Sunday, September 17, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for September 17, 2017

15 PENTECOST -  PROPER XIX - A - 17         MATTHEW 18.21-35


 Today’s gospel reading continues where last week’s gospel lesson left off. You recall Jesus had just given his disciples a lesson on how to deal with forgiveness and reconciliation in the church. When he had finished speaking Peter asks and answers his own question looking for Jesus to confirm his response. “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive him? As many as seven times”?
Peter’s question presupposes the reality of his rights and the limitations of his duties. Among the Jews, the number of times one should exercise forgiveness varied. Three times being the fixed number, in other statements seven. However, that was according to the Old Covenant. In the pre-Israelite period vengeance toward one who had done wrong knew no limits.
We see from studying the gospels that the duty of forgiveness occupied a large place in the teaching of Jesus. The spirit of revenge had cast a dark shadow upon the life of his own race and upon society in general. God’s people were awaiting a Messiah that would wreak havoc on Israel’s enemies and restore Israel to nation status.
Unlimited forgiveness, however, was to be the dominant spirit of the New Society Jesus was ushering in, a hard lesson to learn then, as well as now. Jesus uses a parable to illustrate his point.
Christ said that the Kingdom of God is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. He then told the parable of the forgiving king and the unforgiving servant. The parable tells us more about the nature of God than about the nature of the kingdom.
It seems obvious from the parable that receiving forgiveness and forgiving are related. Because God forgives us, we are in turn are required (obligated) to grant the gift of forgiveness to others. How can we learn to forgive? Can we learn to forgive ourselves and is forgiving ourselves related to our being able to forgive others?
Jesus says that true forgiveness comes from the heart. It cannot be merely lip service.
When I was growing up, I had a younger brother. He was exactly five years younger than I was. By the time I was ten or so, he being five, he wanted to tag along with my friends and me wherever we went and be involved in whatever we were doing. However, we did not want him, told him so, and would send him home.
Of course, he returned home crying and telling our mother how awful we had been to him and that we did not want him to play with us. And of course when I returned home I was confronted by my mother who told me I was to apologize to my little brother and tell him I was sorry and I did so.
Looking back on it now, I must confess, I am not certain it came from the heart but more out of fear of not saying so. As we grow older in life, we discover that we have all been stepped on at some point and felt abused, neglected, rejected and taken for granted and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have treated others in the same way.
Many times, we have apologized for our behavior and perhaps have been on the receiving end of another’s apology. But were we really being forgiven and were we really offering true forgiveness? Did it come from the heart or were we merely giving lip service in order to try to smooth over an awkward situation with the aim of maintaining a friendship or relationship.
“What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us…” Joseph’s brothers asked in the first lesson. We can always tell when we have been truly forgiven, that is, when once we have expressed our sorrow at having offended another, they accept it and it is never brought up again. It is as if it had never happened, or never been said and the relationship goes on as if it never did.
Likewise, we can know when the opposite is true, that is, when the other person never let us forget it. The key thing is not that we should therefore swallow all resentment and “forgive and forget” as though nothing had happened. The key thing is that one should never give up making forgiveness and reconciliation one’s goal.
If confrontation has to happen, as it often does, it must always be with forgiveness in mind, never revenge. The parable, then, needs little explanation. The lesson to be drawn is that the disciple who does not forgive not only causes grief to the community, but also incurs the wrath of God.
There is not one of us who does not stand in the same relation to God as the unmerciful servant to the king in the parable. We have all been the recipient of God’s unlimited forgiveness. Moreover, we have all been guilty of the same sin of with holding forgiveness.
Ill will and a revengeful, grudging spirit involve others in the consequence of our own sins. And when we with hold forgiveness we impose on God’s good nature without regard to the consequences. As St. Paul aptly reminds us, each of us will stand before the judgment seat of God and will be held accountable for things done and left undone.
Every time we accuse someone else, we are accusing ourselves. Every time we forgive someone else, we are playing forward God’s having forgiven us. Our obligation to forgive others is a practical rather than emotional obligation, and, if we do not perform it, we must expect to find those blessings forfeited. God’s forgiveness is probationary and may be recalled at any time.
Mercy is enthroned in the heart of God. Thus, it should be in ours. To forgive is to be God-like. Our hearts must be open to forgiveness, never closed. If it is open, able and willing to forgive others it will be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness.
It is only when our true relation to God is grasped that we come to think and act in a God-like way. Jesus established the New Covenant and the way of life, which will mark out the New Covenant, is forgiveness. The cross is proof not only of God’s love for each of us but the sign that the blood of Christ has reconciled us to God.
Here, Jesus makes it clear that if we want to continue to receive God’s forgiveness we have to be prepared to give it. It is a hard lesson to learn, but even harder to put into practice. Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer says it all.
If we are still counting how many times we have forgiven someone, we are not really forgiving him or her at all, but simply postponing revenge. What Jesus is saying with his 70x7 answer is, don’t think about counting; just do it. AMEN+





Thursday, September 14, 2017

Shepherd Center needs and Morning Prayer

The Shepherd Center has need of household items like pots, pans, utensils, sheets, pillow cases; etc. Please help out the Shepherd Center.  Also, Jane Barnett has been conducting Morning Prayer every Wednesday at the Shepherd Center for over a year or two or three.  The service is, of course, open to everyone.  Please join us each Wednesday at the Shepherd Center at 10am for Morning Prayer.  The service usually closes with a special version of "Amazing Grace" sung by Eddie Sanders--you will love it!  At this Wednesday's service we were asked to pray for Mattie Davis--please keep Mattie in your prayers.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from September 10, 2017

14 PENTECOST - PROPER XVIII - A - 17   MATTHEW 18. 15-20


As I said in last week’s homily, it has taken a natural disaster to divert our nation’s attention away from demonstrations of hate to ones of love. Some might say that God has intervened by focusing our attention away from confrontation to one of interceding on behalf of those in need.
For none of us likes confrontation, not really. It is always a difficult thing. Moreover, few of us do it well. As human beings, we have become creative in ways to avoid it, unlike those we have seen on the nightly news in weeks past who seem to enjoy beating up on each other.
Most of us can keep our feelings pent up inside of us. However, there are some who can do it for so long then explode. Sometimes we tell everyone we know about a problem we are having with another person except the one we think is the problem. It is a rare person who can open a tinder subject, discuss it reasonably, and the leave it alone.
Let’s face it most of us fight dirty. We hit below the belt by bringing up things from the past that have nothing to do with the present issue. The natural response of the one on the receiving end is to become defensive.
Reconciliation goes out of the window. Both sides dig in. What began as an attempt to address an issue escalates into an argument. We have seen it all too often and been a part of it ourselves in our relationships with others, whether family or friend.
If it goes too far, relationships are broken and friendships end without either party willing to reach out to the other in an attempt to make amends. Our pride keeps us from doing this. Reconciliation is a huge issue today. We clearly see the results of not doing it. The media will not let us forget.
Campaigns of terror abound, wars and rumors of war continue to grow, and divisions of race and culture in our own country manifest themselves in a divisive manner on a daily basis. We live in a divided country, and yes, even the Church is divided much, I am sure, to the sorrow of Him who died for it.
The prophet Ezekiel, in today’s first lesson realized the sins of his own nation. “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, as we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” God gave him the answer: turn from your evil ways and live. As St. Paul does in his letter to the Romans, “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Sadly, many of us as Christians take a head in the sand approach and pretend there is no problem. We can refuse to face the facts, swallow our anger, or resentment, paste over the cracks and carry on as if everything is normal. On the other hand, we simply ignore and avoid the other person or the other group or issue and pretend it does not exist.
As Christians, we have come to convince ourselves that this is what forgiveness is all about. It means pretending that everything is all right, that the other person has not done anything wrong. But that is not it at all. Forgiveness does not mean saying it did not really happen, she did not really say that, or it did not really matter.
In either of those cases, you do not need forgiveness; you just need to clear up a misunderstanding. Forgiveness comes into play when it did happen, when he/she did say that, and it did matter, and you are going to deal with it. Jesus gives us a sequence in today’s gospel on how to put forgiveness and reconciliation into play, in other words, how to deal with it.
First, keep it between you and the one who has offended you. If you feel you have been offended then you be the one to initiate the action, but be prepared for the offender to offer a counter-accusation in which there may be some truth we need to hear. Above all, avoid becoming defensive.
If that does not resolve the issue, then take a witness or two who will serve as a realty check on your judgment. If you are right then they will confirm it.
If that does not turn the other person and move them to reconcile, then Jesus says we are to take it to the church.
If that fails the result is excommunication; a disassociation and separation - a permanently broken relationship.
Yes Jesus was giving his disciples a means of providing forgiveness and reconciliation for members of the church, ending with a disciplinary action that would be needed in the not too distant future if all else failed. However, the same sequence works for us as individuals in our relationship with other human beings.
Reconciliation is a hard challenge that confronts our world today, especially when one nation faces off against another and refuses to back down. The challenge exists in our own nation where our differences are being magnified by race and fanned by hatred and ignorance. It remains a hard challenge within our own families where politics, religion, and life-styles create a breach that sometimes result in permanent separation.
Hate and anger too often override love and forgiveness and we waste away as a people and a nation because of them. Thus, the prophet Ezekiel raised the question: “how then can we to live?” God in Christ gives us the answer: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
No one said it was going to be easy, perhaps that is why it is a rare thing to witness. However, Jesus’ warning about “binding and loosing” does not only apply to the church in her authority to pronounce God’s absolution, but to each of us in our relationships with one another when it comes to forgiveness.
If we fail to forgive we bind that person in their sin, and we bind ourselves to their sin, as God revealed to Ezekiel. However, if we forgive them, and become reconciled to them, then, we give them life, and we gain life; a life that is on based on love - the “new” life Christ gives to all through the merits of His life, death, and resurrection.
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor;” Paul writes, therefore “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” AMEN+

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for September 3, 2017


What a difference a week makes in the life of the world we live in today. It took a hurricane to divert the nations’ attention away from demonstrations of hatred, anger and mistrust to one of reaching out with a helping hand to all those impacted by the storm regardless of who they are. Makes one stop and ponder what is really important in life doesn’t it?
In comparison last week’s gospel had Peter being rewarded by Jesus for having made his confession, although divinely inspired, of Christ as the king Israel had been waiting for, the long awaited Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus called Peter’s confession the “rock” on which he would build his church.
Here, just a few verses later the “rock” has turned into a stumbling stone. Jesus rebukes Peter for his human response to Christ’ announced destiny.

Where Peter had been the spokesperson for the others in confessing Jesus as the Messiah, he now becomes the unwilling spokesperson for Satan, as the devil did not want Christ to fulfill his mission and save mankind through his suffering and death.
Peter thought that he had Jesus figured out and what Christ’s next move would be, or should be. Going to the Holy City was going in the right direction. They should march on Jerusalem, pick up supporters along the way, choose the moment, take over the Temple, cast out the rulers and enthrone Jesus. That’s how it should be done. That’s how the Son of Man would be exalted in his kingdom.
That is not what Jesus is saying. Peter has his mind set on worldly power. That is not the way God will bring salvation to all mankind. God’s victory will come through suffering and death.
I “must go to Jerusalem,” Jesus said, “and undergo suffering…“ He will confront the rulers and authorities, the chief priests and legal experts in Jerusalem, but they, not he, will appear to win the battle. He will be killed. And on the third day, God will raise him from the dead.
Peter and the disciples failed to discern the connection between his death and the coming of the kingdom. They cannot figure out for the moment what Jesus means by this. This is but Christ’ first prediction of the Passion, others would follow. Obviously, it has diverted the disciple’s thinking. Jesus makes it clear what God’s plan is - without his suffering there is no redemption.
Moreover, this is not the first time Jesus has talked to his disciples about the cost of discipleship. They had already seen him rejected in his own village. Yet they see no connection between that and what will become of him in Jerusalem nor what will eventually happen to all of them, save one.
His mighty works and his teaching about God and his kingdom had kept alive their hopes of worldly power. Human reasoning based on worldly things can blind us so that we are unable to see as God sees. Like Peter, we sometimes think we have God all figured out and what it is God is up to, or should be up to, especially in regards to meeting our needs. Like Peter, we find ourselves in the wrong.
The recent confession of Peter and Jesus’ approval must have greatly strengthened those worldly hopes. It was expected that Messiah would reign forever, so the idea that Christ would die was perplexing to Peter and remained scandalous to the Jews even after the resurrection.
Jesus sets the record straight. The one who until now had been the teacher and the wonder-worker endeavors from henceforth to have them see him as Redeemer - the one who must suffer in order to save.
Having set the record straight, Christ now issues the call to any and all that would follow him. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The cross is a symbol of suffering and self-denial.
We may not be called to physically suffer for our faith as Christians, at least not yet. Nevertheless, we are called to follow him and imitate him in denying our self for the sake of the love of God and the gospel. To imitate Christ and deny self is the way in which we witness to a fallen world that our allegiance belongs to him.
Our love of God has to be genuine as St. Paul says, and needs to be demonstrated in our relationships with other people. St. Paul gives us a blueprint of how this is to be done in today’s Epistle - by loving one another with mutual affection…blessing those who persecute us, and living in harmony with one another all of which depends upon our denying our self and our self interests.
When we think in human terms, as Peter did, we react in human ways rather then respond as Christ would. St. Paul warns against that too. “…do not repay anyone evil for evil… do not overcome evil by evil, but overcome evil with good.“ For too often, we choose to follow our own instincts based on worldly power. When we do we demonstrate the very opposite of the imitation of Christ.
To deny oneself is much more than to deny particular pleasures. It is, as Thomas Merton wrote, “to cease to become what I always wanted to be and become what God wants me to be.” Or, as St. Paul says in another place, “to die to self and live to Christ.” That is what it means to deny our self. That is what it means to take up our cross.
This is what Peter and the others would one day learn to do by surrendering their self-allegiance and giving all their allegiance to Christ. Self-denial is self-renunciation, not the seeking of the cross, but an acceptance of it in whatever form it may take.
The paradox of Jesus’ own life must be the paradox of the life of his followers. Self-discovery through self-surrender. This was the law he laid upon them because he had himself learned its everlasting validity. It is not impossible to live life selfishly, but what an impossible life it is.
We can’t profit by holding onto temporal things. If we do, the loss is in the eternal. To give up life is only to lose a lower and find a higher. There are no half measures in following Jesus. There are no short cuts to the kingdom.  Jesus did not attain glory without the cross and neither can we.
In every generation there are, it seems, a few people who are prepared to take Jesus seriously at his word, and who willingly take up their cross and follow him. What would today’s world look like if we all did? AMEN+