and the other disciple to leave John and follow Jesus.
What Andrew and the other disciple thought they were doing was looking for Messiah. What they didn’t realize was that Messiah was looking for them. They had no idea what that was going to involve.
When Jesus finds them he gives them a new vocation. It was a life-changing moment. He even gave Simon a new name. The new life began for them, as it does for each of us, at baptism. We go looking for Jesus only to discover that he has been looking for us all along.
As St. Paul reminded the Church at Corinth, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his son…” It is God who initiates the relationship; it is up to us to respond.
John’s baptism by water might wash away sin, but Jesus’ baptism with Holy Spirit removes it. And by removing it, we who have been baptized into his death and raised to new life in him have become a new people; “not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul aptly reminds us.
There is a danger, however, in having been a Christian for years on end.
We can become complacent in our vocation, as did the God’s people Israel, and miss the true meaning of what Jesus has done and continues to do for the life of the world and what it is God is calling us to do in response.
Israel was God’s chosen people. He gave them the vocation of being the “light of the world.”  As Isaiah reminds Israel “ I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.“
They were to point to God and prepare the world for the Day of His coming. But they became complacent and focused more on themselves as the chosen ones and less on preparing the world for that Day.
In doing so, they failed to live into their God-given vocation. God sent his prophet, John Baptist, to call them to repentance as a means of preparing themselves and the world for the coming of the Promised One. But they were blinded by their own self-righteousness and relied on the fact that they were sons of Abraham.
God’s Messiah came. God provided for himself a lamb of sacrifice who would bear the sins of the world and by his death and resurrection would open the way for all who believed in Him to have eternal life. But Israel did not recognize him and chose instead to reject him by nailing Him to the cross.
The vocation God initially gave to his people Israel now belongs to the Church, the bride of Christ. We are the new Israel. Our vocation as Christians, to go and make disciples of all nations, came to each of us at our baptism where we were sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’ own forever.
Like John Baptist, and the Israel of old, our role is to point away from ourselves and to Him who is the true light of the world, so that “He may be made known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth,” even Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN+




Tuesday, January 10, 2017

From Forward Day by Day for Tuesday, January 10th, 2017


Mark 1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Our congregation had gotten small, really small—like an average Sunday attendance of ten. Everyone wanted new members, so we brainstormed as a group, developed a strategic plan, and got to work. Our plan seemed good, but we weren’t seeing any results.
In our lesson from Mark, Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee where his friends are working, and as he encounters them, he issues an invitation to join him in his mission. The call is so meaningful, his friends actually leave their work immediately to follow Jesus.
Our members decided if people weren’t coming to us, we would go to them. I joined a local service club, members evangelized in supermarkets, work, and barbershops. They talked to people at concerts, farmers’ markets, and doctors’ offices, keeping it simple. We mentioned our church affiliation, and we extended an invitation. No one reacted immediately, but before long, we saw some new faces—and then new faces brought their friends. Our simple plan appears to be working. Some Sundays, forty people come together for worship. We will keep fishing, thanks be to God.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Father Riley's Christmas Eve homily (Dec 24, 2016)

CHRISTMAS EVE - A - 16      LUKE 2. 1-20


“While they were there (Bethlehem), the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
I have been fortunate enough to have visited Bethlehem on two separate occasions. It is not a very large place even today, and at the time of Jesus’ birth it was even much smaller.
I have stood on the Shepherd’s hill and gazed down at the site of Jesus‘ birth, where the Church of Holy Nativity stands today. I closed my eyes and tried to envision what the little town of Bethlehem must have looked like on that night the Holy Family faced the challenge of trying to find a room.
There were simply not enough inns or rooms available for all those who had come for the census. Thanks to the Roman Emperor who called for a census in order to raise taxes the place was packed. That’s the reason the Holy Family was there. That’s the reason there was no room for them in the inn.
What was a political occasion for all those who had come to Bethlehem suddenly became a religious one for those lowly shepherds who left their flocks on the hillside. Having at first been startled by the angels’ message, they quickly recovered and descended to a common manger, with the angel’s song still ringing in their ears, to see their new-born king.
“When they saw this,” Luke tells us, “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”
Pope Benedict pointed out in his book “Jesus of Nazareth” the very fact that there was no room for them in the inn should cause us to reflect on the reversal of values found in Jesus Christ and his message. From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms.
But alas, that is not what many of us think of at Christmas. Because of the commercialism surrounding it today, the real meaning of Christmas is often lost beneath the mad rush of buying and wrapping, fighting traffic, standing in line, and beating the dead line at the post office.
We no longer count the days of Advent, but rather the shopping days until Christmas. Cashiers no longer greet the customer with Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays as they ring up a sale, but rather, with “please turn your card around the other way the chip is on the other end!”
When we talk about getting back to the “real meaning” of Christmas, what we mean of course, is the religious meaning. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Lord. Christmas is about what God in Christ is doing in and for the world, the joy, the grace, the hope and the peace which the birth of the Christ-child brings into our lives.
Christmas is a Holy day.
It is a sad failure that Christmas must now take place in a materialistic environment which obscures its genuine splendor. However, Luke reminds us that the very first Christmas, the day of Christ’ birth, was not a holy day, but a working day. Jesus was not born during a worship service but during a tax census.
The day Jesus was born was a time for filling out forms, people standing in long lines to beat the dead line for being counted, snarled traffic in the streets, and crowds everywhere. There was not a room to be found. A simple manger would have to do.
When the angels announced the Christ-child’s birth, it was not to priests lighting candles in the Temple, it was to shepherds earning their livelihood in the fields. The true meaning of Christmas was being revealed to the world. God had entered the world in flesh and blood in Jesus Christ. And the angels could not help but sing.
God did not choose to enter the safe world of silent sanctuaries and hallowed spaces, but the rough and tumble, workaday world of people with jobs to do, fields to tend, more anxiety than they know how to deal with, and the government asking for more taxes. If this were not so, the news of Christmas would not be the good news that it is.
No wonder the shepherds, upon hearing the news that a Savior had been born, dropped everything, and hurried to see for themselves if what the angels had told them was really true. Wouldn’t you? Isn’t this why we are here; to hear the good news of the Savior’s birth proclaimed; to hear the angels sing?
And afterwards, like the shepherds who were the first to hear the good news, we may return home with joy glorifying God and praising him for what we have seen and heard. The joy of Christmas is ours to keep year round, day in and day out, but only if we make room for Him in the manger of our hearts.
Christmas is a Holy day that comes in the midst of all that we do and all that we are. Christmas stands as a reminder that God has come to us and continues to come to us in the ordinariness of our lives bringing joy, grace, hope and peace by the gift of His extraordinary Love.
Like the shepherds, who after seeing the Christ-child for themselves made known what had been told them about this child, we as Church, have been given the responsibility to see that the real meaning of Christmas is not lost in a sea of commercialism, but remains what it is - a Holy day.
That’s the challenge of Christmas we face, you and I; a challenge with God’s help we joyfully accept in Thanksgiving for the Love of God that sent Jesus into our world, bringing salvation to all.
“While they were there (Bethlehem), the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
May there always be room for Him in our hearts. Merry Christmas. AMEN+