Monday, March 27, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from March 26, 2017

LENT IV - A - 17            JOHN 9. 1-41


“Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.”
Prior to Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, Christ has proclaimed himself as the “light of the world.” This comes in an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. The authorities questioned the source of his knowledge of God and his power to heal. They are divided in their opinion of him. The division remains even more so after he heals the blind man.
Neither was there not a little exchange between Jesus and the religious rulers over the subject of sin, which his disciples have taken in. So that when they pass by a blind man, the disciples naturally ask, “Who sinned?  This man or his parents?”
Jesus rejects the common assumption in the ancient world that all troubles and maladies are a consequence of personal sin or even the sin of one’s parents. Though suffering can be a direct result of personal sin, this is not always the case.
And in this case, Jesus says, “neither this man or his parents, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” To which he adds, “ as long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.”
We know what happens next. Jesus makes the clay and anoints the man’s eyes and sends him to the pool of Siloam to wash his face. The pool was on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a considerable distance from the Temple. He goes as a blind man. It is not until he washes his face that he returns able to see.
This is when the story really gets interesting. If the religious leaders were divided in their opinion of Jesus, the people who knew the man as being blind now are divided over whether or not it is the same man, since he is now able to see. They question his identity but can’t decide, or else are afraid to. So they take the man to the Pharisees. It is the Sabbath.
Naturally, the Pharisees want to know how it happened and who did it. The man told them plain enough. “He put mud on my eyes and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” I went and washed and received my sight. “Where is he? They asked. “I don’t know.”
But the Pharisees will not let it go. They ask again. Again the man tells them plainly. Unable to accept the man’s explanation, they refuse to believe that he was blind in the first place until they call his parents to verify the fact. His parents are afraid of saying more, for fear of being expelled from the synagogue, and bow out of the conversation leaving their son to fend for himself.
Refusing to let go of the issue, the Pharisees interrogate the man once more. “Give God the glory. We know that this man is a sinner.” A Sabbath-breaker could not have such power from God, they thought. Again they ask him how it happened. The man turns the tables on his inquisitors and defends Jesus. “If this man were not from God he could do nothing.” The Pharisees respond by denouncing the man as a sinner and excommunicating him from the synagogue.
Isn’t it amazing that the religious authorities question Jesus’ ability to heal while totally ignoring the fact that the man was healed. They could not see the glory of God through their own prejudices. What troubled the Pharisees most was that it had never been done before.
Jesus’ healing of the blind man was a confirmation of his divinity. This was one of the signs of the coming of Messiah, (Is 35.5; 42.7) and a power belonging only to God. Yet they could not see it that way.
Jesus’ presence divides the world into those who come to the light and allow it to change, heal and direct their lives, and those who resist the light and choose to remain in darkness, even while, in some cases, declaring blindly that they see everything clearly.
That could have been the end of the story, but of course, it was not. Jesus hears that the man has been driven out and finds him. The real “good news” is not in the fact that the man was healed of his blindness, but in his ability to see Jesus, and his acceptance of him as Son of Man.
Having opened the blind man’s eyes, the Lord also opens his heart and illumines his spirit. The man responds in thanksgiving for having been healed by worshipping him. The blind man symbolizes all of humanity; all need illumination by Christ.
There is more than one blind person revealed in the story. The disciples are at first blinded by their misunderstanding of sin; the neighbors are blinded by their puzzlement; the parents are blinded by their fear and the Pharisees are blinded by their refusal to step out of the darkness created by their own religious system and step into the light.
What about us? The story speaks to the many dark places in our own world today; and no doubt to the many dark places in our individual lives, where fear, resentment, shock and anxiety, cripple our understanding, restrict our faith, and stifle our love.
Like those in the story we too can create our own blindness by adhering to narrow viewpoints, being short-sighted, and holding to a limited vision. We can also join in a common blindness of prejudice. And then there are some who never see themselves as being wrong. And even if they did, they would never admit it.
They create a closed world, like a sealed room, into which no light can come from the outside. They have locked themselves into a way of thinking and living that systematically excludes God. They live in a different reality having locked themselves into a darkness of their own devising.
If the story tells us anything it is that man’s needs give God’s grace its opportunity, and Jesus, as God’s agent, seizes the opportunity. This story of an earthly healing of a man’s sight is a parable of spiritual pilgrimage to unshakable faith. Christ has come to bring light into darkness; to give us a new vision; to enable us to see as God’s sees.
The act of baptism, however, doesn’t complete our own illumination, nor does confirmation or even ordination. As children of light, we must walk in the light, as St. Paul says, illumined by God’s Word and Holy Sacraments.
The man born blind is all of us. His story is our story. Though he did not know who Jesus was and where Jesus was; Jesus finds him and comforts him with the need to make a personal commitment of faith in the one who gives him vision.
“Who is he sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
The gift of enlightenment, the baptismal light, comes to us from the word, who calls us to faith, for faith comes by hearing, a way of seeing, and hearing by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. AMEN+






Monday, March 20, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for March 19, 2017

LENT III - A - 17              JOHN 4: 5-42


They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And there are some pictures or images that forever remain in our minds. When I was young curate assigned to a larger parish in Eastern Kentucky, I was also Priest-in-Charge of a smaller congregation nearby. Interestingly enough, the church was named Christ Church!
It was built in the 1880s and had many beautiful stand glass windows along the sides of the nave. But the one that stands out most vividly in my memory was over the altar. It was a life-size depiction of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I often caught myself gazing at it as I prepared the altar for Mass.
Each time I looked at it I imagined the conversation that occurred between Jesus and the woman; the conversation we have before us today as our gospel lesson. Samaria is the name given to the land between Galilee to the North and Judea to the South. It’s population was a mixed race of people viewed by the Jews as religious apostates.
For centuries there had been religious enmity between the two. Simply stated, Jews and Samaritans had no dealings of any kind with each other. John tells us that Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Samaria and at the noon hour stop near the village of Aschar. The disciples go into the village to buy food. Jesus, wearied from the journey, remains at the well.
Along comes a woman from the village to draw water and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” What’s wrong with this picture? In the culture of the time, Jewish men, much less a rabbi, would not have allowed themselves to be alone with a woman in public or private. Even if it was unavoidable they would not enter into conversation.
Secondly, the woman is a Samaritan. As I said, Samaritans and Jews had no dealings with each other. They would especially not share eating and drinking vessels with them. Yet Jesus asks her to give him a drink! Finally as we discover, compounding the situation is the woman’s moral character. She comes to draw water at noon because nobody else would be around. She wouldn’t be seen or would have to see anybody. She was considered to be a social outcast. Yet Jesus speaks to her.
Jesus’ discourse with the woman, like that of Nicodemus in last week’s gospel, develops on two levels of meaning. The woman thinks of water in earthly terms of necessity for man and beast, whether it comes from wells, cisterns, fountains or streams.  This was a natural concern. Water supply was not always sufficient, much less abundant.
Jesus, however, speaks of living, that is, flowing water as a sign of eternal life, whose source is God, whose abundance is assured. Jesus is himself this gift of life-giving water. Of course she does not understand what Jesus is saying. He is speaking on a heavenly level, and she listens, as Nicodemus did, on an earthly level.
Here the conversation shifts from one of water, as a symbol of life, to one of the religious life. Jesus asks her to go and bring her husband. Her reply is an honest one, “I have no husband.” Jesus then displays his divine nature by his insight into people’s hearts. He reveals her past relationships which causes her to become uneasy, perhaps, we might even say, a bit defensive.
She shifts the conversation by trying to get Jesus to settle rival religious claims as a diversion away from her personal life. Jesus, however, refuses to answer such an earthly question. He elevates the discussion to the manner in which people ought to worship. He turns the attention to the one we ought to worship: God himself.
The Father is worshipped in Spirit, that is, in the Holy Spirit - and in Truth - that is in Christ himself, and according to Christ’ revelation. God is Spirit. God cannot be confined to a particular location. True worship is in spirit and truth.
Again the woman shifts, or tries to shift the conversation by saying that when Messiah comes he will settle it once and for all. To which Jesus surprises her by claiming to be Messiah.
The woman departs as the disciples arrive. The disciples are surprised that he is speaking to a woman, but say nothing. They offer him food and Jesus responds with a teaching on the work that lies ahead as the villagers approach. For the woman has told them she might have discovered the Christ because of the things he has said to her. And because of her witness, some of the villagers believe.
Others come to see and hear from themselves. And when they have, they invite Jesus to stay and continue his teaching. He accepts their invitation and remains, John says, two more days. Many of the Samaritans believe in him, not because of what the woman told them, but because they have heard it for themselves and have accepted Jesus as the Savior of the world.
What caused the woman to believe in Christ? Was it his words about living water? Was it what he said about worshipping God in spirit and truth? Or was it because he looked into her heart, and she knew that he knew who she really was, and the deepest need of her soul? Her conviction was based on her personal encounter with Christ.
Here is a woman, who, a matter of hours or so before, had been completely trapped in a life of immorality, as a social outcast. There was no way backward or forward for her; all she could do was to eke out a daily existence and to make sure she went to the well when there was no one else around. Now she had become a evangelist to her people. Through her Jesus’ mission had reached outside Judaism.
Where do we see ourselves in this story? These teachings of Jesus are meant to stir something within us as we listen to his words and see the response they have on the lives of those he encounters on his way to Jerusalem. Can we not see something of ourselves in the woman? The disciples? The villagers?
Like the woman, when confronted and challenged by God’s holy word, we sometimes try and change the subject away from our selves to something different. Because of our sin and offenses we don’t like to think that God knows who we really are. It’s easier to mask our true identities to the world, but not to God.
God already knows, and waits for us to confess our worse to Him. The conscience, you see, has to be aroused in order to receive the fullness of the gift of new life God offers in Jesus Christ.
Like the disciples, we sometimes miss the point of our mission as Church. We over look God given opportunities to do the work we have been given to do; that is, make disciples of all…Sometimes we reap what others have sown. But that is all part of the task we have been given. We just need to look around us - the field is yet ripe for harvesting.
And what about those who came to believe, can we not see something of ourselves in them? Those whose belief was based on the woman’s word was later confirmed by what they heard for themselves. Faith often come in stages. Most of us would agree.
Someone introduced us to Christ, to the Church, and or to Sunday School. But our personal conviction came through our personal encounter with the risen Christ. He looked into our hearts, just like he looked into that of the woman at the well, and we knew, that he knew the deepest desire of our souls and in His Love for us, He met it.
That’ why we are here. “It is no longer because of what someone has said that we believe, for we have heard it, and believe it for ourselves, and we know that Jesus Christ is truly the Savior of the world. AMEN+


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Holy water stoup provided by Father Riley to Christ Episcopal Church


As early as the 5th century Holy Water has been used in the rites and ceremonies of the church, most notably in the sprinkling of the faithful as they enter the Church on Sunday.
Baptismal fonts were traditionally placed at the entrance of the Church, in the narthex so as the faithful passed by they would be reminded of their own baptism. Down through the centuries other traditions developed. Fonts were removed to the front of the Church or placed in the crossing.
The sprinkling of the faithful was kept for special Holy days and eventually, in our tradition, used on those Sundays designated for baptisms in the absence of candidates for the Sacrament.
Eventually holy water stoups,small containers for holy water, were placed near the entrance of the Church. The faithful would then dip their finger into the water and sign themselves with the cross to remind themselves of their baptismal promises.
Holy water is blessed by a priest or bishop. The formula is ancient and includes an exorcism of the water before it is blessed for religious purposes.Holy water is disposed of by pouring directly on the ground.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for March 12, 2017

LENT II - A - 17                      JOHN 3: 1-17


“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night…” The dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus is a familiar story to most of us. It stands as the first of several in-depth discussions Jesus has in John’s gospel, but the only one that occurs under the cover of darkness.
Nicodemus sits on the Supreme Council of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. He risks his standing by coming to Jesus, even under the cover of darkness. There is something about Jesus that draws him. Perhaps, as a teacher of the law, he is open to new teaching and interpretations that Jesus seems to be offering.
He begins the dialogue by complimenting Jesus. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from God.” The response he receives from Jesus is not what he expected. Jesus dismisses the compliment and turns the conversation into an in-depth spiritual teaching that leaves Nicodemus as much in the dark as when he arrived.
Jesus speaks of a new birth. Nicodemus is baffled by the idea of being “born again,” and misses the point of Jesus’ teaching altogether. Yet Jesus is explicit in his teaching that if one is not born again, that is, by water and the Spirit, one cannot see the kingdom much less enter it. The idea of being born of the Spirit, that is, from above, leaves the Pharisee wondering “how can these things be?”
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth…” St. John tells us in the prologue to his gospel but sometimes we admire the flesh (Jesus) so much we forget about the Word.
It would seem that Nicodemus the teacher is unwilling to learn. He is seeking answers but allows his rational thinking to get in the way of what Jesus is trying to teach him. Nicodemus is humbled by Jesus’ instruction. He is a leader of the Pharisees and a teacher of the law and should be knowledgeable of God and the ways of God. But Jesus is telling him that he is not. “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”
Jesus is offering a new knowledge that comes from God. Jesus is the link between heaven and earth. If we are to know God and what it is God expects from us, we must, as God said on the Holy Mountain, ‘listen to him.’
Nicodemus has had his chance to “listen to him,” to see, feel, and understand what Jesus is talking about, but he couldn’t grasp it. It was the truth of Jesus’ words that troubled him. Jesus leaves him behind, as it were, with his concluding remarks about his being lifted up; a sign of God’s love, that will bring eternal life to all who believe in Him; a pointer to the final sign - Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Poor Nicodemus. I can just see him walking away in the darkness, both literally and spiritually. Yet we know that he was still drawn to Jesus. His encounter with Jesus stirred something deep within him. He missed the opportunity to grasp it then, but Jesus’ words never left him. He spoke up for Christ at his trial before the Sanhedrin, and together with Joseph of Arimathea, prepared the Lord’s body and helped place it in the tomb.
What about us? How well do we listen to Jesus? As we make this Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross we will have more than one opportunity to feel, see, and understand his teaching as we listen to his words in the gospel. Jesus’ teaching about new birth baffled Nicodemus. Do we understand it?
Jesus speaks of a double-sided baptism that is required for us to see the kingdom, that is realize it, and to be able to enter it. This “new birth” brings with it a new knowledge of God that opens our hearts and minds to who God really is and what our relationship to God through His Son, Jesus Christ is supposed to be.
As I said before, the easiest part of being a Christian is to be baptized. The water symbolically washes away our sin and the sealing of the Holy Spirit marks us as belonging to Christ forever. To walk away from the font is to walk away a new creation; a babe in Christ, if you will, with a trust and faith like that displayed by Abram in today’s first lesson.
“Abram went, as the Lord told him.” Not knowing where he was to go. He believed the promises of God. From that moment on Abram grew in his knowledge and understanding of God. Because he believed in the truth of God’s word, God revealed more and more of Himself to Abram as well as His plan for him.  And so it is with us.
We make the journey with God, as Abram did. We don’t always know where it is and what it is that God is calling us to go and do. We walk by faith and not by sight. As we do, God reveals more of Himself to us. The Lenten journey is our journey through life. The spiritual agenda the Church invited us to engage in on Ash Wednesday is the very agenda we should be engaged in at all times and in all places, in season and out.
But, as we professed at our baptisms, we can not do it by ourselves, but only with God’s help. The Holy Spirit has been given to the church and to each of us through Baptism to enable us as church to carry out the mission God has given us to do; to shed the light of the gospel into the dark corners of the world so that others may come to know Him and the Love He has for us and the world He has made.
To grow in the knowledge of God requires our being baptized by water and the Spirit. This new birth is from above; a gift of God. It is a double-sided baptism; water for the forgiveness of sin, and the Spirit for the illumination of heart, and mind. Only by being born again, Jesus says, can we see the kingdom and be able to enter it.
To be born again opens the eyes of our hearts to see God’s hand at work in the world around us and enables us, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to join in that work; to live by faith, like that of Abram, and to walk in the light avoiding the darkness, by holding fast to the unchangeable truth of God’s Word made flesh; Jesus Christ, Savior of the world. AMEN+






Saturday, March 11, 2017

Study of the Seven 'Signs' in John continues this Sunday, March 12, 2017 at 9am

Remember to set your clocks ahead one hour tonight to be ready for the 9am class led by Father Gregg Riley. Class is held in Christ Episcopal Church parish house.   Here's a question for you: How many of the "signs" in John are in the other Gospels?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Father Riley's meditation from Ash Wednesday service, March 1, 2017

[Service schedule update:  We will have Morning Prayer led by Jane Barnett this coming Sunday, March 5th, 2017 at 10am. Father Riley will return March 12th and lead services at 10am March 12, 19, and 26.  Father Riley will also lead Lenten classes at 9am on those Sundays.  The classes are on the seven 'miracles' of Jesus from John's Gospel.]

ASH WEDNESDAY - A - 17      MATTHEW 6.1-6,16-21



Jesus and the disciples have descended the Holy Mount of Transfiguration and are on their way to Jerusalem and the cross.
For us Lent begins today and these 40 days will be, as it were for us, a journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.
In the history of Christian worship, the observance of Lent grew from one day of fasting between Good Friday and Easter to a period of 40 days. These 40 days have always been a time of reflection and renewal for the church.
Adult converts are instructed in the mysteries of the Christian faith waiting for the Vigil of the Resurrection to be baptized, so that entering into and rising out of the baptismal waters would be seen alongside the descent into the tomb and the rising out of death of Jesus himself.
In the baptismal office the newly baptized here the words that they are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever as the sign of the cross is traced on their foreheads. But the words that accompany the ashen cross traced on our foreheads this day are different: “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” The ashes remind us of our need of repentance and of our mortality.
These 40 days is the church’s way of giving us yet another chance to get it right; to live a holy life. Thus the church invites us to the observance of a holy Lent. How do we do that? Can we do that on our own?
Jesus is teaching his disciples about piety in today’s gospel passage. He singles out three specific acts to make his point that our practice of piety is not to draw attention to ourselves, but to help others and give God the glory. Our almsgiving helps others as does our prayers of intercession. Fasting, however is meant for our benefit.
Fasting cleanses not only our bodies but our minds. It enables us to see clearly that our dependence is on God. In addition to these three acts of personal piety, the church invites us to practice a regimen of spiritual discipline that begins with self-examination and repentance; followed by prayer, self-denial; and the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
Prayer is how we approach God and communicate with him. Fasting and self-denial manifest our total dependence on God. Reading and meditating on God’s holy Word is the way we come to know God and what God expects from us.
Perhaps the most difficult one for most of us is the act of self-examination. This is, in a way, holding ourselves up to the light of the Gospel; to become transparent, as it were, before God so that we recognize and acknowledge the flaws and short comings that exist in our relationship to God; flaws and short comings that spill over into our relationships with our neighbors that keep us from living a holy life.
To acknowledge them before God, is the first step in turning our life back to God. Because he loves us he forgives us, and in turn gives us the grace to over come them. Repentance clears the way for God “to create and make in us a new and contrite heart,” that enables us to recapture the vision of Easter, and to recommit ourselves to living the new life to which we have been called in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is our “bread for the journey.” To engage in the above as we make this journey with Jesus, keeps us on the right path; one focused on Him. We know where the journey ends and how it ends. In this, we have the advantage over the disciples who walked with Jesus from Galilee to the Holy City.
We are on this side of the cross. We are Easter people. Our 40 day preparation is not for Good Friday, but for the celebration of Easter; a new beginning. In order for us to be truly surprised and rejoice at His resurrection, as we should be, we need to make this journey using all of the spiritual “tools” the church invites us to use - with God’s help.
All are useful in and out of “season.” For they enable us to live a holy life beyond these 40 days and at the same time prepare us for the true joy of Easter in which we remember “that it is only by God’s gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.” AMEN+