Thursday, March 22, 2018

Palm Sunday plans and other news...

Palm Sunday is this Sunday, March 25.  Father Riley will lead our final Lenten class for this year at 9am in the Parish House.  Following the class, we will all process into the church from the Parish House with our palm fronds.  For the Good Friday service, March 30th, Father Riley will lead us through ‘Stations of the Cross’ beginning at 11:30am and follow with the Good Friday service.  Please join us for these services in preparation for Easter (Sunday, April 1).

From the Forward Day by Day:

THURSDAY, March 22

Luke 21:16-19 You will be betrayed by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Luke 21 is one of the most difficult chapters in the New Testament to assimilate and hear. These are the days of vengeance, Jesus says. Some of you will need to flee, and others of you will die. Jesus is not pulling any punches. Some scholars cast these verses as purely symbolic language, and others maintain that the signs of the end times are presently upon us.

The Bible is what it is. Jesus’ words are what they are. The details are best left to God.

What comforts me in this difficult and strange chapter in the ministry of Jesus is the ending. Jesus, after a long day of teaching, walks up the Mount of Olives to sleep. We know the stones are his friends—no doubt the stars are as well. Closing his eyes under the blanket of night, he finds peace. May we come to know that same peace as well.

MOVING FORWARD: Watch the sunset tonight. Spend some time thanking God for the stars in the sky and the peace in your heart.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Father Riley's homily from March 11, 2018

Update:  We will offer Morning Prayer led by Mrs. Jane Barnett at 10am this Sunday, March 18 2018.  There will not be a Lenten class this Sunday; class will resume Palm Sunday at 9am, March 25.  Father Riley reminds us that Good Friday (March 30) is a day of fasting.

LENT IV - B - 18                    JOHN 3. 14-21

Today’s gospel contains a verse that is likely the most advertised verse in the entire Bible, one that is viewed by believers and non-believers alike. It is usually seen displayed on a banner hanging in an end zone of a football stadium. It is John 3.16.

Sadly, I doubt that all of the many millions that have viewed it over the past several decades have ever read it. Yet it contains a very important truth - God’s Love sent his only Son into the world to save it. Those of us who know what it says see it as a reminder of God’s saving action.

It is held up, no doubt by some believing Christian, for all the world to see in the hope that all will accept God’s love as manifested in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. Sadly we know that is not the case. There are some who prefer to remain in darkness, as St. John would say.

A major theme in John’s gospel is the contrast of darkness verses light. In the prologue to his gospel is the verse: “In him,” referring to Jesus, “was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Why then, is there so much darkness (evil) in the world? Jesus gives us the answer in today’s gospel. “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

There may not be any banners being displayed before our eyes that declare the presence of evil, but evil exists and manifests its ugly head in numerous ways that are reported to us on a daily basis and held up for all the world to see: senseless school shootings of children, in some cases by children themselves, acts of terrorism that do not discriminate among their victims but are only meant to maim and kill.

As well as other acts of inhumanity to man that so grab our attention that they cause us to question our faith and belief in the goodness and love of God who so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save it.

Darkness often times appears to overcome the light even in our own lives.

We complain about how bad things are instead of seeking the good. We grumble and curse and rebel as did the Israelites in the wilderness when all seems dark and gloomy, and all the while God is present meeting our basic needs. The people God had chosen to be His needed a reminder that He was with them, but first He had to get their attention.

Serpents came into their midst whose bite was deadly. God gave Moses the fix. A bronze serpent was raised up as a standard; an artificial symbol of what it was that had afflicted them. It became the effective agent of their healing, the sign (light), if you will, that injected hope and a renewed will to keep going toward the Promised Land.

Jesus said it is like that for Him and for us if we chose to follow him. He must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have the hope of eternal life that renews our faith and enables us to keep going in our journey to God. Because of the cross we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Lord is the source of our hope and energy in a world that prefers to sit in darkness. Jesus is our standard that needs to be lifted up, reminding us and telling the world “the true light that enlightens every man” has come into our world. John 3.16 is a reflection of the very heart of God.

The light that enlightens our faith is the conviction in God’s unfailing love; for generations of recurring cynicism, indifference, and despair have never had the last word or given the definitive comment on our human situation. The love of God is persistent, and the Word of God always finds a new voice in the most hopeless of circumstances.

I was reminded of this truth recently as I visited an old friend who was stricken with polio as a child but did not let that stop him from becoming a doctor and a surgeon. He practiced well into his 70s walking and standing with the aid of crutches.  He just turned 96.

He has been confined to a wheelchair for over twenty years and in recent months has been crippled with arthritis to point he can no longer open his hands. He has to be lifted in and out of his wheelchair and feed by another. Yet his mind is still sharp and his faith in the love and goodness of God remains unwavering.

He told me that his circumstances have brought him closer to God. His nearness to God has kept him going when he could have easily allowed the darkness to overtake him. He has always been, and always will be, an inspiration to me and to others who know him.

Sometimes it feels like we are being hemmed in on all sides by circumstances beyond our control, that we are surrounded by darkness. That the cross God has given us to bear threatens to crush us, which easily brings discouragement and despair. Despair causes us to fail to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It is then we need to look up.

For the One whom God has sent, the One whom God raised up commands our attention. In Him lies our hope. He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and has not, and will not be overcome by it. Looking up at the cross, with the dying Jesus hanging on it, we see what God’s love looks like.

The cross is the full and dramatic display of God’s own love. What was an instrument of affliction has become the symbol of our hope. Because Jesus has died did not automatically heal the evil in the world, precisely because evil lurks deep within side of each of us. For healing to take place we must ourselves be involved in the process.

This doesn’t mean that we just try a lot harder to be good.  All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust; to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him. Belief in Jesus means coming to the light, the light of God’s new creation- eternal life.

The point of the whole story is that we do not have to sit in the dark. God’s saving action in the crucifixion of Jesus has brought light into the darkness. It is a sign planted in the middle of history that says: look up, believe, and live. AMEN+

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Father Riley's homily for March 4, 2018 and BREAKING NEWS!

Breaking News!  Sunday, March 11th, 2018:  Daylight Saving Time begins: Turn your clocks ahead 1 hr this Saturday night.  Father Riley's lenten class will be at 9am! Sunday.

Also:  Mark your calendars:  On Good Friday, March 30th, we will offer Stations of the Cross starting at 11:30am before our Good Friday service.  Passover begins.  Please try to attend this inspirational offering. Learn more at:

Father Riley's homily for March 4, 2018:

LENT III - B - 18         JOHN 2. 13-25

Our Lenten lectionary has made a shift this morning. We move from St. Mark’s gospel, the gospel of year B, to that of St. John. However, the subject of today’s reading is one that appears in all four of the gospels - the cleansing of the temple.

St. John’s account of the cleansing of the temple comes at the beginning of his record of Jesus’ ministry, whereas in the synoptic it appears at the end. The synoptic accounts of Jesus’ actions in the temple courtyard are very brief. John, on the other hand, fleshes it out and adds the priests challenge to Jesus in their asking of a “sign” which brings Jesus’ shocking response.

Today’s scene follows Christ’s first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana where he turned the water into wine. Obviously, his reputation as some kind of miracle worker had preceded his visit to Jerusalem. I might add that the word miracle and “sign” in John’s gospel often refer to the same thing, but not always.

With that said, what Jesus saw in the courtyard was unacceptable. The trade, the market-place atmosphere, was not supposed to be there. The service being provided by the sellers of animals and birds, as well as that of the moneychangers was a needed one.

Pilgrims needed animals to offer as a sacrifice. If they brought their own, they had to be inspected and found acceptable. However, in most cases they were not. Thus, the pilgrims had to buy one from the sellers that had passed priestly inspection and paid a premium in doing so.

Roman coins, the coinage used in Jerusalem, could not used to pay the temple tax because they carried the image of Caesar. Instead, one had to use shekels. Again, the pilgrims had to exchange their money and a surcharge was added.

All of this was necessary, however it was something that had heretofore taken place outside the walls of the courtyard of the Gentiles, that is, outside the confines of the Temple walls, but had now moved inside the sacred space. By doing so, the exchange fell within the realm of the chief priests and scribes who made a profit from each and every transaction.

St. John tells us that Jesus drove the merchants out with the words “take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Jesus felt that the house and worship of God were being compromised and insulted. Jesus’ zeal (Ps 69.9) for his Father’s glory was uncompromising. Thus, his justified anger.

The sellers of cattle, sheep and doves, along with the moneychangers must have been stunned by Jesus’ actions. Who was this? Moreover, what did he think he was doing? The Jews, St. John’s adjective for those who opposed Jesus, namely the chief priests and scribes, question him by asking for a “sign” that would justify what he was doing and saying.

Moreover, if the sellers and moneychangers were stunned at his actions, the Jews who asked for a sign were literally shocked at his response: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Temple was the heartbeat of Judaism. It was much more than just a church on a street corner. It was the center of worship and music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning.

Above all, it was the place that Israel’s god had promised to live in the midst of his people. It was the focal point of the nation, and of the national way of life. It was begun in 20 B.C. and not finished until 64 A.D. and then destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Of course, Jesus’ challengers took his remarks concerning the temple literally, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” when he was actually speaking of his own body, his own death and resurrection.

The “sign” then of the cleansing of the temple is not a miracle and was not immediately obvious to his disciples, much less to the populace. Thus, St. John points out that it was after the resurrection that his disciples understood what he had said in the temple courtyard on that day.

Those who believe in him at this time are still obviously impressed by the miraculous. Who can change water into wine? Throughout the gospel, Jesus rejects this basis for belief. It is too shallow and unstable. Jesus himself knows how easily men are swayed in their minds by the merely marvelous “signs and wonders.”

John said, Jesus did not trust them, that is those whose belief in him was based solely on what he could do. It is far too easy to be wooed and awed by what appears to be something or someone who can do the extra-ordinary. As it is totally a different thing to come to belief in God by faith alone.

As we read the gospels we see that there others who demanded signs, as St. Paul says in today’s Epistle. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and folly to Gentiles…”

The “sign” Paul is writing about is the cross? It is the sign of God’s saving grace and of His love for all mankind.  Nevertheless, to some who claim to be wise by today’s standards it remains a folly. However, as Paul says, the world’s so-called wisdom is thwarted by God’s so-called foolishness.

What about us? That is a good Lenten question for each of us to ponder in terms of our relationship to Christ. What is our belief in Jesus based on? Is it merely what He can do for us? On the other hand, is it what He has done for us?

Are we like the chief priests and scribes in today’s gospel always seeking a “sign” from God to know what He is doing in our lives or asking us to do for Him and the sake of the gospel is the real deal? Or do we walk by faith trusting in the providence of God?

To answer honestly any and all of the above questions depends upon how we view God’s so-called foolishness, - the Cross- and the person of the one who died upon it.

For Christ’ death and resurrection has done for us what none of us could ever do for ourselves - reconciled us to God - and by doing so we have been given the means of grace to live the new life to which we have been called in the hope of one day sharing in Christ’s glory. AMEN+

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Celebration of the Life of Philip B. Watson, Jr.

The Rev. Canon Gregg L. Riley led the Order for Burial of the Dead for our long time friend and leader at Christ Episcopal Church, Mr. Philip B. Watson, Jr., on Saturday, March 3, 2018.  Phil served Christ Episcopal for decades in many offices of the church.  
“Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Philip.  Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.  Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.” (From the BCP, page 499)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Breaking News from CEC February 2018


Christ Episcopal Church “Breaking News” (as they say on TV)

Father Riley plans to be back with us for 9am Lenten class in the Parish house and 10am service this Sunday, March 4, 2018.

On February 11, 2018 CEC held its annual meeting.  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with tables beautifully decorated in Mardi Gras d├ęcor arranged by Jane Barnett.  The congregation approved a 2018 operational budget and approved the following members for the 2018 vestry:  Jane Barnett, Sam Corson, Cecil Evans, Margaret Godfrey and Allein Watson.  Faye Corson will serve again as Secretary of the Vestry and Brenda Funderburg will continue as our Treasurer.  We thank Lamar Barnett for his service as Senior Warden for 2015 – 2017.  We hope and encourage other members to offer their time and talents by serving on the vestry in the future.

In a called vestry meeting on February 18, 2018 the vestry elected Sam Corson as Senior Warden and Margaret Godfrey as Junior Warden for 2018.

The Operational 2018 budget is a minimal budget for usual operations, salary, travel; etc.  We have long term projects we are planning for the near future that are not included in the 2018 Operational budget.  Future projects include (but, may not be limited to):  Painting the church and parish house and adding a ramp or lift for access into the church.

Vestry meetings are expected to be held monthly on the 3rd Monday of each month at 4:30pm in our parish house.  Our first scheduled monthly vestry meeting will be March 19.

The vestry looks forward to serving CEC in a busy year.  We have a lot of work to do.

From St. Jude: “Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance”

Sam Corson, Senior Warden CEC

Home #318-766-0998; cell# 601-630-7422

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Father Riley's sermon for February 18, 2018

LENT I - B - 18                  MARK 1. 9-15

Last week’s gospel ended the Epiphany season with St. Mark’s account of the Transfiguration, an event in the life of Jesus that occurred on the holy mountain as he prepared to enter Jerusalem for the last time. Peter, James and John were privy to the event and heard the voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s beloved and with the admonition, listen to him. The events of Holy Week would soon follow. The cross loomed in the distance.

Today’s gospel, on the first Sunday of Lent, turns back the hands of the clock to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. He is anointed by the Holy Spirit and confirmed in his mission by a voice from heaven that only Jesus hears, “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.”

And with that, he is immediately driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he spends forty days preparing for the road that lay ahead - including the cross. Without going into detail, Mark simply tells us that Jesus was tempted by Satan while he was preparing for his mission. However, he was not alone. The wild beasts were there, and the angels ministered to him.

If we want the details of Jesus’ temptations, we have to go to Matthew and Luke’s accounts. They all boil down to allegiance, devotion, and loyalty. Jesus won that round, but the battle was not over. Satan would return to Jesus at a later date to try again to derail his mission by tempting Jesus to use his divine powers to escape his human situation.

What Satan attempted to do was to get Jesus to rely on his divine powers to overcome his physical and spiritual struggles, first in the wilderness, and later as he neared the completion of his mission. The opportune time would come in the garden at Gethsemane as Christ prayed that the cup might pass him by and most notably on the cross when Satan challenged Jesus to prove his true identity by coming down from the cross.

However, Jesus refused. Instead, he stood with us. His humanity was able to overcome and dispel the enemy. How did he do it? If we look closely at Matthew and Luke’s accounts, we see that Jesus used scripture to defeat Satan’s temptations. Being grounded in the word of God is our strongest tool to fight the enemy. However, there was more, much more.

Mark’s account tells us that the holy angels were there, not to prevent Jesus from being tempted, but to remind him of the Father’s love. Jesus relied on God the Father to Love him through it. The Father had said at his baptism that he was His beloved. Thus, Jesus went into the wilderness knowing that the Father loved him.

The love of God gives life. Jesus proved it in the desert and by doing so set the example for all of us to follow. If we are grounded in the knowledge of the Word of God and know that we are loved by God for all eternity we have what we need to pass through this present wilderness, even though we are surrounded by wild beasts of all kinds, and tempted by Satan in all manner of ways.

In our Epistle for today St. Paul reminds us that we have been saved through the waters of Holy Baptism just as Noah and his family was saved through the waters of the great flood. However, our salvation comes not from being washed clean, but through our faith and belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

Have you ever thought about the fact that Satan did not want Jesus to be crucified? He wanted Jesus to come down from the cross and give his allegiance to him. It was Satan speaking though the mouths of the chief priests, scribes and elders who mocked him on Calvary.

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God let God deliver him now…” And it was Satan who spoke through the mouth of the one thief hanging next to him who reviled him in the same way.

For Satan knew that if Christ died, he would rise again. His victory over sin and death would be complete and His kingdom would come, and that of Satan’s would end. As we strive to live the new life to which we have been called in Christ Jesus, know that the enemy will work harder at trying to tempt us in the wrong direction.

Baptism marks us as belonging to Christ forever. However, it does not make us immune to temptation and sin. Having been buried with Christ and raised to life in him through the waters of holy baptism only serves to make us a greater target for the enemy. Satan’s desire is to cause us to doubt our true identity and to whom we ultimately belong thus shaking our allegiance, our loyalty and our devotion to God.

Thus in the invitation to the observance to a holy Lent on Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our continual need of repentance. Today’s collect serves to strengthen that reminder. We are in need of God’s help as we are continually being assaulted by manifold temptations. The enemy knows very well where we are the weakest and that is where he will always strike.

C.S. Lewis, the great Anglican lay-theologian, put it in terms we can all understand in his classic “The Screwtape Letters” It is an engaging account of temptation and triumph over it. The subject of the book is a newly minted Christian. In his book, via a series of letters, he describes how Satan uses various methods to undermined faith and promote sin.

Temptation covers all areas and experiences of life such as pain, sorrow, disappointment, solicitation to sin, and conflict of duties, pride and prejudice and let us not forget the sin of self-righteousness. Incitement to evil may come from without, but the real struggle always takes place within.

To continue the journey to God unimpeded and undeterred we need not rely on our own strength and resources, but on God’s holy Word written and living coupled with the knowledge that we are not alone. God is with us. His holy angels watch over us. In addition, God has given us the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love.

These gifts of grace will strengthen us as we struggle to make our way to God through this present wilderness. Our proper response to God’s gifts of grace is to give Him our total allegiance, our unquestioned loyalty, and above all, our undying devotion and then let God Love us through it to the Glory of His name. AMEN+

Friday, February 16, 2018

Father Riley's Ash Wednesday homily, February 14, 2018

Father Riley will begin our Lenten classes this Sunday (Feb 18) at 9am in the parish house.  Please join us for Gregg's enlightening guidance through Lent.  From the BCP, page 265: "I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word."


What comes to you mind when you hear the yearly invitation to Lent? Is it something like, oh, here we go again and here are the things I am supposed to do to get through the next 40 days. Or do you ask yourself the traditional question what will I give up for Lent this year?

I always like to tease people by asking them what they gave up last year. Some can remember, but most cannot. Instead of thinking about how to get through Lent, think about how Lent might get through to us this year. Lent is a season of preparation. It is a time for us to get ready to celebrate with joy the Resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ and what His rising from the dead means to our life and the life of the world.

The Lenten invite is an invitation to examine our spiritual life as a means of preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter. Call it a check-up if you will. It is a call to re-discover and re-commit ourselves to live into our identity, that is, our identity in God. Our life is hid in God as scripture says. It is in Him we live, move, and have our being. Who we are in God is who we really are.

Too often, we allow our culture, or even our own estimation of ourselves to define us. That is where self-examination comes in. Lent invites us to look at the ways in which we have allowed our fears, attitudes, behavior, our accomplishments, successes and failures, as well as our opinion of others to tell us who we are. All of which separates us from God, our true selves, and each other.

Lent invites us to repent of, fast from, and let go of, those false identities and renew our true identity as God’s holy people. With that in mind, let us return to the question of what to give up for Lent. First of all, ask yourself what is my motivation for giving up something? It is meant to be a sacrifice in the true sense of the word.

If it is not something that you will miss that has become part of your life, then it is a mere token and not a sacrifice. Giving up chocolate or the watching of Fox News is not the right idea.

What we choose to give up should be a negative in terms of our spiritual life; something that separates us from God, like pride; a barnacle that needs to be scraped off and removed once and for all.

And another thing, whatever you choose to give up that is detrimental to you spiritual life is not something you to want to go back and retrieve after the 40 days have ended. It should be a permanent surrender. If you give it to Jesus, it belongs to Jesus. Moreover, whatever we choose to give to God creates a space for adding something positive to our life in God. Think about that.

What could you add that would bring you closer to God? The three things Jesus is speaking of in today’s gospel are not things we should be adding during Lent, but three aspects of one’s spiritual life that should always be there: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These are acts of piety, that is, devotion that comes with living one’s religious life according to one’s beliefs.

All three are a reflection of our relationship to God. God is not impressed with what others think of us, nor by what we think of ourselves. God rewards are based on pure motives of the heart. Thus, a thankful heart should motivate our almsgiving. We give back to God because we are thankful for all that, He gives to us.

We pray in order to communicate with God. The spirit of prayer is intimate, personnel communion with God. True prayer is not telling God what he already knows and then telling him what to do about it. True prayer is lifting up our hearts to God and includes listening, an aspect of prayer we often forget.

Fasting is a means of surrendering our self to God, learning to be dependent on Him. It is a means also of cleansing ourselves both physically and spiritually in order to be filled with God’s presence. Did you know that there is no Ash Wednesday in the Orthodox Church? The idea being that fasting is for spiritual growth and the glory of God, and is not to be seen by those around us.

But does our wearing of the cross of ashes on our foreheads this day communicate our fasting or our commitment to enter the Lenten season reminded of our need of repentance and of our mortality?

Most that come forward for the imposition of ashes do not intend to fast in the traditional sense of the word. Many will not wear the ashes throughout the day. To live a pious life is to live according to one’s religious beliefs in ways that manifest that belief. Isn’t that what we are called to do? Live our lives in such ways that others will know that we are Christians?

The cross of ashes may or may not remain during the day but the sign of the cross that was traced on our foreheads at baptism is indelible. We need to be reminded of that and perhaps the tracing of the sign of the cross with ashes will serve to do so.  It is Christ’s life we are to reflect. Our purpose in living a devout and holy life is not to call attention to ourselves but to Him.

These 40 days, then, belong to us. We can choose to go through the motions of getting through Lent or we can choose to participate in the Lenten exercises that allow Lent to get through to us. The deeper our Lenten practice and experience the more joyful will be our celebration of Easter.

We have been invited by the church to get ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with joy and in the hope of eternal life that His rising from dead brings to all who truly believe in Him. To do so, we need to get our spiritual house in order by self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial and the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

The choice is ours. We can choose to accept the invitation and commit ourselves to following through on the ways and means of drawing closer to God and living into our true identities, so that the joy of Easter is ours throughout the year, or we can choose to ignore it.

Will you accept the Church’s invitation to re-discover and re-commit yourselves to live the Easter life? That is the real Lenten question. AMEN+

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Father Riley's homily from February 11, 2018

LAST EPIPHANY - B - 18                   MARK 9. 2-9

If the major theme of the Epiphany season is that of revealing the true nature of Jesus Christ, then, the Transfiguration of Jesus on the last Sunday of the Epiphany season is the climax of the revelation.

If the main symbol of the Epiphany season is that of light, then, the appearance of Jesus in all of his resplendent glory, if only for an instant of time, atop the mountain before the bewildered eyes of Peter, James, and John is the ultimate example.

We end the Epiphany season with a familiar story that is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels and appears to be all about Jesus, but is it. What is the real meaning of the event? What meaning does it hold for us today?

I have always been intrigued by the last verse of today’s reading. “As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” First of all what could they possibly say? How could they put into words what they had seen and heard? What did Jesus mean about the Son of Man risen from the dead?

Secondly, who would believe them? The story of Jesus’ “transformation” or “transfiguration” describes what seems to have been an actual event, but an event in which the deepest significance of everyday reality suddenly and overwhelmingly confronted Peter, James, and John. It was the kind of event, as we like to say, you cannot make up.

It would be easy to dismiss such an experience as a hallucination, albeit a very odd one. Can’t you just hear Peter blurting out, “I thought I saw Moses standing next to Jesus, but how could that be?” Or James saying, “I think I saw Elijah standing next to him also, but I must have just imagined it.” Then, there would be John asking, “ok, then, whose voice did we hear proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved; Listen to him.”

The whole experience was puzzling and not a little frightening one for the three. The Old Testament and tradition tells of various events like this, when the veil of ordinariness that normally prevents us from seeing the “inside” of a situation is drawn back, so to speak, and a fuller reality is disclosed.

However, unlike the revelations of St. John the Divine, for example, in the last book of the Bible, whose visions were futuristic, what Peter, James and John were experiencing was in the here and now.

Most of us do not have experiences like that, but some do. I had a seminary classmate who did. David and I became very close during our time together at school. Both of us were late vocation. He had left his family behind in Iowa while he attended seminary in Kentucky. Batching as he was, we often invited him over for a meal, especially during the holidays.

During Advent and Lent, we went on retreats together at the various monasteries in the area. It was while we were on a Lenten retreat at the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemane, near Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where, I might add, Thomas Merton once was a member of the community that David told me of the frequent visions he had of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

At first, I was highly skeptical. I had never known anyone who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, a saint or anything for that matter that represented the super natural. The whole idea was bit unnerving. I listened intently as he described how she appeared to him when he was praying.  He never told me if she spoke to him, only that she appeared to him.

He confided in me that he had not told anyone else about his visions. He was afraid no one would believe him. For him they were life changing and had a lot to do with his choosing to enter seminary and to become a priest. After listening to him relate his experiences in detail, I was convinced that, he had indeed seen our Lady.

He, as well as others who have had such experiences usually regard them as highly important and life changing. For Peter, James, and John that life-change would occur later after Jesus had risen from the dead, and appeared to them in the upper room bearing the scars of the crucifixion.

Only then, would they understand what Jesus had meant when he said that they should not say anything about what they had seen or heard on the mountain, “Until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. "

Only then with Jesus’ resurrection appearance coupled with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, would their fear be removed. With their fear out of the way, their faith would enable them to connect the dots, as we say, between what Jesus had said and done in their presence for over a period of some three years regarding God and the coming kingdom.

Only then, would they be able to understand and realize what they had witnessed atop the mountain of the Transfiguration was not only a revelation of Jesus’ true nature as the Divine Son of God, resplendent in all His glory, but a glimpse of that same glory that would one day be theirs.

Only when they understood all of this would they be able to tell others in a convincing manner, what they had seen and what they had heard and what it now meant to them and would mean to all who would believe in Jesus as God’s Beloved Son.

Most of us will never experience anything like what Peter, James, and John experienced atop the mountain. Or, anything like the visions, my brother in Christ experienced, and perhaps still does to this day. Most of us do not interpret the details of our daily lives according to scriptural events. Perhaps we should. Many do not believe in the super natural. Perhaps they should.

However, each of us is called to do what the voice from heaven said: “Listen to him.”  We are to listen to Jesus, because he is God’s Beloved Son. Moreover, as we learn to listen, even if sometimes we get scared and say the wrong things, as Peter did, we may find that glory overtakes us unawares.

For God continues to reveal Himself and His plan for each of us, drawing back the veil of ordinariness, even if it is only for an instant of time, so that we can see, through the eyes of faith, the vision glorious.

He does so in order to strengthen us to bear our cross, as he did the disciples, for the road that lies ahead, as we continue the journey to God by the means of Grace and in the Hope of Glory. AMEN+

Monday, February 5, 2018

Christ Episcopal Church annual meeting Sunday February 11, 2018

Please join us for Christ Episcopal Church’s 2018 annual meeting this Sunday, February 11 in the Whitaker Parish House.  Records indicate the Episcopal congregation started meeting in Tensas Parish around 1855.  Our church building, built in 1872, is 145 years old and we’re looking forward to continuing our work in the “God Movement” as Clarence Jordan and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry call our work.  Father Riley will lead Holy Eucharist at 10am and the annual meeting and covered dish dinner will follow the 10am service.  Please contact Mrs. Jane Barnett to see what covered dish offering may need to be added for our dinner.  We need everyone’s help in continuing our mission in Tensas Parish and we hold a special responsibility being the oldest church in St. Joseph. 
From the Forward Day by Day:

MONDAY, February 5

Psalm 77:1 I will cry aloud to God. I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
I am alone, bound and broken by the memory of his assault. And I am not alone, one of millions of women and men who have been touched, torn, and betrayed—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Healing from this kind of wound comes in fits and starts, and just when I think I’m over it, a certain look sends me spiraling.
Maybe you have a wound too, so deep that it never quite scabs over. A rough patch jostles it loose, or just when things seem to be going great, it rises like bile that you can’t swallow back. In these moments, the Great Comforter is my comfort. I cry aloud, and God hears me.
I know God hears me because God has sent love into my life—my husband and children, my parents and sisters, my family and friends—and through this love, I am being made well.
I still cry. You might too. But I am not alone, and neither are you.
God is here, hearing us, loving us.
MOVING FORWARD: Reach out to someone who may be struggling with unseen or unnamed wounds today. Be the love God sends to those who are hurting.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Father Riley's homily from January 28, 2018

4 EPIPHANY - B - 18           MARK 1. 21-28

“….and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.”

Last week’s gospel introduced us to Jesus’ first sermon and the calling of the local fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John to be his disciples. All of which took place in the region of Galilee. In today’s gospel, we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Capernaum was on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was situated on the great trade route to Damascus and was a center for customs. Jesus would later call Matthew from his position of collecting taxes from this same customhouse to be one of his disciples. There was also a Roman garrison quartered in the town.

Each time I read this passage or think about it I am reminded of the occasion where I found myself standing on the remains of the mosaic floor where the first century synagogue once stood. It was here, St. Mark says in today’s gospel, that Jesus exercised a demon or unclean spirit from one who heard him teach about God and the coming kingdom.

It is strange that a possessed man would be present within the synagogue precincts. Stranger yet that it always seems to be the enemies of God that recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God while those that should appear to be blinded to his true identity.

Of all the places, I visited in the Holy Land where it was said that Jesus was supposed to have approximately been, the ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum, I believe, are the closest I came to being where Jesus had actually once stood. It was an awesome experience.

Jesus’ teaching astonished his listeners that day, but the man with an unclean spirit interrupted his teaching. The unclean spirit speaking through the man identified Jesus as the Holy One of God. Jesus commanded him to be silent and then cast him out.

The very first event of Jesus’ ministry, as Mark presents it, is one that expresses his authority. True it was Jesus’ teaching with authority that had astonished those who were present that day, but it was his authority to cast out the unclean spirit that literally amazed them.

He had come to preach and teach about God and the coming kingdom, according to Mark, but it was his power over the kingdom of Satan, demonstrated in the synagogue at Capernaum, that caused his fame to spread. He cast out the demon and in doing so restored the man to wholeness.

The first miracle, if you will, in Jesus’ pubic ministry signifies that Satan’s power over the world has come to an end. The kingdom of darkness has been shattered by the kingdom of light and with it the dominion of God has broken into human history. Belief in demons was widespread in the time of Jesus. If he could cast out demons, what else could he do?

No wonder, then, as Jesus began to travel about preaching and teaching, the people who were sick, diseased, or possessed flocked to be touched by him, or were brought, and in some cases, even carried by relatives or friends in the hope that they too might be healed and made whole.

This short gospel reading centers on Jesus’ authority. Not as the scribes, in terms of teaching, Mark records, or the prophets of old who taught in the third person, “thus saith the Lord.” Nor as the legal experts of the day who quoted the opinions of eminent Rabbis as a basis of authority as to what might be legally done or what might not. Christ taught in the first person.

He spoke as having authority from God to enunciate and enforce the principles that underlay the law, and to carry them on into a new expression and a more complete correspondence with the will of God in the coming kingdom. Christ’s authority over the kingdom of darkness was guaranteed by the submission of the unclean spirit.

Moreover, it did not take long for the news of what he had said and done in the synagogue at Capernaum to reach the authorities in Jerusalem. How do we see Jesus? How do we recognize him? The demon, as well as the authorities in Jerusalem saw him as a threat. Do we?

For those whose lives had become a total nightmare, however, whose personalities seemed to be taken over by alien powers, Jesus was seen as their savior and redeemer. These folk seemed to have a kind of inside track on recognizing him, knowing who he was and what he had come to do.

He had come to stop the nightmares, to rescue people, both nations and individuals, from the destructive forces that enslaved them. Therefore, whether it was a shrieking demon, a woman with fever, a leper, or whatever disease, sickness, mental, physical, or spiritual people suffered from, Jesus dealt with them all with the same gentle but deeply effective authority.

We all have nightmares. We all become beside ourselves through frustration and anger that can easily change our personalities. We all find ourselves at wits end. We all conclude from time to time that we find ourselves in circumstances that we feel powerless over. When we do, we can not see the light of hope, only darkness and despair.

Is it then that we recognize Jesus as our savior and redeemer? It is only in time of need that we turn to Him and call his name. Is it only when we need rescuing that we recognize him as the one who saves? Jesus came to save us from our nightmares and our feelings of hopelessness and despair. He came to heal us and make us whole. In essence, Jesus came to give us life.

Moreover, He has the authority and the power to do so. It is God’s will that we live the new life to which we have been called; to step from the darkness into the light, and like the man once possessed in the synagogue at Capernaum come to know who Jesus is and why He came. For it is through the merits of His life, death, and resurrection that the way to eternal life has been opened to us.

It is in our acknowledging him as the Holy One of God that we discover that we have been rescued from a life of sin and death. It is when we live a life of faith based on our love of God that we discover our true identity and to whom we ultimately belong.

Today’s gospel reading, as short as it is, is how Mark begins to tell us both about how Jesus became so popular so quickly and of how the course of his public career pointed inexorably to its dramatic conclusion. On the cross, Christ completed the healing work he began that day in the synagogue in Capernaum and the world has never been the same. Thanks be to God. AMEN+

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rev. Riley's homily for January 21, 2018

3 EPIPHANY - B - 18                 MARK 1.14-20

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus’ first sermon echoes that of the prophet Jonah in today’s first lesson: repent and believe. Sounds more like a Lenten sermon doesn’t it? To repent and believe go hand in hand. Why should one repent if he is not going to believe, that is, accept the good news?

Jesus waited for the right moment to begin his ministry. John’s arrest was that moment in time. The purpose of the Old covenant was to prepare the people for Christ. John Baptist completed the preparation. The present age was ending and a new one just beginning. The coming of the Kingdom was at hand with Jesus as Messiah.

Jesus knew who he was from the moment of his baptism and what his mission and message was to be. Jonah, on the other hand, was a reluctant prophet. God sent him to a city that represented paganism at its worst. It was the last place on earth Jonah wanted to go.

Ninevah was the ancient capitol of Assyria. It was located on the eastern bank of the river Tigris opposite modern day Mosul. God sent Jonah there around 800 B.C. According to historians, the dimensions of the city were from 32 to 60 miles in circuit, which makes Jonah’s three-day journey around the city possible to believe.

Regardless of its size, Jonah did not want to be there. The Ninevites were the enemies of Israel. Yet he obeyed God and proclaimed to the inhabitants of the great city that in 40 days they would be destroyed if they did not repent. The people believed him and called for a fast. They openly repented of their sins and turned from their evil ways.

God accepted their change of heart and relented of the devastation he had planned to visit upon them. In contrast to Jesus, the message Jonah delivered was not about him, it was a message sent by God and gives us an insight into the character of God who does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he repent and live.

In Jesus’ case, it is a message about him, rather than a message by him, and it too reveals God’s true nature. God so loved the world that he sent his son, not to condemn it, but to save it. In sending Jesus, God initiated a divine rescue mission.

The old age of strife, evil and opposition to God would be replaced by the Kingdom of God and the way to enter it was by repentance and belief in the good news. Jesus is the good news. The message he preached brought new light on the nature and character of the One true God in contrast to the polytheism of the empire.

He preached that the time was fulfilled and that the kingdom of God was at hand. The whole of Mark’s gospel is an expression of this verse. A new day was about to dawn when the will and sovereignty of God will sway the hearts and thoughts of men. Those who would have the experience must repent.

Jesus stressed the importance of a complete break with the past. To repent is to do a total “about face.” The word in Greek literally means, “To change one’s mind.” Repentance is a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart; a complete re-orientation to a life centered on Christ. Repentance and belief go hand in hand.

With Jesus, the kingdom of God was being ushered in and God in Christ was inviting all to enter by way of turning back to a true loyalty to God. This would mean they would have to tear themselves away from all they had trusted in before and believe and trust in what God was now doing in and through Christ. That was not easy then, and it is not easy now. There is always a cost to discipleship.

However, that is precisely what Peter and Andrew, James and John did, and it is what all Christians are called to do. Only when you think a bit about the sort of life Peter, Andrew, James and John had, and the totally unknown future Jesus was inviting them to, do you understand just how earth shattering this little story was and is.

To leave everything you have ever known, all of your security, even your family, and follow Jesus indeed calls for a radical departure. God’s grace helps us to come to new options that are possible for us. Our prejudices and our pride can be changed. Inner healing is possible. We can have peace of mind and heart.

But only if we break from the past and place our trust in Him who is the good news. True repentance is more than reluctant obedience (Jonah). It is a full change of heart. We have to be willing to change by doing that “about face” and believing in the good news. Are we ready to turn from hatred, prejudice, and fear, and accept openness, freedom and goodwill?

That is not just a Lenten question. It is a question we must answer on a daily basis as life has a way of challenging our loyalty to God. The basic thesis of Jesus’ coming is a declaration of God’s universal Love, of God’s willingness to receive and bless all who turn to Him in humble repentance and obedience.

God has an unfolding purpose for the world and we are meant to be part of it. We are not only invited to believe in the kingdom of God; we are invited to participate in ushering it in. We do this by being willing to accept our roles as disciples in proclaiming the good news, not by a reluctant obedience, as Jonah displayed, but in thanksgiving for God having rescued us through the merits of His Son, Jesus.

The calling of these early disciples is an example of the ideal response to God’s call to each of us as opposed to the response of Jonah. There is always a cost to discipleship, and that cost is different for each of us. However, the promise of God in Christ of new an unending life in Him is the same for all who repent and believe. AMEN+