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+