Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Father Riley's homily from February 24, 2019 and CEC news

   CEC News Alerts!

…Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays March 10, 17, 31.  We will have Morning Prayer March 3 and 24.   Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Ash Wednesday at noon, March 6, 2019.

…Start marking your calendars:    We will begin our Lenten early morning (9am) Sunday School with Father Riley March 10th.  The theme this year is to seek guidance from Father Riley on topics from the Bible and Prayer Book which we may not fully understand.  

…We will soon be starting our 2019 Capital Campaign for raising funds to repair and paint the exterior of our beautiful church.  Some of you have already contributed to this needed activity and we greatly appreciate your support and love of our congregation.  Stay tuned for more updates.

7 EPIPHANY - C- 19                                   LUKE 6.27-38

I have always been amazed with those individuals who have never really read and studied the Holy Scriptures, but somehow, somewhere, perhaps by osmosis, they have memorized a verse or two to be used when the situation calls for it.

Today’s gospel contains more than one such example. Not the least of which, I might add, is the “Golden Rule” - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is a virtue, some would say, a minimum Christian virtue as it places man’s desire for goodness (the natural law of self-love) as a basic standard of how to treat others.

It is but the first step on the path to the perfection of virtue found in vs. 36, where God’s mercy, rather than man’s desire is the standard. To be perfect in the Old Testament is an attainment of man; to be merciful is an attribute of God.

Then, there the one about the giving of one’s shirt off one’s back. It is another one of those oft quoted verses usually taken out of context. It is often used in describing the character of an individual, meaning that he is a giving person and is not the type that would withhold anything from one who asked, especially those in need.

Today’s gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ homily on the plain where he is speaking to a mixed audience comprised of Jews and Gentiles along with his disciples. Last week, you may recall, he spoke of blessings and woes. Today his teaching includes practical applications of the demand of love.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.”

The love which discipleship demands, like the love of God, extends to those who do not deserve it. Jesus is presenting the requirement of love and rejecting retaliation. It is obvious from today’s reading that to be a true disciple of Jesus means one has to be willing to go to extremes in self-suppression and joyful endurance of wrong, and to let no ill-treatment affect our unalterable benevolence to those who do wrong.

How difficult is that? We all know how difficult that is. We are not perfect. We are human beings we say, we have feelings, and a sense of what is right, wrong, and fair. Like the rabbis of old who liked to say a “measure for a measure.” we think in terms of retaliation, of putting self and one’s self-interests first and getting back at those who offend us.

Yet the “law of love” Jesus is presenting has to do with our loving unconditionally. We are to be like this for that is what God is like. We are to love expecting nothing in return when we give truly of ourselves. Again, we say we are only human how is it possible for us to love as God loves to be as merciful and forgiving as God is.

Jesus may have done it, we say, but he was divine. However, the scriptures are filled with human examples of those who were able to love and forgive. Look again at today’s first lesson. Joseph provides us with a model. He was a favored child whose position in the eyes of his father caused him to be hated by his own brothers.

Because of their jealousy, they devised a plan to rid themselves of him. They left him to die in a pit only to be rescued if you will and sold into slavery. He was carried away into Egypt and sojourned in a foreign land. His initial troubles thus provided him the opportunity to hear and respond in a positive manner to God. He essentially died into new life.

From self-sufficiency, he was plunged into helplessness and a desperate need of God. For this reason, he surrendered to divine leadership. Rather than emerging as a cynical, rebellious and revengeful person, he became an agent of God’s love and forgiveness.

His memory of his father and brothers evoked tears rather than anger. He reached out in love rather than passing harsh judgment on those who persecuted him. Perhaps what appears to be dying moments and experiences of the “pit” of life are actually God’s interventions causing us to turn from worldly directions. Such moments remind us of our need to be concerned with others and the will of God rather than for ourselves alone.

There is yet another verse or two in today’s passage that is not oft quoted “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you…”

Our God is astonishingly merciful. How can we, his forgiven children, be any less? Only when people discover that this is the sort of God they are dealing with will they have a chance of making this way of life their own. Jesus’ homily is all about which God you believe in and about the way of life that follows as a result.

Sadly, many Christians down through the ages including the present age seem to have known little or nothing of the God Jesus was talking about. Today’s passage gives lie to the old idea (which was around in Jesus’ day as well as our own) that all religions are really the same, that all gods are really variations on the same themes.

However, this God, our God, is different. If we lived in a society where everyone believed in this God, there would not be any violence. There would not be any revenge. There would not be any divisions of class or caste. Property and possessions would not be nearly as important as making sure your neighbor was all right.

Imagine if people, took Jesus seriously and lived like that what a different world it would be. The world, no doubt, God intended for it to be. Jesus was speaking of what he knew: the extravagant love of his Father, and the call to live a lavish human life in response.

Later when they struck him on the cheek and ripped the coat and shirt off his back, and nailed him to the cross, he went on loving and forgiving them. He did not show love only to his friends, but to his enemies. He was the true embodiment of the God of whom he spoke.

There are two astonishing things about his instructions to his disciples contained in this homily and to all who chose to follow him. First, their simplicity: they are obvious, clear, direct and memorable. Second their scarcity. How many people do you know who live like this? How many communities do you know where these guidelines are the rule of life?

What’s gone wrong? Has God changed? Or have we forgotten who he really is? Moreover, have we forgotten who we are? Have we not died into the new life? Are we not called to live the “law of love” Jesus preached and exemplified in his both living and his dying?

We know in our hearts the answer to both questions is yes. As we know that it is not by any power of our own that we are able to die to self and live the law of love, but it is only by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, that has poured into our hearts (God’s greatest gift which is love) that enables us to Love God first and our neighbor as our self. AMEN+

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Father Riley's homily from 17 February, 2019 and CEC News Alerts

   CEC News Alerts!

…Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays Feb 24th, March 10, 17, 31.  We will have Morning Prayer March 3 and 24.   Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Ash Wednesday at noon, March 6, 2019.

…Start marking your calendars:    We will begin our Lenten early morning (9am) Sunday School with Father Riley March 10th.  The theme this year is to seek guidance from Father Riley on topics from the Bible and Prayer Book which we may not fully understand.   

6 EPIPHANY - C - 19                       LUKE 6. 17-26

Today’s gospel scene stands in mark contrast to last week’s where Peter, James and John were stunned by a late morning catch of fish from the Sea of Galilee. Even though it was the biggest catch they had ever made, or perhaps had ever seen, they left it on the beach and followed Him who had instructed them to cast their nets.

Here Jesus has been up on a mountain praying with his disciples around him. When he has finished his prayers, he chooses 12 from among those disciples present. These, including Peter, James and John, are to continue with him on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross.

After choosing his disciples, Jesus descends the mountain to a level place where a large crowd is waiting for him. The people just wanted to touch him and when they did he could feel the power go out of him. He heals all that were diseased, and cast out many demons.

Then he begins to deliver a homily that sounds very much like the Beatitudes from Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” but with only four blessings instead of eight and with the addition of four woes, or warnings if you will. The crowd he was speaking to was a mixed one. It contained both Jews from Judea and Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon.

The “blessings” would sound familiar to the Jews who were present that day, as they reflect promises contained in many of the sayings of the Old Testament prophets. As they would have been received as good news to the Gentile listeners. However, the “blessings” are not to be understood as the qualifications necessary for admission to the kingdom of God.

Instead, they indicate the blessings, which the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ brings to the disciples, to whom the sayings are addressed, and the reversal of the existing order, which the kingdom involves. The idea of a reversal of the existing order would have been upsetting to the Jews and yet something that the Gentiles would have applauded whom heretofore saw themselves outside the reach of God’s love and mercy.

The woes are peculiar to Luke and are not addressed to the disciples but to those who reject the kingdom by rejecting Jesus. The ultimate rejection resulted in his being nailed to the cross. Jesus’ teachings fulfilled the prophet Jeremiah’s words: “The Lord tests the mind and searches the heart.”

We might say that Luke’s story is one that contrasts two expressions, or two directions of the heart. Jeremiah sets forth the two directions in terms of blessing or curse. “Cursed be the heart that turns from the Lord. Blessed be the heart that looks to the Lord in hope.”

The four promises and four woes are presented in terms of Israel’s great scriptural codes in the book of Deuteronomy. Here there were long lists of “blessings” for those who obeyed the law, and “curses” for those who did not. These formed part of the charter, the covenant, the binding agreement between God and Israel.

Now with the renewed Israel formed around him, Jesus gave his own version of the same thing. And a radical version it is. It is an up side down code, or perhaps Jesus might add, a right-way up code instead of the up side down one people have been following. God is doing something new, as Jesus emphasized in the synagogue at Nazareth.

Did the disciples understand what Jesus was saying? If not then, they eventually would. Did the crowd understand that Jesus was leveling the playing field for all who would put their trust in Him? Probably not. Do we?

Why is the heart so important? Throughout the scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, the heart is the key to understanding and responding to God who is love. God can be in our mind (thoughts) and on our lips, but if He is not in our hearts, we deceive ourselves in believing that we are united to Him.

“Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16.7).  The word of God addressed to the heart demands action. In order for conversion to take place, that is choosing to take the path to God, one must first hear the Word.

Not all do. Not all did that day at the foot of the mountain. As Jeremiah says, there are two directions of the heart: one towards God and the other away from him. Living the Word in deed is a blessing. It is a means of being united with God. Whereas refusal or rejection of the Word is a denial of God’s commandments, a denial Jesus warns against.

The woes here are not merely of sorrow, but a warning that those who prize the vices listed here are liable to the utmost misery. As Jeremiah says: “The Lord tests the mind, and searches the heart to give to all according to their wages, according to the fruits of their doings.”

Why, then, would one not chose the promises over the warnings? That is a good question.

The answer can only be that they have not truly heard the Word of God. The Word of God has not resonated with them. Thus, their heart has not been moved to conversion. They have not been convicted of their sin. There is no contrition, no sorrow for their sin. Their heart does not belong to God.

They prefer instead to live their lives up side down or we might say at cross-purposes to God’s right-way up. Life is in the here and now and they mean to make the best of it. Their hope, if you will, is in something other than God in Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Contrast that with the assurances of St. Paul that Jesus Christ risen from the dead is our Hope, our Blessing, and our way to the kingdom. Those who hear His words and take them to heart are the ones who are truly blessed in this life and in the life to come. AMEN+

Monday, February 11, 2019

Father Riley's homily from February 10, 2019 ..and News Updates

…Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays Feb 17 & 24th. 

…Start marking your calendars:  Father Riley will be with us for Ash Wednesday service at noon March 6, 2019.  We will begin our Lenten early morning Sunday School with Father Riley March 10th.  The theme this year is to seek guidance from Father Riley on topics from the Bible and Prayer Book which we may not fully understand.   

5 EPIPHANY - C - 19                        LUKE 5. 1-11

If you have been to the region of Galilee and stood on the shore of the sea, you have seen the many little inlets that dot the shoreline that serve as mini

amphitheaters. Today if you get in a boat and push out a bit from the shore, you can talk in a quite a natural voice, and anyone on the slopes of the inlet can hear you clearly  - more clearly in fact than if you were right there on the shore with them.

Luke says that is exactly what Jesus did. Other wise the crowd would not have been able to hear him. He enlisted Peter to take him out in his boat away from the shore so the crowds could indeed hear him speak the word of God. When He had finished teaching, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

Peter and the other fishermen had toiled all night and caught nothing. They had just finished washing their nets and putting them away. It was not a rational thing to do to put them out again. Yet there was something about Jesus’ command that caused Peter to comply.

Too Peter’s surprise and the surprise of the other fishermen, their nets suddenly became full of fish to the point of breaking. Peter called for help. It took two boats and their crews to make the haul to the shore before they were swamped by the weight of the catch.

In last week’s Old Testament lesson, we heard the call of young Jeremiah. When God called him, he said he was unworthy to respond due to his youthfulness. God touched his mouth with his hand and made Jeremiah worthy to answer the call and to speak for God.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we have the call of Isaiah. He too felt his unworthiness and confessed it before the Lord. Again, God made him worthy by cleansing his lips with a live coal from the altar. Upon witnessing the miraculous catch of fish, Peter falls down at Jesus’ knees and confesses his sinfulness.

Jesus tells him to not be afraid from henceforth, he will be catching men. What was Peter afraid of? Simon’s fear was a natural one. Upon witnessing the miracle, he realized he was in the presence of divine power in the person of Jesus Christ and was unworthy to be there.

He confesses his sinfulness and is made worthy as evidenced by Jesus’ pronouncement that from now on he will be catching men, meaning he will join Jesus in His mission of bringing God to man and man to God. “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him."

What about the fish? Don’t you think that Peter, astounded by nets bursting with fish, entertained the potential of such a catch? Fish were his business. Suddenly there were more than he ever imagined. Selling would be easier than ever. If Jesus could do it once, couldn’t he do it again?

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to Peter, who grasped at his knees, fearful of the power behind the huge catch of fish. Yet, he, James, and John left everything, including the tremendous catch of fish on the beach, and followed him.

We too follow, but not with the same abandon. The world we live in today contains just as many distractions. Too often, we cling tightly to what seems important to us in this life without regard to the next. Peter, James and John left the sea behind. It was their chosen vocation. The only life they knew. In following Jesus, however, they found their true vocation.

The deep yielded more from the water than a great shoal of fish that day. It yielded the power of Him who died and rose again and these would be disciples realized the power of God at work in Him, perhaps according to Luke, for the first time. Others have not.

We were all buried with Christ and raised to new life with Him through the waters of Holy Baptism. Yet, many Christians still cling to the font and are afraid to venture out to do the work we have been given to do. They have not left everything behind as the disciples did. They do not follow with the same abandonment.

What about the fish, we say. That is, what is it we are afraid of leaving behind? What it is we continue to cling to and are afraid to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus more fully? Our fish comes in different sizes and shapes: power, prestige, wealth, all are tied to self and selfish interests. It is the life we know and are most comfortable with. Yet, it is not our true vocation.

The very idea that Jesus has invited us to participate in his divine mission causes some to become fearful. If it is the same kind of fear Peter possessed at the moment he grasped Jesus’ knees, and confessed his sinfulness, then it is a natural fear brought to light by the presence of God that causes one to realize his or her unworthiness.

On the other hand, if it is the kind of fear that causes one to dread God finding us out, as if he cannot, then it is a fear of retribution. If it is a fear, that if we commit ourselves to Him, as the disciples did with abandon, it will lead us into the unknown then it is a fear that will keep us from following him.

Either way it is a fear that will prevent us from accepting God’s grace that makes us worthy to stand before him; a fear that will result in our failure to discover our true vocation, and a fear that will keep us clinging to the font.

If we are to discover and fulfill our true vocation, we have to forget about the fish, whatever that may be, and leave them behind as Peter, James and John did. We have to acknowledge the fact that none of us is worthy. We have to realize that we have nothing that is truly ours to offer God in exchange for His love, except our own sinfulness.

If we offer it to Him, in all humility, He will absolve us with His grace and make us worthy to receive the liberty of that abundant life which He has made known to us in His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  His Love will teach us to trust in Him. His Holy Spirit will lead us in the paths He has chosen for us to walk in. Our faith will sustain us when the world’s distractions call out to us.

We are reading and listening to Luke’s gospel today because Jesus kept his promise to Peter. When Jesus calls, he certainly does demand everything, but only because he has already given everything. “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

May God give us the grace and strength to follow their example of leaving the fish behind and following Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Father Riley's sermon from Christ Church, Bastrop February 3, 2019

…Mrs. Jane Barnett led us in Morning Prayer Sunday February 3rd and Father Riley will return to lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays Feb 10, 17; 24th.  Father Gregg was in Christ Church, Bastrop this Sunday.

…The new Forward Day by Day daily devotion booklets  for February, March; April are in the church, please take one.

4 EPIPHANY - C - 19                                 LUKE 4. 21-30

We heard in last week’s gospel that Jesus had returned to his own hometown, Nazareth. That is where our gospel reading picks up today. It was his custom to attend synagogue worship. Lest we forget, Jesus was a practicing Jew.

His reputation as a teacher and healer had preceded him. For he had already made the rounds of the synagogues in the region of the Galilee. Now he was back home among those who knew him, knew his foster-father, Joseph, and had watched him grow up.

He was chosen to read the lesson for the day. He stood up and opened the sacred scroll to the prophet Isaiah. It was a passage concerning the Messiah. After reading the prophecy, he sat down and commented, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

At first those who had known him from his youth spoke well of him. That is, until Jesus alienated them by reciting two ancient parables, and in addition by the use of two illustrations from scripture that magnified the extension of God’s love and mercy beyond the boundaries of Israel to include the Gentiles.

How quickly the accolades turned into a violent action. “They got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Why did Jesus chose to do that? Why did the locals react they way they did?

Part of their reaction was because Jesus did not do any miracles there. He could see that what they wanted from him was a “sign,” something like what they had heard he had done in Galilee. However, the main reason they drove him out and threatened him with violence was his use of scripture that he had learned in that very synagogue, and that they knew equally as well, that pointed to the fact that their image of God was skewed in one direction only, theirs.

In that, he was accusing them of failing in their God-given mission to be the light of the world, a light that would reflect the love and mercy of God to all nations including the Gentiles. Could it be, then, that in Jesus’ words the people finally heard what the prophet was saying, and in addition realized what God in Christ was doing?

It was not what they wanted to hear, or even to think about. Jesus’ sermon after the sermon, if you will, was not meant to alienate them, but rather to challenge the people of Israel to turn away from their self-centered approach to God and recommit themselves to carrying out the mission God had given them as His chosen people.

Thus, Jesus is rejected at Nazareth. It was a foreshadowing of his rejection by his own people that will lead to his death on the cross. As far as we know, Jesus never returned to his boyhood home. His escape, however, made possible a mission elsewhere just as his resurrection will make possible a mission to the world.

Can we see ourselves in this picture? Do we not speak well of God, and of His Son, Jesus? Do we not marvel at the things Christ said and the things he has done? Yet, are there not those times when we reject what we know God to be about because we disagree with the extent of God’s love and mercy.

Do we not dig in both heels, especially in those situations where we know God is leading us to do what we feel may take us out of our comfort zone? Jesus is all about change.

He came first to God’s chosen people, Israel to challenge them to re-commit themselves to the divine mission that was theirs. He would not let them stay the same. That is, thinking and acting as if God belonged to them and not the other way around.

Their image of God was slanted in their direction and away from all others. God’s love and mercy belonged to them, so they thought. When Messiah came, he would come to rescue Israel and not the world. They were wrong.

Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus offering his own people a new way of approaching God - as Father. He offered them a new concept of God’s kingdom, one that can be realized here on earth as it already is in heaven. He taught them a new understanding of God’s love and mercy that extends beyond the boundaries they had set to include all people.

Jesus’ call to us is always for us to come away from where he finds us, to leave behind whatever it is that keeps us from following Him. Matthew left his tax table. James and John, Peter and Andrew left their nets and the only life they had ever known and followed him.

The blind man on the road to Jerusalem got up out of the dust threw off his dirty cloak and once his eyes were opened, he saw Jesus. Although he was now free to go anywhere, instead, he chose to follow Jesus.

As there are many examples of individuals who readily answered the call of Jesus to come and follow him, there are also many examples of those who wanted to remain where they where or who made excuses why they could not readily respond. The rich young man stands out, as does the one who wished to go back and say goodbye to his family. Then there was the one who said he had to go to a funeral first before he could accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him.

If we are honest, we can see something of our self in those who crowed into the synagogue at Nazareth who thought they knew Jesus. At first attracted to him. Yet the more we know about him and why he has come into our world and into our lives, the more we reject him, whether we realize it or not, by what we say and do, because it is not what we want to hear, or the image of God we wish to see. All of which serves to point to the fact that our view of God can be narrow at times, especially when we cling to our own self-interests that keep us well within the bounds of our own comfort zones.

Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. This is true. However, God’s love for us in Christ Jesus is a love that calls us to come up higher to a deeper knowledge and understanding of God. His love and mercy goes beyond any and all of our human boundaries real or imagined. For God’s Love knows no bounds and the Cross and the empty tomb are the proof. AMEN+