Sunday, July 15, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 2, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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