Sunday, April 16, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

EASTER SUNDAY -A - 17               MATTHEW 28. 1-10


“Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come see the place where the Lord lay.”
That is the Easter message the angel delivered to the women who had come to the tomb to mourn the death of their beloved Jesus. Not only were the women terrified by the earthquake, and by the angel’s appearance, but even more so by the fact of the empty tomb. Before they can collect themselves the angel sends them on a mission to tell the disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead and that He will meet them in Galilee.
The angel had rolled back the stone to allow the women to look inside the tomb to see for themselves that Christ had already risen. However, Matthew does not tell us that they did. It seems they took the angel’s word for it and ran away from the tomb as fast as they could with fear mixed with joy. Could it possibly be true, what the angel had said?
That’s when they ran into the risen Lord. Amazingly they recognized him and fell at his feet and worshipped him, still trembling with fear. Jesus tries to quiet their fear by allowing them to touch him and then he sends them on their way to accomplish the mission given them by the angel at the tomb; “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.”
Matthew’s account of that very first Easter is one filled with fear. The guards were frozen stiff with fear. The women were afraid of the sight of the angel, afraid of the empty tomb, afraid of the resurrection. So they ran away from the scene as fast as they could still afraid of what was said concerning Jesus, and what might come next.
What came next for them was the sight of the resurrected Jesus, and even then their fear was present. What were they afraid of? They were not afraid of the dead, that’s why they had gone to the tomb in the first place to mourn. But it appears that they were afraid of the idea that Jesus had risen from the dead and what that might mean for them.
After hearing this story many times over, we sit here today still amazed at the idea of the resurrection from the dead. The women who went to the tomb were afraid of it and the disciples, when they first received the news, did not believe it. In our own day the very opposite is true. We fear death and are still puzzled at the idea that God can raise the dead.  Many still don’t believe it.
Yet we are Easter Christians whose very faith is in Him who died and rose again and in the Hope of the resurrection to eternal life. Are we not here today to celebrate that very idea? That’s what kept the early Christians going in the face of centuries of persecution. They believed that they would one day be re-united with Him who died and rose again.
That’s what keeps us going today, is it not, when we stand at the grave of a loved one or friend. Isn’t it the hope that they will be resurrected with Jesus and that one day we will be re-united with them? That there is life after death?
What keeps us, then, from living the new life that Jesus Christ’ death and resurrection brings to all who believe in him? What keeps us from holding fast to the Hope of eternal life?  More often than not our faith is like that of the women who ran from the empty tomb with mixed emotions - of fear and joy? Sometimes I think we are still afraid of the very idea and what it might mean for us.
We want to believe. We want to hope that it is all so true. But death seems so final, even though we go to great extremes to mask it. The angel referred to Christ as the One who was crucified, teaching us not to shy away from death, but to glory in the cross, which is the weapon Christ used to destroy death and the trophy of his victory.
If only we could see Him. If only we could touch Him as the women did on that first Easter morning. The original Christians experienced Jesus in their midst. He appeared to them after his resurrection. He ate and drank with them. Where is our direct encounter with the risen Lord? Where do we meet him today?
We can’t meet Jesus in the way the women did that morning. It is a vital part of Christian belief and experience, however, that we can and should meet Jesus in spirit, and get to know him as we worship him and learn from him. That personal and intimate relationship with the living Lord is central to what being a Christian means in practice.
So where can we touch him, see him? We meet Him in the breaking of the bread, in His body and blood in the Eucharist, the memorial of His Passion. We meet Him in His Word as we read and share the Holy Scriptures. We sing “Jesus Christ is risen today,” because we see the risen Christ all around us, in the faces of those sitting besides us, in the bread and wine of the altar, and in the people we encounter in each moment of our lives.
What God did through the resurrection of Jesus, was the beginning of a promise from long ago. Jesus’ resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s purpose for the redemption of the world, and a vindication of the Son of Man’s suffering. It was the start of God’s new age that continues until Christ comes again and God’s kingdom here on earth is, at it already is, in heaven.
The resurrection of Jesus changed the world forever, as it changed the lives of the women who first met the risen Lord outside the empty tomb. It changed the lives of the disciples who met Him in Galilee where they were commissioned to a new work; a new way of life.
It continues to change the lives of those who meet Him today, whose eyes are opened to recognize Him, and whose Faith opens their hearts to receive Him; and where fear is replaced with Joy.
“Do not be afraid;” the angel said, “for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen as He said. Come see the place where the Lord lay.”  Alleluia! Christ is Risen!  The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! AMEN+

 [2017 Easter pictures]




Our Easter altar 2017
 Tensas lilies and refreshments
  Our flower cross 2017
Easter cookies



Friday, April 14, 2017

Father Riley's homily for Good Friday, April 14, 2017

GOOD FRIDAY - A - 17      +      ST. JOHN’S PASSION

What else would one expect to hear on Good Friday but the Passion of Christ? We heard St. Matthew’s account just a few days ago on Palm Sunday. We hear it again today from the pen of St. John. The details may vary slightly, but the story is the same; one of betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion.

There us a reason why the Church wishes for us to hear it again. It is all so familiar that we often fail to hear what is really going on. We don’t allow the words and actions to sink in. We fail to reflect on it’s deeper meaning; to try and understand what God is up to in His plan for the redemption of mankind; a plan that includes a cross.

Our simple reasoning tells us that if it had not been for Judas’ betrayal, perhaps Jesus would not have died. The idea that Judas was a necessary step in God’s plan to save the world is utterly false. Jesus was not crucified because Judas betrayed him.
He went to Jerusalem to expressly to suffer death, and he made no effort to escape it once he was convinced it was the Father’s will. Had Judas remained loyal, Jesus would still have died for the sins of the world.

The choice was between Jesus the robber and Jesus the redeemer. Then as now, right and wrong were balanced against each other; men were asked to choose between them, and the choice, once made, involved irrevocable results.

Regardless of Pilate’s efforts to release him, the death of Christ had its final ground and reason not in the will of men, but in the will of God.

Two thoughts dominate John’s Passion narrative: the royalty of Jesus and the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus admits his kingship and declares its true character, a Kingdom of the Truth. He is crowned, if only in mockery, by the Jews.

He is declared king by Pilate, and proclaimed as such-a proclamation he refuses to withdraw-in the three well-known languages of the empire. He acts with royal majesty, as master of the situation throughout: going freely to his death, securing the safety of his followers, controlling Peter’s violence, reminding Pilate of the limits of his authority, bearing his cross for himself, and finally handing over his spirit freely to the Father.

He has avoided the attempt to make him an earthly king; now its real nature and its real subjects are declared. Its origin is not of this world; but it is a reality in the world. The whole purpose of his life is to witness to the Truth. He is doing it now before Pilate but he has done it from the very beginning.

Jesus witnessed to the truth in private and public places, before many gatherings and in the face of variously persuaded factions of people; as he washed the feet of his disciples, and identified himself with the bread and the wine they shared at the Passover meal.

He witnessed to the truth when he called his friend Lazarus back from the tomb, and restored the sight of the man born blind; when he fed the multitude of people with the few loaves and fish they had at hand in that remote gathering of anxious questioning folk.

He witnessed to the truth when he engaged the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, and drew her out by detailing her past and present life, and then enlisted her help in stirring up her own people to come and out and listen to him.

He witnessed to the truth even when he upset the Temple commerce and insulted the pride of the tradition by calling for worship in sprit and truth. And he witnessed to the truth when he worked his first miracle among his own people, kinsfolk and neighbors at a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.

The title: “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” was intended as an accusation and a mockery. Instead it became a triumphant symbol. Pilate’s act is prophetic; showing the Jews had risen against their own king, and that the cross was the means by which Christ established the kingdom.

As we hear the Passion for the second time this week what impact does the truth of Christ’s life and death have on us today? Do we understand any better what God was up to? Why Jesus had to die as part of God’s plan of salvation?

Truth is vulnerable. Truth is forgettable and even dispensable in the turbulence of power. For there is a sort of power in such showings of truth as Jesus demonstrated during his earthly life, even in his death on the cross; a power to set some people free.

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” AMEN+




Monday, April 10, 2017

Father Riley's homily from Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

[Please join us for Good Friday service 12 noon, April 14 and Easter Sunday 10am , April 16.  If available, please bring flowers for the flowered cross for the Easter service.]


The Palm Sunday liturgy is an opportunity for us to be there, as it were, in the crowd, both at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he was proclaimed Son of David amidst shouts of Hosanna and Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, as well as in the crowd before Pilate only a few days later who shouted for him to be crucified.
These forty days have been a journey from Ash Wednesday to now. We have followed Jesus from Galilee to the Holy City. We have seen what he has done, we have heard what he has taught, and we have seen how the people have reacted. Many believed that he was indeed the Messiah, the Promised One sent from God. Others believed he was a good man, a teacher, perhaps even a prophet, but nothing more than that for they knew where he came from.
The religious authorities believed other wise. They believed he was an imposter, a blasphemer, a radical who stood to end their way of life. What he was doing and teaching was upsetting the status quo and if not stopped, would bring down the wrath of Rome upon their heads, and they were not prepared nor were they willing to have that happen.
So they conspired against him, how to put him to death. But were divided over how to do it. Then along comes Judas, one of the twelve, who, for reasons known only to God, has become so disgruntled with Jesus that he is willing to betray him, if the price is right.
Jesus desires to eat the Passover meal with his disciples. It will be his last supper. He announces at table that one of them will betray him and that they will all abandon him. On three previous occasions he has told them that he will be handed over to be crucified. But they don’t seem to understand or else they choose not too.
They all partake of the bread and wine, including the betrayer, and afterwards Judas goes out to conduct his plan. He knows where Jesus will go after the meal. In the garden Jesus is arrested under the cover of darkness so as not to cause the people who acclaim him as Messiah to come to his defense. The disciples all flee as Jesus predicted.
Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin. False charges are unsubstantiated. The high priest, Caiaphas, takes over. He questions Jesus. But Jesus is silent.
Then, the high priest asks him if he is the Messiah, the Son of God? Jesus implies that he is by his response, “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” He is charged with blasphemy and condemned to death, and ordered to be taken to Pilate. All the while Peter is outside denying him three times.
It is near Passover and the Holy City is beaming with pilgrims from all over the Empire who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Not all have even heard of Jesus of Nazareth, much less the miracles he has wrought or the teaching of the kingdom he has proclaimed.
Thus, when he is brought before Pilate and they hear that he is charged with being the King of the Jews, which he does not deny, they are easily whipped up by the scribes and Pharisees circulating through the crowd to ask for Jesus Barabbas, the robber, to be released instead of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. And when asked by Pilate what he is to do with their king, they shout crucify him.
The longest night in the life of Christ comes to an end as he is ordered to be crucified.
Having already been mocked by the chief priests and scribes at his so-called trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus is now mocked by the soldiers who will escort him to Calvary. Robed in purple and with a crown of thorns upon his head, they kneel and hail him as “King of the Jews.” Then they spit on him and strike him before taking him out to be crucified. They enlist another to carry his cross.
Jesus is crucified between two bandits. The inscription “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” hangs above his head. Crucifixions were always along the road entering the city so that all who passed by would be reminded of what happens to those who oppose Rome. The charges against the person would also be visible for all to see. The passer-bys wagged their heads at Christ and derided him for saying he would destroy the Temple.
The chief priests, scribes and elders came out to watch him die and mocked him saying, “he saved others; he cannot save himself. If he is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now and we will believe in him…” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him. Then darkness fell over the land. Jesus cries out to God and gives up his spirit. Christ has died.
An earthquake erupted. The curtain in the Temple was torn into. Tombs on the western slope of the Mount of Olives were jarred opened and many bodies of the saints would be resurrected after Jesus’ and roam the city. The Centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over the crucified were afraid of what had happened and confessed “truly this man was God’s Son.”
The Passion of Christ is an account of betrayal, denial, ridicule and conspiracy. The triumphal entry had been a claim of Messiah ship. Ironically it was his death on the cross that brought its confirmation, and not by the Jews, but by a Gentile. Where do we see ourselves in all of it?
If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that our following of Jesus places us, from time to time, in both crowds. There are times when we readily praise God and give Him thanks for the many blessings we have received and continue to receive through the merits of His Son, Jesus.
And there are times when we find ourselves in the other crowd, not that we shout that Jesus should be crucified, but that by our sinful words and actions we crucify him yet. That is a sobering thought and not one we like to think about.
And then there are those who were in both crowds, who neither said or did anything, they simply dispersed after it was determined he was dead, or merely returned to their homes after the feast had ended without giving what they had just witnessed a second thought. Sometimes we are like them after having heard God’s Holy Word and received the Blessed Sacrament. We simply go back home as if we had received, nor heard anything that would make a difference in our lives.
Let us not forget the disciples. We know what they did. They ran back to the upper room and locked themselves in for fear of the Jews. And that is where they waited until the news of the empty tomb reached them, and then they refused to believe that Christ had risen from the dead. Fear overrides Faith every time. We have all been guilty of allowing this to happen.
All of these, you see, were on the other side of the cross. We are on this side of the cross. We are Easter Christians, and as Easter Christians our journey with Jesus continues. For the cross and the empty tomb did not end it. Our faith is in the Risen Christ and the Hope of eternal life His death and resurrection brings to all who believe in Him. This is the Easter faith.
As we await the opportunity to celebrate once again the joy of Easter, let us re-commit ourselves to walking the way of the cross, following His example of great humility; so that at the last day, we may, by God’s grace, share in His glory, who lives and reigns with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. AMEN+



Thursday, April 6, 2017

Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday service 10am, April 9, 2017 at Christ Episcopal Church

The palm fronds have been gathered from Watson's Palm Frond and Snake Farm off US 65.  Palm crosses are being made and we are preparing for Palm Sunday.  Holy Week is almost on us.  Please join us in the Parish Hall this Palm Sunday to process in as a re-enactment of our Lord's arrival into Jerusalem.  Also remember we will have our Good Friday service at noon on Friday, April 14.  Easter service is 10am Sunday, April 16.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for April 2, 2017

LENT V - A - 17               JOHN 11. 1-45

The story of Lazarus, as the gospel of John tells it, is detailed and vivid. It is a story of illness and death, of burial and resurrection. Told as a sign of Jesus’ power it contains the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” It is the seventh sign in John’s gospel and the one that sealed the Jewish authorities’ decision to put Jesus to death.
Most of us know the essence of the story very well. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha is ill. The sisters send word to their friend Jesus of their brother’s condition expecting Jesus to come immediately and heal him. Jesus sends word back to the sisters not too worry. Their brother’s illness will not lead to death.
Then, as strange as it might seem, Jesus delays two days before making his way to Bethany, a small village some two miles south of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Christ has recently had a close call with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who tried to stone him. He has escaped to the other side of the Jordan. When he announces to his disciples that he is going back in the vicinity of Jerusalem. They warn him not to.
He is determined to make the journey and Thomas, speaking for the other disciples who were present, declares that they will go with him expecting to die. Instead, Jesus informs them, that Lazarus has died. Why did he wait? What was Jesus doing during those two days?
By the time he reaches Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days. The mourners see Jesus approaching and inform Martha who goes out to meet him. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The sisters had believed the message Jesus sent back that Lazarus would not die. But he was dead and dead for four days! The number of days was significant. At the time, rabbinical teaching proclaimed that after four days the body and soul were permanently separated with no hope of resuscitation.
Martha, as well as her sister Mary, believe in the power of Jesus to heal and make whole, but have not enough faith to believe that he could raise the dead. If only he had come earlier. He could have cured their brother of his illness.
It is to Martha, rather than Mary, that Jesus engages in a deep theological exchange concerning resurrection. Martha believes that the dead will one day rise, as most Jews of her day did. But to her, it would be a future event.
Her faith and hope was in the last day. Jesus, however, summons her to faith and decision now with the powerful words -“I am the resurrection, and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live…Do you believe this?” Martha says she does believe.
Neither of the sisters, nor the mourners, nor the disciples expected what came next? Mary now meets Jesus, and expresses the same feelings as her sister about his coming sooner, and how she knew that things would have been different if he had.
Jesus asks to see the tomb and Mary leads him to it. The mourners are weeping and wailing and following along behind. Mary and her sister begin to weep as they reach the tomb. Jesus over come with compassion weeps with them.
Then he commands that the stone be rolled away. Mary cautions him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” He negates that idea and challenges her faith once again. He speaks to the father out loud so all can hear. He thanks God for having heard his earlier prayer. His earlier prayer?
In the two silent days the other side of the Jordan, before he told his disciples of Lazarus’ illness, he was praying. Praying that though Lazarus would die, he would be preserved from corruption; praying that when they eventually arrived at Bethany, the body in the tomb would be whole and complete, ready to be summoned back to life.
And when they take the stone away, he knows that his prayer has been answered. There is no stench of death.
But he was praying also for wisdom and guidance as to his own plans and movements. The fate of Lazarus and Jesus are connected. In praying for Lazarus, Jesus was aware that he was walking towards his own death, thus he was praying for the father’s will for what would come thereafter.
What Jesus was going to do for Lazarus would be, on the one hand, a principal reason why the authorities would want him out of the way. But it would be, on the other hand, the most powerful sign yet, of what Jesus’ life and work was all about, and of how in particular it would reach its climatic resolution.
The difference ends there. “Lazarus come out! “Lazarus came out of the tomb still wearing his burial clothes. Although resurrected, he would die again. Jesus’ journey would be through death and out the other side into a new sort of life. His burial clothes would be neatly folded and left in the tomb.
The story is not about Lazarus, but Jesus. The unspoken clue to it all was prayer and faith. The prayer of Jesus and the faith of Jesus in God’s power to give life. If Jesus needed to spend time in prayer and waiting how much more do we? A good Lenten question as we now approach Palm Sunday, the events of Holy Week, and the cross.
None of us likes to wait, for anything, especially for God to act on our behalf. His ways are not our ways. His timing is not our timing. He acts for our benefit, and not always in the ways we want, but always in accordance with our need and His will. And our prayer to God is not always one of thanksgiving, but most often, one of asking.
As we continue our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and its climatic resolution, let us commit ourselves to model our relationship to God after that of Jesus by learning to wait on God, believing that His actions on our behalf will always be in our best interests.
Let us learn to pray with a thankful heart knowing that God has heard our prayer and will respond, for He knows our needs better than we ourselves. And let us give thanks to God the Father for the gift of new life now, and the hope of the life to come that is ours through faith in Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Do we? AMEN+