Sunday, July 30, 2017

Father Riley's homily for July 30, 2017

8 PENTECOST, PROPER XII - A - 17   MATTHEW 13. 31-33, 44-52


For the past two weeks, we have listened as Jesus has tried to describe what the kingdom of heaven is really like. Undoubtedly, he was asked that question many times.
It’s like seed that has been scattered on a variety of soils, He said. Some of it took root and produced good fruit, and some of it did not. It is like a field where good seed was intentionally sown, he said in another place, but somehow weeds took root and sprang up alongside the wheat. That is the way God intends for it to be until the harvest.
In today’s passage, he continues with illustrations putting word-pictures in the minds of his listeners. First, a mustard seed, tiny compared to other seeds common to his time, yet one that will grow beyond expectations.
What Jesus is saying is that kingdom of heaven was ushered in at his coming. However, no one took notice at first. Just twelve men were chosen to follow him. A small beginning to be sure, but great results occurred then, and have continued to occur over the centuries as God promised. How many disciples, for example, does Jesus have today?
And, what of leaven? How does it relate to Christ’ concept of God’s kingdom? How do we know, for example, when one has entered into the kingdom? Leaven is like an inward faith that naturally grows and manifests itself outwardly in word and deed. Entering the kingdom activates a force that transforms from within all those who receive it.
From the parables of seeds and growing, harvesting and reaping, Jesus moves to ones of discovery, not only discovery of the kingdom itself but of its value. In a way, these two parables allude to the endless variety of experiences by which individuals enter the kingdom.
To one it’s wonderful worth is suddenly, and it may seem, accidentally revealed; while to another it is only found after long years of searching. To discover it is one thing; to possess it is another. No little sacrifice is called for in order to have it. It must be prized above all else. Those who are immersed in worldliness never find it, nor do they ever realize the value of it. Like the treasure in the field, it remains hidden.
Following the parables of the mustard seed and leaven, Jesus reiterates the conclusion of last week’s parable of the wheat and tares by describing what will happen at the close of the age. This time he uses a “dragnet” to illustrate.
Again the angels will do the separating as in the wheat and tares and there will be “weeping” and the “gnashing” of teeth. “Have you understood all of this,” he asked, and they answered “yes.”
To end on such a dark note would be to send his listeners away with a frightful image of God’s kingdom would it not. However, he doesn’t end his teaching with that. Instead, he says that we, who have entered the kingdom already, through the waters of Holy Baptism, are to be like “scribes” who have been trained for the kingdom. What does he mean?
In Jesus’ day, a scribe was an expert in Mosaic Law. However, when he became a disciple of Jesus he was able to preserve past insights and enlarge them in light of Jesus’ teachings. The “old” things are the wisdom of the centuries, particularly the ancient stories and hopes of Israel. The gospel Jesus brings, and the gospel Matthew is concerned to tell us about, consists in bringing the two together.
From the law and prophets Matthew shows us how Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel and the one through whom God is establishing the new Israel. We need to understand that his use of the “dragnet” is there to remind us that the coming of Jesus began the process of final judgment.
There is nothing we can do about that. The kingdom has come, is coming, and will come. What we can do is to be prepared for that day by doing what Jesus is telling us to do. So that when that day does come, we should not, as Paul says, fall back in fear, but rather rejoice at His appearing.
Jesus taught and lived the kingdom and as he did so, the world around him divided in two. There were those who were swept off their feet by him and those who resisted and rejected the gospel.
The same is true today and will be until the day when God will remake the whole world having eliminated the bad and the evil from the present one.
As they were in Jesus’ day, the parables in Matthew’s thirteenth chapter are a challenge to us at two levels: understanding and action. Understanding without action is static; action without understanding is exhaustive and useless.
As we ponder Jesus’ stories and think about what they meant then and mean now, we should, in light of the conclusion of today’s gospel, ask ourselves what it means to be a “scribe” trained for the kingdom of heaven?
Part of our training, if you will, is to be grounded in both the Old and New Testaments, for both are Holy with the new being the fulfillment of the old. This is not to say that all of us are called to be Biblical scholars.
However, as Christians, we need to be versed in the stories contained in both the Old and New Testaments that shed light on God’s kingdom, on its discovery, and especially the “door” through which all who choose to enter may enter, that is, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
For it is in Him we live and move and have our being, and it is in our thinking, our speaking and our living our lives to Him that we present ourselves to the world as “scribes” trained for the kingdom of heaven who bring out of their treasure what is new and what is old. AMEN+

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby to visit Christ Episcopal Church August 6, 2017


The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, Ph.D., D.D., IV Bishop of Western Louisiana, will officiate for our August 6, 2017 service at 10am.  The service will include the confirmations of John Godfrey and Sonia Hartner.  The service will be followed by our congregational dinner and meeting with Bishop Jake.  Everyone is invited to join us.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

7 PENTECOST, PROPER XI - A-17                 MATTHEW 13.24-30, 36-43


 Today’s parable builds on last week’s parable of the sower. Here Christ gives attention to the enemy who has sown his seed among the seed of Christ. This parable found only in Matthew, deals with the presence of evil in the kingdom of the Son of Man, in contrast with the kingdom of the Father, which is the new age, from which all evil will have been removed.
The kingdom of the Son of Man is a mixed bag, containing both good and evil. It is not a visible union of pious souls, but a visible commonwealth, to which it is possible formally to belong without being of it inwardly. The task of differentiating the worthy from the unworthy is not up to the church, but will be accomplished by the Son of Man as judge at the close of the age.
But for now, God allows the good and evil to exist together. It is the present mingling of the good and the evil that casts a cloud or mist that will one day be blown away by the breath of God. Then the sun will shine upon those deemed worthy to inherit God’s kingdom.
Thus, Jesus makes it plain enough that there will be a “harvest” at the end of time, as we know it. However, I have discovered over the years that some people have a much different view of God. They do not want to think about that. Future judgment, for them, is not a “hot” topic, no pun intended. Or else they have a different opinion altogether contrary to what Jesus has to say.
I have heard it said, for example, that God would not condemn or judge anyone. Others have said that they believe that God will hold out and postpone the “harvest” until every single “weed” has been turned into wheat. Then there is the idea that God is like an indulgent parent who lets his kids get away with doing whatever they wish and still rewards them at the end of the day.
There are many who hope that this is true. However, these views of God, and the idea of a lack of judgment that goes along with them are false.
If we want to know what God is really like, we look to Jesus. We listen to what he said and we look at what he did. Evil exists as much today as it did in Jesus’ day. Anyone who believes otherwise is simply looking through the wrong end of the binoculars.
So, why doesn’t God do something about it? That is perhaps the most frequent question people ask.
Tyrants and bullies, strongmen and hit men seem to get away with it. And sensitive souls ask again and again, why is God silent? Why doesn’t he step in and stop it? Jesus’ parables are not direct answers to the question. And probably there is no direct answer in this life.
But would we really want God to step in and stop every act of violence, every mistake and every evil impulse, including all those we still know and cherish within ourselves? That would bring God’s judgment now. Would we be willing to pay the price? Are we ready for that?
The parable is all about “waiting” something we all find difficult. Jesus’ followers did not want to wait. If the kingdom was really present in Jesus, coming to birth in what he was doing and saying, then they wanted it all right now. They were not interested in God’s timetable. They had one of their own, and expected God to conform to it.
What’s changed? Don’t we sometimes feel the same way? Let’s face it we are an impatient people. When we want something from God, we want it right now. Like the illustration of a monk I saw years ago who was on his knees praying for patience and asking God for it right now!
In Jesus, we see that God does not act straightway. The servants in the parable wanted to go immediately and start pulling up the weeds. However, Jesus says that the weeds are to grow alongside the wheat. That’s God’s way. Besides, there is the danger that the wheat might be destroyed in the process.
That is why the Church should neither condemn “nominal” members, nor judge those outside the Church (1 Cor. 5. 12, 13). Just as wheat would be destroyed in weeding out the tares, so also many people who might ultimately find salvation would other wise be lost if condemned before the Day of Christ’s judgment.
Unfortunately, most of us have been guilty of this, even the Church. We all know individuals who have turned away from the Church because of this very thing. They were made to feel judged and condemned rather than welcomed. May God forgive us.
Again, at the heart of today’s parable is the note of patience. Not just the patience of the servants who have to wait and watch, but also the patience of God himself. God didn’t and doesn’t enjoy the sight of a cornfield with weeds all over the place. But he doesn’t relish the thought of declaring the harvest-time too soon, and destroying wheat along with weeds.
The parable speaks to the compassion of God in that delaying his judgment allows more people to be saved at the end. Jesus taught that the kingdom had come in Him, but not yet fully arrived and would not in one big bang. It would come through a process of slow growth, a steady growth based on God’s time-line. Some might say that is a “cop-out,” no doubt they did in Jesus’ day.
Again, it has to do with one’s view of God. To say that God is delaying his final judgment seems outwardly that God is uncaring and inactive. If Jesus did what God does in combating evil and defeating it and is still working toward the final outcome when the enemy will be ultimately defeated, then it is false to say that God does not care about us now and that He is inactive.
We who live on this side of the cross know that He did indeed act suddenly and dramatically at the moment He gave the life of His Son for the life of the world. When today we long for God to act, to put the world to rights as it were, we need to remind ourselves that He already has by looking at the cross.
What we are waiting for now is the full outworking of those events. We wait with patience, and as St. Paul says, with hope, not like people in a dark room wondering if anyone will ever come and turn on the lights, but like people in early morning who have seen the sunrise and are now waiting for the full brightness of midday to shine upon us. AMEN+

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Forward Day by Day for July 22, 2017

SATURDAY, July 22      Saint Mary Magdalene, Apostle

2 Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Those of us who love Mary Magdalene love her fiercely, passionately, and steadfastly. Even the incorrect things I learned about her made her seem like someone I wanted to know. I loved her before I truly understood why, and I’m still learning new reasons to want to know her, to love her, to be like her.
We love Mary Magdalene because we all want to be made new—we all want to know Jesus as closely as Mary does. We each want to be her when Jesus calls out to her after rising from the dead. We all want to be the one trusted with the joy of Easter, to be the first to share the amazing story of his resurrection.
The good news is that you and I are Mary. We are broken, in need of healing and love. We are caregivers—each of us, God’s faithful ministers. We are fiercely protective like Mary, safeguarding the lives and bodies of our beloved. Like Mary, we loyally follow Jesus, listen to his word, and learn from him. Through her witness, we know that Jesus loves those who need him most—people just like Mary, people just like me.
MOVING FORWARD: Imagine being the first person to see and talk with the risen Lord. Would that change how you told others about Christ?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Father Riley's homily for July 16, 2017

6 PENTECOST, PROPER X - A - 17                     MATTHEW 13.1-9,18-23


 Today’s gospel is the beginning of a series of parables of the kingdom Jesus presents in the 13th chapter of Matthew. Parables are stories in word-pictures, revealing spiritual truths. The Hebrew and Aramaic words for parable also mean “allegory,” “riddle,” or “proverb.” Matthew is not the only gospel filled with parables. All four contain images drawn from daily life to represent and communicate the deeper things of God.
The truth communicated by Jesus’ parables, however, is not evident to all who hear them. The listener must have spiritual ears to hear, and even then, not all have the same degree of understanding. Individuals are responsible for their own receptivity. Parables challenge the hearer and call for faith to perceive the mysteries of the kingdom.
The use of parables was known in Jewish culture long before Jesus. Christ, however, brought the art of parables to perfection, relating aspects of the kingdom and speaking of God himself through vivid stories. His purpose was not only to reveal truth to those with hearts prepared. He wished to draw responsive hearts past the entrance and into the very reality of God’s kingdom, which he proclaimed and inaugurated.
In today’s gospel, we have one of the few parables Jesus goes on to explain to his disciples in an attempt to leave no doubt to its true meaning. It is interesting that he delivers it, not on land among a group of farmers, but while standing in a boat a little off shore on the Sea of Galilee most likely to a mixed audience, many of which made their living from the sea.
The parable reflects Jesus’ experience in his appeal to Israel, which is now drawing to a close. He is speaking directly to those who will be his messengers. He warns that much of their work in proclaiming the coming kingdom will be wasted effort, but promising them that God will bring forth results far exceeding their expectations as a way of encouraging them in their efforts.
The parable is filled with symbolism. The symbolism of the “soil,” for example, represents those who listen, or in some cases, those who refuse to listen. The “seed” of course is the gospel message, the coming of God’s kingdom, and the sewer is Christ.
After telling the parable, Jesus leaves the majority of the crowd. It is up to the individual to be open and receptive to the message. Each person who hears it has to interpret it for him or herself and discover what it means to them. To most of them, it should have been obvious especially to the disciples.
In the verses that are missing between Jesus telling the parable and his interpretation, however, the disciples have asked him what it meant. To them he gives the answer. Our hearts are the “soil” where the seeds of God’s word are sown. If they are closed, he says, like a well-beaten path, the seed takes no root. It is the enemy, Jesus says, which has closed our hearts to God.
While some might teach a person is permanently saved at the moment he or she professes faith, a view never held by the historic church, the teaching of Jesus is clear that it is possible to believe for a while and then fall away. Thus the one who hears and endures for a while, but again whose faith has no root, sadly falls away when trouble, hardship or disappointment arises.
Then there are the “thorns.” That is, the cares and concerns of the world that “chokes” out the word of God and thus produces no fruitfulness. That individual is too concerned with the things of this world, and or his or her own self-interests. The word of God cannot possibly grow in their hearts. There is simply no room for God.
The good soil is the heart that is open and receptive to God’s word. These are the ones who hear it and respond to it. Hearts and minds must appropriate the living word if there is to be fruitfulness.
Those who are receptive to the message of the kingdom manifest their “hearing” in the changes their understanding of God’s word makes in their lives. As St. Paul would say, they live no longer to themselves but to Him who died and rose again.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can all look back over our own journey to God and see times and places when our response to God represented each one of these “soil conditions.” We all had those times when we were closed to the gospel message altogether. At other times, we welcomed it but then something happened to turn us away from God.
In addition, we all struggled with, and still do, with the “thorns.” That is, the things of this world that catch our attention and hold our focus, that seemed so important at the time. Jesus would say that it is the enemy who continues to hold them up to us as being attractive. It is his way of tempting us away from God.
But can we recall what it was that broke open the hard pan of our hearts? What was it that caused us to hang on to our faith when we wanted to give it up? When did we finally realize that the things of this world that at one time meant everything to us did not satisfy our soul and what we needed was God?
What was it that finally drew us past the entrance and into the reality of God’s kingdom and enabled us to finally “hear” God’s message of salvation? God’s love opens our hearts to Him. God pursues us through His love for us in His Son, Jesus Christ who died and rose again.
Jesus’ spent his earthly life in an effort to get God’s people to “listen.”
The parable begins that way. That is the way the kingdom message is received by hearing, truly hearing.
Each of us, like those in the crowd along side the seashore that day have to allow God’s word to resonate in our hearts, mull it over in our minds and then respond out of love according to his or her native capacity.
God did not give each and everyone of us the same capacity, the same gifts and talents. Rather He gave us a plethora of gifts that are meant to be used in concert as the Body of Christ to produce much fruit in advancing His kingdom on earth. Recall the parable of the talents. One was given three, another two, and another one.
Likewise, Jesus is telling us, that what is sown on good soil is the one who hears and understand God’s message and learns to cooperate with His Spirit.
To hear and understand and to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit enables us to bear fruit that will yield in some cases, a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. AMEN+

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Service for Mrs. Pat Gray July 14, 2017

We had a beautiful service to remember Mrs. Pat Gray.  A large family and friend gathering enjoyed the service and reception offered at Christ Episcopal Church.  Brenda took the following picture of flowers placed for Pat's service.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Father Riley's homily for July 9, 2017

5 PENTECOST - PROPER IX - A - 17                                      MATTHEW 11:16-19,25-30

Today’s gospel lesson and Epistle both contain a paradox. St. Paul seems to be unable to express himself in his message to the young Church at Rome. “I do not understand my own actions,” he begins. I am sure that got his audience’s attention.

And from there on his words are both contradictory and confusing. “I can will what is right but I cannot do it.” In desperation, he seems to throw up his hands only to fall back on the grace of God, which has been given to us through Jesus Christ, both his and our means of rescue.

In contrast, Jesus begins today’s gospel with a game he most likely played as a child. It was common among Jewish children of his generation. The children are divided into two groups you see, those pretending to play musical instruments or singing, and the other responding in a manner opposite of what would have been expected. Think of a wedding and a funeral for example.

Christ is drawing a parallel to the Jewish leaders of the day who responded harshly to both John Baptist and to himself. John, they deemed as being too ascetic, remember the clothes he wore and the locusts he ate, not to mention the message he brought? Christ was simply too liberal in the company he kept and in his willingness to dispense the love, mercy and the hospitality of God to those deemed unacceptable by society’s standards.

As then, as now, people do not like the challenge of the kingdom message. It is either too ascetic for some, that is, too demanding. Or too liberal, meaning not everyone agrees that God’s love and mercy should be readily available to all.

They prefer to follow their own vision rather than “welcoming” God’s. Thus, the paradox Jesus presents. God “hides” the mysteries of the kingdom from those who refuse “to see” or “to welcome” because they are blinded to the true values of life by intellectual arrogance and by pride.

To those whom the world views as ignorant and incapable of understanding such things, Jesus says, God does give full understanding and revelation by the Spirit of God because they are open-minded, humble, and expectant.

When we stop and listen to St. Paul’s struggle, the paradox of his trying to live the gospel, in spite of himself, and Jesus’ illustration of the games people play in refusing to receive the grace and love of God we cannot help but see something of ourselves in both examples. What Paul is struggling with we all struggle with. “I can will what is right,” he says, “but I cannot always do it.” None of us can.

However, the point he is making is in his confession to the church at Rome and to us who hear his words today is that we can only be rescued from such a dilemma by the grace of God, which has been given to us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are all here today because at some point in our lives we said “yes” to God’s invitation to join His family through the waters of Holy Baptism and to commit ourselves to living out our baptismal vows in such a manner as to be pleasing to God. Each of those promises made concluded with the response and “with God’s help.”

For like Paul, once we commit ourselves to God we quickly discover that there is nothing good that dwells within us that, is our flesh. The spiritual side of our being will always be in competition with our physical side. We live with that paradox. Grace is the answer to the dilemma.

In Jesus’ example, we can go through life holding to a completely different and sometimes opposite vision than that of God’s. We do it when we try to avoid the challenge of the gospel. We want to pick and choose the parts we like and avoid the ones that are demanding. When we do, God “withholds” his revelation from us.

We do not see the world as God sees it. We are too busy looking at it from our point of view, which is narrow and biased. “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” Jesus says. Wisdom has been defined as the power to see the world, ourselves, and our concerns as God sees them and to order our lives in light of that vision. To refuse to do so is to continue to “play the game” of life the way we want by refusing “to see,” and by refusing “to welcome.”

Jesus offered his generation a chance to embrace a different vision. He taught it in their streets and their synagogues. He lived it wherever he went. He showed it in the love and mercy displayed in the many healings he performed. The people did not want it. For the most part, they refused to join in.

He offers it to us today in his closing invitation of what the Prayer Book calls the comfortable words “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” However, his words contain a challenge. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

The Rabbis of Jesus’ day spoke of the yoke of the Law of Moses. For God’s people the Law had become a burden and hardship due to the rabbi’s strict interpretation. Jesus is offering a different yoke, which, because it comes from his mercy and love, is easy to bear. The yoke of the Lord is lighter than that of the Pharisees in spite of the fact that His standard is higher.

The welcome Christ offers to all who abandon themselves to His mercy is the welcome God offers through Him. This is the invitation, which pulls back the veil and lets us see who the Father really is. Although St. Paul does not mention it, it is the yoke of Christ he struggled with as we all do if we choose to take it upon ourselves. However, the reward is greater than any effort we may put forth.

To wear Christ’ yoke is to abandon our own self-interest and the self-imposed burdens that come with them. Sustained by Faith, Hope, and Love every “burden” becomes light. No more is happiness and joy a product of our own making.

Joy grows knowing that God is Love and that our Faith and Hope rests in Him who has rescued us from the power of sin and death by His death, and through it opened the way to eternal life to all who believe in Him. AMEN+

Bishop Jake Owensby's blog

You may follow our Bishop's messages with his blog at:
A portion of a recent blog by Bishop Jake:
'And maybe, just maybe, when we’ve changed our minds about God, we will change our minds about each other. I believe that this is what Jesus is about. His way of living embodied God’s way of being.
Jesus never said, “If you hit me I’ll punch back ten times harder.” Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.”
Jesus never said, “Crush your foes and destroy their families.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”
"In the story of Isaac’s binding, in Jesus’ life and teaching, we see that God is not bloodthirsty. God blesses. God nurtures growth and makes peace. God gives live. The blood that we spill does not honor this God. This God desires only one kind of sacrifice:
“To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)'