Friday, March 22, 2019

Father Riley's homily from March 17, 2019 and news alerts

CEC News alerts !

…   We will have Morning Prayer March 24.   Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sunday March  31.

…  Our Lenten early morning (9am) Sunday School with Father Riley will continue Sunday, March 31st.

… Dates to note:  April 14--Palm Sunday; April 19--Good Friday with Stations of the Cross at about 11:30 and Good Friday service following at noon; April 21--Easter Sunday

…  There will be many visitors to Tensas Parish Saturday, March 23.  About 250 participants will be participating in the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation Spring "Ramble".  They will begin the 'Ramble' at our church early Saturday morning and then travel to many locations throughout Tensas.

LENT II - C - 19                                LUKE 13. 31-35

Last week it was Satan who threatened to up-end Jesus’ mission by tempting Christ to abandon his humanity in favor of his divinity while still in the wilderness. The devil did not want Jesus to go to Jerusalem and die on the cross. In today’s gospel, Jesus is given a warning by some Pharisees that Herod plans to kill him. It would be in his best interest not to go to Jerusalem.

Satan with his temptations laced with biblical verses, failed to dissuade Jesus in the wilderness. Since that time, Jesus has begun his mission of preaching, teaching, and healing as a means of bringing the kingdom of God near to those who are open to receive it. In today’s passage, he is making his way through towns and villages as he journeys toward Jerusalem.

It is in one such place, where he has stopped to teach, that this particular group of Pharisees, Luke tells us, have sought him out to warn him to turn back. It was another attempt to stop his mission. The threat of Herod, however, does not deter Christ from continuing his journey and doing the work the Father has given him to do.

Jesus knows his destiny is to die in the Holy City. He sees himself in the role of a prophet joining the ranks of those who have preceded him. In that, he laments over the state of Jerusalem, as many of his predecessors have done, for it is a city in rebellion.

Jesus’ lament evokes in his listeners a host of images and expectations: Jerusalem is the center of political and religious power, the symbol of God’s people, the sign of the people’s rejection of God’s word, the focus of God’s judgment, the hope for peace and prosperity. To all this, Jesus preaches judgment. “See your house is left desolate.” His rejection will seal the fate of the city.

He is going to Jerusalem as God’s prophet to pronounce God’s word and to face a prophet’s death. God’s word will be rejected, and God’s word incarnate will be killed. Jesus goes voluntarily despite the warning.  And he goes knowing how he will be received on Palm Sunday.

All three of today’s readings contain expectations and promises. Abram had a vision in which God spoke to him. A promise was made sealed by a covenant. Abram would have an heir of his own issue. “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

St. Paul writing to the Church at Philippi tells the Christians there to expect a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The promise is that all who stand firm in their faith and belief in Christ will be transformed into his likeness. The Pharisees expected Jesus to turn back once he was warned that Herod was out to get him.

Moreover, Jesus expected to be both rejected and received as Messiah upon his arrival in the Holy City. He promised that they would not see him again until the time would come when they will say, “Blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We do not always think about the promises we made to God in Christ as we embarked on our Lenten journey. Nor of the expectations, we have for our selves. Forty days seems like a long time to hope that we can maintain our Lenten discipline.

Too often, we lose our focus on Him whom we have chosen to follow and instead focus on self. Our intentions were good as we began on Ash Wednesday and accepted the church’s invitation to make a holy Lent. However, it usually does not take us long before we begin to swerve away from our chosen path.

Those Lenten resolutions are easily forgotten in the wake of daily living. We find it too easy to give in and give up. Lent is an opportunity to practice self-denial in the hope that we might learn to live in a habitual state of just that - self-denial in order to live to God.

But alas, we are only human. Our frailties often times out way our spiritual strengths when it comes to promises made to God. Moreover, to focus on self, likewise, lessens our expectations of God. It does not take much for us to “turn back” and to give in to our old ways of doing and living.

Jesus’ death and resurrection not only defeated Satan once and for all, but also ushered in a New Jerusalem; a new way of living. Because of his death and resurrection, we now live in a different world. Granted it is still a world where we encounter injustice, rejection, deprivation and violence.

And in this Lenten season, we know our selves to be a broken and sinful people, being in a broken and sinful world. Yet, we are simultaneously a redeemed people, living in a redeemed world. It is not always easy for us to realize that, especially when we are focused on something other than the promises of God in Christ.

Abram received a vision of God that contained a promise of a reward. His initial reaction was fear, followed by a complaint that he was childless. God was making Abram a promise, but before he could believe it, Abram was focused on what he did not have - an heir. How many times does God try to tell us something, to bring us good news, but it is often clouded over by what we perceive we do not have.

St. Paul presented the Christians at Philippi with a choice. You can imitate me, Paul says, or you can live like those who are enemies of the cross of Christ whose focus is on themselves, their wants, and their needs. Live, instead, Paul tells them, with the expectation that the Savior, the Lord Jesus will come. And when he does we, who stand firm in our faith and belief in him will be transformed into his glory. That is the promise.

Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is salvation for all, and it marks the beginning of the New Jerusalem in our midst. We are called to make the Christ of the New Jerusalem the center of our lives by voluntarily dying to self, that is, by setting aside our wants, our desires, and our complaints and turning back to God with penitent hearts and steadfast faith.

That is not only the message of Lent, but also the message of the new life to which we have been called to live. By God’s mercy and grace, we are able to right ourselves and continue the journey embracing and holding fast to the belief and expectation that one day, the promises of God in Christ will be fulfilled and the New Jerusalem realized. AMEN+


Saturday, March 16, 2019

More news you can use from Christ Episcopal, Saint Joseph

CEC News you can use !

…  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays March  17 & 31.  We will have Morning Prayer March 24.   

…  Our Lenten early morning (9am) Sunday School with Father Riley will continue this Sunday, March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day. 

…  Did you know our Bishop Jake Owensby has his own BlogSpot? Check it out at: 


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Father Riley's homily from March 10, 2019

CEC Breaking News !

…  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays March  17 & 31.  We will have Morning Prayer March 24.   

…  Our Lenten early morning (9am) Sunday School with Father Riley will continue this Sunday, March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day.  

…  We will soon be starting our 2019 Capital Campaign for raising funds to repair and paint the exterior of our beautiful church.  We have received proposals from contractors and are drafting Capital Campaign letters.  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.

LENT I - C- 19                                        LUKE 4. 1-13

Our Lenten journey began on Wednesday with the Churches’ invitation to a Holy Lent. In it, we were reminded of our need of repentance and the fact of our mortality as we received the ashes of previous Lenten palms traced on our foreheads with the sign of the cross.

During these forty days, we travel with Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross. A journey we have all made many times before. The gospel for the first Sunday in Lent is always the temptations of Christ that confronted him as he prepared for his journey to fulfill the mission God the Father had given him.

We have heard this gospel read many times. We know the temptations Jesus faced and we know he was able to overcome them through the power of the Word of God. The devil tried his best to use God’s word to counter Jesus’ steadfastness in maintaining his humanity rather than relying on his divinity. However, Satan failed. Jesus did not fall for it.

Satan did not want Jesus to die on the cross for he knew that Christ’ death and resurrection would mean his defeat. Satan would try again. There was still time in his devilish mind to derail Christ’ purpose for coming into our world, that is, to bring salvation to all who would believe in him.

Lent reminds us not only of our continual need of repentance and our mortality, but as Christians, we are in the “wilderness” of this life as we strive to fulfill our God-given purpose. With that said, the enemy will harass us with various temptations. He will always strike at the time and place where we are the most vulnerable.

Jesus was in the wilderness forty days. During that time, he ate nothing. He was famished. The devil knew he was hungry. The first temptation of Jesus was for him to use his divine power and turn stones into bread to meet his physical need.

When challenged with that, instead of succumbing to the temptation to do so, Jesus found himself being fed by the Word of God that enabled him to set aside his physical need and focus on the spiritual. That is the goal of fasting. Satan quickly tried another approach. Each one of the devil’s attempts to persuade Jesus to suppress his humanity and use his divine power began with an “if.”

Satan was trying to place the question of doubt in the mind of Christ as to his true identity. Satan knew Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus likewise knew whom he was and what he had been given to do. The voice from heaven that accompanied his baptism confirmed it: “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

I have always thought that Satan was in the crowd that lined the banks of the Jordan on the day Jesus appeared before John and submitted to his baptism. As I am certain he heard the voice as well and saw the dove descend upon Christ. That is why the devil went after him in the wilderness in the first place.

The three temptations of Jesus are the ones we will face as well. Because we live in a physical and material world, we will be faced with choosing to meet our physical needs over and above our spiritual ones. The enemy does not want us to fast, for example, for fasting teaches us to rely on God.

The devil also tempted Jesus to change allegiances, to bow down and worship him. We may tell ourselves that we would never do that. However, the enemy disguises such a temptation so that it is not so obvious. The fact is this temptation comes to all us to place our trust in something or someone other than God. It could be power, wealth, status or self.

Another form of this temptation is to believe that God is far removed from our situation and that we are on our own. The temptation is real. How often have you wondered why isn’t God jumping in to help me? God, however, does not abandon us, even in the worst of times, as he did not abandon his Son, not even as he was dying on the cross.

The last temptation is the most common one. I would dare say we have all fallen for this one. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” How many times have you thought, said aloud or perhaps even prayed for God to prove himself,  “God, if you are there, then do this or that or take care of this situation or that situation for me?”

The key to Jesus being able to overcome the temptations he faced in the wilderness was his reliance on the power of God’s word and in his knowledge of who he was in the eyes of God. In baptism, we were buried with Christ and raised to new life in him.

In this, we took on a new identity, a new allegiance; our trust, our faith, and our hope are in Him whose death and resurrection defeated Satan once and for all. In his living and dying, Christ has given us an example to live by. This does not mean that temptations will by any means cease to plague us because we now belong to him.

On the contrary, because we do, the enemy will see to it that there will always be the opportunity to give in to him and his ways rather than God’s. Oftentimes we will fail and do just that, give in. Thus, the Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds of our continual need of repentance.

To fail does not mean that God will love us any less. In the final analysis, we will not be judged on our failures but on our faithfulness. To continue the journey requires that when we do stumble and fall we turn once again, repent, and give our hearts to God.

Temptations will come and go as a test to our faithfulness and our trust in God. The closer we get to God, the harder the enemy works to turn us away from him. To endure the enemy’s temptations is to remember whom we are and to whom we ultimately belong. Our true identity is in Christ.

To overcome temptation, in whatever form it may take, we must learn reliance on the power of God, by putting our faith and trust in Him. God’s grace is all sufficient to get us through the “wilderness” of this present life in the Hope of obtaining the promise of the next, though Him who was tempted in ever way as we are yet did not sin, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Father Riley's homily from Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

CEC Breaking News !

…  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays March 10, 17, 31.  We will have Morning Prayer March 24.   

…  Our Lenten early morning (9am) Sunday School with Father Riley will begin this Sunday, 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.  Start making a list of your questions.

…  Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday: turn your clocks ahead one hour...or be late!

…  Faye & Sam Corson will be attending the diocesan convention for our congregation Saturday, March 9th.

…  We will soon be starting our 2019 Capital Campaign for raising funds to repair and paint the exterior of our beautiful church.  We expect to have final proposals from contractors this week.  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.

ASH WEDNESDAY - C - 19                MATTHEW 6. 1-6, 16-21

Our Lenten journey with Christ to Jerusalem and the cross begins for us again this morning. The Lenten readings for the day set the tone for our journey. Both the Old Testament lesson and the gospel begin with a warning.

The prophet Joel warns the people that the Day of the Lord is coming and is near…and who can endure it? The answer is those who return to the Lord who rend their hearts and not their garments. Outward repentance is no good unless it is matched by an inward repentance.

Likewise, Jesus begins today’s gospel with a warning. “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them…” He goes on to list the three disciplines that relate directly to God’s righteousness: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting that have become hallmarks of Lent.

For many of us, however, the first is done merely out of a sense of obligation. The second, being that of prayer, occurs mostly in time of need or personal crisis, and the third, rarely, if ever. The rewards Jesus speaks of that accompany true piety are heavenly not earthly ones. The kind of riches we cannot begin to imagine for we have nothing to compare them too.

If we choose to practice any of the disciplines above, we need to ask ourselves what is our intent for doing so. Is it to please God or men? God is not impressed with what others think of us, nor by what we think of ourselves. God will reward good deeds when they are based on pure motives of the heart.

To pray for all the wrong reasons is to miss the “spirit of prayer,” which is intimate personal communication with God that leads to the vision of his glory (1 Cor. 2-9). True prayer is not telling God what he already knows, and what to do about it, nor is it appearing pious in front of others. True prayer is humble, personal, and sincere.

Fasting is not merely the absence of food, but consists of self-denial in all areas of life in order to escape the control of the passions. By attaching our selves to earthly treasures, we cut our selves off from heavenly ones.

The heart of discipleship lies in disentangling our selves from the chains of earthly things, and attaching our selves to God, the true treasure.

What matters is motive. The outer appearance needs to be matched by the inner reality. What we do in the name of God is for God’s eyes only. Other eyes will be watching from time to time and we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of performing for them rather than for God.

“When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” The reward is God’s to give whatever form that may take in this life and or may be waiting for us in heaven. What Jesus is inviting us to is to live a life that matches inside and out because both are focused, or should be, on God who sees in secret.

Today’s readings are consistent in this message. The prophet Joel calls us to return, to turn again our hearts to the Lord. Paul instructs the citizens at Corinth that Jesus himself, though innocent, immersed himself in the ashes of our sinfulness so that he might free us from sin and death and lead us into all holiness.

Moreover, Matthew reminds us that our efforts can so easily be turned into hypocrisy. Even the ashes we will wear today as our badge of membership in a community of sin can become an empty sign. We must pray for the grace to realize this Lent is an “acceptable time” for decision and action, to renew a right spirit within us, to turn our hearts to God.

In 2004, while still in the Army, I had the privilege to travel to the Ukraine, particularly to the capitol city of Kiev. Each of us was assigned a Ukrainian counterpart who stuck to us like glue. After several days of seeing what they wanted us to see, we were asked on our final day if there was anything in particular we wished to see.

Being a group of Chaplains, we agreed we would like to see some of their churches. Few have survived the Communist rule. Those that had were turned into warehouses for the military. Twelfth and Thirteenth century frescoes that once adorned the walls and ceilings of these churches depicting saints, angels and the face of Christ had been whitewashed over.

Now that the Church has immerged from under ground and is once again the official religion of the country, these few remaining churches are being restored and used for worship. To enter one was to see scaffolding in place with workmen painstakingly removing the whitewash that for decades had hidden the treasures beneath. Or being present to witness an elderly grandmother returning an icon or an altar cross that had been hidden.

I visited several such churches. However, the most impressed, or I should say, the most humbling experience was my visit to the Cathedral compound that contained more than one church being resorted. The Metropolitan met us there and conducted our tour around the Cathedral grounds. He had previously been a former Soviet fighter pilot serving in Afghanistan.

As we approached the entrance to the Cathedral itself, we noticed a queue of hundreds of people of various ages. There were old men and women, young men and mothers holding their children by the hand and others with infants in arms. They were waiting patiently for their turn to enter the church. I asked the Bishop why so many people were here on a weekday. He said they were here to be baptized.

Inside the Cathedral was a team of priests who took turns baptizing by the dozens those who had come to receive the sacrament of new birth. They were not there to be seen by us, or anyone else for that matter. They were waiting for their turn to be buried with Christ and raised to new life in Him. They had waited patiently for decades under Communist rule for the “acceptable time.” What they were doing was for God’s eyes only.

Our Lenten journey takes us from the mystical experience of the transfiguration atop the holy mountain, to the cross and the surprise of the empty tomb, the greatest victory of life over death. So what shall we resolve as we move from the sacraments of bread and wine, and the ashes of our mortality as we begin the journey once again?

That is the Lenten question we all have to answer for ourselves. Lent is the “acceptable time.” Whatever we decide to do, whatever actions we take in terms of our piety, should be for God’s eyes only and in thankful response to His Love and Grace that enables us to turn our hearts to Him and live the life we have been invited to live through Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+ 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Father Riley's homily from March 3, 2019 (Christ Episcopal, Bastrop)

CEC Breaking News !

…Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays March 10, 17, 31.  We will have Morning Prayer March 24.   Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Ash Wednesday at noon, March 6, 2019.  Father Riley wishes me to remind everyone: Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting. 

…   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.  If you have questions about 'fasting', the Lenten classes are a great place to ask questions.

...Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday: turn your clocks ahead one hour...or be late!

…We will soon be starting our 2019 Capital Campaign for raising funds to repair and paint the exterior of our beautiful church.  We expect to have final proposals from contractors this week.  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.

LAST EPIPHANY - C - 19                      LUKE 9. 28-36

Today’s gospel reading contains two distinct sermons. The first has to do with a spectacular manifestation, or Epiphany, if you will, of our Lord to Peter, James and John atop a mountain. The second takes place after the Epiphany on the mountain and Jesus and his disciples have ascended to a waiting crowd below.

Here the scene is concerned with faith, or perhaps the lack of it, where Jesus performs a healing the disciples were unable to perform. I have chosen to focus my remarks on the first, the Transfiguration of Jesus. Luke has it occurring on the threshold of Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem that resulted in his death on the cross.

It is a fitting ending to our Epiphany season as we approach the Lenten one in which through the readings of these 40 days we travel with Jesus to the Holy City, the cross and the empty tomb. The scene atop the mountain is important as it is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke albeit with varying details.

Each of these gospel writers did their best to describe what took place there even though they were not eyewitnesses. Luke writes that the appearance of Jesus’ face changed and that his clothes became dazzling white. He was reporting what Peter told him that he saw on the mountain sometime after the fact. For at the time of their descent they said nothing to anyone.

It would only be after the resurrection that they would be able to relate their experience to others with authority having been eye witnesses. Before we get much further with this, we need to be reminded of what has taken place prior to Jesus’ taking Peter, James and John up on the mountain.

Jesus has feed the 5000, Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ, and immediately before ascending the mountain Jesus has made his first prediction of His Passion. Once they were atop the mountain Jesus began to pray. The disciples were sleepy. Just as they would be later in the garden when Jesus asked them to watch with him prior to his arrest. What began in prayer grew into an intense religious experience.

Apparently, it took place at night, which only magnified the aura of unnatural brilliance that surrounded Jesus. It was his glory that the three disciples saw which roused them from their drowsiness. It was the presence of Moses and Elijah that caused Peter to blurt out that it was good for them to be there so why not stay?

Moses represented the law and all those who have died. Elijah represents the prophets - since he did not experience death - and all those who are alive in Christ. Their presence shows that the law and the prophets, the living and the dead, all bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and manifests the communion of saints.

So far, so good was their experience. But then, darkness overshadowed the light. A cloud, Luke says, engulfed them. I like to think of it as a divine fog. The three became afraid. They could no longer see Jesus, Moses or Elijah. Then a voice came from the cloud and said: “This is my son, my chosen; listen to him.”

When the voice had spoken the cloud, the fog, if you will, dissipated. Then they saw Jesus alone. Luke tells us that they kept silent in those days not even sharing the experience with the other disciples. I have often thought what could they say. How could they describe what they had seen?

They did not understand what they had seen, at least not yet. So what did happen up there on the mountain? What spiritual truths does this event in the life of Jesus present to us today? Jesus’ suffering had been predicted, now his glory is revealed. But for whose benefit?

The Transfiguration is but a foreshadowing of Christ’ future glory that will be manifested on the cross. Before Jesus suffered, his glory was manifested in an effort to prepare his disciples to bear it. They were given the vision of his glory and the assurance of His divine authority - this is my son, my chosen one, listen to him.

But it didn’t help. They all abandoned him before the cross. We too find it bewildering to know how to understand all that God is doing, and saying, both in times of our great joy and great sadness.

We look at the world around us and within our own society and we can’t help but ask - what is God doing? Or as some might say, why isn’t God doing something? However, God has and is - in and through His Son, Jesus Christ salvation has come to the world.

What happened up there on the mountain was for the benefit of the disciples, and us, not Jesus. For an instant of time, God’s glory shone through the face of His Son and created an aura about him. Moses and Elijah’s appearances bore witness to the fact that Jesus was God’s anointed one, the promised Messiah. The voice from the cloud confirmed it.

Although they did not understand it then, the glory that was revealed to Peter, James, and John would one day be theirs and ours. In today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes to encourage the young Christians at Corinth. He tells them that in Christ the glory of the Lord is revealed. In him, we have seen the glory of God unveiled.

It is His glory that in turn transforms us into his image. Albeit, as Paul says, degree by degree. Sometimes I think we Christians prefer to live in the fog rather than the light, even though the fog scares us. However, God’s call to us in Christ Jesus is to live in the light of His glory and reflect that light like a mirror to the world we live in. 

The Transfiguration was not only a foreshadowing of the fullness of Christ’ glory that would be revealed on the cross, but the Hope that we, “beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” Amen+