Monday, May 27, 2019

Father Riley's homily from May 26, 2019 and update on Christ Episcopal's exterior repairs and improvements

Service update:  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist, Sunday, June 2, 2019

2019 Capital Campaign Project Update:
If you have visited our home church, you have seen the work underway.  Below are a few images of the work in progress and views of some of the damage found.  We will soon have a second mail out to families who have had a relationship with our congregation in the past and may wish to join us in offering donations to our 2019 Capital Campaign.  Our first mail out yielded bountiful results and we are all very thankful.  If you know someone who may wish to contribute, please check with them about making a donation to our project.

Father Riley's homily:

EASTER VI - C - 19                          JOHN 5. 1-9

The old city of Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times over the centuries. The current streets, I have been told, are several meters above the ones Jesus walked on. Yet the various gates to the city have remained and in some cases are very near to where they once stood in the time of Jesus.

The sheep gate is one such gate. Today it is known as the lion’s gate. It is located north of the Temple mount and is on the West side of the city. It was called the sheep gate because it was the gate the sheep were brought through to the Temple for sacrifice.

On my last visit to the Holy City, our group passed through the gate and stopped at the recent archeological site that has unearthed the pool where, according to Saint John, Jesus healed the paralyzed man in today’s gospel reading.

The water for this high ground pool came from underground springs and was used to wash down the sacrificial lambs before they were slain. They were also believed to have curative powers. Those who were in physical need waited to enter the water after an angel had supposedly disturbed it. The first one to enter was cured.

Jesus passes through the sheep gate on his way to the Temple to celebrate the festival that was taking place. He would have passed within sight of the pool where many invalids lay - blind, lame, and paralyzed. Saint John does not tell us how Jesus knew this one man had been there waiting for some thirty-eight years.

Perhaps it was divine intuition, but he does tell us that Jesus was pointed in his question of him. “Do you want to be made well?” The man answered with an excuse. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

This man had made a way of life out of his long wait for healing. However, on this day the man’s belief in the healing power of the waters of the pool was replaced by his belief and obedience to Jesus’ command. “Stand up, take your mat and walk.

The unnamed man’s obedience put him on a path to real life, a different path he now chose to walk without his former excuse, or “crutch” we might say. Jesus’ question to him was indeed a pointed one. “Do you want to get better, or are you satisfied with the way your life is now?”

Jesus brings new life that breaks into the present. The healing Jesus offers is the reality the created world has been waiting for the beginning of a new creation. Jesus singled out the man who had waited for thirty-eight years as an example of perseverance. The man’s patience stands as judgment against those who loose hope or patience in much lesser troubles lasting a far shorter time.

What about us? Would we have the patience to persevere thirty or forty years waiting for a miracle to take place and relieve us of our trouble?

I have known, as I am certain you have as well, persons who have made a life out of waiting for things to get better. Many of whom have an excuse why their life is the way it is. They feel, in some cases, that life has dealt them a bad hand.

They can’t get a job or they can’t seem to keep one. They never have enough money. It is always some one else’s fault why they are in the shape they are in. They never take responsibility for their actions, never have and never will. They always have an excuse.

Their excuse has become their “crutch.” Take away their excuse and they have no real reason to be or act the way they do. They have learned to make a life out of the way they are. Some will never change, simply because they do not wish to. They will continue through life limping along as it were and all the while crying woe is me.

They have no faith or belief that things can change for the better. Unlike the man who lay next to the pool for all those years still believing that one day it just might be his day, those who are satisfied with the life they are now living have no hope but have resigned themselves to fate.

God has sent His Son into the world to offer hope and to bring new life, to bring healing to a broken world. As the collect says, God has prepared for those who love Him such good things as surpass our understanding. We may tell ourselves that we are waiting for a miracle but the miracle has already come.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. Jesus brings new life that breaks into the present. God is waiting for us to grasp it so that we may obtain his promises, which exceed all that we can desire.

“Do you want to be healed,” Jesus asked the man who had been lying next to the pool for thirty-eight years?  He responded with an excuse, yet obeyed Jesus’ command to stand up and walk. The Gospel of Jesus Christ confronts us with a similar question. Do we want to live the new life to which we have been called casting aside our every excuse in order to do so?

Not resigning ourselves to fate, but a life of faith, hope and love in Him who died and rose again that we might have new life and have it more abundantly. Or, are we satisfied with the life we now live? Are we still waiting on a miracle? Those are the questions we all need to answer for ourselves.

God in Christ is waiting for us to respond to his command to “stand up and walk,” walk away from the old life of sin and death and into the light of the new life He brings to all who put their trust in Him. AMEN+

Friday, May 24, 2019

Father Riley's homily from May 19, 2019, Christ Episcopal, Bastrop

EASTER V - C - 19                      JOHN 13. 31-35

“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

The scene of today’s gospel reading is the upper room. The time is just prior to Jesus’ arrest in the garden. Jesus has instituted the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of His own Body and Blood. At table, he predicted his being betrayed by one who ate with him. He has given his disciples an example of humility and servant hood by washing their feet. Yes, he washed Judas’ feet.

Afterwards Judas, the betrayer, goes out into the darkness to carry out his ghastly deed. With Judas’ departure, Jesus begins the final teaching of his earthly ministry referring to his impending death as his “glorification.” What follows is his “new” commandment to love.

Many religions and philosophies teach people to “love one another.” What makes this commandment new is the measure required of our love: we must love as Christ loved us. Therein lies the difficulty in our carrying out Christ’ commandment.

To love one another as Christ loves us is to love even those we deem as our enemies. To love as Christ loves us is to love with a sacrificial love even if it means we are to lay down our life for another, whether friend or stranger. To love as Christ loves us is to forgive those who persecute us, hate us, disagree with us, and even ridicule us. To love as Christ loves us is to love unconditionally with no strings attached.

This new commandment of Jesus is simple, clear, and yet the hardest of all to put into practice. It is a mutual love Jesus is proposing that reflects the mutual love existing between the Father and the Son, the existence of such a love will be the distinguishing mark of the Christian community.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The first reading from Acts is an example from the early church of an initial failure to do so. Paul was the first to break with tradition and preach to the Gentiles who were deemed as unworthy of God’s love.  Peter followed and had to defend himself against the purists in Jerusalem who felt that if God is calling the Gentiles to this new covenant they must first become Jews by undergoing circumcision.

However, Peter knew otherwise. God had given him a revelation that He was doing a new thing and that any and all, Gentile and Jew alike, who believed in the Lord, Jesus Christ, had been given the repentance that leads to life. Peter’s revelation was the same, as St. John would receive many years later in his vision of a new heaven and a new earth: “See, I am making all things new.”

Jesus’ commandment to love was “new” only in the mode of operation. Love of course is central in many parts of the Old Testament, not the least of which is found in Leviticus 19.18 where God’s people are commanded to love their neighbors as themselves.

The newness of Jesus’ commandment, then, isn’t so much a matter of having heard words like this before. Rather it has to do with the depth and type of love: love one another in the same way that I have loved you. Just a few weeks ago, our gospel reading was that of the third resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples.

Some of the disciples had gone fishing, remember? They had caught nothing. Jesus stood on the beach next to a charcoal fire and instructed them to cast their net once more. To their surprise a great shoal of fish was caught.

Then one of the disciples recognized the risen Lord and let it be known that it was Christ. Peter jumps into the waters clothes and all and wades ashore. Jesus greets him and the others with breakfast. Afterwards, Christ takes Peter aside and asks him if he loves him more than the other disciples. Peter says yes.

In the Greek, there are several words for love. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Christ uses the Greek word “agape” which means “divine love,” or love as the Father has for the Son and Christ has for us. Peter responds with the Greek word for “brotherly love,” or a kind of friendship love as it were. That is, more or less of what passes for love in the world as we know it today.

The third time Jesus asks him if he loves him, more than the others Jesus comes down to Peter’s level and uses the same word for love as Peter has been using. Peter says, yes Lord, you know that I love you. By illustration this scene points to our difficulty in carrying out Christ’ new commandment.

We say that we love someone but most often, it is not with a divine love. Our love for one another usually has strings attached. As human beings, we find it easy to fall out of love with another person for whatever reason, and move on to a new relationship. That is not the kind of love Jesus is commanding. Thankfully God does not fall out of love for us.

On the beach Jesus accepted Peter where he was for the time being in his understanding of what Jesus was asking. Peter would eventually rise to the level of Christ’s love for him for Jesus knew what was in Peter’s heart. Peter rested his case on that knowledge as do we. 

At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the sacrament of His own Body and Blood with the words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” The new commandment refers to the institution of the Eucharist.

That is why the Eucharist is the central act of Christian worship. In our receiving the sacrament, we are reminded week in and week out that we are to love one another as Christ loves us - unconditionally. Christ loves us where we are with a divine love, even when we don’t understand it.

He accepted Peter’s love for Him at that moment in time knowing that one day Peter would understand and express the love Christ had for him in his love for others. One who is loved generates love. Christ’ love lifts us to a deeper understanding of what it is to love and to be loved and the means to express it. 

Love is all about the other person. It overflows into service, not in order to show off how hard working it is, but because that is its natural form. This love, the love Christ has for each of us, was manifested for all the world to see on the cross.

It is the same love that the Father has for the Son; it is the love that raised Jesus from the dead, and by doing so has opened to all who believe in Him, the way to everlasting life. This is the love that you and I, and all who call themselves Christians, are to witness to a watching world.

It is a love meant to be lived in a life of self-denial, humility and servant hood, in other words, putting the other person first no matter who they are.  “By this,” Jesus says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” AMEN+

Monday, May 13, 2019

Father Riley's homily from May 12, 2019 and CEC News Alert!

CEC  News Alert:
…  May 19 we will have Morning Prayer.  Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist May 26.   Services at 10am as usual. 

EASTER IV - C - 19                          JOHN 10. 22-30

The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally referred to as “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The gospel reading for the day is always from the tenth chapter of Saint John. Today’s passage is toward the end of the chapter. Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem during the festival of the Dedication; also know as Hanukkah, or the festival of lights.

The festival commemorated the purification of the Temple by Judas Macabee in 164 B.C. after it had been polluted by the Syrian king, Antiochus. At the festival the leaders of Israel’s past were remembered many of whom were shepherds. Ezekiel 34 was also read during the festival to remind the people that God is their true shepherd.

The verses that precede today’s passage contain Jesus’ having already identified himself as the “Good Shepherd.” He does so in contrast to the false shepherds, the present leaders of Israel, that is the Pharisees, to whom Christ’ remarks are being addressed.

Throughout the tenth chapter, Jesus has had a running conversation with the Jews over his true identity. Today’s passage picks up with their questioning him once again. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

What has really got them stirred up is Jesus’ recent healing of the man born blind. The people’s reaction to Jesus is a mixed bag. Some say he has a demon and is mad, why listen to him? Others said, ‘these are not the signs of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’

With the crowd standing around him, the Pharisees again confront him. They want a simple “yes” or “no.” However, Jesus does not comply with their request. His response is in line with all that he has previously said. To his inquisitors his answer is veiled. Their eyes are not open to his words.

John contrasts their spiritual blindness with Jesus’ ability to give kingdom insight to those who are open to receive it. In this case, his works speak for themselves. “The works that I do in my father’s name bear witness to me…”

The climax to the passage is found in Jesus’ final remarks to the Pharisees that he and the father are one, a statement of the very essence of Christ’ being. The Pharisees have their answer. Could he speak more plainly? Both what Christ told them and the works he has done have already answered their question.

Even though they have heard what he has said and seen what he has done, most recently his having opened the eyes of a man born blind, they do not believe him. “I told you, and you do not believe.” No matter how openly Jesus speaks, those who are not of his sheep will not believe; no matter how obscurely he speaks, those who are his sheep will understand.

The cause of misunderstanding lies not in him but in his listener. How many times have we wished that God would give us a simple “yes” or “no?” especially when we have prayed or asked for something, we deem as necessary and expedient?

We pray. We listen. We wait and nothing appears to be forthcoming. It is as though God is not listening. Can we be so sure? The Pharisees could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, because of their pre-conceived notions of whom and what messiah would be and do.

What about us? How do we conceive of God? Do we see Him as the one who comes to our every beckon and call? Does He exist simply to satisfy our needs, our wants, and our desires? Do we hear Him when He speaks? Do we accept His “no?” when we are looking for His “yes?”

Many years ago now I went on a Lenten retreat to a Trappist monastery in northern Iowa. When one arrives, he is met by the guest master at the entrance and signs in to receive his room assignment. On this particular occasion, the guest master was a delightful old Irish monk who sat at his table and warmly greeted us as he handed out the keys to our rooms.

I could not help but notice that taped to the wall behind him was a tattered and faded piece of yellow notebook paper with words in large print that read: “Sometimes God Says No. Sometimes God says yes. Sometimes God says not now. Sometimes God says I thought you would never ask.”

God always answers. There are times when we misinterpret or misunderstand what God is saying. The fault lies not in what God says but in us as listener. We are often blind to His hand at work around us as we are often deaf to what He is saying to us and to the world.

All because it is not what we want to see or hear. It is not what we expect from God. God is a God of surprises. Look at Easter. God takes an instrument of death and transforms it into a means of redemption. God chooses the unlikely to carry out His work. Look at Peter and Paul. At the same time, God allows things to go on that cause us to pause and ask why?

God’s answers are not always that simple. His ways are not our ways. God is mystery. He owes us no explanation. We who have been called by Him, who are his sheep, have been given the gift of Faith that enables us to believe even when we do not understand; to accept that we now know in part with the Hope that we will one day know in full.

By God’s grace, we are able to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd above the clamor and noise of this world. No matter how obscurely he speaks. We need to listen for his voice. We need to hear what he is saying.

Moreover, we trust in God’s Love and mercy that He will forgive us of our times of intermittent spiritual blindness and deafness to his word. For God is Love and it was the Love of God that sent His Son, Jesus Christ into the world to save us from sin and death. It was by his death and through the power of his resurrection; he has opened to us the way to eternal life.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” AMEN+

Monday, May 6, 2019

Father Riley's homily from May 5, 2019 and CEC Breaking News

CEC Breaking News:
…   Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist May 12 and 26. NOTE: May 12, Father Riley will be with us. May 19 we will have Morning Prayer. Your BlogSpot scribe got the dates wrong in last update.
…   Capital Campaign fund raising is going well and work is progressing well also.  Repairs to our lawn will take place after construction is completed. Thank you all for supporting this critical work.
Latest update of Capital Campaign donations:

$ 42,185.00
1st Mailing
$ 21.20
Donation Box
$ 5,000.00
From Diocese
$ 23,000.00
Early Donations
$ 70,205.00
Balance To Date (5/5/19)

EASTER III - C - 19                                        JOHN 21. 1- 19

Today’s gospel reading from Saint John contains the third resurrection appearance of Jesus. There is quite a contrast between today’s appearance and the first two we heard in last week’s gospel.

First, we do not know how much time has elapsed between the second appearance to Thomas, which occurred eight days after Easter and today’s. The scene is different. No upper room with closed doors but outdoors in the open. Not in Jerusalem but in Galilee on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Not in the evening but at the dawn of a new day.

And not all of the disciples are there, only seven are present. I have always wondered where the others might be. Peter has decided to go fishing and these six go with him. It would seem that after their having received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the evening of Easter Day, and the charge from Jesus to continue his ministry of reconciliation, Peter has decided instead to go back to the old life he knew before he and the others were called to follow Christ.

The story of their having fished all-night and caught nothing is reminiscent of Saint Luke’s story of the unexpected catch (LK 5. 1-11). Like Luke’s account, Jesus having heard they have caught nothing, instructs them to cast the net on the right side. “So they cast it, and now they were unable to haul it in because there were so many fish.”

Up to this point Jesus is not recognized. With the catch in hand, one of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, exclaimed, “It is the Lord.” Peter stripped for work immediately put his clothes on and jumps into the water and makes his way ashore leaving the others behind to tend to the catch and beach the boat.

Interestingly Jesus has already made a charcoal fire and has breakfast, fish and bread, ready for the disciples to eat. “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ’Who are you?’ because they knew it was the lord.” Jesus feeds them. They eat in silence.

As Jesus made his second appearance for the benefit of Thomas, he now makes it for the benefit of Peter. Taking Peter aside after they had eaten, Jesus points the others and asks him, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Three times Jesus asks Peter the same question. Three times Peter says “yes.” Each time Peter says “yes” Jesus gives him a charge. As Christ has feed them so now Peter is to feed those who choose to follow Jesus, both lambs and sheep. Peter’s thrice denial of Christ is reversed by his triple profession of his love of Christ.

In essence, he is restored to his role as shepherd of the flock whose task it is to teach and feed. Peter is given a second chance. His life with Jesus begins over again. Peter’s “yes” makes the restoration of the relationship complete.  Peter now makes no bold claims, no rash promises.

His faith is no longer in himself. It is in Jesus. “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And so, a chastened Peter rests his case on Jesus’ knowledge of what is in his heart.

In our reading from Acts, we hear the story of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. Paul is the chief persecutor of the Church rounding up men, women, and children who are followers of Jesus and bringing them before the Sanhedrin to be tried. His reputation has exceeded him wherever he goes.

However, his mission is interrupted in dramatic fashion. A bright light appears literally blinding him and a voice is heard asking why he is persecuting me. The me is Jesus and Christ has a mission for Paul proving that God can and does use anyone to accomplish his purpose, even one who was intent on destroying the church.

Paul is restored to health, baptized, and given his task of becoming the apostle to the Gentiles; a task that would cost him much suffering and pain, and like Peter, results in his death at the hands of those who opposed his proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.

We read and hear these stories week after week as we come to this sacred space to worship the living God. Most of us have heard them often without ever seeing ourselves as part of the story. But in order to realize the true meaning of what we hear and read week after week we must own it. It is our story. And the best way to own it is to see ourselves in each scene.

I have always said that of all the disciples Peter is the one I can identify with. Perhaps many of you can as well. In many ways, he is just like us. He is so ordinary. So simple. And so complex. At one point, he is willing to die with Jesus. At another, he denies him. Finally, he professes his love for Jesus and in doing so is restored to relationship with the Son of God.

Regardless of his human frailties deep down, there was a true love of God and Jesus knew it from the beginning. Like Peter, we have all let him down enough times. He wants to find that love within each of us, to give us a chance to express it, to heal the hurts and failures of the past, and to give us new work to do. Like Peter, we rest our case on Christ’ knowledge of what is in our hearts.

These are not things for us to do to earn forgiveness. Nothing can ever do that. It is grace from start to finish. They are things to do out of the joy and relief that we are already forgiven. Things we are given to do precisely as the sign that we are forgiven. Things that will be costly, because Jesus’ own work was costly.

Things that will mean following Jesus into suffering, perhaps in death. We don’t always think about that. Christians were killed on this most recent Easter Sunday simply because they were worshipping Jesus. In that, the world is not that much different from in the time of Jesus, Peter, and Paul.

But the world is different because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Jesus has taken the steep road to the cross, and has proved that death is defeated by life. By his death, he has opened to us the way to eternal life.

Peter went from strength to strength. He was still muddled from time to time, as Acts indicates. Redeemed, restored, and forgiven, his love of Christ shinned through all that he said and did. His faith and belief in Christ’s love for him sustained him until the end. So it is for us. His story is our story.

And Christ’ call to him is Christ’s call to each of us, “Follow me.” AMEN+