Monday, November 12, 2018

Father Riley's homily from November 11, 2018

News for YOU:
...Pledge letters for 2019 have been mailed out.  If you have already responded--THANK YOU.  Please turn in your pledge for 2019 in time for Thanksgiving Sunday service, Nov 18th.  If you did not receive a pledge letter and wish to, please contact Mrs. Brenda Funderburg at bfun@me.com

...The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday at 10am November 18th for our Thanksgiving Service.  Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer Sunday, November 25th. 

...The Tensas Community Thanksgiving Service will be November 18th at First United Methodist at 5:30pm.  Please bring non-perishable items for The Shepherd Center to the Community Thanksgiving service.  Items and monetary donations may also be made directly to The Shepherd Center.  Each Christmas The Shepherd Center feeds approximately 350 families.  Please join us for this service and invite others.

...Saint Joseph Orchestra Chamber Christmas Concert will be in our church Sunday, December 16th at 3pm.  Please invite others to join us.
 
 
25 PENTECOST, PROPER XXVII - B - 18     MARK 12. 38-44
 
 
 
In Mark’s gospel, we have seen more than one occasion when Jesus warns against riches because of the hold they can have on an individual, which dethrones God.
 
You may recall not too many weeks ago the story of the rich young ruler who came up to Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit the kingdom. Jesus told him to go and sell all that he had and give it to the poor and then come and follow him. But alas, he could not bring himself to do that and turned away from following Christ.
 
Jesus used the encounter with the rich young man to illustrate to his disciples how difficult it was for a rich man who was intent on holding tightly to his possessions to enter the kingdom. It was like a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle.
 
Today’s passage begins with a condemnation of the scribes. The scribes were men with religious authority who represented a particular profession among the religious leaders of the day. They liked attention; at their worse, they made material profit out of spiritual influence.
 
They relished salutations, chief seats, chief places, that is to say, signs of public deference. Jesus mentions widows especially because they were often the most vulnerable. Many of them would have been poor, some would be wealthy. The converse of Jesus’ teachings against riches is illustrated in the giving of the Widow’s mite.
 
The mite was the smallest coin in use. Two of them equaled a penny. Money is so useful to religious and charitable purposes that there is always the temptation to think of the larger offerings of the rich than the smaller offerings, which may yet represent a much greater effort and more real self-denial.
 
Jesus sat opposite the treasury St. Mark tells us, and watched as the people made their offerings. This seemed to be a common practice among the Jews. The treasury was a series of 13 trumpet shaped boxes arranged against the wall of the court of women in the Herodian Temple. Since no Gentile would penetrate there, the offerings were from Jews only. Only copper coins could be used in the Temple, thus large contributions were quite noisy.
 
One tradition has it that when large sums were offered a trumpet would blow drawing attention to the giver. The widow was not ashamed of her small gift, for she made no effort to conceal it. Jesus, looking on, saw into the hearts of the various givers, and he was not deceived by the difference of values.
 
Jesus said the widow gave all she had to live on for that day - 100%. Jesus then puts the widow’s gift in perspective, along with the gifts of the rich. The value of the gift cannot be set by the inherit cash value, he teaches us, but by what it represents for the giver.
 
Like the widow of Zarephath whose hospitality towards God’s prophet included her last drop of oil, the Jerusalem widow’s offering to God was likewise a sacrificial one. She gave her all and her offering, according to Jesus, was more than all the rest he observed that day.
 
November is traditionally Stewardship month throughout the church. It is not that November is the only time to be thinking about our giving back to God but as we approach Thanksgiving Day, it is an opportune time to ask ourselves “why we give?”
 
The Jews of Jesus’ day gave a half-shekel to support the Temple each year. In addition, there were other kinds of offerings. There was the tithe that farmers made from their produce, and a second tithe that was given to the poor. There were thank-offerings, and the gifts of first fruits.
 
The Jews of Jesus’ day took great pride in the fact that God’s people voluntarily supported the Temple, giving their offerings without duress despite the heavy additional burden of Roman taxation. Their motivation was for the most part out of obligation, which is not say that some, did not give from the heart.
 
How do we learn to give back to God? What is our motivation? The church teaches that we should give. The tithe is the Biblical standard dating back to the Old Testament. I, for one, was raised in the Baptist Church by a mother who believed that my brother and I should be in church every Sunday morning and evening and again on Wednesday night whether we thought we needed it or not. Church was not an option when I was growing up.
 
I learned to tithe in Sunday school. If I was given one dollar for allowance, I gave a dime to Sunday school. When I got my first job, cutting grass and trimming hedges, I was expected to give 10 percent to the church. My giving up and into my adult years was one of obligation. I gave because I was supposed to.
 
I am not certain when I began to see my giving to the church as a response to God’s blessings in my life. It could have been after I returned safely from a war zone, or it might have been after the birth of our first child. Either way, my attitude towards giving back to God a portion of what He had given me changed from an obligation to one of a thankful response to His love.
 
I tell my story not to draw attention to myself but in answer to my earlier question “why do we give?” We don’t know why the widow gave all she had in the Temple that day. Jesus tells us that she did. I suspect it was not out of obligation. Her two copper coins did not make much noise but they did not go unnoticed by God and neither do our gifts whether large or small.
 
Jesus told his disciples that those larger gifts were given out of the abundance of the giver. The cost of the widow’s gift was however, greater than theirs. Stewardship rightly understood, is our giving back to God a portion of what is already His. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” (I Chron. Xxix. 14)
 
This too was a turning point for me. When I finally understood that what I was giving back to the church wasn’t really mine in the first place. Rather it had been given to me by God to use for the work of the church and the benefit of others, especially those in need.
 
With that revelation, I realized that the portion I kept for my own benefit was a most generous gift from God. That’s when my giving became a Thank-offering, a response to God’s Love.
 
As we approach our National day of Thanksgiving, I commend to you a prayerful consideration of your gift to the work of the church by asking yourself “why you give?” Is it out of your abundance or your poverty? Out of a sense of obligation or Thanksgiving?
 
Remembering the words of the author of Hebrews, “To do good, and to distribute, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. XXiii.16)
 
 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Father Riley's homily from November 4th, 2018

News for YOU:
...Pledge letters for 2019 have been mailed out.  If you have already responded--THANK YOU.  Please turn in your pledge for 2019 in time for Thanksgiving Sunday service, Nov 18th.  If you did not receive a pledge letter and wish to, please contact Mrs. Brenda Funderburg at bfun@me.com

...The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays November 11th and 18th.  We will have Morning Prayer Sunday, November 25th.

...Our 2018 Thanksgiving Service will be at 10am Sunday November 18th. 

...The Tensas Community Thanksgiving service will be November 18th at First United Methodist at 5:30pm. 

...Saint Joseph Orchestra Chamber Christmas Concert will be in our church Sunday, December 16th at 3pm.  Please invite others to join us.
 
 
ALL SAINTS SUNDAY - B - 18
 
 
 
Today the church throughout the world celebrates All Saint’s Day and All Faithful Departed as transferred from Thursday and Friday. The collect for the day paints the wonderful image of God knitting all the faithful together.
 
What God uses to bring us together in one communion and fellowship is His Love. “Those who trust in him will understand truth, the author of Hebrews writes, “and the faithful will abide with him in love…”
 
Today we “sing a song of the saints of God,” to borrow from the first verse of Hymn # 293. We remember in our thoughts and prayers those who now rest from their earthly labors, as well as those we call saints who walk as yet by faith - the Church triumphant and the church militant.
 
What kind of person do you think of when you use the word ‘saint” to describe them? My grandmother, on my mother’s side always comes to my mind. She was like a second mother to me. I spent many a happy day with her in her home in Mississippi when I was child. I loved to go there.
 
She raised six children after having lost an infant daughter. She never held a paying job. Her work was making a home for her family, being a mother and a wife. I remember my mother telling me that she almost died one Christmas Day when her dress caught fire as she stood too close to an open fireplace warming herself.
 
Her hands, arms and face bore the scars from that day as did my grandfather’s hands that picked her up and carried her outside and rolled her in the snow to extinguish the flames. She never complained. I can still hear her singing hymns as she did her housework or prepared a meal.
 
If she had a vice it was her love of chewing gum. I can still see her taking off her shoes after her daily chores were done. Then she would sit down on the front porch swing and slowly glide back and forth on a warm summer afternoon and fan herself with one of those funeral home give-a ways.
 
I loved to sit and listen to her tell family history and how things were when she was growing up. I never heard her say a bad word about anyone. She was a faithful Christian who tired to live her life according to God’s commandments and would blush if she heard me refer to her as a saint. Grandmother was a friend of God and God was a friend of hers.
 
Too often we think of saints in terms of heroes and heroines of the early church, the ones we commemorate throughout the year on the church’s calendar; the ones who sacrificed much and in many cases gave their lives as a witness to their faith.
 
These are the early saints in the traditional sense of the word, the virgins and the martyrs. I like to refer to them as saints with a capitol “S. “ But as Hymn# 293 reminds us they were just ordinary people, some were “doctors, some were queens, and another was a shepherdess on the green.”
 
They were people you “can meet in school, in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, in shops, or at tea, as the song says. For the saints of God are just folk like you and me. It is hard to think of ourselves as such, even with a small “s.”   Besides the early church’s saints there are those we have all known. Some are living still.
 
They are members of our families, friends, and acquaintances. Those who have gone on to their greater reward. We take time to remember before God today. They continue to live in our hearts and our minds. We remember them in our prayers and they remember us before God.
 
We don’t see our selves in their company, yet we belong to this great cloud of witnesses and fellowship we call the communion of saints both living and departed. It is not that they all did anything extraordinary that admitted them into this fellowship, but because they all had one thing in common - their faith, love, and trust in God. That is what stood out, and stands out.
 
It made them and makes them who they are - saints of God. They weren’t perfect. Their lives and their faith were tested. Sometimes they questioned God. Their “saintliness,” however, manifested itself with a faith that never wavered and the love and grace of God that never failed them. They had and have an awareness that God is ever present to them and they strive to make themselves present to Him.
 
They never complained about life. They had and live with no regrets. They lived day in and day out in witness to their love and devotion to God. They were faithful to the church, said their prayers, praying for others as well as their own needs. They never hesitated to reach out to those in need, never shied away from opportunities to serve.
 
Their lives have and continue to have influence on our own. The world was and is a better place because they lived. “They loved their lord, and his love made them strong.”
 
St. John’s Revelation speaks of their home, our home in the New Jerusalem “where death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Where by God’s grace we will one day be as they are, at home with God enjoying those ineffable joys and in the greater company of all the saints in light.
 
Can you imagine sitting down at table in the presence of the great heroes and heroines of the faith and with all those we have known and loved in this life that have gone on before us. Here the elect of God, the capitol “s” and the small “s” saints sit side by side in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.
 
We may not see ourselves as saints, or being worthy to be counted among their company, and we are not, but through the merits of Him who died and rose again, and our faithful response to God’s love, mercy and grace, we can as the hymn ends, “God helping, to be one too.”
 
On this day we give thanks for all the saints, those early saints and martyrs whose blood was the seed of the church. We give thanks for those we have known as well as those who walk among us still. We give thanks for their love, their witness to their faith, love and trust in God, and for their influence on our lives that has brought us to this place today. AMEN+