Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from June 25, 2017

PENTECOST 3 - PROPER VII - A - 17     MATTHEW 10. 24-39

This portion of Matthew’s tenth chapter contains a string of teachings Jesus presented to his disciples as they were preparing to set out on their first missionary journey. We heard the details of how they were to carry out the journey in last week’s gospel: about what to take and what not to take.

Today’s passage picks up where that one left off. Here Jesus warns his friends that they are to imitate him in preaching the gospel and healing the sick, but to do so will bring down the wrath of the unbelievers upon them. He follows the warning by telling his disciples not to fear them. The responsibility to communicate the gospel is what is important. They are not to be intimidated by the threat of persecution.
Be prepared, he tells them, to shout from the rooftops what he has told them in private concerning God and his kingdom. Again, he tells them not to fear those who can physically harm them, but fear the one who can take their soul as well as their body; indicating that there is something eternal within each of us that only God can take possession of.
Matthew seems to have strung together a strange combination here. Perhaps these sayings occurred at different times and then again, perhaps not.
Our being of more worth than a bevy of sparrows does not seem to fit our being afraid of losing our soul unless the consolation lies in the fact that we are of much worth in the eyes of God who sees and knows all.
Again, Jesus comes back with “so do not be afraid” followed by a promise that if we remain loyal to him in this life, he will stand up for us before God the father in the life to come.
His “do not fear” three times in this passage was obviously meant to embolden the disciples’ witness of the gospel in the face of adversity, as it is meant to embolden us in ours. If there is one phrase mentioned more often than any other in scripture it is “do not fear.”
We find it in the Old Testament as well as the New. Human beings are naturally afraid of something. We are afraid of the supernatural for one, and afraid of facing the unknown for another. None of us likes to face the unknown and neither did the disciples.
Therefore, Jesus is trying his best in his instructions to his friends to prepare them for what they will face. It helps to know exactly what we are walking into does it not. We may be afraid of taking that first step towards the unknown, but if we know what to expect it goes a long way in our accepting the challenge.
To follow Jesus is to accept the challenge of the gospel to walk the way of the cross. The gospel challenges the way we live. It challenges us in the way that we think and act in terms of our relationships with others. It challenges us in terms of our loyalties. In addition, as St. Peter wrote, the enemy is always out there ready to derail our every effort in living and witnessing to it, as well as seeking to devour us in the process.
Yet Jesus tells us that we are not to fear the challenge but rather embrace it. The challenge comes with being a Christian. We were asked at our baptisms if we would “… proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?” At the font of life, we said “yes,” and accepted God’s invitation to join in the work of the Church, by becoming a member of His family.
However, the challenge does not come without a cost. Jesus’ words are very sharp. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace…but a sword.” The gospel is divisive causing divisions even among families Jesus warns.  However, he was not the first to predict this. The prophet Micah declared that such divisions always take place when God is doing a new thing.
The purpose of the Lord’s coming was to establish the reign of peace. The sword of division was but the necessary consequence of the condition of the world. Divisions among families can be the cross we bear in our living out the gospel. One’s devotion to Jesus must take precedence over one’s family obligations and affection. For Judaism, where the family with its mutual loyalties is the center of existence (honor thy father and they mother), this was an especially radical view.
For others the cross they bear may be different altogether. We all have one, sometimes I admit, it seems that there is more than one and with the passage of time they do not get any easier to carry. Regardless of the cross, we bear in Jesus’ name the reward is the same as Christ proclaimed in last week’s passage: “Those who endure to the end will be saved.”
The challenge of Jesus’ sayings in today’s passage is matched again by the promises he makes. He will “own” us before the father in heaven. Those who lose their lives will find them.
All of this is true but it cannot be ours unless we accept the challenge of the gospel to live and speak the truth of the Christian message, even in the face of opposition and rejection. That means taking up our cross and following him. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are the only ways to self-discovery.
We must reflect the values and faith that we profess. Anonymity is not an option. The challenge to be faithful to our identity as followers of Jesus is a daily one. Regardless of our weaknesses and infidelities, God continues to use us to advance his kingdom in the name of Him who died and rose again.

As we continue the journey, maturing in our faith the realization of the challenge increases and confronts us on a daily basis with the commitments we made at baptism. Implicit in the vows we made is the injunction to remain fearless in the face of humiliation, loss, and in some cases persecution. None of which, Jesus says, should cause us to fear.
God knows and cares about the details of our lives. His desire is that we come to know Him and live the life He intended for us to live. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of us, but what God thinks of us.
We may fail from time to time in living up to our commitments to proclaim the good news. However, God will not judge us on our failures as our failure to accept the challenge that comes with being a Christian: to walk the way of the cross.
It is our love of Christ manifested in the things that we say and do that shows the world that our allegiance is to Him above all else, and it is our allegiance to Christ in this world that makes us worthy in the eyes of God and assures our place in the world to come. AMEN+

Monday, June 19, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from June 18, 2017

2 PENTECOST - PROPER VI - A - 17                 MATTHEW 9.35-10.8-23

When I was a newly minted priest with perhaps two years or so of ministry under my belt, having just finished my curacy, I was fortunate enough to have been called as the assistant to the dean at Trinity Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa.
The dean had been without an assistant for almost a year, and thus had not taken any time off. After I had been there long enough to know which key opened what door, the dean left for an extended and much over due vacation. I found myself in charge of a church family of over 1000.
The Cathedral was a busy place. We conducted daily Morning Prayer in the chapel at 7:30 followed by Eucharist. On Sunday, there were three services of Holy Communion. In addition, there were the usual hospital calls, shut-in visits and the unscheduled walk-in “Father do you have a minute?” The normal day-to-day parish responsibilities now all belonged to me. It was a bit overwhelming as you might imagine but a wonderful experience.
The dean had not been out of town for a week when tragedy struck. A very popular young man from the parish was killed in a traffic accident. He was a member of a prominent family in the community who were also very active in the life of the Church. I had not personally met him or his parents other than to speak them on Sunday morning.
It fell to me to make that dreaded visit to their home and sit down with the grieving parents to discuss the funeral of their oldest son. It would be only the second funeral I had conducted since becoming a priest. My first one was for an infant. It was the kind of foot-in-the-door experience that no priest looks forward to and hopes he will ever have to endure.
The tragic nature of their son’s death only added to my anxiety as I knocked on that door not knowing how or what I would say in order to try and console and comfort them. Sometimes I don’t think people realize how stressful these types of pastoral situations can be for the priest. That was over thirty-five years ago, but as you see, I have never forgotten it.
I did my best to minister to them and as it turned out, they ministered to me. Their genuine display of faith in the face of death made a lasting impression on me as a priest. I sat there and listened as they reminisced about their eldest son. The more they talked the more their faith and trust in God was revealed.
They weren’t angry. They didn’t blame God. Yet their grief was evident in their tears and their what ifs, but their faith never wavered, then, or on the day of the funeral, or the months and years afterwards. We became very close that day and remained friends through the years.
Six months later, I found myself in the hospital room of the father of that very family who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He had only a few months to live. Just the two of us were in the room that day. We talked about life and death, family and God. I asked him how he was able to maintain his faith under the circumstances and having only recently endured the death of a son.
He said to me simply that he believed in the love of God and the promise of Christ and the hope of being re-united with his son in the life to come. It wasn’t that he did not wish that things could be different, but that he learned a long time ago to place his trust in God’s providence. He had to be strong, he told me, for his family. He wanted his legacy to his wife and children to be his faith.
It was his faith, he said, that enabled him to endure the death of his son and now to face his own. St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome that it was “suffering that produced endurance and endurance that produced character.” I learned a lot about genuine Christian character from this man and his family in the way they lived their lives in the face of adversity in witness to their faith.
Jesus said to his disciples in today’s gospel that those who endure to the end will be saved. But this was only after he had detailed the mission he was about to send them on down to what to take and what not to take as well as what to wear and what not to wear in order to teach them to depend on God.
His instructions also contained warnings that to choose to follow him would not be an easy thing to do. The world, he said, can be a most inhospitable place. He told them that they could expect rejection, physical and verbal abuse. Moreover, that they would be hated by some simply because they belonged to him. Sometimes, he told them, they would find peace and sometimes not.
Not many of us, if we knew exactly what awaited us in life would choose to march out and face it as they did. However, the disciples did, and in doing so set an example for others to imitate. The family I meet through tragedy as a young priest did likewise. They looked death in the face more than once and yet remained steadfast in their faith and love of God and the promise of His Son, Jesus, of everlasting life.
In doing so, they set an example for all who knew them and admired their ability to endure suffering, including me. Only by the grace of God were they able to maintain their faith, their hope, and their trust in a loving God that sustained them in their trials and enabled them to endure. It is by the grace of God that any of us are able to endure the trials, sufferings, and temptations of life that come our way without throwing in the prayer shawl.
Life is a challenge on a good day. When things go wrong, when tragedy strikes, when failures occur, is when our faith is truly tested. As St. Paul says, we have access to the grace in which we stand through Jesus Christ and through Christ the hope of sharing the glory of God. But as Jesus warned his disciples as they were about to set out on their journey, if we choose to follow Jesus, we can expect suffering in this life to precede the glory that will one day be revealed. In this, Jesus set the example for all of us.
The trials and temptations of this life are meant to temper us, in order that we might endure to the end. “Endurance produces character,” St. Paul wrote, “and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that had been given to us.”
It is this Hope that anchors our soul; that keeps us steadfast in our Faith, Trust, and our Love of God; a God who knows our sufferings only too well. For God proved his love for us in sending His only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross, but with the promise that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. AMEN+

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

CVI Workshop July 15, 2017 Everyone invited!

Congregational Vitality Institute presents:

What did Jesus Come for? An Appreciative Inquiry for Vital Congregations 

Presented by The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle

Saturday, July 15, 2017 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM CDT
St. James Episcopal Church
1620 Murray Street
Alexandria, LA 71301  

Rev. Bill Bryant
Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana

This one day intensive will focus on how to discover and grow what is life-giving to you and the communities in which you live. 

Who Should Attend? This program is ideal for Vestry members, Congregational Vitality Leaders, and all church leaders of:
·          Churches wanting to discover and grow their purpose and mission.
·          Churches in transition and are seeking new Rectors.
·          Churches that need to embrace the future rather than run from the past.
·          Churches that want to grow in the love and joy of being Children of God.

In this program you will:
·          Learn the essentials of appreciative inquiry.
·          Learn how to ensure change is a sustainable blessing and not a curse.
·          Discover appreciative strategies for dealing with problems.
·          Discover new ideas about stewardship and fundraising. 

Please note:  Beginning in 2017, CVI programs will be on a "pay as you go" basis.  Each event will cost $15, payable in advance (check or credit card) or at the door (credit card, check, or cash).
Go to the DofWLa website for more info:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from June 11, 2017 Trinity Sunday

TRINITY SUNDAY - A - 17                       MATTHEW 28.16-20

Last week the waiting period ended for the disciples. Immediately before his Ascension, Jesus had instructed them to do just that, to wait until they had received power from on high before they dare to venture out.
The Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost and drove them out of their hiding place where they were empowered to speak to the crowds gathered for the feast in languages understood by all. Needless to say, the pilgrims from across the empire were astonished at this dramatic display of divine revelation; as I am certain were the disciples.
With the descent of the Dove Jesus’ promise to send the Comforter was fulfilled and the work of the Church begun. The Spirit was given on that day and the Spirit remains with the Church. He is personally and powerfully present. Individually and corporately, we enjoy a person-to-person association with the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and shows forth God’s love through the work of the Church.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a feast day that reminds us of this community of love to which we belong by virtue of our baptisms. The Church’s task is to reflect the love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father manifested through the Spirit of love that has been given to each of us in carrying out the mission Christ has commanded.
St. Matthew’s gospel alone contains the Great Commission, as it is called. Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples is filled with action words: “go, make, baptize, and teach,” and is sealed with a promise of presence.  The disciples did not hesitate to undertake the task once they recieved the gift of the Spirit.
However, when the disciples met Jesus in Galilee, prior to Pentecost, in the only post-resurrection appearance recorded by Matthew, Matthew says they worshipped him, yet some still doubted. What was it they doubted? Was their doubt focused on Jesus or themselves? Or both?
If they doubted their ability to carry out the mission, it was assuaged by His promise that they would not be alone. If some of them had a lingering doubt about Jesus, it too was assuaged by his pronouncement that all authority had been given to Him in heaven an on earth and now He was giving it to them.
Not only would they soon receive the Holy Spirit, but they now had Christ’ promise of his abiding presence in this age and the age to come. Though daunting and demanding to put into practice, this commission, or mission of the Church remains our focus, or at least, it should be.
Sadly, the Church in all of its various forms has got so much wrong down through the ages. She has made so many mistakes, has let the Lord down so often, that many people, including many who love Jesus for themselves, have lost faith in the Church’s ability to do what we have been given to do. Others have become so dissatisfied with organized religion altogether they suppose that nothing will ever change until the Lord comes again and sorts it all out.
Yet Jesus’ final commandment given on earth is to be lived out in the Church until He returns. It is the Church’s Apostolate to “Go, make, baptize, and teach.”
To “go” is to be active. It does not mean that we are to just sit here and wait for people to come to us, although, if we are doing what we should be doing in spreading the gospel, they will come - God will send them. On the other hand, we are not to be like one vestryman I knew from years ago who made the statement, “this church has been right here on this very corner for over 100 years. They know where to find us,” and be satisfied with doing nothing in terms of evangelism. Apostolic witness needs to be intentional.
Jesus said we are to “make” disciples. How do we do that? One at a time. As Christ called the fishermen by the sea of Galilee, and trained them up as “learners,” imitating his way of life and coming little by little to understand the kingdom message, so are we to “call,” that is invite, others to come and see what being a Christian is all about. It is what we say and do in reflecting the love of God that either attracts them or repels them.
In addition, we are to baptize. Jesus himself linked baptism to his own death. In baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised to new life in Him. In baptism we are given a new name - Christian - and with it the responsibility and the resources, Vis a Vis, the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the tasks we have been given.
To baptize “in the name of” means rather “into the possession of” or “into union with” that is, into the community of love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Christians we share in the responsibility of continuing Christ’ work in the world guided by the Holy Spirit of God.
Finally, the Church has been given the task of teaching all that Christ commanded. Here is where I feel that the Church has often failed. We do not have the option of “watering down” what Jesus taught in order to make it more palatable. Nor do we have the authority to add to or subtract from what He taught. Yet in recent decades, the Church has been guilty of this very thing and the result is a shrinking church.
The Christian lifestyle is meant to be quite different from the way of the world. If it were not, how would the world recognize us? Throughout the gospel, Jesus has highlighted this on various levels from the personal morality outlined in the Sermon on the Mount to the high demand for forgiveness, to His commandment to love as He loves us. Regrettable the task remains incomplete in our day.
If only we, as Church, would give as much time and energy to carrying out our commission as we do in other things not nearly as important, we would make much more headway in spreading the gospel than we seem to be doing. The consolation lies in the fact that we have not just been given a list of things to do, but a list that is held in place by a promise; a promise that is meant to encourage us in the task Christ has set before us.
The promise of presence given by Jesus to the disciples and through them to the continuing Church is the promise of the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God keep us steadfast in our faith and our worship of the co-eternal and equal glory of the Blessed Trinity.
And renewed by Christ’s promise of presence, one day accomplish the task Christ has given us, “to make disciples of all nations” by reflecting the Love of God in all that we say and do. AMEN+             

Friday, June 2, 2017

VBS wraps up a great week of sharing the God News!

Many thanks to The Rev. Mitzi George and her Vacation Bible School team from St. Barnabas, Lafayette, for directing the St. Barnabas/Christ Church VBS again this year.  VBS ran from May 29 thru June 2 this year.  We look forward to next year and a church and parish house full of children again!

Checking-in at our Parish House:

VBS underway.....
The end of a day on The Lake: