Monday, February 27, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from February 26, 2017

[Schedule Update:  Father Riley will start our Lenten lessons on Ash Wednesday at 11am before the Ash Wednesday service.  The Ash Wednesday service with imposition of ashes at 12 noon this Wednesday, March 1st, 2017.  On Sunday, March 4th, we will have Morning Prayer at 10am.]

LAST EPIPHANY - A - 17         MATTHEW 17. 1-9


For the past several weeks we have been sitting at the feet of Jesus while he taught kingdom concepts from a mountain-side over-looking the Sea of Galilee. He has come down from that mountain leaving the crowds behind and on this last Sunday in Epiphany climbs yet another inviting only Peter, James, and John to accompany him. Here he is transfigured before their very eyes. His glory is revealed in a brilliant display of light.

The instruction the disciples receive here does not come from Jesus, but directly from God; “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” Today’s epiphany confirms the message at Jesus’ baptism when coming up out of the waters Jesus hears the voice of God; “you are my Son, the beloved one, with whom I am well pleased.”

It has been an uphill climb we have taken with Jesus thus far from The Epiphany, when the magi visited the baby, and he is finally revealed to the nations. He has healed the sick, as many as they have brought to him, and he has taught openly and in their synagogues about God and the kingdom and what God expects from his people.

It’s all down hill from here. From the Mountain of the Transfiguration we descend with Jesus to Jerusalem where there is yet another hill-top awaiting him. Here his glory will be revealed as he hangs dying, not between the likes of a Moses or an Elijah, but between two brigands, the likes of which he has come to save. The proclamation that he is the Son God will not come from heaven, but from a Roman soldier standing near the cross who will have participated in his crucifixion.

His glory that was revealed in brilliant and dazzling light atop the mountain in the presence of Peter, James, and John, was but a foreshadowing of the glory that would be revealed by his death and resurrection. The Transfiguration and the cross are intimately linked.

“Tell no one about the vision,” Jesus told the disciples who were with him, “until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And that is just what Peter was doing in today’s Epistle, telling people what he has seen now that Christ is risen from the dead. “We are eye witnesses of his majesty…we heard the voice from heaven…we were with him on the mountain.”

For  Peter, James, and John what happened up there was an intensely religious experience that apart from their witnessing the resurrection, they would have been unable to describe. But as the scene unfolded on the mountain, Peter’s reaction and response was a totally different one.

At first the disciples are awed at Jesus’ appearance, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” As they were equally awed by the appearance of Moses and Elijah.

Speaking, then, for the others, Peter can think of nothing better than remaining where they are and holding on to the moment. Moses represents the law and all those who have died. Elijah represents the prophets and since he did not experience death, all those who are alive in Christ.

Their presence shows that the law and the prophets, the living and the dead, all bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah, who is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Peter sees this as a sign that the kingdom has come. Knowing that the Feast of Tabernacles is the feast of the coming kingdom, he asks to build three booths, as was done at the feast, to serve to symbolize God’s dwelling among his people.

While he is yet speaking, a cloud overshadows them; a visible sign of God’s presence as evidenced by today’s first lesson. God instructed Moses to come up on the mountain. A cloud covered the mountain and the glory of the Lord settled on the mountain. The people below could see the glory of God on the mountain appearing as fire.

Moses was in the midst of the cloud and he was not afraid. He remained there with God forty days and forty nights receiving the law from the hand of God. On the mount of the Transfiguration God speaks from the cloud: “this is my beloved Son…listen to him.”

The voice speaking from the cloud frightened the disciples. They fall to the ground with their faces bowed to the earth. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up they saw no one but Jesus alone.

Listening to Jesus is what we should all be engaged in. God says so. It is how we know we are living in accordance with God’s will. But we all know that listening to Jesus is difficult at times. We are easily distracted by the sights and sounds that surround us on a daily basis. If we will, we can allow these distractions to drown out God’s voice and blur our vision of the kingdom and our pathway to it.

The enemy works through deception and distraction. Whatever it takes to divert us from the path God has chosen for each of us to walk. This life-time journey we are called to make with God in Christ is an up hill climb burdened by the weight of the “cross” God has given each of us to bear.

Sometimes it appears we are going from one mountain top to the next with long stretches of valley in between. Those valleys create opportunities for the evil one to distract us and lead us astray placing something before us that appears to be light when it is really darkness in disguise.

And when we discover that we are lost in darkness we naturally become afraid. That’s when Jesus comes to us, and touches us, like he did the disciples who were afraid on the mountain, and tells us to get up and get going again. By his presence we are reminded that we do not make the journey alone - Christ walks with us.

Christ is the true light who lightens our path. Christ is the life of the world who has called us to new life in himself. Our faith, then, is in the light of his countenance that enlightens our hearts and in his promise of presence.

If we remain faithful, God will grant us the strength to bear our cross, and the grace to be changed into His likeness from glory to glory, until it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Amen+









Thursday, February 23, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from February 19, 2017 (given at Christ Church, Bastrop)

EPIPHANY VII - A - 17                    MATTHEW 5. 38-48

 For the past several weeks we have been sitting at the feet of Jesus as if we were part of the crowd that followed him up on a grassy hill-side over-looking the Sea of Galilee. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s gospel constitute the Sermon on the Mount. As Matthew’s 5th chapter unfolds we’ve listened and continue to listen as Christ teaches us about what it is to be a disciple.
It all began, you may recall, with a series of “blessings” or “attitudes” that Jesus said we as kingdom people are supposed to live by. Next he told us what our vocation as disciples is to be - “salt and light.” By salt we are to preserve the commandments of God by teaching them and living them. We are to be light by bringing the light of the gospel into the dark corners of the world in order to reveal the knowledge of God.
Jesus promised that the reward for living as kingdom people in the here and now would come in heaven. If the sermon had ended there we would have more than enough to do to try and live up to our calling. But it doesn’t end there.
Jesus goes on to expand our understanding of God’s laws by re-interpreting them in such a way that we are able to see that we can order our lives around them. The key to doing so is that we as God’s children are to imitate God’s deeds, that is, His love and mercy in our dealings with other people.
Jesus doesn’t say that by imitating the deeds of God we become Children of God. What he says is that by doing so we may be what we already are in the eyes of God.
Underneath it all we discover that God’s laws are based on love. The first and great commandment is to love God above all else. Jesus goes on to summarize the rest of God’s commandments by teaching that love of neighbor coupled with the first and great commandment constitutes all of the law and the prophets.
Jesus warns us not to resist violence with more violence. Evil can only be overcome by good. Thus the Old Testament “eye for an eye” type of retribution, for example, he refers to in today’s passage, is to be replaced with a response of positive good, which is an expansion of loving one’s neighbor; the main point of Jesus’ teaching.
We all know how difficult that can be. Let’s face it, some people refuse to be loved, and then again we have all encountered people, at least in our opinion, only God can love. If loving one’s neighbor as oneself were not difficult enough, Jesus concludes today’s reading with his expectations of his disciples; “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”
God has great expectations for his people as evidenced by today’s first lesson. God declares that his people are to be holy because he is holy. Holiness comes in imitating the deeds of God. But first the Israelites had to learn who God was and what God was all about before they could begin to imitate God’s love and mercy in their dealings with one another and their neighbor.
The easiest part of becoming a Christian is to undergo the sacrament of baptism. After that, it is all an uphill climb; a striving to be what we already are. Trying to live the new life in Christ to which we have been called through the waters of Holy Baptism by making good on our vows and promises in a hostile world, is impossible to do on our own.
As last week’s collect reminded us, it is only by God’s grace that we can hope to live such a life. Is it possible, then, to be perfect in imitating the deeds of God? Is it possible for us to be holy?
The Hebrew word for “perfection” connotes peace and wholeness. In this case to be perfect would be to share in God’s reconciling work; a work that is manifested in a surprising response of love and grace.
For that’s God’s way of responding to us. He continually surprises us by his love and grace both of which are unmerited. To adopt the good is to reverse the ordinary pattern of human behavior.
The “perfection” which God has given by grace includes a will to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. As children of God we are to be perfect in order to be what God has created us to be. It is a perfection that includes kindness, sympathy, and generosity.
When we look at it through the lens of love we see that Jesus’ moral appeal is grounded in nothing less than the nature of God.
Just think about it. What would it mean to reflect God’s generous love despite the pressure and provocation, despite our own anger and frustration? Impossible? Well, yes, at one level. Jesus’ teaching, however, isn’t just good advice it is good news.
Jesus did it himself and opened up the new way of being human so that all who follow him can discover it. When they mocked him, he didn’t respond. When they challenged him, he told quizzical, sometimes humorous, stories that forced them to think differently.
When they struck him, he took the pain. When they nailed him to the cross, he prayed for them. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t just about us. It’s about him. This was the blueprint of his own earthly life. He asks nothing of his followers he has not faced himself.
In this Jesus shows us what God is really like and what God expects from us. Christian “heroism” consists in elimination of all vindictiveness and in detachment from worldly self -interests. Freed from hate and anger we are able to receive the greatest virtue; perfect love.
To follow Jesus is to be transformed into disciples; to live a dedicated life to God; one based on love, love of God and love of neighbor. This is not a human kind of love we are called to practice, for human love is often flawed, but a forgiving and reconciling love that imitates the deeds of God, whose source is God alone.
The Sermon on the Mount isn’t just about how to behave. It is about discovering the living God in the loving and dying Jesus, and learning to reflect that Love ourselves into our world that so desperately needs it. AMEN+

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Obituary for Henry Kavanall Metcalf, Jr.

Obituary for Henry Kavanall Metcalf, Jr.

Date of Birth: Wednesday, January 12, 1955
Date of Death: Sunday, February 19, 2017

Memorial services for Henry Kavanall Metcalf, Jr., 62 of Monterey,LA will be held at Christ Episcopal Church of St. Joseph on Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 11AM with Father Gregg Riley and Billy Talbert officiating.

Henry Kavanall Metcalf, Jr. was born on Wednesday, January 12, 1955 in Newellton, LA and passed away Sunday, February 19, 2017 at his residence in Monterey, LA.

He was preceded in death by his parents- Henry Kavanall Metcalf, Sr. & Marguerite Hartzog Metcalf; 2 sisters- Dolores Mize and Bobbie Jean Skipper.

Survivors include: Wife of 29 years - Patricia Alwell Metcalf of Monterey, LA; 2 sons- Reuben Metcalf of Monterey, LA and Adrian Metcalf of Monterey, LA; brother- Chuck Metcalf & wife Susie of Monterey, LA; and 5 sisters-Martha Sanders & husband Billy of Waterproof, LA, Beverly Rushing & husband Charles of Monterey, LA, Elaine Sell of Oak Grove, LA, Pauline Ross & husband Buddy of Oak Grove, LA, and Ritsy Simpson & husband Dennis of Camden, MS.

The family will receive friends in the Parish House of Christ Episcopal Church  on Wednesday, February 22, 2017 from 10AM til 11AM. To leave an online condolence for the family please visit :
(text from Young's Funeral Home)


Monday, February 13, 2017

Father Riley's homily for February 12, 2017

EPIPHANY VI - A - 17                           MATTHEW 5. 21-37


 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” We heard Jesus make this declaration in last week’s passage from Matthew where he also challenged, and at the same time, warned Israel to renew her divine vocation to be salt and light to the world.
Christ came into the world to institute a new covenant based on love. As the Son of God his authority is greater than that of Moses. His repeated phrase, “but I say to you,“ is a statement of total divine authority. Christ proclaims the new law, the righteousness leading toward perfection, to which the Mosaic law and the prophets pointed.
In Christ we see how God intended for us to live in accordance with his commandments. Jesus fulfills the law by being a living example of how to become fully human. All who choose to follow him must do the same. This new way, which Jesus had come to pioneer and make possible, goes down deep into the roots of personality and provides a different pattern of behavior altogether.
Jesus shifts the focus from the externals to the inner attitude of the heart. For all improvement of character must begin from within.
In today’s passage Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount by  contrasting his teaching with the teaching of the law. “You have heard it said…but I say.” By this He reveals the deeper meaning of several of the Old Testament laws, broadening their implications.
Murder isn’t limited to the physical act of killing another human being, but is expanded to include anger. We can just as easily destroy another human being with our tongue. Adultery is an act of lust devoid of love. Divorce was allowed under the Old Testament as a concession to human weakness, but is not what God intended. Oaths would not be necessary if we were truthful in our dealings with each other and so on.
When we stop and look at the 10 Commandments, or the law of Moses, we see that the first four commandments have to do with our duty to God and the remainder our duty to our neighbor. The first and great commandment begins with love and Jesus goes on to summarize all ten with love.
If loving God is our number one priority, He says, and this is as it should be, then, love of neighbor will follow. That is what Christ meant when he said on these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets. Love is the basis of the law, not the love of man, but the forgiving and reconciling Love of God.
How practical is his teaching today? Just as practical as it was during the time of Jesus. Like the prophet says in today’s first lesson, “if you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. For God has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.” It always comes down to choice doesn’t it?
Jesus’ fulfillment of the law does not lighten the expectation. Rather, it asks for a deeper connection between the inner attitude and the outward action. Following the will of God as revealed by Jesus is not easily reduced to a written code. What Jesus is asking his hearers to do is to look at the choices they make and the motivation for their actions in a new way.
That change of perspective starts with an inner transformation. It is almost like the transition from child to adult. The questions change from ‘how much can I get away with?’ or ‘What is the absolute minimum I am required to do?’ to an emphasis on caring and responsibility arising not from external limits, but from an inner sense of what is right.
For those Jews who heard his message, and for those of us who hear it today, it represents an important change and is an essential ingredient in understanding Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Although we are no strangers to preoccupation with the externals, we still need to hear the emphasis in this gospel on what is internal.
We need to hear the invitation in Jesus’ teaching to go beyond the surface of things to discover what is essential. We need to hear the call of the radical new claim of love in our lives, so that we are delivered from doing things merely because they are expected or correct or because they look good.
We need to face our inner motivations, desires, and priorities and to hold them up to the new standard of honesty and love which Jesus gives to his followers. In essence we need to examine and respond to the demands of our relationship to Christ, in order for us to live the radical new claim of love in our lives that comes from our choosing to follow Him.
True the response comes from individual self-understanding and action. But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom was not addressed to individuals but to a community of believers. It is as a community we gather to hear and respond to his words.
We may come to Church seeking inner transformation, but we also come to a place where spiritual experience is spoken about and shared. The Love, the new covenant, is not just an abstract philosophical concept or moral precept each individual Christian seeks.
It is a reality here among us. And we are brought in touch with the reality of the love of Christ each time we celebrate The Holy Eucharist. The reality of God’ presence is available, not just for personal renewal, but for strengthening the community that Jesus came to build, and for our living out the radical love of Christ so that we may please God in both will and deed.
Throughout this chapter, Jesus is not just giving moral commands. He is unveiling a whole new way of being human. It looks impossible, and it is without the help of God’s grace. AMEN+

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Father Riley to teach on the 7 signs from John's gospel

Father Riley announced at our annual meeting he will be teaching on the 7 signs from John's Gospel during Lent.  Classes will begin at 9am in the Parish Hall on Sunday, March 5, 2017 (the first Sunday in Lent).  Father Riley also plans for Ash Wednesday Liturgy (with imposition of ashes) at noon March 1st at Christ Episcopal.  Please spread the word and invite others to join us. 

Additional notes from our annual meeting:
1.  For 2017, the vestry will remain:  Lamar Barnett (Sr. Warden), Sam Corson (Jr. Warden), Allein Watson, Jane Barnett, and Cecil Evans.  Faye Corson will remain as secretary of the vestry.
2.  Bill Watson has invited Brenda Funderburg to transition into his position as treasurer for Christ Episcopal Church and Brenda has accepted.
3.  Jane Barnett reported donations have flooded in to make needed repairs at The Shepherd Center.
4.  Lamar Barnett reported Father Riley has signed his contract with CEC for 2017.
5.  Our Bishop's visit is scheduled for Sunday, August 6, 2017.
6.  Father Riley encouraged everyone to have a burial plan and to make two copies: one for the church and one for your home.
7.  Sam Corson reported he is gathering estimates for painting the church for future planning and he has estimates for upgrading the church heating and cooling capability for vestry review.
8.  Faye Corson reported the after school tutoring program is going well with one-on-one instruction to local students.

"What are you looking for?"  "Come and see."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for February 5, 2017

EPIPHANY V - A - 17              MATTHEW 5. 13-20

Today’s gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. You may recall Christ opened his teaching last week with the “beatitudes” or “blessings” which constitute the criteria for kingdom living. His point being that those who choose to follow him must learn to live by this rule here and now. The reward is in heaven, Jesus promised, but the vocation is here.
Today’s teaching is a “gateway” we might say to the main theme that will follow: Jesus has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. But first he speaks to God’s people, Israel. He reminds them of their God-given vocation to be salt and light to the world. His reminder is both a warning and a challenge.
Salt was essential to life during the time of Jesus. It preserved, added flavor, and was used in the Temple sacrifices. But Israel was behaving like everybody else. How could God keep the world from going bad, the main function of salt in the ancient world, if Israel, God’s chosen salt, had lost its distinctive taste?
In the same way God called Israel to be the light of the world (Is. 42.6; 49.6). Israel was the people through whom God intended to shine His bright light into the world’s dark corners, not simply to show up evil, but to enable those stumbling around in the dark to find their way. But what if the people called to be light-bearers had become part of the darkness? That was Jesus’ warning and also his challenge.
After presenting his warning and challenge to Israel to renew its vocation and to invite all who will listen to become part of that vocation, Jesus now focuses his teaching on the law of Moses, that is, the commandments of God.
And I am sure he startled his audience when he said he had come to fulfill not only the law but the prophets. What could he possibly mean?
Can’t you just hear some of those in the crowd saying, ‘well here is another new teacher who thinks he has the answer. We have already got teachers of the law. What’s different about this man?’ The Pharisees and scribes did indeed teach a way of being faithful to God, a way of behaving in accordance with God’s covenant.
But theirs was an outward works based righteousness carried out without much effort spiritually or morally. The righteousness of salvation, which Jesus came to teach, is the communion of heart, soul, body and mind that manifests itself in Love of God, his commandments, ordinances and precepts.
Jesus’ words about his having come to fulfill the law is more than a role laid down for him in the words and predictions of the prophets. It is rather a declaration that both the purpose of God disclosed through the prophets and the demands of God that people obey Him have found their fulfillment in Jesus.
In Jesus the whole story, commandments, prophecies, promises and all, was going to come true in him. Jesus fulfills the law in himself by his words and actions. He fulfills the prophets by both being and carrying out what they foretold.
But he did not come to abolish either of them. On the contrary, he is explicit in his teaching that not one “iota,” the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, or one “tittle,” the smallest stroke in certain Hebrew letters is to pass from the law until all is accomplished. They are to endure until the end of the age.
The reward for those who teach and keep the law will be great, Jesus says, and will come in the new age. By the same token, Christ warns those who break them, and lead other astray by doing so, will be the least in the kingdom of heaven.
In this portion of his teaching, Jesus is presenting a new way for Israel and the world to make God’s covenant a reality in their own selves, changing behavior not just by teaching but by a change of heart and mind. This new reality results in an inner transformation that shows forth in how we relate to God, the world and to our neighbor.
Jesus brought it all to reality in himself. He was the salt of the earth. He was the light of the world set high on a hill top, crucified for all the world to see, becoming a beacon of hope, and new life for all people, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
Jesus fulfilled the law by showing that religion in its essence was a different thing from law. In his fulfillment of the law Jesus distinguished between the moral and the ceremonial and at the same time summarized the moral law in two great commandments: love of God, and love of neighbor.
That’s why these sayings, which originally applied to Israel, now apply to all those who choose to follow Jesus and draw on his life as the source of their own. The warning and challenge Jesus initially gave to Israel now belongs to the Church.
Salt and light illustrate the role of the disciple in society. We are to preserve God’s law not by just teaching it, but living it. We are to be light-bearers in the dark corners of the world, not by calling attention to ourselves, but by proclaiming the light of the gospel that gives knowledge of God.
When the Church discharges its light-giving role, men give glory, not to the church, but to God.
Our vocation is to accept Jesus’ challenge to be “salt” that preserves God’s law until the end of the age and “light,” that through our good works, points beyond ourselves to give God the Glory with a zeal that exceeds that of the Pharisees and scribes. AMEN+