Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent begins Sunday December 3rd!

Upcoming at Christ Episcopal Church:

Advent starts this Sunday, December 3rd.  Morning prayer will be offered at 10am.  Father Riley will return for services December 10th.  The outdoor crèche will be placed in front of our church with no figurines this Sunday.  Animals and people of The Story will be added each week through Advent with Baby Jesus arriving for Christmas.

In our church, on Sunday evening, December 17th at 3pm, the St. Joseph Orchestra will be holding a Chamber Christmas Concert.  Please join us for this beautiful welcoming of the season and invite your friends.

And Santa Claus (a follower of Jesus Christ) will be seen in St. Joseph at the Shepherd Center Christmas on December 9th, for a brief appearance with our friends a First United Methodist Church on December 10th and at our local Head Start on December 19th.  You better watch out....

Thoughts and quotes from our friends in Mississippi (from The Mississippi Episcopalian, November 2017):
"All Saints' Day is the feast day honoring our family members and our dear friends who have died, but who continue to live within our hearts as part of our lives.  We are in communion with all the company of heaven.  Our relationships don't die with those who are deceased.  Rocky relationships can be reconciled and loving relationships can be enhanced." (The Very Rev. Billie Abraham, St. Alban's, Bovina)

"Loving behavior is learned behavior.  To love another human being is a decision, not happenstance or coincidence.  We best learn to love other by practicing it:  at different times, places, and intervals." (The Rev. Carol Mead, St. Peter's by-the-Lake, Brandon)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rev. Riley's sermon from November 19, 2017


In today’s gospel, Jesus continues to teach about the kingdom while he has a captive audience. His days are numbered. The cross is looming in the near distance. He has been challenged by the religious leaders of the day both politically and according to the religious traditions of his own people and has withstood their attempts to trap him. The kingdom of God remains the focus of his teaching.

Last week’s parable of the bridesmaids was one in which Christ stressed our need to be prepared for His coming again at an unexpected hour. In today’s parable of the talents, Jesus is reminding us of our eventual accountability for the use of the gifts God has entrusted to us.  It is a parable of stewardship in light of the unexpected return of the owner.

I have often heard it said, “I have no gifts.” This, however, is not true. God has created each of us with certain gifts and talents for the sole purpose of using them for the benefit of others and as Christians, for the building up of the Body of Christ - the Church.

Look at the story again. One steward was entrusted with five talents, one with two, and the other with one, each according to his ability. What did they do? Two of the stewards “invested” what was entrusted to them in ways that garnered a return. The steward who was given only one talent was afraid to risk losing it, so he buried it. On the day of accountability, the owner returned and the stewards were asked one by one what they did with what was given to them.

The two who invested what was entrusted to them were able to report to the owner that they had doubled the gift and were rewarded with a well-done and increased responsibility. However, the one steward who was afraid to use what was given to him handed it back to the owner with the excuse that he was afraid to risk losing it, so he buried it.

Instead of receiving the same reward as the others, the talent was taken from him and given to the one who had ten. If that was not enough, he who was afraid to invest found himself cast out from the presence of the owner.
 “For all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

I dare say we have all envied other people because of the perceived gifts/talents they appear to possess. It is only natural for us to look at such people, compare ourselves to them, and see ourselves in a lesser light, thus convincing ourselves that we do not possess any gifts or talents at all. That is a “cop out.” There is not one of us who are void of gifts.

True some people have more than others do. Jesus’ illustration points to that fact. It does not matter how many or how few talents we possess, even if it is only one, it is to be used for the “greater good” and not “hidden” for whatever reason. Our gifts are gifts of grace.

God has consecrated the gifts he has entrusted to us. Through we vary in our several capacities, the spirit of faithfulness and dependability in the use of our trust is equally required by all.

A steward is one who is in possession of resources/gifts/talents that belong to another, in this case, God. That is a hard pill for some to swallow. From an earthly point of view, what we have we deem as ours. It’s mine. I earned it. It is only when we think of it in terms of our relationship to God that we begin to see that what we have has been entrusted to us for a purpose.

As a steward, we have the responsibility to use it wisely for the benefit of others less fortunate. In addition as Christians, we have the awesome responsibility as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” That is, we are to share the faith that is within us, once delivered to the saints; to make disciples, baptize and teach, and to welcome others into the kingdom in the name of Him who died and rose again.

All of which is a part of our accountability in response to the generosity and love of God. The emphasis in today’s story is on the third steward. He was afraid because of his misconception of the owner (God), the feeling that he was hard and demanding. His misconception of the owner caused him to begrudge the labor and the sacrifice, which was asked of him.

When these two things exist, there is always fear and the “burying” of the talent. In contrast, the “good and faithful” servant is well disposed toward his master and so finds faithfulness easy. His labor is a labor of love in thanksgiving for all that has been given to him.

The gospel message is clear: each of us is of great worth in the eyes of God and is of value in God’s purpose.  Each of us has been entrusted with certain gifts and talents to be used for the good of the whole. Our gifts are gifts of grace.

It doesn’t matter what our particular talent maybe. What matters is how we use them. God never demands from us more than our abilities allow. You are not going to be asked to sing in the choir if you cannot carry a note!

What God does demand of us is that one uses to the fullest what one possesses. As servants of the Servant of God, we are expected to return, with interest, the talents that have been entrusted to us. It is not our purpose to compare our gifts with others enviously and to limit ourselves to meager tasks. We are to use what God has endowed us with for His glory.

Devotion and faith require risk. It is better to venture forth with what one has and fail than to try nothing and live an empty life. The one-talented man in the story could not see that his talent was of value to God. The other two dared to invest their gifts. The good and faithful servants received surprising rewards and with the rewards came greater risks.

Such is the reward in the new covenant in Jesus Christ. The reward of the “joy of the lord” is fellowship with Christ, to stand before His face forever in the glory of the kingdom. God does not show partiality in the ultimate reward, for all are invited to share the same joy. It is faithfulness that matters.

In the final analysis, God will call each of us to give an account of ourselves. Not just in the use of the gifts, He has entrusted to us, but in the sharing of our knowledge and faith in him. Did we share it? Or did we hide it? On the other hand, were we afraid to use it?

Any gift of grace provides an opportunity for divine investment. There is not an individual, or congregation that has not been blessed with the necessary gifts, that when used individually or collectively, can accomplish much for the glory of God. AMEN+

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Annual Thanksgiving Community Service

The annual Thanksgiving Community Service for Tensas Parish will be hosted by Maryland Baptist Church, Sunday, November 19th at 5pm.  Everyone is invited.  Cash and non-perishable food offerings will be greatly appreciated.

Thanksgiving Day Prayer (BCP pg 246)

Thanksgiving Day
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the
fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those
who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of
your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and
the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Facebook link for MBC:

MBC is located at 647 Highway 3024
Tele # 766-3745

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rev. Gregg's homily for November 12, 2017


I am sure you have heard the old saying, “don’t fall asleep at the switch?” I have heard it all of my life but it wasn’t until I was ten or twelve that I finally asked what it meant.

My grandmother told me about the switchman who watched for the oncoming train. He was the one who would manually turn a heavy lever that would switch the tracks so that the on-coming train would not collide with one coming from the opposite direction but pass safely parallel to it. Obviously, he could not afford to fall asleep!

Today’s gospel ends with Jesus’ admonition “keep awake!” It comes at the close of his parable of the ten bridesmaids. He is speaking about the kingdom of heaven and is using an everyday example the people could easily relate to, a wedding feast.

Jesus’ parable gives us a glimpse of first century Jewish wedding customs. The bridegroom was expected to come at night to the house of the bride that he might take her to his own house. He was expected to be punctual. She and her bridesmaids await the moment. The bridesmaids are to go forth to meet the bridegroom when the cry is heard that he is near.

The bride has ten maids of honor, and their lamps are to be ready, trimmed and burning while they wait. Therefore, the oil needs to be abundant in the event he is delayed. It is not like that today, where we receive a nicely engraved wedding invitation containing the exact time and location of the wedding. Moreover, it is usually not the bridegroom we wait for but the bride!

In Jesus’ parable, five of the bridesmaids were wise enough to bring plenty of oil, just in case, there happened to be a delay. Five of them did not. They all dozed off, but when the cry came that the bridegroom was about to appear, the wise ones trimmed their lamps and were ready to follow him. The others were left in the dark, their oil being depleted, and were left behind.

They eventually made their way to the wedding feast, but by then the door was shut. They found themselves outside looking in. The point of the parable is our need to “stay awake,” to be prepared at all times for the coming of the bridegroom, that is, Jesus Christ himself,  for we know neither the day or the hour of His appearing.

In the first lesson, the prophet Amos describes the “day of the Lord” as something to dread. “Why do you want the day of the Lord,” he asks God’s people. “It is darkness not light, and gloom with no brightness in it.” The prophet’s words were meant to be a warning to the king and the people of the Northern Kingdom to repent. If they did not the “day” of the Lord’s coming would be to them as the prophet described.

In contrast, St. Paul refers to the “coming of the Lord” as a means of encouraging the young Christians at Thessalonica to remain steadfast in the faith. It is a day to look forward to. What Jesus is saying in his parable of the ten bridesmaids is that when He comes again “with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet” those who have made themselves ready to receive Him will be gathered to Him and made like Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom.

For those who have not prepared for His return, well, they will left behind. That kind of shatters some folks idea of “I can do what I want with my life and in the end all will be well,” doesn’t it? Today’s parable may seem harsh to some. It paints a different picture of God than the one we prefer to think of. Why would God close the door on anyone? Maybe the question should be “why anyone would chose to close the door on God?”

There were ten bridesmaids waiting for the wedding to begin; only five brought enough oil in case their wait was longer than expected. These were “wise” Jesus said. Even though they feel asleep, they kept their lamps trimmed and when the cry came that they bridegroom was near, they rose and were ready to follow him to the banquet.

God desires that we should all be ready to come to him and join the bridegroom at the wedding feast when the cry goes out. All are invited. It is the choices we make here, that determines our preparation for that day, and whether or not we are welcomed into the banquet or find ourselves left out.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to follow him into all Truth. We don’t have the luxury of shifting through the gospels and deciding which parts we will accept and which ones we will discard. That is to fool ourselves into believing that it doesn’t matter what we do or say or what we truly believe as long as we love God, all will be well in the end.

Such thinking places us in the company of the five who Jesus said were not prepared to meet the bridegroom, because of their lack of oil, and thus missed the wedding feast. The delay in the bridegroom’s coming is a test of our hope and our love of God. We can’t afford to fall asleep.

In the life of the kingdom, here and now there will be inevitable delays where we long for visual manifestations of the Spirit of Christ. How invaluable in the church at such crisis are those whose cruses are full to the brim with the oil of patience, hope, and truth and whose lamps on the darkest nights are bright and incandescent.

“Stay awake,” Jesus said. We must be prepared for His coming by being prudent in building up reserves of strength and fortitude, so that in all circumstances, favorable or unfavorable, the light of our hope, faith, and love of God and our desire to be with him, does not go out.

Rather that it remains illuminated by the light of His presence, which shines forth in our hearts and awakens our hope in anticipation of His coming and our expectation of being united with Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb. AMEN+

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Rev. Gregg's sermon for November 5, 2017

ALL SAINT’S SUNDAY - A - 17        MATTHEW 5. 1-12

Today’s first lesson and the gospel reading present two different scenes: In the first lesson, St. John has a vision of what worship in heaven looks like. There is much singing and chanting. There are some who stand before the throne of God and there are others who fall on their faces and worship Him day and night.

This great company is made up of angels, elders, and martyrs who wear white robes with palm branches in their hands. St. John asks one of the elders who these are robed in white and where have they come from. They are the saints of God who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. They have endured the trials of this earth and are now at rest. They have been deemed worthy to stand before the throne of God and worship Him night and day, and Jesus is their shepherd.

If you ever thought heaven was a quiet place with a cherub occasionally strumming on a harp while sitting on the edge of a cloud, then, St. John’s vision tells us otherwise. Heaven is filled with music, singing, praising, and worshipping God. Consequently, I used to comment to the eight o’clockers at Grace, Monroe who made a point of telling me that the reason they came to the early service was that they did not like music, that they should be acclimated now. Who knows, God just might place them in the heavenly chorus.

Obviously, those whom St. John saw in his vision before the throne of God were “blessed” to be there. They are members of the church triumphant. And they in turn “blessed” the Blessed One crying out in their worship of Him, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

On the other hand, the scene from the gospel appears to be in contrast to the one St. John was privy to, but is it. Jesus is speaking to a mixed audience who have followed him up on a mountain over-looking the Sea of Galilee. Not all are there for the same reason.

Some indeed have followed him because they seek God’s kingdom. Jesus has feed them with his teaching and his deeds, yet they remain hungry. Others are there because they have heard of the things he has done, the miracles he has performed, and they want to see one for themselves. Yet others are there simply because they are curious.

Our gospel for today contains the opening words of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount.” What he says here in his use of the word “blessed” must have surprised all those who heard him. They didn’t feel “blessed.” They didn’t think of themselves as “blessed.”

On the contrary, the majority, if not all present, felt the opposite. They saw themselves one way, as oppressed and down trodden and separated from their God who seemed to be far away. Jesus was attempting to open their eyes to a “greater vision” of life now and in the age to come. He was bringing God to them and inviting them to come to God through Him.

The “poor in spirit,” Jesus tells them, have already inherited the kingdom. I wonder did they realize it. Those who are being persecuted and have been persecuted for righteousness sake, likewise, Jesus says, have already inherited the kingdom. I doubt they felt they had.

Jesus doesn’t call them saints, but that is what they are - the church militant. They are blessed by just being in His presence whether they realize it or not and God has blessed them because of who they are and because of what they have endured. Among the blessings Jesus pronounces are also promises of God that will one day be fulfilled.

How many do you suppose descended the mountain believing all that Christ had said? How many saw themselves as “blessed?” Do we? Of the two scenes presented in today’s readings, which one is easier for us to relate to? One speaks to the present the other to the future.

Most of us listen to these words of Jesus and seek to find our place in that scene. Which “blessing” is ours? Are we peacemakers? Are we meek? Are we pure in heart? Do we see ourselves as blessed by God and members of His household of blessed ones? I admit there are days I do feel blessed and give thanks. And there are those other days where I do not.

If we are honest, we must admit that we all feel pretty much the same way. Our faith and our hope in God are at best intermittent. Yet God’s love for us never fails. We don’t see ourselves as “saints.” We can’t imagine ourselves in that great company. For now we are members of the church militant engaged in spiritual warfare and struggling to obtain the beatific vision.

Of what value is this feast day? St. Bernard (12c.) writing on the occasion of All Saints said this “…the memory of the saints inspire in us and urge us to achieve their company, striving to deserve to be fellow citizens with and members of the household of the blessed ones…”

The way to the throne of God is in and through Jesus, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. He “will guide us to the springs of the water of life,” where we will stand before His face forever and where we shall see Him as he really is.

St. John’s vision of heaven is where we all hope to be one day. However, it won’t be due to any merits of our own, but our having been deemed worthy through the merits of Him who died and rose again. Through the eyes of faith, we are able to obtain the greater vision of our one day attaining fellowship with the saints in light; to share in their joy by being manifested with Christ in His glory.

As St. Bernard said “…to take our place in the gathering of the patriarchs and the ranks of the prophets; to be at home in the assembly of the Apostles and in the numerous hosts of the martyrs; welcomed in the college of confessors and the choirs of virgins, “in a word, to be united in the communion of all the saints. The church triumphant awaits us.

On that day we will realize the greatest blessing of all; to be invited to join the heavenly chorus in the worship of our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. AMEN+