Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

My Friends,

Epiphany season starts with us remembering the coming of the wise men to see Jesus And every Scripture reading during Epiphany is about the shining forth of his light, just as the star shone forth to the wise men. Today's gospel reading is the story of the miracle at Cana, when Jesus turned the water into wine.  It too is about the shining forth of the light of Christ. The end of the story is this:  "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory..."  John calls the miracle a "sign".  The story is not just about how a wedding celebration was saved from the embarrassment of running out of wine.  The miracle was a "sign".  It was not just a miraculous act, but a kind of picture of who Jesus is.

What the picture shows to us is that through Jesus God transforms our lives.
What the story is pointing to is the way God can take a sad difficult situation and transform it and make it better than if it had never happened. The last wine is better than the first. It is so important to remember that God does this. When difficult things happen, people ask why? Why did God allow this to happen? It is a difficult question to answer, but it is impossible to answer if we do not remember that God can take the saddest situation and transform it into joy. He may transform our sadness into joy in this world or he may in the next but he will certainly do it. The miracle at Cana is a picture of God transforming a small misfortune into joy. But it points to something much larger - the way that God transforms all sadness into joy. It is about how he will take our sadness and make it as if it had never been.

The miracle also tells us about how this happens in the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes we find that the wine of the joy of God's presence is gone. We cannot feel the faith and the joy that we once felt. It seems that the wine has run out, and we don't know how to get it back. In the story, it is at this point that Mary said to Jesus, "They have no wine." And in the story Jesus gave a shocking answer. "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come." This is hard to understand. Why was Jesus so harsh with Mary? What did his reply mean? First of all, the word "woman" is not harsh in Hebrew the way it is in English. But Jesus still did seem to be rejecting Mary's appeal in very strong terms. What he was rejecting was the idea that Mary had the right to ask for a miracle because of the natural relation between them. I'm sure that there was great love and affection between Jesus and Mary.

As all of us do, Jesus owed his mother honour and respect and support . But her natural relation to him did not give her the right to a miracle.
The members of his family had no more right to that than anyone else. What brings miracles is faith. Jesus was asking Mary whether she was coming to him because of their natural bond or whether she was coming to him out of faith. And the answer was that she was coming to him out of faith. She took his no for a yes, and she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said.

There is something very important here for us and for our lives. When we are in distress and when God seems to be gone from our lives, when the wine seems to have run out, our natural sorrow and need are not enough to bring God's transforming love. We can so easily say to ourselves:  "God knows my trouble, and yet he doesn't seem to be doing anything. I guess it's no use." But we haven't tried to exercise our faith. Our sorrow does not give us the right to a miracle. This might seem like a harsh thing to say but even in our troubles we need to have faith.
And Mary tells us what it means to have faith. "Do whatever he tells you," she said. When it seems that God is absent, faith means doing what Jesus wants us to do. Whatever a person feels, if he has faith he goes on following Jesus.

I don't know if you've ever been lost in the forest. If you haven't it's easy to imagine someone going through it. When a person first realizes he is lost it must be terrifying. He is overwhelmed by his feelings - he wants to shout and make somebody hear. But nobody hears. He might run aimlessly for a while. This is all very natural but sooner or later he will have to start to walk out of there. He will have to figure out what direction to follow to keep from going round in circles. And that person takes a very important step when he sets a direction for himself and starts walking. In the same way when there is sadness or trouble in our lives we may be overwhelmed by our feelings. We may send up frantic prayers for God to change everything. Usually it doesn't happen. Usually the step we have to take is to decide what Jesus wants us to do and to start doing it. We may not feel that this brings us any closer to God. We may feel that we are still lost, that the wine is still all gone. But by doing the right thing we have set ourselves on the road to transformation. When we take the first step of faith we may not be any happier at first.

In a way there is something that feels better about standing there and shouting in despair than in trying a path that we are afraid won't work. But the first step of faith is to do whatever Jesus would want us to do, whether we feel as if that will help or not. What this first step might be will be different for different people. For someone who is in mourning, the first step may be simply going on with the routines of their life, without having their heart in them. Keeping the house tidy, going out and visiting with friends, even when you don't want to - these are the first steps to finding a new life, with new kinds of joy. For someone who has a handicap or a physical limitation that they didn't have before the first step might be when they first use the wheelchair to get somewhere. It might be when  they first listen to a book on tape, because they can't read anymore. These are the first steps of coming to terms with the new reality. For someone who feels the need of God in their life, the first step might be to go to church, or to pray regularly, when they used to only pray when they felt like it. These are the first steps that will lead to a walk with God.

The odd thing is that when we take that first humble step a voice inside us will tell us that it is never going to lead anywhere. This is just water, the voice will say. We need wine and that is what we can't get. But we should ignore that voice and go on taking that first step. Out of that water, God will make his wine. Out of those first steps of faith, however small they seem, God will act to transform our lives.
Catherine Marshall tells a story about her own life which illustrates some of the truths about God's transforming power that we have seen in the story of the miracle at Cana. She had suffered from insomnia for a long time and was taking sleeping pills for it. Sleeping pills are a helpful medicine to some but people can also get dependent on them. Catherine wasn't comfortable with the pills she was taking but she was afraid of what would happen if she stopped taking them. So she kept taking them for 17 years.  Then one day she went on a trip and found she had forgotten her pills.  She thought, "Good, God has finally brought me to the moment where I will start sleeping without the pills." She prayed that he would help her to sleep. But she couldn't sleep. She couldn't sleep at all that night. When she got back home though she decided that it was God's will that she stop taking sleeping pills and she got rid of her supply. She told God that she was going to depend on him alone to help her to sleep. She took the first step of faith. But the struggle was not easy.  For eight nights she had great difficulty sleeping.  The lack of sleep made her nervous and hyper-sensitive to sounds. She had expected a miracle to help her to sleep. The miracle she got though was that she had no desire to go back to the sleeping pills even though she wasn't sleeping.  The next step she took was to do some reading about sleep and about the effect the pills had had on her.  She learned that using the pills for so long had left her sleep mechanism out of kilter. That was why she was having so much trouble sleeping now.  A third step was she started to exercise some control over the thoughts she was having when she couldn't sleep.  She had been used to letting her thoughts and feelings go in any direction and a lot of them were negative.  She started to change that and keep to more positive thoughts and feelings.  A fourth step was she started looking at her dreams.  Her sleeping pills had inhibited her dreaming and now she was dreaming quite wildly when she could sleep.  The character of these dreams started to show her some things about her emotions that she hadn't understood before.  Of course this was all a very difficult time.  Catherine wrote:  "Sometimes resentment would rise in me.  'All right, Lord,' I would protest.  I obeyed you and look where it's gotten me.  I've been miserable ever since.' Eventually the answering insight came, 'When you obey, I do more than one little thing.  You've been demanding an instant miracle for sleep;  I want a healing of the whole woman.'"
All that time, Catherine Marshall was following what she believed Jesus wanted her to do without feeling that it was working out.  But then things started to turn around.  The dreams she had when she did sleep started to be peaceful.  The disturbed feelings that had caused the other dreams started to go away.  And finally her sleep started to become normal.  This story shows us what God's transforming of our lives usually looks like.  We start when we have run out of wine.  The change begins when we begin to exercise our faith and take the first step of obedience.  The steps we take are the water that God takes and transforms.  And the wine that he produces is better than what was there in the first place.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Epiphany of our Lord, Saturday 6 January 2018

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

 Ecclesiasticus 24:1-2,8-12|Ephesians 1:3-6,15-18|John 1:1-18
In St Matthew’s account of the infancy of Christ, the roughly two- year stay of the Holy Family at Bethlehem included an astronomically-inspired encounter with wandering astrologers from the pagan cultures to Palestine’s east. To us, astrology means reading your horoscope for a lucky week in the Daily Express. But as it existed in the high cultures that practiced it, astrology was more than that. It combined primitive science with speculation about great religious and historical themes or trends.

Such astrology made rulers jittery. At one point in the later New Testament period, the emperor Domitian had those born with the horoscopes of potential emperors identified and executed. King Herod was likely to be on the alert for rumours of this kind. So the setting of the Epiphany is historically credible. And in any case, if we believe that the Church has inherited a special insight into the revelation entrusted to her (and there is no other serious reason for belonging to the Church than this), we need to say that her methods take us further than others do. And she certainly celebrates the Epiphany liturgically as a genuine event.

Let us, say, then, that something significant happened. The text of the Gospel, and the texts with which it is surrounded in the Liturgy, tutor us in what that ‘something’ was. It has to do with the glory of God revealed in the child in Mary’s arms and the universal importance – for all peoples, all individuals – of what his birth means.
The Wise Men stand for the wisdom that lies outside Israel, beyond the confines of the Land of the Promise. They represent a knowledge and an understanding of the world which was alien to the religious and cultural tradition in which, most immediately, the Word became incarnate. And yet despite this, they manage to come to Christ, to the incarnate Wisdom of the God they barely knew.

They come with questions, wider ones than the geographical one they put to the wicked king Herod. What those questions are become apparent from the gifts they carry. Gold is the metal from which royal insignia are made, and in which in many places, via coins or ingots, trade was conducted: indeed, in living memory, gold was the standard for valuing all currencies in the world. It represents, then, politics and economics – questions about the nature of power and how wealth might be used for the human good.

Frankincense is the material of worship. It is used in the cult – the worshipful service – of God or the gods. As Wise Men, the Magi necessarily have searching questions about the divine, searching theological questions, as we would say.
Lastly they bring myrrh: the stuff used for mummifying the dead, and death, we can say, is the great question-mark set against all human activity. Existentialist philosophers, with forerunners in earlier times, have found the question of death a supremely philosophical question. That must be so if philosophy is the discipline which asks in the most general way possible about the what, the how, and the why of the world and our place within it.

So the Wise Men have questions about the political and economic or social order of the world, they have theological concerns, and they have philosophical anxieties. And these they bring with their own kind of faith and hope to this unique Child whom the Church of the Gentiles will eventually proclaim to be the answer to their question. Jesus Christ is the universal King – his reign is the ultimate answer to the questions of political, social and economic order. He is God from God – and so the ultimate object of theological concern. He is the Victor over death – and thus the ultimate resolution of philosophical anxieties.

By the presence of these pagan intellectuals at the opening of the Gospel, St Matthew anticipates the ending of his gospel-book. That is when the risen Christ will tell the disciples to go out and preach the Good News to all the nations. The Epiphany is the proclamation to those who are not Jews, and whose faith may be far from simple, that they too shall be brought into the presence of God made man, the truth they seek in his own person, and rejoice there, as the evangelist records, with exceeding great joy.

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The First Sunday after Christmas , Sunday 31 December 2017

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

“Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son;
and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
(Galatians 4:7)

Christmas Day is the great feast of the Incarnation of God. The Epistles and Gospels for Christmas Day help us focus on how God the Son humbled himself to be born of a Virgin, so that he might redeem us from sin. The Epistle for today, however, changes the emphasis. It does not focus so much on God’s great condescension in becoming man. It focuses rather on the great exaltation of human nature, which occurs when we are adopted as God’s sons. It speaks of the marvelous freedom of sons and heirs, into which we have been brought from our slavery to sin and death.

There are several ways in which God is said to have sons. Most properly, his Son is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, “the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all worlds; God, of God; Light, of Light; Very God, of Very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; Through whom all things were made.” He is most properly said to be God’s Son because he shares his Father’s nature and glory.

Yet all God’s creatures bear a certain trace of the Father’s paternity. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handy-work.” (Psalm 19.1) “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1.20) All creation, by the great variety of its forms and operations, by the harmony and beauty of its parts, bears a trace of the glory of its maker.
Therefore, God can be said to be its Father because of the vestige of a likeness to himself.

Man bears an even stronger resemblance to God because he was made in the image of God. Man’s capacity to know and love what is good is perhaps the most powerful natural clue we have as to the nature of God. Thus, God is very much the Father of man, by virtue of the image man bears of him.

But because of Adam’s sin, and because of the loss of grace which followed, man has lost the power to know and love effectively what is good. While he is made in God’s image, he has nevertheless lost the likeness to God which came through grace.

It is this likeness to God by grace that Christ has restored in us. It is on account of this likeness by grace that we are called God’s adopted sons. ‘When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!,’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8.15-16)  But what is it when the Holy Spirit cries out in us but grace, for grace is the operation of the Holy Spirit in us.

What does it mean, then, to be God’s adopted sons, bearing to God the likeness of grace? It means becoming more and more like Christ. It means being conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8.29) by the operation of the Holy Spirit in us, by grace. This means that our lives as Christians must be disciplined and directed, altered and transformed, by the means of grace with which the Holy Spirit provides us in the life of the Church. We must seek the grace which has been promised us through devout use of the Holy Sacraments. We must seek the grace that comes through disciplined lives of prayer, self-denial, and acts of mercy towards others. We must seek the grace that comes through the humble, patient study of Holy Scripture with the mind of the Church.

Thus, and only thus will we come to be the sons of God in glory, raised with the glorious body of the resurrection, united to God in Christ, sons in the most perfect way creatures can possibly be.

That glory will be the completion of all our hope. Let us hope for that glory by living now as the adopted sons of grace.

Blessings for 2018

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston, Tasmania

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Saint Stephen, Martyr

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.  The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.   As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Acts 7:58-59

What a shocking contrast!  Yesterday, our Church celebrated the joyous birth of the Savior of the world.  Today we honour the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.  Yesterday, the world was fixated on a humble and precious infant lying in a manger.  Today, we stand by as witnesses to the blood that was shed by St. Stephen for professing his faith in this little child.

In a sense, this feast day adds some immediate drama to our Christmas celebration.  It’s a drama that should never have happened, but it’s a drama that was permitted by God as St. Stephen bore the greatest witness of faith to this newborn King.
Perhaps there are many reasons to include the feast of the first Christian Martyr in the Church’s calendar on the second day of the Octave of Christmas.  One such reason is to immediately remind us of the consequences of giving our lives to Him who was born an infant in Bethlehem.  The consequences?  We must give Him everything, holding nothing back, even if it means persecution and death.
At first, this could appear to strip away our Christmas joy.  It could appear to put a damper on this festive season.  But with the eyes of faith, this feast day only adds to the glorious solemnity of this Christmas celebration.

It reminds us that the birth of Christ requires everything from us.  We must be ready and willing to give our lives to Him completely and without reserve.  The birth of the Savior of the world means we must reprioritize our lives and commit to choosing Him above all else, even above our own lives.  It means we must be ready and willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus, living selflessly and faithfully to His most holy will.
“Jesus is the reason for the season,” we often hear.  This is true.  He is the reason for life and the reason to give our lives without reserve.

Reflect, today, upon the demand imposed upon you by the birth of the Savior of the world.  From an earthly perspective, this “demand” can appear overwhelming.  But from the perspective of faith, we recognize that His birth is nothing more than an opportunity for us to enter into new life.  We are called to enter into a new life of grace and total self-giving.  Let yourself embrace this Christmas celebration by looking at ways you are being called to give of yourself more completely.  Do not be afraid to give everything to God and others.  It’s a sacrifice worth giving and is made possible by this precious Child.

Lord, as we continue the glorious celebration of Your birth, help me to understand the effect that Your coming among us must have on my life.  Help me to clearly perceive Your invitation to give myself completely to Your glorious will.  May Your birth instill in me a willingness to be born anew into a life of selfless and sacrificial giving.  May I learn to imitate the love that St. Stephen had for You and to live that radical love in my life.  St. Stephen, pray for me.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania,

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Saint Thomas the Apostle.


Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

Ephesians 2:19-22
 Psalm 117:1-2
 John 20:24-29

 St. Thomas the Apostle is remembered primarily for two things: that he was the one who did not believe in the Resurrection, and that he brought Christianity to India. Doubting Thomas is a bit of an unfair reputation. So far as we know, none of the Apostles believed before seeing Jesus except St. John who saw the empty tomb and believed. It is simply that his doubts are recorded in such a powerful fashion as we read today. He immediately believed. He experienced many hardships and went to a faraway land to preach the Gospel. There he was killed for the faith.
 He was not a lifelong doubter once he saw the evidence with his own eyes, but it cannot be said simply that Thomas believed because he saw. Many people might have seen the same thing and still doubted. St. Thomas received his faith not by investigation. St. Thomas received his faith from the Father.

 Faith is not a human accomplishment. Faith is a gift. Faith is not gritting our teeth and insisting that we will believe. Faith is a gift. Faith is not something we should be proud of as if we were better people than those who do not believe. Faith is something we ought to be grateful for because it is a gift. Faith is something that we ought to ask God for every day. And if we begin to doubt, there are two mistakes we can make: trying to fight the doubts on our own or accepting the doubts as wisdom. If we begin to doubt, we must turn to God and ask for more faith.

 We receive knowledge from our parents and the Church. We know about Christianity because of them and the books we read. But faith is something different. If the whole world abandoned Christianity, and it was just you alone with no support, if they all told you that it was pretend, that it was just another story like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, is there something within you that would still believe? Is there something within you right now that believes in God without consideration of any argument or reason? That is faith. It does not seem strong because if we test it ourselves, it will fall apart quickly. The test of our faith comes from the outside: persecution, suffering, martyrdom. That is when we find out how strong faith really is.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,