Thursday, March 22, 2018

Palm Sunday plans and other news...

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

From the Forward Day by Day:

THURSDAY, March 22

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Father Riley's homily from March 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

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

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

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

Father Riley's homily for March 4, 2018:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 4, 2018

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

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