Sunday, September 23, 2018

Father Riley's sermon for September 23, 2018

18 PENTECOST, PROPER XX - B - 18      MARK 9. 30-37

The ninth chapter of Mark begins with the Transfiguration and that glorious and mystifying scene ends with Jesus’ having commanded those who witnessed it, Peter, James, and John, not to tell anyone what they had seen or heard until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.

In last week’s gospel, Jesus announced his first prediction of His death and resurrection following his descent from the mountain. Jesus rebuked Peter for objecting to the very idea. Perhaps, we might say, that in light of what Peter had seen and heard atop the holy mountain his objection was reasonable.

However, Jesus did not see it that way. In today’s gospel, Jesus makes his second prediction of his Passion. The disciples play deaf and dumb asking no questions and making no comments, not even Peter. Mark would have us believe that they did hear Jesus but were afraid to ask. They remained silent for they failed to understand what he was implying and what it might mean for them.

Jesus is not speaking in parables here. He is making it quite clear for a second time. The Son of Man is to be killed and will rise again. The problem seems to be, as I said in last week’s homily, that they were clinging tightly to the old concept of Messiah and the earthly kingdom he would bring into being.

Granted not every Jew in the time of Jesus was looking for a messiah, but those that did, did not envision one whom God would send would end up suffering and dying on a cross. Their total misunderstanding, and their clinging to the old concept is illustrated in their arguing over who will be the greatest in the kingdom Jesus will usher in.

They do not understand what it means to be a disciple. The disciples were seeking great things for themselves, earthly things. They had yet to learn by what why Christ would come into his kingdom and that Christian greatness, if you will, was to consist in renunciation of all that the world values and in the service of those whom the world rates of least account.

Thus, Jesus’ teaching, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” He was teaching his disciples that true greatness lies in humility and the willingness to serve others. He incarnates his teaching by taking the child and placing it in their midst.

Jesus uses a child to jog them out of their up side down thinking. Children in the ancient world had no prestige or status. In his reception of the child, Jesus models the openness, vulnerability and humility to which we are invited if we choose to follow him.

Today’s gospel begs the question: Where do we arrive at our concepts of God and His kingdom? Do we take other people’s word for whom and what God is all about? Or are we clinging to our own concept of God based on what we want God to be? When God is trying to tell us something how good are we at listening?

Over the years, I have heard many a comment along the lines of “I have never heard God speak to me. I have prayed for answers and asked for a sign but have never received either. ” To which I have always responded, how do you know?

The truth is God speaks to each of us in different ways. Sometimes he uses other people to carry his message. Most often, he speaks to us through Holy Scripture.

Think about it. Is there something in scripture you have read in the Daily Office, or heard read in one of the Sunday readings that jumped out at you? Is there something going on around you, in your family life or in the work place through which God is speaking to you, and if so, are you open to it?

A “sign” that the answer still maybe “no” is if, like the disciples, we are still concerned with status, that is, what’s in it for me. If we think, and sadly, there are those who think like this, that in our following Jesus we will somehow enhance our own prestige, our sense of self-worth, or that the gospel exists to make us feel good about ourselves, then we are unlikely to hear what God is actually saying for we are focused on self.

When we are full of self there is no room for God. We need to take seriously James’ warning in today’s Epistle, “for where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”

Too often, the problem lies in our trying to create God in our image rather than accepting the fact that we have been created in His - and for a purpose - to worship and love him and demonstrate our love for him by serving others in his name.

The disciples may not have been able to see clearly, what Jesus was saying for they were on the other side of the cross. Granted, the cross turns up side down everything the disciples had imagined. The cross turns up side down the way people think, including Christians, or at least it should.

However, we are on this side of the cross. We are called to see God in Christ and his Passion with child-like eyes, to see beyond the cross, to see in the cross a path to new life, to see in servant hood not a denying of personhood but an enhancement of life.

What’s in it for us is to be filled with God’s love and to one day share in the glory of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The glory of Christ that was manifested on the holy mountain was but a foreshadowing of the glory that will one day belong to all who choose to follow him by walking the way of the cross, and by denying self in order to serve others in His name, especially those whom the world deems of least account.

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” To be a servant of the Servant of God is our divine vocation. No greater honor can be bestowed on us in this life than to be called a Christian and to be recognized as such in the eyes of the world. AMEN+

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Retreat offered at Camp Hardtner

Joy in the Journey 2018: Are These Extravagant Promises?
October 5-7
Camp Hardtner

Are These Extravagant Promises? is a three-day retreat presented by the Diocesan Commission on Addiction and Recovery. The retreat leader is John McAndrew, M.A., M.Div. a theologian, teacher, counselor, musician, hospice chaplain and poet.

Alcoholics Anonymous proposes a new way of life filled with extravagant promises that are detailed for us in 'The Big Book", Alcoholics Anonymous. This weekend will be a treasure hunt for people seeking this new 'design for living', looking to find ALL the promises of the Big Book. For more info, view this printable flyer.

PLEASE NOTE: Another diocesan event will also be taking place at Camp Hardtner on Saturday, October 6. Rest assured, however, that the two events will occur in separate areas of Camp Hardtner in order to ensure anonymity of Joy in the Journey participants.

All churches are asked to assist the Commission on Addiction and Recovery in publicizing this retreat. Please include the flyer in your newsletters, emails, and bulletins, and post it on your church bulletin boards. Thank you!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Father Riley's homily from September 16, 2018

17 PENTECOST, PROPER XIX - B - 18         MARK 8. 27-38

“Going My Way” is the title of one my favorite movies. It was released in 1944 in black and white of course. It starred Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby. Some of you may recall having seen it.

It is the story of a young priest played by Bing Crosby who has been assigned as the assistant to the aged pastor Barry Fitzgerald in a crumbling down parish church that is on the verge of being closed by the bishop.

Crosby’s character is a late vocation priest who led a colorful life of sports, song and romance prior to accepting his call to the priesthood. He uses his talent of song to revitalize the parish by establishing a boy’s choir.

The choir helps to raise funds for the repair of the church. Their efforts are successful. In one scene, Crosby, accompanied by the choir, sings the title song, “Going My Way.”

In today’s gospel, following Simon Peter’s confession of Jesus as being God’s Messiah, Jesus reveals “His Way,” that being one of sacrifice and service that will lead to his death on the cross. In doing so, Jesus presents a warning to all who would choose to go His way that to follow him is to live a life of self-denial and service.

This is Christ’s first prediction of His Passion and it sends shock waves through the hearts and minds of his disciples. Peter did not totally comprehend what Jesus was saying. He reacts for all of them when he says “God forbid!” Christ rebukes Peter after having turned to see the look on his disciples faces; a look of surprise and uncertainty after Peter dared to rebuke Jesus.

Satan has gotten a hold of Peter for the moment and darkened his thinking. His comment threatens the faith of all of the disciples. Jesus quickly puts Peter in his place. Your feet are made of clay Peter, you are not thinking as God thinks but like a man whose feet are firmly planted in this world. So get behind me.

Then comes a second shocking statement: “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus tells all of them, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

The first prediction of Christ’s Passion and the challenge of the cross that comes with it is a warning to his followers that this is how he understands his vocation and destiny as Israel’s Messiah, and that they must be prepared to follow his way. Jesus’ words came as a surprise to all who heard him for what he said about his destiny did not fit with their agenda.

Peter’s confession of Jesus being Messiah meant he saw him as the true king of Israel, the final heir to David’s throne. The disciples were not expecting a divine redeemer; they were looking and longing for a king. And they thought that they had found one.

A messiah announcing God’s kingdom was a challenge to Rome itself. The concept of a suffering messiah was a challenge to Jewish expectations for it stood in complete contrast to their idea of the messiah they hoped God would send to defeat Rome and re-establish Israel as a great nation.

The true nature of Christ’s Messiahship, however, was the Mystery of the Passion. The cross was a symbol of Roman cruelty and death. Jews shuttered at the very idea of crucifixion. Nobody survived the cross. What could Jesus possibly mean?

The cross indeed leads to death, but not in the sense, the disciples were thinking. Rather the cross leads to death of self and death of self leads to new life in Him who is Resurrection and Life. That is the paradox of the cross.

To go Jesus’ way is to go the way of the cross. The cross is the way to discipleship and the key to the kingdom. The very idea became a stumbling block to the Jews of Jesus’ day. It remains a sticking point for many would-be followers of Jesus today who prefer the fruits of Easter without the cost of Good Friday.

Jesus’ death on the cross is the point at which God’s kingdom, coming on earth as it already is in heaven, did and continues to challenge and overturn all normal human assumptions about power and glory, about what is really important in life and in the world.

Peter’s reaction is thinking like a mere mortal, not looking at things from God’s point of view. This is a challenge to all of us, as the church in every generation struggles not only to think but to live from God’s point of view in a world where such things are still considered madness. Where unfortunately in addition the world we live in today is one in which Christianity is under a constant attack.

Taking up our own cross symbolizes our suffering with Christ. We practice self-denial for the sake of the Love of God and the gospel. The central paradox of Christian living is that in grasping for temporal things, we lose the eternal; but in sacrificing everything in this world, we gain eternal riches that are unimaginable.

This passage makes it clear that following Jesus is the only way to go. However, it is not an easy way to go. As Christ had no easy victory over the forces that opposed him, neither will we who strive to follow in his steps especially in today’s climate.

As Satan did not want Christ to fulfill his mission and save mankind through his suffering and death, neither does he want any of us to life our life in the imitation of Christ.

The Christian life is not all about joy, peace, and love. It is about going His Way and not your way or my way. To go the way of Jesus is to walk the way of the cross; to live no longer for ourselves but to him who died and rose again. It means learning to live a life of sacrifice and service for the sake of the Love of God and the gospel.

However, before we can do that we must answer for ourselves the question Jesus posed to his disciples. “Who do you say that I am?” The answer to that question given by Peter in today’s gospel defines Christianity. The answer we give defines us not only in the eyes of the world, but more importantly in the eyes of God.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Father Riley's homily from September 2, 2018

Breaking News:  

...CHANGE::The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays:  September 16, 23  and 30th.   We will have Morning Prayer on Sunday September 9.  Services are 10am with fellowship time following our service.

...There will be a vestry meeting following our service and congregational fellowship on Sunday, Sept 16.  We will be finalizing plans for our Stewardship Campaign which will begin in late September.

15 PENTECOST, PROPER XVI - B -18   MARK 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Our gospel reading for today brings us back to Mark. For the past five weeks, we have been following Jesus in John’s gospel from the feeding of the 5000 to his confrontation with the Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum.
Here we are in the aftermath of Mark’s account of the feeding.

Many have been healed by simply touching the hem of Jesus’ garment as he passed by. His fame has spread from Galilee to Jerusalem causing some Pharisees and scribes to seek him out. They find him in the company of his disciples while they are eating.

They stand back and watch as his disciples eat taking notice that they do not observe the customs and traditions of the Jews, that is, they eat without washing their hands. They are surprised that Jesus’ disciples do not keep the “tradition of the elders.” If he, Jesus, were truly the Messiah, they must be thinking, surely, he would teach them to do so and lead by example.

The tradition of the elders is a body of the interpretation of the Mosaic Law, which for the Pharisees and scribes was as authoritative as the Law and often superseded it. The Jews of Jesus’ day were scrupulously careful to cleanse the hands before partaking food to avoid ritual uncleanness, and very definite regulations were laid down as to the manner in which they should be done.

It was necessary, for example, to pour a minimum quantity of water over the hands up to the wrists twice, care being taken that none of this water should flow beyond the wrist, lest it flow back and render unclean the hand again. If one’s hands are to be washed by another, the hand must be held with the fingers pointed upward.

“So the Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

The Jews were paying disproportionate attention to such external matters, you see, and rated them higher than the weightier matters of law, judgment, mercy and faith. Thus, Jesus counters their question with a rebuke, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Ouch! That must have stung these religious leaders and teachers of the law where it hurts the most.

Today’s encounter with the Pharisees is the final stage of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the final breach between his conceptions and those of the Pharisees and scribes. While the earlier causes of friction had arisen because of his miracles and, so far as scripture and tradition went, mainly out of one healing on the Sabbath, we are now taken to face wider problems of ethics.

In his counter, Jesus shows very clearly that the things that defile the soul and poison the wellspring of life are moral and spiritual in character, such as mean motive, arrogance and self-righteousness, intolerance and envy, impurity and uncleanness. These are the insidious forces, which corrupt human life, not failure to wash the hands in a prescribed way.

Jesus is saying, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees, that a man cannot be “defiled” in the full sense of the word, he can only defile himself. “For it is from within, from the human heart,” Jesus said, “that evil intentions come.” The issue here is not the observation of Jewish customs and traditions, which Jesus certainly does not prohibit.

At issue is the setting of human traditions contrary to the commandments of God. The prophet Jeremiah was given God’s message centuries before the time of Jesus that God was going to do a new thing. He would write his laws on the hearts of men.

Anybody can do lip service to God. However, it is another thing altogether to live according to God’s laws and commandments. James speaks to that in today’s Epistle. “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves…for doers who act will be blessed in their doing.”

James is speaking of “religion that is pure and undefiled, that is true religion. Jesus is speaking of the same as well, whose motive is nothing less than the Love of God. If God does not live in our hearts, then our religion is in vain.

In addition, it is easy to fall into the trap of observing customs and traditions, without being truly religious, even going so far as to “preach human precepts as doctrines.” To do so is to deceive the human heart, as James puts it, and what goes for religion in this sense is worthless.

If God does not live in our hearts, evil intentions arise and manifest themselves in evil deeds. Look at the world around us. As we read and listen to the nightly news we are constantly being bombarded with evil intentions that have become manifest. We shake our heads in disbelief and ask ourselves who would do such a thing?

We deceive ourselves if we fail to admit that evil exists. Because it does exist is all the more reason for those of us who strive to live according to God’s laws and commandments to be “doers of the word” and not hearers only. We need the Love of God “grafted into our hearts” if we are to succeed in living the new life to which we have been called.

Otherwise, our efforts will be hollow. The world would be a dark place indeed if it were not for the light of “true religion” practiced and lived out by those who believe in the goodness and love of God, by those who have experienced God’s grace and love in their own lives, and who are willing to share the love of God with the world in which we live until the day when He who is Resurrection and Life comes again in power and great glory to judge.

The Church is built on scripture and tradition. However, in no way does tradition trump the Word of God but at its best is an expression of what we believe about God as manifested in our worship of Him - worship that begins with the Collect of Purity.

“Almighty God unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” AMEN+

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Father Riley's homily from August 26, 2018, Christ Episcopal Church

Breaking News:  
...The Vestry of Christ Episcopal Church, Saint Joseph, held our vestry retreat with The Rev. Canon John Bedingfield Saturday, August 25th in our Parish House.  Canon John helped the vestry in planning our future.

...The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays:  September 2, 16, and 30th.   We will have Morning Prayer on Sundays: September 9 and 23.

...There will be a vestry meeting following our service and congregational fellowship on Sunday, Sept 16.  We will be finalizing plans for our Stewardship Campaign which will begin in late September.

14 PENTECOST, PROPER XVI - B - 18         JOHN 6. 59-69

It was Thomas Jefferson who produced his own version of the New Testament by cutting out the parts he did not like or could not agree with, including the miracles Jesus performed, any suggestion that Jesus is God, no Virgin Birth, and no Resurrection. There are many today who do the same thing by disregarding the verses they cannot abide by or re-interpreting them to fit their own agenda.

Today’s passage comes at the conclusion of the lengthy “bread of life” discourse, which makes up the entire 6th chapter of St. John’s gospel.

It all began, you may recall, with the feeding of the 5000 and the people’ misunderstanding of what Jesus had done in multiplying the loaves and fishes. The climax came last week, when Jesus shocked his listeners with the pronouncement that his flesh was food indeed and his blood drink indeed.

Here we get the crowd’s reaction. Jesus’ words about “eating flesh and drinking blood” are naturally offensive to the Jews. The Old Testament is filled with prohibitions of such. This was a new and radical teaching and a difficult one for those Jews who heard him in the synagogue at Capernaum.

It was difficult in the sense that it was demanding not just to get one’s mind around it but to get one’s heart and soul into it. They had misunderstood the deeper meaning behind the feeding and now they misunderstand the spiritual meaning behind his words about eating and drinking.

The words I have spoken to you,” Jesus tells them, “are spirit and life.” They are stuck on the physical aspects of his words about eating and drinking and miss the deeper spiritual meaning behind his words. Therefore, St, John tells us that many of those who had followed Jesus up to this point, now made the decision to go no further because of his teaching.

Everything that Jesus has taught up to this point is demanding in every sense, but these words cause division. They might have been prepared to follow a prophet like Moses, or a would be Messiah as long as such figures kept within the bounds of the agendas and aspirations they had in mind.

However, Jesus did not fit into either. Thus, they made the choice to cut their ties to him. Many still ask whether Jesus really meant what he said about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. His words still cause divisions today within the Body of Christ because they are interpreted in different ways.

“Do this in Remembrance of Me” is seen by some as a memorial statement and the action that accompanies it is merely sentimental. For us and others within the apostolic tradition it is much more. In the Eucharist we re-in-act the events in the upper room and repeat Christ’ words, “This is my Body,” and likewise, “This is my Blood…” For us it is a sacrament.

There are those in our Western culture who think of religion as a purely spiritual thing. It doesn’t matter we are told, if these things happened or not, whether they were said or not; what matters is the spiritual truth behind them. That may sound fine, and it does up to a point, but it was not what John was meaning and it was not what Jesus meant.

The whole discourse, and indeed the whole gospel of John are about the Word becoming flesh; not the Word becoming an idea, a feeling, or an experience, as Tom Wright likes to say. The actual story of Jesus is what matters - what he said, what he did, and what he meant - and not just the parts we can easily accept but all of it with its demands and challenges.

Here Jesus is warning against a purely physical interpretation of his words about eating and drinking without the spiritual meaning behind them. He is urging his listeners to go beyond a one-dimensional understanding of what he is doing and saying and for this; they will need the spirit to help them. Without that, they will remain in unbelief. It is because of their unbelief, John says, that they turned back.

There is a difference between a follower and a disciple. A disciple is a student who sits at his master’s feet and learns from him. A disciple is not free to pick and choose from all that is being taught, that is, to refuse to accept the “hard sayings,” the ones that are difficult to get one’s mind round and one’s heart and soul into, and only accept the one’s that are not.

Nor is he free to re-interpret them to fit his or her own agenda. Or to cut and paste and create his or her own Bible as Jefferson did.

That is where faith comes in. Faith is a gift of God not an accomplishment of men. Faith enables us to believe and accept even when we do not fully understand. For now, we see in a mirror dimly. Faith is the key to discerning God’s truth. Faith is our shield against this present darkness.

Jesus said his words are spirit and life. The Spirit is a gift that leads us into all truth and helps us “to stand firm” as Paul exhorts the young Christians at Corinth even in the face of adversity, doubt, fear, and or our frail human understanding.

“So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ The crisis of belief is now upon the disciples. It is a test of their faith with even stronger ones to come. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

But for now, Peter speaks for the twelve, including the one who will eventually turn his back on the Lord. For the moment they all choose to stick with Jesus. They represent the faith, the belief that Jesus has been looking for. That is, the recognition that in him, his words and his deeds, God was at last bringing into being the great moment that would set the whole world free from sin and death.

Christ’ words and deeds continue to demand a decision as a test of faith. Likewise, his teachings and his actions continue to cause divisions even among those who call them selves his followers. However, of all the words and deeds of Jesus, it was his willingness to suffer death on the Cross-so that the world might have life- that truly demands a decision.

For the cross is a sign of God’s Love to a broken and sinful world that sin and death are not all that there is. Rather for those who choose to believe in Him who died and rose again, there is salvation and the gift of new and eternal life.

Joshua demanded a decision from the tribes of Israel, “choose this day whom you will serve…” The world we live in challenges us with the same decision as a test of our faith. Will we choose to stick with Jesus? AMEN+

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Father Riley's homily from August 19, 2018, Christ Church, Bastrop

Breaking News:  
...The Vestry of Christ Episcopal Church, Saint Joseph, will be meeting with The Rev. Canon John Bedingfield Saturday, August 25th in our Parish House.  As Canon to the Ordinary, Canon John is in charge of transitions, congregational development, and more.  We look forward to Canon John helping us plan our future.

...The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday, August 26th.

...Sam Corson will be attending "Reimaging Faith Formation for the 21st Century" workshop at Saint James, Alexandria, Sept 15th.

...Diocesan Convention will be held in Pineville, Nov 3rd.  Sam & Faye will be attending for CEC.

...Ordination of seminarian Garrett Boyte (and others) to the transitional diaconate will be held at Saint James, Alexandria, Nov. 24th at 10am.

13 PENTECOST, PROPER XV - B - 18           JOHN 6. 51-58

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

I cannot tell how many times as a young lad I was sent to the neighborhood grocery, a little mom and pop operation, only a few blocks away, to buy bread. Mother would be in the process of preparing supper and discover there was no bread for the table. So I was sent with a quarter in hand with the words “bring back my change.” Remember when bread was that cheap?

Today’s gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse from the 6th chapter of St. John. For the past four weeks our gospel has been focused on bread, the bread of heaven, the bread of life, the bread come down from heaven that gives eternal life and today Jesus shocks his listeners with the added words “and the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

It all began you may recall four weeks ago with the miracle of Jesus’ feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. This amazing feat got people’ attention, and soon they were seeking Jesus out to make him their king. They misunderstood who he was, and what he had done in feeding them by multiplying the loaves and fishes.

They had their own agenda which was to make him king so he could satisfy their every physical and earthly need. However, Jesus withdrew from them and crossed back over the sea to Capernaum. When the crowds who had been fed by him discovered that he was gone, they too crossed over and sought him out. They were hoping to see more miracles and perhaps be fed again.

They were focused on lesser physical things, physical blessings, verses deeper spiritual ones that Jesus was teaching through his healings and miracles. Are we any different? How often do we find ourselves in this sacred space week after week and before the Real Presence in the Reserved Sacrament and are focused on what Jesus can do for us?

Aren’t our thoughts often on lesser things, physical blessings? If we are honest with ourselves, we have to confess that there are those times when we really don’t hear what the lessons are saying. Moreover, I am sure there those times when your thoughts are elsewhere when the homily is being preached. We may lose our thoughts during the readings and or the homily but when it comes to the Eucharist our focus should be on Him.

Today’s passage is the climax to the whole of John’s 6th chapter. Jesus declares that in order for Him to be truly united with his believing followers, it is necessary for them to “eat his flesh and drink his blood.” The ancestors of those Israelites in his presence had eaten the bread they were given, but they still died.

This bread, this bread-of-life which is Jesus himself, is given to be broken in death so that those who eat of it may not die, but have eternal life in the present and the future and be raised up at the last day. There is a hidden message in what Jesus is saying: he will willingly sacrifice his life for the life of the world. This will become clear to the disciples later when in the upper room Jesus will institute the sacrament of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

That is not what his audience hears. Is it any wonder that his words about “flesh and blood” caused a stir? It still does today. However, what we might call “sacramental” thinking is absolutely essential to John’s gospel. In his prologue he wrote that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Jesus makes it clear that His flesh is food indeed.

In last week’s passage Jesus made eternal life dependent upon faith in him as the one who the father has sent. In today’s passage, it is made to depend on one’s participation in the Blessed Sacrament. However, they are not two separate doctrines as attested to by the words the priest proclaims as he places the consecrated bread in your hands and touches the cup of salvation to your lips:

“The Body of Christ the bread of heaven. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on Him in your hearts by Faith with Thanksgiving. “

That is the reason we kneel. We are in the Real Presence of Christ. In the Eucharist heaven and earth meet. We humble ourselves before God’s altar and extend our hands through the veil that separates heaven and earth to receive the bread of heaven and to drink from the chalice of God’s love.

We may have come with our thoughts focused elsewhere. Our hope that God in Christ would be able to do something for us, grant us a physical blessing, take care of an earthly need. We may have been deaf to today’s readings; you may even be somewhere else with your thoughts even as I speak.

But when it comes to celebrating the Holy Eucharist our thoughts, our focus should be on Him who sacrificed His life that we might live. There is a reason the altar is the central focal point of the churches architecture.

The sacrament of Christ’ own Body and Blood is God’s gift to us who believe that He is indeed the One who the Father has sent. It is by Faith we receive Him and feed on Him in our hearts so that we might be one with Him and He with us. The Blessed Sacrament is our spiritual nourishment for the time being.

What we do here in the Eucharist is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we hope to one day participate in which will be presided over by Christ himself. Thus, we do not take our participation lightly but reverently and with Thanksgiving for the bread of life which did not come cheap. The cost was His sacrificial death on the cross.

To participate in the Blessed Sacrament by Faith enables us as His followers to realize the meaning of His life of service and His death and sacrifice with all its atoning values, and accept service and sacrifice as the notes of our own life in Christ. The elements of the Holy Eucharist symbolize and convey the Divine Life, which makes service and sacrifice possible.

There is no deeper spiritual meaning we can hope to receive this day or any other, than to take and eat the bread of life God has given us in Thanksgiving and in remembrance of Him who died and rose again that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” AMEN+

Monday, August 13, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from August 12, 2018

12 PENTECOST, PROPER XIV - B - 18      JOHN 6. 35, 41-51

Our gospel for today continues with the theme “bread of life,” to which Jesus adds the promise of eternal life. However, Jesus’ opposition, the Jews, St. John’s designation for those who opposed him, complain, as did their ancestors in the wilderness.

This time their complaint is aimed directly at Jesus because he said, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven. They know him, or at least they think that they do. We know your parents, they say. How can you say you came down from heaven? Here they openly oppose the idea of his divine descent.

In the five verses that are skipped over in today’s passage Jesus first chides them for their having seen him and yet they do not believe in him. Secondly, he makes the claim that those who do believe in him will have eternal life.

“No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” The Jews oppose him because their minds are closed. They have made the decision not to believe in him.

Too often, we forget what scripture and Jesus teaches us about the new life He brings now and the promise of eternal life that is ours in Him who do believe in Him. Not everyone is going to heaven. This remains a shocking reality to many even today as it did to those, including his own disciples, who asked him about it then.

It is not that God does not want everybody to be eternally in His presence. The reason not all will be is that God has created us with free will that is the ability to choose.  Not everyone chooses to follow Jesus. Remember the little camp song, “I have decided to follow Jesus?”

That reminds me of a story Bishop Tom Wright likes to tell about C.S. Lewis. It seems that Lewis was interviewed at one time by an American Christian journalist who was writing about well-known characters who had converted to Christianity during adult life. The theme was “decision.”

He wanted Lewis to tell him how he “had made his decision.” Unfortunately, for his project, Lewis refused to put it into those terms. He hadn’t “made a decision” he said. God had closed in on him and he could not escape. Tough at times he had badly wanted to.

The closest he would get to using the language the reporter was interested in was to say, “I was decided upon.” In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes it in a more evocative phrase: “His compulsion is our liberation.”

Last week those who had eaten their fill of loaves and fishes asked Jesus what they had to do to be doing the work of God. He answered: believe in him who God has sent. God invites and His invitation is always a balanced one with an open and free appeal: anyone at all who is thirsty is invited to come to the water that is an offer; anyone at all who comes to Jesus will not be rejected.

Throughout John’s gospel, he presents Jesus as Life and Resurrection. Moreover, Jesus identifies himself as such in today’s passage in the verses that are skipped over as well as the concluding verse. Jesus makes the promise that those who believe in him He will raise up at the last day. His promise is eternal life.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” Eternal life is the quality of life Jesus is promising. It is a sharing of the inner life of Christ. It is an offer made to anyone who believes in Him.

Eternal life tells you what sort of life it is, as well as the fact that it goes on after death. It is the life of the age to come, the new life that God has always planned to give to the world. Eternal life begins in the present when someone believes, and continues in the future beyond death.

It will eventually take the form of the resurrection life Jesus is alluding to in today’s passage but which is ignored by those who oppose him. Rather they are stuck on the idea that he has said that he comes from God. How often we get stuck on one idea about God and become deaf and blind to all that God truly is and does.

For example, one hears a lot today from various preachers and religious leaders that God is Love. And He is. One only has to look at the cross to see this is true. However, there is a path, a journey if you will; one must take in order to come to know the love of God, and to understand what the will of God is for each of us.

Repentance is the beginning of the journey to God. We have to make the decision to “turn” away from the life we were living before we were drawn by God. We have to choose to follow the new life God is offering and inviting us to in and through His Son, Jesus.

We have to learn to trust in God, and not ourselves. We have to learn to live by grace in order to continue to make the daily decision to follow him. We can’t get stuck on one idea about God, that God is love, for example, and think that if we love God we can do what we want and all will be well in the end. The gospel does not read that way.

The legalists in today’s passage decide not to follow Jesus, only oppose him, ridicule him, and try to discredit him before the people. “We know who you are. We know your father and your mother.” Yet God’s invitation came to them first in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Sadly, it was an invitation they decided not to accept to their own condemnation. Salvation cannot be earned. It is a gift of God for all who are drawn to him; to all who make the decision to follow in His ways; to live according to his will; to respond to his love with love.

Each time we come to God’s altar and kneel to receive the “bread of heaven”, we are receiving a foretaste of the heavenly banquet Christ himself will one day preside over. For now, it is our spiritual food as it was physical food for the Israelites in the wilderness.

However, once they crossed over into the Promised Land, they no longer received it nor needed it. For the land they inherited was one of milk and honey that satisfied their every need. One day we will no longer celebrate Eucharist, for then, we will be in the greater presence of Christ where all of our hopes and dreams; all of our wants and desires will be found in Him who is Resurrection and Life. AMEN+

Monday, August 6, 2018

Father Riley's homily from August 5, 2018

11 PENTECOST, PROPER XIII - B - 18       JOHN 6. 24-35

If there is one story from the Bible that describes the patient love of God and his slowness to anger it is the Exodus story.

From the moment, Moses instructed the people to get ready to leave Egypt and quickly eat the Passover meal, until the moment they were about to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land, the people God had chosen as his complained, whined, and gripped about their lack of this or that and the situation they ultimately found themselves in.

They even convinced themselves that they had it good in Egypt as slaves of Pharaoh! “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread…” On more than one occasion, they wanted to turn back. Yet in their entire complaining God did not abandon them.

When they were thirsty, he provided water from rocks in the desert. When they were hungry, he littered the ground with quails for them to eat. If that were not enough, he sent manna from heaven, the very bread of God. Even then, they questioned, “What is it?” Moses had to tell them “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

Our gospel lesson for today picks up the theme of bread in the wilderness where the Exodus passage ends. The crowd, which had followed Jesus and had been miraculously fed by him, discovered the next day to their dismay that neither he nor his disciples were anywhere to be found. Therefore, they got into their boats and crossed back over to Capernaum.

These people were anxiously seeking the prophetic rabbi to see additional miracles and hopefully to eat again. What they received instead was the meaning of the story: that God gives the true bread from heaven and that Jesus is that bread.

The people know the wilderness story and they immediately relate it to Jesus. However, like their forefathers in the wilderness, they misunderstood what God did then. They thought it was Moses who had somehow been able to feed them and satisfy their thirst. Now they misunderstand what Jesus is doing.

They continue to seek “signs,” as though what God has done and what God is doing in and through Christ is not enough. “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What works are you performing?”

God rescued Israel from slavery and led them to the Promised Land. Jesus is here to rescue them and us from sin and death and lead all who believe in Him whom God has sent into the fullness of the Kingdom of God to live the new life that kingdom living brings.

However, the more Jesus does, the more the people want from him. Are we any different? Do we continue to seek “signs” from God in order to convince ourselves that He is really who he says he is? Do we take for granted what God has done for us and continues to do for us?

It seems that as people of faith we live in constant tension between the meaning and message of biblical stories for today and the reality of life today. As I said in last week’s homily, we are not here to ask what God is going to do for us next, but to give thanks for what he has already done in our lives and what he is continuing to do through his Son, Jesus.

We are here to open our eyes to the understanding, through Word and Sacrament, to the fact that the new Passover, the new Exodus, is taking place right now, and that Jesus is leading it.  That is what Jesus was trying to teach those who were on that side of the cross. It doesn’t matter just what Jesus can do for you or me. What matters is who he is.

First, John tells us, he is the one whom the father has set his seal. It is a mark that declares not only where he comes from but also that he carries God’s authority. What Jesus is doing in today’s gospel and what Jesus continues to do, God himself does.  Jesus and the Father are One.

Second, God is making a demand on us, and it is this: that we believe in Jesus as the one whom God has sent. He is the bread of life. This will require a change in heart along with the recognition that in Jesus, and everything he is doing, the same God is at work that was at work in the Exodus story.

What was going on all along as Israel wondered in the wilderness, was that God was providing not just the physical bread dropping down from the sky, but the spiritual nourishment which kept alive their faith and hope - faith and hope that kept them moving, albeit sometimes in circles, toward the Promised Land.

That is what God was doing then, and that is what God is doing now. The Exodus story is our story. If we cannot see that, we need to read it again. His grace nourishes our faith and keeps our hope alive as we continue the journey from the font of new life to the throne of God.

Scripture teaches us that our God is a loving and a patient God who provides all of our needs. Because of His love for us, he has sent his Son, Jesus to rescue us from sin and death. By the merits of Christ’ death and resurrection the way to eternal life has been opened to us. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, is Christ’s gift to those who believe in Him as the one whom God has sent.

Until we, as God’s people, recognize who Jesus really is, we may eat our fill of loaves and fishes, but there will remain a deeper hunger inside which will never be satisfied. God feeds us and nourishes us with “the bread of heaven” in the sacrament of Christ’ own Body and Blood. It is our spiritual food that enables us through the eyes of faith to see Him as He really is and to see ourselves at one with Him.

“For the bread of God,” Jesus told them, “is that which came down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus responded, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” AMEN+

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Father Riley's homily from July 29, 2018

10 PENTECOST, PROPER XII - B - 18       JOHN 6. 1-21

In today’s gospel, we move from Mark, our gospel for Year B, to that of John. Before today’s reading from John, Jesus has healed the paralytic at the pool of Siloam just inside the gates of Jerusalem. It was the Sabbath and his actions roused the anger of the Jewish leaders to the point they decided he must die.

In their questioning of him, however, the Pharisees get more than they bargained for. Jesus goes into detail to explain that he and the Father are one and what he is doing is the work of the father, which angers his inquisitors even more. Jesus has made himself equal to God and that will not do. It is after “these things,” John tells us, “he went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.”

As usual, a large crowd follows him because they have seen him heal the sick and they want to see what he is going to do next. Jesus goes up on a mountain and sits down with his disciples. However, the crowd catches up to him. John reminds us that the Passover feast was near. I will come back to that detail in a moment.

Seeing the crowds coming towards him, Jesus tests his disciples with the question “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip does not know what to do or how to answer. They are out in the middle of nowhere and besides they do not have the funds to buy enough for each person present to have a little, including them.

Neither does Andrew know what to do. What Andrew does is to bring to Jesus’ attention that there is a lad present that has five loaves and a few fish. Then he surrenders the whole idea to the reality that the lad’s lunch will not put a dent into the hunger of a crowd of 5000. However, according to John, Jesus knew what he was going to do from the beginning.

Have the crowd sit down he tells his disciples and bring me the fish and the bread. Then the miracle occurs. He takes the fish and the bread and blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to those seated and he kept on giving until they had all eaten their fill. Then, to the disciple’s surprise, Jesus has them gather up the leftovers, which filled twelve baskets.

John doesn’t record the disciples’ reaction to the feeding only the people whose hunger was met. “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” Let us make him our king. The reaction of the crowd shows that they misunderstood him. They rushed to make him king in order to fulfill their own desires and agendas.

Jesus seeing their intention withdraws with his disciples further up the mountain leaving the excited crowd behind. Darkness came and the crowds dispersed. The disciples decided it was time to head for the boat and make it to the other side of the Sea. Jesus remains on the mountain. The disciples cast off without him. That is when the second test comes.

The disciples struggled to cross the sea for the wind was against them. About mid-way across the sea to Capernaum, they see Jesus walking on the water and coming near the boat. Their reaction is one of fear.  However, he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they willingly received him into the boat and immediately found themselves ashore.

Their terror ends, as does their ordeal once Jesus is in their presence. The presence of Christ restored their faith. Faith untested is no faith at all. It has to be tempered like steel if it is to carry us through the terrors and ordeals of life. The tempering comes through repeated challenges to our faith until our faith in God assures us that He will do something, something we have not thought of, something new.

Like Andrew in today’s story, we don’t always know what to do, but what we can do is to bring to Jesus whatever we have. In some cases that will be our lack of faith, our doubt, even our fear. And like the disciples who were struggling to make headway in the storm, when we realize that Jesus is present, our faith is renewed by our realizing God’s has loved us through it.

God is love and God’s love will sustain us if we only believe. In time of fear, doubt, depression, anxiety, even anger, we must look for Jesus in our midst for the light of his presence penetrates the darkness in our lives and his word “it is I” dispels all fear.

When I was a child, there were no “night-lights.” We have all at one time or another been afraid of the dark. In my case, my mother gave me a Jesus “night-light” if you will. Perhaps some of you had one too.

It didn’t plug into a wall socket. It didn’t have a bulb as they do today. It was a picture of Jesus that was covered with some type of luminous substance. When the room was dark, the face of Jesus appeared.

My mother placed it on the wall at the end of my bed and I can remember many a night I said my prayers looking at Jesus and fell peaceably asleep knowing that He was present. He was present then, and He is present now.

Jesus fed 5000 people when the feast of Passover was near. The Feast of Passover was celebrated then and now as a reminder not only that God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt but also sustained them and protected them by His presence throughout their journey to the Promised Land.

Whether the people realized it or not, and most likely they did not, what Jesus did for them on the mountain was reminiscent of what God had done for Israel during their wondering in the wilderness. God fed Israel with “bread from heaven.” In addition, the actions Jesus takes in today’s feeding are a prelude to his actions in the upper room when he instituted the Eucharist in the presence of his disciples.

He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples with the words “this is my body broken for you…do this in remembrance of me.” The crowds in today’s story followed him up the mountain and were miraculously fed, as were their ancestors in the wilderness. The disciples will soon follow him to the upper room thinking they are going to eat the Passover meal with him; instead, he will feed them sacramentally.

We, as the family of God gather here week after week in this sacred space to learn to follow Jesus. Here we are fed by Word and Sacrament. At the foot of God’s altar is the place to deposit our own desires, our own agendas, our doubts and fears and take to heart our reason for being here.

Which is not to see what God is going to do next in our lives but to give Thanks for what He has already done, and continues to do in and through the merits of His Son, Jesus, who died and rose again that we might have the new life in Him faith brings.

It is His Body and Blood, the “bread of heaven” that we feed on in our hearts by faith with Thanksgiving that creates our oneness with Him and reminds us that He is ever present to those who love him. Therefore, let us keep the feast. AMEN+

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+