Sunday, July 15, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 15, 2018

Breaking News:  Lay Leader Mrs. Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer next Sunday (July 22th) and Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday, July 29,  2018.  Services at 10am as usual.  Morning Prayer will also be offered  Wednesday, July 15th at 10am at The Shepherd Center.

8 PENTECOST, PROPER X - B- 18         MARK 6. 14-29

Last week’s gospel had Jesus being rejected in his hometown by the very people who thought that they knew him. They did not believe in his power to heal and make whole. They did not accept him in his prophetic role.

In today’s gospel the puppet king, Herod, reacts differently. He is afraid of Jesus because he has heard of the things Jesus has done and what his disciples are doing. You may recall, Jesus has sent them out and they are performing kingdom signs as Christ has done and they are still out there.

The word on the street is that Jesus is John Baptist risen from the dead. A thought that sends shivers down Herod’s spine as he has recently beheaded John. Others are saying that this Jesus is Elijah who, according to Jewish tradition would return to get things ready for the final judgment and the coming of Messiah.

Then again, others simply said he was like one of the prophets of old. After all Jesus was behaving like a prophet; he spoke of himself as a prophet; it wasn’t surprising then that they thought of him like that. However, Herod agrees with the first assessment. He is convinced that Jesus is John risen from the dead.

St. Mark goes on in today’s passage to tell us in detail what happened to John and why it happened. This account is given parenthetically, explaining John’s earlier death so hearers would understand why Herod would think that John had risen from the dead.

It was a combination of Herodias’ grudge against John for having spoken against her marriage to Herod, and Herod’s promise to his wife’s daughter, in front of his birthday guests, that brought an unceremonious end to John.

It would seem that Herod fears John dead more than when he was alive. The idea of resurrection among God’s people in the days of Jesus was a mixed one at best. For example, the Pharisees, the teachers and keepers of the law believed it and taught it.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, did not believe it. They even went out of their way to speak against it. It would appear that Herod, the son of the one who slew the infants in Bethlehem, himself a Jew, did not have a handle on it at all.

He sees Jesus as the re-incarnation of John Baptist come back to haunt him. He knows that John worked no miracles while living. Thus, he now believes, in his own strange way, that the powers Jesus possesses are due to the fact that John has come back from the dead. That Jesus is really John.

Herod, with all of his wealth and soldiers at hand, feared John, a man who lived in poverty and was clothed in camel’s hair. His fear stands as a testament both to the powers of personal holiness and integrity, and to the people’s perception of John, for they held him in high esteem. Besides that, Luke tells us, Herod liked listening to John.

What about us? Where do we stand on the idea of resurrection? Christians of all stripes have mixed feelings even today. There are, we might say, “Pharisees” and “Sadducees” within our own denomination, clergy and laity alike. In my 38 years of ministry, I have encountered both.

I will never forget one middle-aged woman, a cradle Episcopalian I might add, who, several years ago now, confronted me at the back of the church at the conclusion of an Easter Sunday service with the question “did I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?”

At first, I was taken aback. After having collected myself I asked her if she stood and recited the creed at each celebration of the Holy Eucharist. She told me that she did. I then asked whether she believed what she recited. To which she responded, “I skip over the resurrection of the dead as well as the other parts I don’t accept.”

I was dumb founded. The ancient creed is a statement of what we believe about God. It contains the two major dogmas of the church - the Incarnation and the Resurrection. However, I have discovered over the years that she was not alone. There are those today who still struggle with both.

The Virgin birth is yet a mystery many cannot accept. While the Resurrection scares people. It has from the beginning. Just go back and read the gospel accounts of the first Easter morning.

Some people, like the woman that confronted me, it would seem, prefer to remain dead when the time comes and leave it at that. They believe that this life and this world is all there is.

I can only surmise that their thinking is due in part to the fact that they fear judgment, especially those who are so-called Christians. Others who have told me that they believe that there will be a resurrection hold strange ideas of what it will look like and be like. Herod held such a strange idea.

If Herod thought at the time Jesus was John Baptist risen from the dead, he later had an opportunity to learn otherwise. According to St. Luke, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for questioning on the day of his crucifixion. Nowhere does St. Luke report that Herod was afraid of him at their meeting.

Rather that Herod was amazed that Jesus chose not to answer any of his questions. He was also disappointed that Jesus did not do any miracles in his presence. Instead, Herod allowed his soldiers to mock him and cloth him in purple before he sent him back to Pilate to be condemned.

I am sure that Herod’s fear of Jesus that of being John Baptist raised from the dead, ended when Christ was nailed to the cross. However, nowhere in the gospels is it later recorded what Herod’s reaction was to the reports that Jesus was risen from the dead.

I have often wondered what Herod must have thought upon hearing that report. As I have often wondered what those who hear it today must likewise think, even those who are veterans of more than one Easter sermon. Some I am certain are still afraid of the very idea. Others may say that they believe it yet maintain strange concepts of what it will be like. Where do you stand?

If the world is to believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again then, we, who have been baptized into His death and raised to new life in Him, must live the new life to which we have been called in ways that manifest our faith and belief in Him who is Resurrection and Life to the Glory of God the Father.  AMEN+

Monday, July 9, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 8, 2018

7 PENTECOST, PROPER  IX - B - 18       MARK 6. 1-13

Rarely are people in today’s world identified as prophets. The Church has not institutionalized the prophet in the same way as priest or deacon. We think of prophets as distant and unfamiliar people like a John Baptist. However, Jesus was a prophet, as well as a priest and king. Was he the last of the prophets? Did the prophetic age end with him?

Prophesy is naming the truth in a given situation and explaining the logical consequences of a course of action. God’s Word is Truth. The prophet speaks God’s word, often in a situation where people have been unable or unwilling to face the truth.

Naming the truth, especially when people have denied reality, challenges people to accept the truth, to acknowledge their denial and to change their behavior. However, people can reject the truth, usually by rejecting the bearer of the word.

That’s what happened to Jesus in his own hometown. In that he joined the company of the prophet Ezekiel and all of God’s prophets who preceded him who were instructed by God to deliver the truth whether it was received or not. Meaning, their mission was to deliver the word. The choice to receive it lies with the hearers of the word always has and always will.

God’s truth uncovers the uncomfortable reality about ourselves, our concepts and our institutions that we have been unwilling to face. When faced with the truth we are faced with a decision; we have a choice. We can choose to accept the truth and then change the way we live, or we can reject the truth.

Jesus was laughed at Capernaum. He is rejected in Nazareth. Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is but a foreshadowing of his rejection by the whole Jewish nation that will occur at his trial before Pilate.

The people in his hometown thought that they knew him. They knew his family and they knew him as a mere carpenter. Sure, they had heard of what he had done in Capernaum, a mere twenty-five miles away, and around the lakeshore.

They were both amazed and offended. Where he got his current knowledge of God and the power to do such things was a mystery they could not explain nor could they accept, so they rejected him by doubting his prophetic role and even his power to heal.

Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. Thus, Mark records that he was unable to do any miracles there, but only to lay his hands on a few sick people who did have faith in him.  It would appear that lack of faith hinders Jesus’ power to heal. After his rejection, there was no reason for him to remain in Nazareth.

Thus, Jesus moves on to other towns and villages in the region in order to teach and preach the kingdom of God to those who have ears to hear. Then, to the surprise of the 12, he sends them out on their own, two by two. They are travel light. They are to take poverty as their bride.

They are to accept hospitality wherever they find it. They are to remain where they are received and welcomed. They are to shake off the dust from their feet from the places where they too will be rejected.

Jesus empowers them with His Spirit to preach repentance, to cast out demons as he has done, and to anoint with oil those who are sick and heal them. These things, which the disciples do, are all signs of the kingdom. They are in essence carrying out Jesus’ agenda of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

The 12 have come a long way from the fear of perishing on the Sea of Galilee to performing a mission of unwavering faith in the proclamation of the gospel. Amazing what this fledgling band of disciples was able to accomplish when unhindered by distractions.

Therefore, it should be with us, as individual Christians and corporately as the Church. For the mission has not changed. Our mission is to accept our “prophetic” role by warning the world that it is rapidly heading in the wrong direction and to warn the Church, when need be, that she is in mortal danger of being transformed by the world rather than the other way round.

I recently read a stirring article along those same lines written by an Archbishop in Europe who bemoaned the fact that the Church in Europe was becoming increasingly secular in nature and highly politicized. Her leaders were more interested in politics and in being socially acceptable rather than in proclaiming the gospel.

In the Archbishop’s opinion, the church had become totally distracted from the divine mission, which had been given to her. He wrote that the Church today is more interested in pleasing men rather than God. When we do this are we not in essence rejecting Jesus? Are we not turning away from the truth?

God’s word is truth. God’s truth uncovers the uncomfortable reality about ourselves, our concepts and our institutions that we have been unwilling to face. When faced with the truth we are faced with a choice. We can choose to accept the truth and change the way we live, or we can reject the truth.

It was the same choice those in Nazareth were faced with when they found themselves in the presence of the Jesus they thought they knew. It was the same choice Israel as a nation was faced with when Pilate presented this same Jesus before them as their king. In both instances, the people Christ came to save rejected him and in rejecting him, they rejected the Truth of God’s Word Incarnate.

To be “devoted to God with our whole heart” as today’s collect prays requires that we do not lose focus; do not allow ourselves to become distracted from the “prophetic” mission of proclaiming the truth of God’s Holy Word. The world we live in today is becoming increasingly more secular in nature and less religious. Thus, the temptation for the Church, the Bride of Christ, is to be transformed by a world, which is fixated on the here and now.

Even more reason for us to remember who we are and to whom we ultimately belong. May God grant us the grace to live our lives in such a way that it reflects our faith and belief in Him who is, and always will be, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. For the Church’s mission has never been one of pleasing men, but one of pleasing God. AMEN+

Monday, July 2, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 1, 2018

6 PENTECOST, PROPER VIII - B - 18     MARK 5. 21-43

We think we know the limits of God, but do we?  We heard in last week’s gospel that Jesus and his disciples crossed over the Sea of Galilee to the East side to get away from the crowds and to have some quiet time together. On the way over, he demonstrated his power over nature by stilling the wind and the waves that caused fear to arise in the hearts of his disciples overriding what little faith they had.

In today’s passage, they have returned to Capernaum and to the crowds who were waiting for them. Out of the crowd steps one Jarius, a leader of the local synagogue that Jesus and his disciples surely attended. He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come and heal his 12-year-old daughter who is near death.

The compassionate Jesus agrees to go with him. As they left together, the crowds followed pressing close to him. There was woman in the crowd who had a 12-year-old issue of blood the local physicians had been unable to heal. Her condition had deteriorated and she had become worse.

She undoubtedly has heard of Jesus’ ability to heal. She missed seeing him before he crossed over the sea but was determined not to miss him on his return. She waited in the crowd and when he came, she followed pressing closer and closer to him believing that if she could just touch the hem of his garment she would be healed. She did.

The instant she reached out and touched the fringe of his garment she felt herself healed of her infirmity. Jesus likewise felt the power had gone out of him. He knew he had been touched. He stops and turns to the crowd and asks, “Who touched me?” The disciples respond, “With this many people so close it is impossible to know.”

The woman, fearing what Jesus might say or do steps forward and admits that she is the one who had touched him. Instead of being admonished for her action, Jesus commends her for her faith and sends her away in peace.

However, the delay in Jesus’ mission to go with the ruler of the synagogue to heal his daughter results in a messenger arriving from Jairus’ house to inform him that his daughter has died. There is no further need to trouble Jesus. What Jairus must have been thinking?

If only Jesus had not hesitated, if only he had followed me post haste, my daughter might still be alive. Isn’t that what would go through your mind? Now that she was dead, there is no need of Jesus. There is nothing anyone can do. The world of Jesus thought it knew the limits of God. What they could expect and what they could not expect from God.

Jesus hears the message and turns to Jarius and says “do not fear, only believe.” Then Christ dismisses the crowds and allows only the inner circle, Peter, James and John along with the father to accompany him to where the young girl lies. On their arrival, they are greeted by a house full of mourners who are wailing and weeping expressing their grief in the loss of the child.

Jesus tires to calm them by telling them that she is not dead but only sleeping. They laugh. Like Jarius, they thought that they knew the limits of God. They knew what to expect and what not to expect from God. For their ridicule, and their disbelief, Jesus puts them out of the house.

With the parents and in the company of Peter, James, and John he enters the girl’s room and taking her by the hand he speaks to her “little girl it is time to get up.”  And immediately she got up and began to walk about to the amazement of those present. Was she dead? Was she only sleeping as he said?

In ancient time, death was often referred to as sleep. Jesus said she was sleeping. The messenger said she was dead. The mourners were not wailing over a sleeping child. Today’s gospel is yet another demonstration of the power of Christ. This time, he demonstrates his power over life and death.

What Jesus does in the house of Jarius is but a glimpse of the mystery of Jesus and of his mission, which began, according to Mark, in the synagogue at Capernaum and found its climax with the empty tomb. Today’s gospel story is also a demonstration of faith.

It is a demonstration of Jesus’ power to move one from fear to faith. He demonstrated that in last week’s gospel with his own disciples and again today when he turns to the father and says “do not fear, only believe.”

Wedged in between is the woman’s faith with the issue of blood who believed that all she had to do was to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment and she would be made whole. It wasn’t her faith, however, that cured her, but the power of Christ to make whole. Her faith was the channel through which the power of Christ was able to work.

How strong is our faith in God? Strong enough to ask of God? Strong enough to patiently wait on God? Strong enough to believe that no matter how impossible the situation may appear our faith in God tells us that He can and will act? “Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus told Jarius in the face of death.

We think we know the limits of God, but in Christ, we discover there are no limits to what God can do. Today’s story tells us that with God we can imagine the unimaginable - even resurrection. Granted what characterizes much of our discipleship, as it did his own disciples, is a mixture of fear and faith, and yet it is faith that channels God’ saving action. Faith is the sign of the renewal of new life.

“Do not fear, only believe. “ What does all of this tell us about Jesus, about the mystery of Jesus? That he cared about people that he went out of his way to give help to those who asked for it. He touched. He lifted up. These miracle stories may cause problems in the scientific world; we may, in fact, interpret many of these cures as psychosomatic illnesses and cures.

No matter. What matters is the insight we gain into the mystery of Jesus and of his mission, and so into the reality of our lives as his followers. He was a healer, a giver of hope and new life.  He was open to the needs and pain of others and he cared about them, cared enough, to do something.

His caring was intended to open people’s eyes to the reality of God, to unheard of possibilities made possible by faith in Him as the Son of God who died and rose again that we might have life and have it more abundantly. AMEN+

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from June 24, 2018 and 'Breaking News'

BREAKING NEWS!  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist The following Sundays in July: 1st, 8th, 15th; 29th.  Layleader Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer July 22nd.  Please join us for the 10am service and the fellowship time following the service.

5 PENTECOST, PROPER VII - B - 18      MARK 4. 35-41

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “let us go across to the other side,” the other side being the East side of the Sea of Galilee. To go there would take them away from Galilee and the crowds. The region in that part of the country was less populous creating an opportunity to rest and recoup from the demands of the people.

As we heard in the preceding week’s gospel, the crowds had been following Jesus from the beginning. The word was out that he was a great healer and a great teacher. The crowds sought to bring him their sick, their lame, their blind and those possessed with demons, and to hear his kingdom message.

The scribes and even some of those who knew him thought he was crazy. The authorities had to find some way to discredit him, to try to get the crowds to stop following and believing in him. His own mother and members of his family thought there was something wrong with him as well.

Now would be a good time to escape from all of that and have some quiet time - just Jesus and his disciples. So Jesus gets into the boat with them and says let us shove off and get away from the crowds for a while. He is literally exhausted from preaching, teaching, and healing. Not to mention the unending questions from the religious leaders in Jerusalem who want to know whom he really is and what he thinks he is up to.

The Sea of Galilee is relatively calm the majority of time. However, a sudden storm bringing high winds that easily produce whitecaps can seem to come out of nowhere. Obviously, there was no storm when the disciples set out for the other side. Jesus being physically tired, a sign of his humanity fell asleep in the stern of the boat. 

However, a storm did arise white capping the lake and threatening to swamp the boat. The disciples feared they might drown. They woke Jesus up and rebuked him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  That is the real question in today’s story is it not. The question whether God cares?

Jesus began his ministry exercising his power over the supernatural forces that threatened humankind. He exorcised a demon from a man with an unclean spirit. He went on to demonstrate his authority to preach and teach of the coming kingdom of God, a teaching that baffled the powers to be in Jerusalem who deemed him a threat to their authority.

He healed various diseases and infirmities demonstrating his power to physically heal and make whole. In today’s gospel he stills the wind and calms the sea removing the threat that caused fear to rise in the hearts of his disciples. Their fear assuaged, they ask themselves ‘who is this?”

Wouldn’t you think by now they would have an inkling of Jesus identity? Jesus’ authority over creation is another sign that he is the Messiah and is divine. On the other hand, their following him up to this point had brought no test of their faith in him.

Why would they think that he does not care if they perish? Was it not his compassionate caring that moved him to exorcise demons, heal the sick, restore, and make whole human lives? Was he not in the same boat?

How quickly they forget, as do we. Like the parable of the good seed falling on various kinds of soil their faith had not yet taken root. “Have you still no faith, “he asks them. Fear overrides faith every time.

We all know that the world can be a scary place. In addition, there are moments when our fear can immobilize us. Think of a moment or an occasion in your past when you were afraid, afraid perhaps that you were going to perish.

I can vividly recall such a day when I worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It was a day I came very close to drowning. My partner and I were working duck hunters in a large open bean field flooded by the rising waters of the White River, which had more than exceeded its banks. The water in the field was several feet deep.

It wasn’t storming when we crossed from the river into the field. However, by the time we decided to return to the river a storm arose bringing high winds, rain, thundering, and lightening at work against us. We were in a 14 foot jon boat with a 25 horse Johnson and were being beaten by the wind and swamped by the waves. The bean field was white capping. It was difficult to make any headway and the boat was filling with water faster than I could bail it out.

When all seemed lost, I noticed the tops of a row of willow trees less than a hundred yards from where we were struggling to stay afloat. By the grace of God, we were able to make it to that row of trees. Their tops were standing several feet above the water. We hung on for dear life as the boat continued to take on water from the surging waves until the storm finally passed.

When the calm came we bailed out the boat and made it safely back to the river and eventually to the landing. I can understand the disciple’s fear. They were not thinking of their “faith,” or of what they had seen Jesus do or say. At that moment, all they could think of was how to survive and not perish.

The same was true for my partner and me on that day in the flooded bean field. It was only when the calm came did I Thank God for having rescued us by stilling the storm. True, Jesus demonstrated his power and authority over the forces of nature in today’s passage, but the disciple’s question is one we have all raised at one time or another.

Where is God in moments like this? There are times when it appears that God is absent, doesn’t really care, or is asleep in the back of the boat, the car, or the plane. The point of the gospel story we have heard today is that God never abandons us, no matter how much we feel God’s absence.

I am not suggesting that we should never be afraid, that it is wrong to be seized with terror in times of danger. It is precisely at these times that we must hold to our conviction that God is with us that God is for us. The love of God impels us to put our fears and terrors into perspective and to hear that same voice that the disciples heard when there was dead calm, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

The image of Christ and his disciples in a boat is traditionally used to illustrate the church. God both permits storms and delivers us through them, so that we can see his loving kindness and protection more clearly. As Christ has the power to still the wind and the waves, so He has the power to still the storms within each of our lives thus renewing our faith while giving us His Peace. AMEN+

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Christ Episcopal Church Update

BREAKING NEWS!  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday, June 24.  Please join us for the 10am service and the fellowship time following the service.
Forward Day by Day for THURSDAY, June 21
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
Jesus’ disciples are an ideal small group: enough people to divvy up important tasks but not so many as to lose focus and identity. They are also deeply flawed: naysayers, fickle-minded, easily distracted, anxious, contemptuous, and deceitful. To put it simply, they are human—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Too often, I find myself thinking, “If everyone would just let me do this myself, it would be so much easier!” Then again, there’s a reason Jesus doesn’t make twelve individual home visits in place of the Last Supper. Instead, he calls together a dozen of his beautiful, compassionate, broken, cowardly, and treasonous friends around one table, under one roof, and breaks bread with them.
In a culture hell-bent on being absolutely right all the time, we risk losing sight of the fact that it is possible to disagree and make mistakes and lose focus—and still love and respect one another. Jesus dwells among us in spite of our tantrums and disagreements and distractions, drawing us ever deeper into one beloved, broken body.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

June 17 and 24, 2018: "What's the buzz? Tell me what's a-happening."

BREAKING NEWS!  Lay Leader Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer this Sunday, June 17 and Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday, June 24.  Please join us for the 10am service and the fellowship time following the service.

From Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s book Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus: “Jesus’ words make plain God’s deep desire and dream for us, God’s plan and mission: to draw all people, to invite, to welcome, to include all within the embrace of those arms that were stretched out ‘on the hard wood of the cross.’  As Jesus draws us closer to God, he draws us closer to each other.”
From the Forward: Day by Day (May 19th) “[The Apostle] Paul breaks away from the safety of his circle, taking an incredible risk in following Christ.  His faith reminds me of a saying about ships: ‘Ships are safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for.” Neither are we.’

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from June 10, 2018

3 PENTECOST, PROPER V - B- 18         MARK 3. 20-35

“The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat.”

Jesus began his earthly ministry in Galilee after John had been arrested. He called the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John to leave their nets and follow him. Mark tells us that Jesus preached and taught in the synagogue at Capernaum early in his ministry.

There was present on that day a man with an “unclean” spirit. The unholy spirit recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God. Jesus commanded the spirit to be silent and then he cast him out setting the man free of his demonic possession. His actions and words in the synagogue at Capernaum astonished and amazed the people and sent shock waves as far as Jerusalem.

This, however, was only the beginning. Christ continued his mission of preaching and teaching and healing as he made his way from Galilee to Judea and back again. More than one demonic possessed soul was rescued in the process. His fame spread and the news of his teaching and his power over the unclean spirits brought scribes from Jerusalem to see exactly what he was up to.

It wasn’t just those who were possessed that he healed but the lame, the blind, and as we heard in last week’s gospel, a man with a withered hand. The authorities conspired to get rid of him. The people could not get enough of him. They were hungry for his teaching about God and the coming Kingdom and they continued to be amazed at his power to heal and to cast out demons.

Everywhere he went, the crowds followed him and gathered around him so much so, Mark tells us in today’s gospel that he and his disciples could not even eat. Strange how people interpret the same things they see and hear differently. Mark tells us that some of his own people, some who had known Jesus from childhood, thought that he was out of his mind.

The scribes naturally jumped on that bandwagon and proclaimed that he had an unclean spirit. Jesus was not from God, they said, but was in league with Beelzebub, the lord of the flies, a god worshiped by the Philistines. Here he is called the ruler of the demons.

The scribes were trying to discredit Jesus. He didn’t fit into their scheme of messiah. He had no credentials. His own family and those who knew him thought he was mad. Thus, they sought to label him as such. He would have to be in league with the devil to be doing what he was doing. That would explain it, and it would also justify doing whatever it would take to “silence” him.

The impossibility of demons fighting against themselves illustrates the irrational pride and envy of the Pharisees in their opposition to Jesus. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is blasphemy against the divine activity of the Spirit, that is, blasphemy against pure goodness. A sin against the Son of Man is more easily forgiven because the Jews did not know much about Christ.

But blasphemy against the Spirit, whose divine activity they know from the Old Testament, will not be forgiven because it comes from a willful hardness of heart and a refusal to accept God’s mercy. Once you label what is in fact the work of the Holy Spirit as the work of the devil, there is no way back. Jesus’ critics painted themselves in a corner. They were blinded to the truth.

Obviously, they had forgotten the words of God to the serpent in the garden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Jesus makes the declaration knowing that those who blasphemed the Spirit are calling pure, divine goodness, “evil,” and are beyond repentance by their own choice.

With that exchange ended, Jesus is told that his mother and members of his immediate family are outside and wish to see him.  They too think that there is something wrong with him and wish to take him home. However, they have not yet understood his true identity and mission. They are not seated at his feet.

He points to a spiritual family based on obedience to the will of the Father in heaven as being his family. It is a statement that sent shock waves through the audience as it shattered the traditional Jewish concept of family. The scribes and those who knew him, now even his own family thought him mad and labeled him so. That is what we do is not it, when we find ourselves opposed to some idea or someone who differs from us or who does not fit into our scheme of things.

We convince ourselves that what they say or do is simply “crazy.” It doesn’t fit with our way of thinking or what we believe to be true. Thus, we label it as such. Moreover, when we do there is no going back. No way are we going to change our minds. No one or anything will convince us that we are wrong. The division we create is permanent.

And so it was for those who opposed Jesus - what he was doing and what he was saying. He must be out of his mind and those who followed him and believed in what he was doing and saying were just as crazy. There is no middle ground for the world today as for Israel then. Jesus is not a mildly interesting historical figure, as some in today’s world would like for him to be, another label, if you will, designed to neutralize him.

He is either the promised one who ushered in God’s kingdom, or else he is a dangerous madman. Those of us who chose to follow him and proclaim him to be the Son of the Most High God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world must be prepared to face opposition of all sorts, sometimes subtle, sometimes threatening. And we must learn how to respond.

The call to follow Jesus, to listen to him, to model our lives after Him, even if those outside think us crazy, is what matters. The Church in every generation, in every place, needs to remember this and act on it. The gospel, and allegiance to Jesus, produces a division, often an unexpected and unwelcome one, in every group, family, and society.

However, “we do not lose heart…” as St. Paul encourages us in today’s Epistle, “for this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure…”

This is the Hope to which you and I have been called in Him who died and rose again - the hope of glory. God will give us the grace to live by Faith and the Holy Spirit will enable us to do His will if we stick with Jesus, whatever the cost. AMEN+

Monday, June 4, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from June 3, 2018

BREAKING NEWS!  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist again this coming Sunday, June 10, 2018.  Please join us for the 10am service and the fellowship time following the service.

2 PENTECOST, PROPER 4 - B - 18       MARK 2. 23-3.6

“On the Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields…” Today’s passage always brings to mind two things from my past. I lived in Iowa for 7 years. And you haven’t seen cornfields until you have been to Iowa!

Oh, we have them around here too, but up there they stretch for miles as far as the eye can see. I am sure many of you have seen the movie “Field of Dreams” that was made in Iowa. In it a man walking through the cornfields quickly disappears from sight.

Obviously the Pharisees in today’s gospel must have been walking next to Jesus and his disciples in order to observe them plucking the heads of grain and eating them. They were hungry. The Pharisees criticize Jesus for their leniency in the application of Sabbath law.

The Torah explicitly prohibits “labor” on the Sabbath. Courts do not meet. Shops are closed. There is no buying or selling. No labor is to be performed although the law does not define “labor. “ And that brings me to my second thought about today’s passage.

Several years ago now I was fortunate enough to be in Jerusalem with our then Bishop McPherson. We were attending a Gafcon conference together made up of leaders from around the Anglican Communion. Our return flight out of Telav was due to depart on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

There are still areas of Israel today where the Sabbath is strictly kept. Our hotel for instance stopped running the elevators on the Sabbath. We had to walk down several fights of stairs with baggage in hand. We arrived at the airport mid-afternoon, although our flight was not scheduled to depart until around 7p.m.

The Bishop, you see, was afraid we might miss it! Thus, we left too early to have lunch. None of the shops were open in the airport. There was no place to get a bite to eat or anything to drink. The Jewish Sabbath runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
We simply had to wait until Sabbath had ended before we could buy anything to eat. If there had been grain fields nearby we would have been seen plucking the heads, I assure you!

Keeping the Sabbath was, of course, one of the Ten Commandments, and it had been reinforced by the prophets and by subsequent Jewish teaching prior to Jesus’ coming on the scene. It was one of the things that marked out the Jews, over the centuries from their pagan neighbors.

It was one of the things that reminded them, that they were God’s people. It was a sign that they belonged to the One True God, the creator of heaven and earth, who had himself rested on the seventh day. The observance of the Sabbath had been for Israel a remembering, a bringing into the present the Exodus story.

It was not a nostalgic ritual, but a command to remember that God had loved Israel enough to bring the people to freedom. To keep the Commandment was to celebrate in remembrance God’s creation and redemption, past, present and future.

In a way, the Pharisees had forgotten to remember this in their criticizing Jesus’ disciples. They had forgotten the point and priority of the Sabbath. Israel’s memory had faded into laws and rules. Jesus’ response reminded them that God is concerned for all our needs, not our rules.

Even David ate the Bread of the Presence, Jesus reminded them, when hungry and in need. Jesus’ response from a biblical story was intended to prove that the permission he granted to his disciples was within the bounds of the biblical laws of Sabbath rest.

However, Christ did not stop there. Jesus puts the question to the Pharisees in the strictest terms: if the Sabbath speaks of creation and redemption, the answer is obvious.

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” and he added, “so that the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

What Jesus is saying here is that the Sabbath must serve human need. The Pharisees used this principal only in response to danger to human life. In healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, Jesus extends the principal to apply to a situation of human discomfort.

Since the Son of Man has been made Lord of the Sabbath, the Father has granted to the Son complete dominion over the earth, including dominion over the divinely ordained commandments of scripture. As the Son of Man interprets the law, so shall it be.

The resurrection on Easter morning was the fulfillment of the Sabbath. Jesus’ actions and his explanation, were a coded messianic claim, a claim that in Him the new day was dawning in which even Israel’s God-given laws would be seen in a new light.

God knows our need and our hunger. But do we? The Pharisees memory had faded to the point that the rule mattered more than reality. Our priorities must not be idols, which we worship, or laws, which we contrive and control. We must know our need of God.

He feeds us with the real bread of heaven, which is Christ Jesus Our Lord. In the wilderness of perplexity or affliction, it is God who rescues us. In the midst of perplexity, we do not despair. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, for “we carry the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in us.”

That is the greater Truth; that in the midst of darkness, we are assured of God’s faithfulness. Laws can never be ends within themselves, but only means to a greater Truth. God’s priority is to Love us. It is our priority to love God.

To love God is to keep His commandments. It marks us out from the rest of the world. Obedience is one way in which we show our love for God in Thanksgiving for His love for us manifested in His having rescued us from sin and death through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus, the Lord God of Sabbaoth. AMEN+

Monday, May 28, 2018

Father Riley's homily from Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018

TRINITY SUNDAY - B - 18          JOHN 3: 1-17

Today the Church celebrates the mystery of the Holy Trinity. It is the single doctrine of the Christian faith that separates us from the rest of the world’s religions.

The gospel passage for today takes us back to an earlier period in Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Lord is engaged in a conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus under the cover of darkness. Darkness verses light is a major theme of John. The subject is “rebirth” by the Holy Spirit of God, and through the waters of Holy baptism.

Nicodemus begins the conversation by complimenting Jesus, “rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus’ response appears to ignore the Pharisee’s compliment. Instead, Jesus confronts Nicodemus with a challenge to his intellect.

“You can’t see the kingdom of God,” Jesus says, “nor can you enter it” without having been born of water and the Spirit. It is a birth that comes from above. The Pharisee cannot wrap his mind around the concept of being born again Jesus is presenting. Birth to his way of thinking is strictly physical. “How can these things be,” he asks.

As the old priest used to say, Nicodemus has both feet firmly planted in this world. He is up to his armpits in mud. Jesus chastises him in response. “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

What is it that bridges the gap between what we see and seem to understand that is real and tangible in this world that surrounds us and what is not seen and understood concerning God and His kingdom if it is not the gift of Faith?

Each week we stand as the Body of Christ and repeat the words of the Nicene Creed as a statement of what we say we believe about God. Contained in the very first paragraph are the words, “we believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. The “seen and unseen” includes the Holy Trinity as defined by the Creed.

True we cannot see the Holy Trinity. Faith bridges the gap between what we can see and what we can believe. Nicodemus struggled to understand and believe in what Jesus was telling him concerning the Spirit of God and the concept of rebirth.

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it,” Jesus told him, “but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus was bringing “light” into the “darkness” that surrounded them, as He brings light into the darkness that surrounds us. He is the Light of the world. However, Nicodemus’ inability to receive the teaching Jesus was giving him concerning the Spirit and the Kingdom of God left him in the dark.

The Holy Trinity is a mystery. Theologians throughout the ages have attempted to explain it in terms that can be easily understood. Yet the concept of the Three in One remains a mystery. God is mystery.

We cannot see the Holy Spirit, but like Jesus told Nicodemus concerning the wind, we can see the effects of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have been reborn by God’s Spirit.

We cannot see Jesus, as those who lived when he walked this earth, who heard him preach and teach, who watched him perform miracles, but we can know Him and we can see Him in the lives of those who believe in Him and who have chosen to live their lives following his teachings and commandments.

We cannot see the Father, the creator of heaven and earth, but we see His hand at work in the world around us. Faith is God’s gift to those who believe. Jesus said in another place, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Faith opens our eyes to believe in what we can see and what we cannot; to what we can easily understand and what remains a mystery concerning God.

Faith enables us to stand each week and recite the ancient Creed although none of us can understand with our finite mind the infinite it contains. Yet, through Faith, we can profess to believe all that is says about God.

God has given us the grace not only to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity but to keep us steadfast in this faith in order to worship the mystery of the Three in One; a presence we can know and feel. We can feel God’s presence through the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who teaches us what is right and true.

We can know and feel the Love of God, the love He has for each of us, and for the world, which He has made, for it was the Love of God, Jesus told Nicodemus that sent him into the world in the first place, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.

In Him we have been buried and raised to new life, reborn, through the waters of Holy Baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s forever.

Jesus is the Light and the Life of the world. He has come and continues to come in order to scatter the darkness that creeps into each of our lives threatening our faith; a darkness that likewise threatens the life of the world.

It is His risen presence that gives us the Hope of new and unending life in Him. For we know, as St. John tells us, that for the Love of God He came not to condemn the world, but through Him the world might be saved. AMEN+

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

What is the meaning of Pentecost Sunday?

The Christian holiday of Pentecost, which is celebrated on the seventh Sunday (49 days) after Easter, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31).

Please wear red Sunday to celebrate Pentecost.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from May 13, 2018

Breaking News:  We will have Morning Prayer next Sunday (May 20th) and Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist May 27 and June 3,  2018.  Services at 10am as usual.

EASTER VII - B - 18               JOHN 17. 6-19

Did you notice the absence of the Paschal Candle? It is lighted on Easter Day and remains lit until the Feast of the Ascension, which occurred on Thursday. How many of you were here for that? It is a major feast day of the church and always but always falls on a weekday. Even in large churches like Grace, it was poorly attended.

Yet it remains a major event in the life of the church. As Jesus descended from heaven, he ascended back into heaven signaling the completion of his earthly ministry. He did so with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit to lead the church into all Truth.

If it is that important, why do not more people come to church to celebrate it? Good question. In today’s gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for that very day when he will be taken up from them. The scene is the upper room; the first Eucharist has just been celebrated to the astonishment of the disciples.

Now Jesus is praying for them in what is become known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is called the High Priestly Prayer for it contains the basic elements of a prayer a priest offers to God when a sacrifice is about to be made: glorification, remembrance of God’s works and intercession on behalf of others.

Jesus is praying for his disciples who will be left to continue his mission after he has ascended to the father. Jesus knows that the cross awaits him and that all kinds of trials and temptations await them. After the prayer, he and his disciples will leave the safety of the upper room, cross over the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, and descend to the garden below where he will pray again.

This time, his prayer will be that the cup the father has given him might pass him by. Then he will be arrested, and the rest we know all too well.

Did the disciples understand what Jesus meant when he said he was going to the father and what that would mean for them and the future of the church? I doubt it. They all scattered when Jesus was arrested. None of them were present for the crucifixion save John. No, it was not until Jesus appeared to them post resurrection in that same upper room bearing the marks of the crucifixion that they had any hope of a future.

Moreover, it was not until the Holy Spirit descended upon them, ten days after the Ascension on the Feast of Pentecost that they had the courage to step out into the world and begin to proclaim Him risen from the dead. With their baptism by the Holy Spirit, they were empowered to begin fulfilling their mission of representing Christ to the world.

Speaking of the word world, Jesus uses it some 13 times in today’s passage. The term “world” is used in several distinct ways in scripture. In some cases, it refers to all that glorious, beautiful, and redeemable in God’s creation.  Other times it refers to that which is finite in contrast to that which is eternal. In still other instances, it indicates all that is in rebellion against God.

The rebellion against God reveals several things: (1) union with Christ brings love, truth, and peace; (2) it also brings persecution because the world hates love and truth. (3) The world hates Christ; therefore, it will hate all who try to live Christ like lives.

He prays knowing that his followers will have to deal with evil. He prays for their unity, that they may have joy, and that they will be sanctified in the truth (God’s word is truth). To sanctify is to make holy, to separate, and set apart from the world for the purposes of God.

For the disciples that purpose is to be sent into the world to testify to the Truth, that is, Jesus Christ, and to manifest the Love of God. I doubt any of this was on the minds of the disciple when Judas appeared in the garden with the Temple guards and arrested Jesus. No, I am certain their only thought was survival. It was everyman for himself.

The unity Jesus prayed for has suffered, and continues to suffer many strains and temptations, schisms and apostasies that continue to be repeated in every generation. Our generation is no exception.

The oneness Jesus prays for has to do with Truth, meaning doctrine, that is, what the Church teaches as Truth. The Body of Christ has been splintered in so many different directions over the centuries that the unity Jesus prayed for in the upper room and continues to pray for at the right hand of the father sadly does not exist.

I, for one, do not believe that God ever intended for there to be denominations. For the first thousand years of the life of the Church, there was only one church. For the next six hundred years, there were two. However, the result of the Protestant Reformation in the 1600s has been a continual splintering of the Body of Christ into literally thousands of Christian denominations each claiming to be the true Church and claiming to possess the Truth.

No wonder the mission Christ gave to the Apostles has suffered. In some cases, whole countries once predominately Christian are no longer so. Even our own nation has seen a decline in maintaining the principals of the Christian faith. Christianity can be easily attacked here but hands off to any other religion for fear their followers might be offended.

Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, but I have no doubt that He weeps yet for the state of the Church.

The Ascension is important, then, for two reasons. At the Ascension Jesus took our humanity into heaven. He sits at the right hand of the father and intercedes on our behalf. He has lived the earthly life. He knows how weak we are and how easily we can be deterred in the mission He has given us as Church.

He knows the temptations by which we are plagued. He knows the fears we face. He knows, because He lived and died as one of us. He is one of us and at the same time, the great High Priest that has passed into the heavens, having made the sacrifice that was required for our salvation and the salvation of the world.

Secondly, the prayer he prayed for his disciples in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed, he continues to pray - for us, his present day followers. Christ intercedes on our behalf for God’s preservation in the revelation that has come through Him, so that our unity in Truth may be that of the Father and the Son.

Himself God’s missionary, he has made us his missionaries. The mission has not changed. As he was sent, so he sends us. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” remember? His consecration of himself is in view of our consecration to his mission.

Since we have been reborn in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism we have our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, yet our vocation is in this world that is in rebellion against God; a world that prefers darkness to light.

However, knowing that Christ continues to pray for our protection amid the evil of this world should encourage us to carry out the mission of representing Christ to the world by sharing the love of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Christ also prays that our joy might be full; to be filled with joy is to live with the hope that one day we will be exalted to that place where He has gone before and now sits at the right hand of the Father; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. AMEN+

Monday, May 7, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from 6 May 2018

EASTER VI - B - 18                JOHN 15. 9-17

Today’s gospel begins with love and ends with love. Jesus is telling his disciples that he is loved by the father and the love the father has for him he has for us.

John’s gospel is often referred to as the “love gospel” for obvious reasons. The author uses the word frequently on the lips of Jesus, more often than not when he is addressing his followers. It is not just any “love” Jesus is referring to but “divine” love - love that comes from God that usurps our human love.

God’s love stands in mark contrast to our human love as our love for one another is often based on conditions, whereas God’s love is unconditional. It is a love we cannot have apart from Him, and it is a love we cannot know nor can we share without our obedience to God’s commandments.

Jesus tells us plainly “if we keep his commandments, we will abide in his love.” Moreover, we shall know true joy. Sounds simple enough does it not. All we have to do is to love God and share God’s love with each other. However, we all know it is not that simple.

As fallen human beings, we have a tendency to give our love to those who love us in equal measure and refrain from loving those that differ from us, or those that have in some way offended us. Thankfully, God does not give us his love based on our response to it. Thankfully, Jesus did not withhold his love from the world because of those who rejected him, betrayed him, and eventually turned him over to be crucified.

We think of loving another human being in terms of relationship. However, relationships get broken and we fall out of love with that person. In essence, we take our love back and keep it until we find another to give it to based on their giving us theirs. Again, it is not that simple this loving one another as Christ loves us is it.

We want to love the way we want to love and that’s it. Perhaps that is why the medieval writers changed the scripture to read that God is friendship and the one who abides in friendship abides in God. The idea of friendship is a lot easier to get a handle on that loving one another as God loves us. Don’t you think?

In today’s gospel, Jesus elevates his followers from servants to friends. Friendship is higher than servant hood. Servants obey their masters out of fear or a sense of duty; friends obey out of love and an internal desire to do what is good and right.

Jesus’ point is clear; one cannot love God and disobey His commandments. To love God is to obey Him. Jesus shows his friendship of us in his sacrifice; we in our obedience. What does it mean to be a friend of God? The Quakers got it right hundreds of years ago when they began to refer to themselves as “A Society of Friends.”

That is what the Church is - a society of friends. Such friendship in Christ makes us companions at the Lord’s Table. It brings us into a communion of people banded together because God chose us and loved us first. As always the invitation in this friendship is not ours but his.

As friends of God, we express our friendship in our greeting one another when we gather to worship God, when we exchange the Peace, and when we kneel next to each other before God’s altar as equals. We are not members of Christ based on hierarchies or status.

That is how we express it here in this sacred space. Our friendship with God, however, is not meant to be hoarded among ourselves. How do we express our being a friend of God out there in the marketplace of life?

Each week at the conclusion of our worship, we are dismissed with these words, “now go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” The friendship we share here is one we have been commissioned/appointed to bring to others. It is meant to be a mission of joy, a mission of love.

It is the way we fulfill our having been chosen by him and loved by him first. It is the way we bear fruit that will last, by loving one another as he loves us.

Love is the badge, the outward sign, if you will, that identifies us as belonging to him.

The sign of the cross that was traced on our foreheads at baptism that identifies us as Christians in the eyes of God is not visible to the world or to one another for that matter. Thus, Jesus has given us a sign that is visible.

When we express our love of God outwardly in word or deed, we are announcing to the world that we are Christians and that we belong to Him.

Keeping God’s commandments keeps us abiding in His love and enables us to love one another with the love God has for each of us even when we would otherwise chose not to love.

Fellowship with Jesus, fruit bearing, and prayer, are all dependent on obeying His command to love. Those who have this spirit of loving obedience are open to receive and understand the revelations of the Father and to become more fully human.

That is why Jesus came - to elevate us from being merely human to being fully human; to give us freedom and joy, to bear fruit that will last. Whether it be in terms of a single life changed because we have loved someone as Jesus loves us, or in turn of a single decision that we had to make that changed us or someone else for the better.

Perhaps it was a single task we had to perform, through which, though we couldn’t see it at the time, the world became a different place. All of which have made both the lover and the beloved more truly human.

The test of our loyalty to Christ and our loving obedience to God remains the simple, profound, dangerous and difficult command Jesus gives to his friends in today’s gospel: “love one another.” AMEN+