Saturday, February 16, 2019

Septuagesima - 17 February 2019

My Friends,

"So run that ye may obtain." (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Today we make a decisive turn in the Church year. During Epiphany season it is as if we were looking backwards, walking in the right direction, but looking back at Christmas and Jesus in the manger, looking to see the meaning of the Word made flesh, the Son of God become the Son of man, looking to see divinity manifest among us. Now we turn our heads around to look toward Easter and to what brings us to Easter: the ministry of our Lord Jesus, his suffering and death, his triumphant rising again. We look forward to Lent, Holy Week and Easter. And the Church asks us to begin considering and preparing for these holy seasons. The Church calls us in Lent to “self-examination and repentance by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word” (BCP, p. 612). What new discipline of soul or body? what new generosity of time, money and talent will you undertake this Lent? Now is the occasion to ask these questions. But, before you arrive at the answers, our Church asks you specifically this Sunday to ask ‘Why?’ Before asking ‘what should I do this Lent to prepare for Holy Week and Easter,’ ask yourself ‘Why?’ For this is the question answered in today’s Epistle and Gospel.

Today we are shown the two opposed aspects of our salvation. The Gospel emphasizes that salvation is God’s gift to us, a generous gift more than we could earn, and an equal gift: everyone is given the same at the end. The Epistle emphasizes our labour: our discipline and effort: an effort which will differ from person to person, some doing more, others less.

The teaching about salvation as God’s equal gift is of course the Gospel story told by our Lord Himself: the story of the master of the vineyard who paid all his workers the same at the end of the day despite the fact that some had come early and laboured all day long; others had come late and had worked only one hour. The master protests that he is nonetheless just because he has paid the longest labourers what he had agreed to pay and he was generous to all. This story teaches us three things about our salvation.

First and foremost, salvation is God’s gift in virtue of what Jesus has worked for and paid on our behalf. It is never what we could earn, and, as it is a generous heart which gives it, so also, it is only a humble and thankful heart which can receive it.

Second, the reward for us all is the same: life with God. The way to the reward is the same for all the redeemed; the work of Jesus who was obedient unto death to pay what we owed and could not pay. The work of Jesus makes us friends with God and everyone’s reward is friendship with God, life with Him in this world and seeing Him face to face, enjoying the fulness of his presence in the next. This is our happiness. It is the only reward which is offered. It is the same for all, the greatest and the least.
Third, we are reminded that latecomers are just as welcome to the kingdom as those who have laboured all the day. Jesus tells us to seek the lost coin, to go out and find the lost sheep and tells us that there is more joy over a lost sinner returned than over the ninety and nine which need no repentance. “This is a true saying and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1.15)

We all know this: scarcely any know how to live it. Those who have laboured all day in the vineyard are almost always full of self-righteous disdain and resentment when someone is received at the last hour. Consider working to overcome this as your Lenten discipline. I would be astonished if anyone of us here is free of the resentment of those who have “borne the burden and heat of the day.”
The other aspect of salvation is our effort, here compared by St. Paul to the training and hard running undertaken by the runner of a race. He preaches the same message as the Gospel does: keep your eye on the goal, the prize, he says, the incorruptible crown, the prize which, like the coin, is equal for all, namely immortal life with God given through the work of Jesus on our behalf. So in all our effort, we must always keep before our minds on the equal prize, the free gift of God through the one Lord Jesus our Saviour, namely life with God. But, there is another side, our discipline, exercise, our labour and effort: like the practice, discipline, exercise, and finally, the effort of a runner. The runner’s exercise is likened to the work and discipline we undertake in Lent. But why do we undertake this? To earn the prize? No says Paul: rather to “keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” For both St. Paul, in the Epistle, and Jesus, in the Gospel, our work and the prize are disproportionate: we cannot earn the prize by our labour. It is equal for all no matter how much they have laboured. It is given in virtue of the generous love of the giver, not in virtue of our labour. According to the Collect “we ... are justly punished for our offenses” and we are “mercifully delivered” by God’s goodness.

Our labours do not earn salvation; they enable us to live lives of temperance, humility, generosity, thankfulness, and praise consonant with the salvation God gives us. Lent trains us to live lives “worthy of our calling.” Remember this: the obstacles between us and our goal in God’s kingdom are erected by us. The devils and idols who stand between us and God have no power of themselves to stop us. They are impotent against us by themselves. Christ destroyed their power. They have only as much substance, power and reality against us as we give them. That is why we ourselves must be subdued. This why having come under God’s rule we must bring every aspect of our lives within his control.

The doctrine that Christian salvation is not all free gift but is also partly in our effort is a great comfort. For if it were all in God’s gift, then every aspect of our lives should be already experienced as saved. But we discover the very opposite. We discover that we are not even able to repent. We rid ourselves of the evil deed, but the love and consent to the evil desire is still there. If we were simply saved already, on reflection we would find ourselves damned. But we are not damned.
We are not damned because Jesus has won salvation for us as the free gift of God offered to everyone. We are not damned because the Father and the Son sent their Holy Spirit to work and labour with us and in us to make us day by day more conformed to the perfectly obedient humanity of our Lord Jesus. We are saved by free gift which is the beginning and end of our labours and we have also the gracious comfort of good works by which we are able to live lives of thankfulness and praise, the lives to which we are called that we might in all things glorify God, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, to whom belongs all might, majesty, dominion, and praise, honour and glory, now and ever. 

Amen.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston
Tasmania
Australia


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - 10 February 2019

My Friends,
 
Reading: Col 3 . 12
“Forbearing one another and forgiving one another”
 
Paul’s words go to the heart of our life together in the body of Christ. What he is talking about is our mutual forbearance and forgiveness of one another. That such an exhortation comes from one who, to say the least, was hardly the easiest person to get along with, only adds to the power of its eloquence.
 
Paul knows only too well how hard we can all be to get along with. He knows as well how difficult he himself can be for others. And perhaps, just perhaps, there is that extra dimension of self-awareness in knowing, too, how hard we can be on ourselves. There is not only the tyranny of our self-righteous judgments against one another; there is also the harshness of our judgments against ourselves. We are, after all, our own worst enemies. “An enemy has done this”, as the gospel puts it; the enemy is ourselves.
 
Epiphany runs out in the themes of mercy and judgment. Today’s epistle complements and illustrates the gospel. Wheat and tares grow together in the field of the world. Wheat and weeds are there together, both the good and the bad. But who can be sure which is which? What is weed and what is wheat? This is to recognize the limitations of our judgments. “Let them both grow together until harvest”, says the sower. God is the gardener and God is the judge. Not you and not me. That is itself a great mercy.
 
This doesn’t simply mean the suspension of our judgment in the abdication of responsibilities. We have the obligation and the ability to discern right from wrong and, and by God’s grace, to act accordingly. We are bidden to be God’s good wheat in the world of wheat and tares. But it does mean a check upon our judgmentalism. Forbearing one another and forgiving one another is the counter to our judgmentalism. Our judgmentalism is our presumption to know what we cannot and do not know about others and even about ourselves. We would put ourselves in the place of God as judge. We would presume to have a total and absolute view when, in fact, our viewpoint is altogether restricted and limited. We see, at best, “through a glass darkly”. To know this is to be aware of the limits of our knowing. It is the beginning of wisdom. It frees us from the tyranny of ourselves.
 
The epiphany here is the light of Christ made manifest in us. It is our self-awareness of the limits of human judgment both with respect to ourselves and to one another. But is all this simply a cautionary tale? Are we exhorted here merely to a posture of skepticism? to a suspension of belief about the possibilities of knowing anything and therefore about doing anything? No. Quite the opposite. What we are presented with counters the cynical and false skepticism of our age which would deny any objective view about what is good and true while asserting as absolute its own relativism. And what we are presented with equally counters the religion of sentimentalism and self-righteousness which makes the church such a parody of itself.
 
At the heart of Paul’s exhortation are these strong, strong words about forbearing and forgiving. They impart an active quality to the virtues of “mercy and compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering” - virtues which belong to our identity in Christ as “elect”, “holy and beloved”. We are reminded of who we are in the sight of God. That is no occasion for self-righteousness but for the deepening of our lives in faith, “put[ting] on charity, let[ting] the peace of God rule in [y]our hearts, let[ting] the word of Christ dwell in [us] more richly”. In every way we are drawn more fully into the light of Christ, the one who has come into the midst of the world of wheat and tares, the one who illumines the darkness of our hearts. We are at once convicted and comforted by the light of Christ.
 
There is a vision here. There is an epiphany of our lives in the light of Christ. We are given to see and to act out of what we are given to see. We are given to see something of the forbearance and the forgiveness of God towards us which compels us to forbear and forgive one another. “Even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye”. It is always what we pray. Our lives are lived in the sight of God “from whom no secrets are hid”. What we are given to see is the picture of his love for us. It counters all our pretensions and all the presumptions of our judgmentalism. Equally, it challenges our all-too-willing subservience to tyranny and bullying by institutional authorities, whether it be Bishops or Synods or whatever, who have betrayed the principles that govern their authority. Why?
 
Because it opens us out to the greater mercy of God in Jesus Christ. “Love bade me welcome”, George Herbert’s last poem begins, “yet my soul drew back, / Guiltie of dust and sinne”. There is the awareness of our sinfulness, Contrition that leads to Confession. The soul in confession says to God, personified as Love, that “I cannot look on thee” to which Love replies wonderfully, “Who made the eyes but I?” But the soul in the deep awareness of its separation from God can only seek for truth as justice, “Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame/ Go where it doth deserve”.  “And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?” Our judgments upon ourselves would continue to separate us from the one “who bore the blame” and whose mercy bids us “sit down and taste my meat.” He is our Satisfaction. It means “forbearing one another and forgiving one another”. It means, of course, “put[ting] on charity.” It means “let[ting] the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” It is, we might say, “all for Jesus.” For “whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Father Ed Bakker,
Priest and Missioner,
Anglican Catholic Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston
Tasmania
Australia




Saturday, February 2, 2019

Candlemass

My Friends,

 
Readings from Mal 3 1-14 & Luke 2:22-40
 
 
 In the Ardennes, there is a little Church. It is called the Church of the Lamps.
There is no electric light there. If people enter the church, they pick up a lamp from the back. When there are only a few people in church, there are large shadows in the building visible. When there are a lot of people in church, well then it is a feast. Then there is athmosphere, warmth and cozyness.  A few people in a brightly lit up church is not a feast. Many churches nowadays don't have the lights at the back burning. And yet there are still people sitting there in the dark, fond of their own chose place in the building.
 
 In church we use lots of candles. Candles accompany us from the cradle to the grace. The baptism candle is lit from the Paschal candle. As a little child we receive the light in our hands with the mission to be a light in this world.  Then we know the candles in the Advent wreath, the candles in the Christmas tree, the candles at Candlemas. And finally at the hour of our passing at the funeral candles are burning again. Also the Paschal candle is lit. A sign that in our darkest hour of death, the light of Christ will win.
 
 Exactly forty days after Christmas it is 2 February, Candlemass, or the Purification of the Blessed virgin Mary. You would have expected that the whole of Jerusalem would be there when the Light of the world is being carried into the temple. But the Christmas Child did not come to honour Himself. Four times in the Gospel is mentioned that the child will be subject to the law of God.  In this way Jesus follows a tradition of His people. A Bar-Mitswa, a Son of the Law, that is what He is going to turn into.What does happen there on this fortieth day after the birth. It relates to the old Paschal story of Israel. The Sons of Egypt died, the first born of Israel were spared.Pure mercy from God. That is why people agreed to dedicate their first born to God.
 
After the short service in the temple is finished, two people approach Josef and Mary, a man and a woman. Before they know it, the man has the child in his arms. He sings a psalm and uses difficult words. The woman begins to prophesy. An ordinary group of people, there were so many people like that on the temple square. Small groups of praying and talking people.
 
 And who is this old man called Simeon, who holds the child in his arms? The tradition says that he is old and tired. "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant go in peace", because it has happened during my lifetime. Old Simeon put your head down now, because the Messaiah has really come. But that is not what it means.
It means " O Lord, you have released your servant." Intriguing words. What does this release then mean? We see this in Luke 13: a lame woman is released and can walk again. 
 
 Simeon sings a song of praise. In our Church we find it back in the Nunc Dimittis, sung at Evensong. Simeon leaves his post and continues his life.  Luke tells us the story of the man, who saw things as they really were deep in his heart. He did not see a beaming child, but a child that was destined to be the Saviour of mankind.
 
 The 2nd of February is the feast of Candlemas , the feast of Light. Candles are a symbol of our lives. Above every candle burns the light, that can break through the darkness and shed warmth. Under the flame, the wax, which burns quietly without resistance. That is a sign of willingness. The candle is prepared to burn wherever it is being put down. The candles , which we burn today express Mary's and our lives. Hopefully we are prepared to shine with our lights in the darkness, which holds our world in such a grip.
 
 If only a few want to shine with their light, then the world looks dark and sorrowful. But if many want to keep their light burning, the world can turn into a warm and pleasant place and the darkness disappears. Don't complain that we live in dark times, but shine with your light. And the darkness will disappear.  What a promise!
It is not a matter that we are thermometer, which measures the warmth in our surroundings, but we are a thermostat, which gives out warmth.
And this is what Jesus wanted to be: a thermostat to give warmth to every person He met in his earthly life.

Amen

Father Ed Bakker,
Priest and Missioner,
Anglican Catholic Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston
Tasmania
Australia
 
 

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany - 27 January 2019

 
 
My Friends

Readings:

Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10,    1 Corinthians 12:12-30,    Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21


The first reading from the prophet Nehemiah gives us a lively account of the public proclamation of the Book of the Law in the assembly by Ezra, the scribe: Ezra read from the Lord God, translating and giving the sense, so that the people understood what was read.

The people were told not to weep or be mournful, but to rejoice: The joy of the Lord is your stronghold. This is reinforced in the responsorial psalm: The law of the Lord revives the soul… The precepts of the Lord… gladden the heart… The command of the Lord… gives light to the eyes.
This understanding of the Law of God is that of a life-giving word, not a dead letter, but something alive and active.

We see this coming to its fulfilment in the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus in today’s gospel reading from Luke, where he gets up in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth and reads from the prophet Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind give new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour. He then says: This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.

This proclamation of the gladness of God come to dwell amongst his people in the Word made flesh surely must be at the heart of our preaching as an Order of Preachers. As the community or communities, of the followers of Jesus grows, a clear account of the whole story from the beginning has been given to us by Luke so that, like Theophilus, we may learn how well founded is the teaching we have received.

We see this at work in the community at Corinth in today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to them about the body of Christ of which they are apart: Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink. Nor is the body to be identified with any one of its many parts… Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it.

This is a life-giving unity, not a dead uniformity. It respects and indeed rejoices in “the accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitness and ministers of the word” as Luke reminds us in the introduction of his gospel. As an Order of Preachers we have to be ministers of the word in our place and time just as those in Corinth – one body with many parts. Paul will go on in his letter to remind us of the love that binds us together and has to be at the heart of our preaching. Such charity is sometimes lacking in our dealings with each other as believers, especially in the social media!

We are much in need of words of hope and encouragement especially for those who struggle with difficulties in their life and in their faith. The Spirit needs to lead us back to consider once again the words of Jesus in today’s gospel: he has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to sit the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

Perhaps what we need most, especially in the public domain, is a conversion from a shrillness and hardness of heart to a discerning and compassionate spirit. I think this is crucial to finding a way forward both within and outwith the believing community in dealing with issues arising in Church and State at present and into the foreseeable future.

There will be much discussion and debate over “Brexit” and many other things, as this new year wears on. Our prayer and our hope is that a consideration of our common humanity will keep our efforts and energy focused on the paths of peace and that we might in the words of the prophet Micah: Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God.

Father Ed Bakker,
Priest and Missioner,
Anglican Catholic Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston
Tasmania
Australia

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany - 20 January 2019

My Friends,

Reading: Saint John 2, 1-11

"Life as a party"

It is a beautiful story, about that wedding of Kana, actually too good to have happened. Who would not have wanted to be there? But, hey .... where is the bride, and the bridegroom? Who are they? What are they called? And what do they do? They would like to congratulate them and offer them a present, but they do not seem to found anywhere. There is water,  lots of water - six jars of 100 litres each, that's nothing - wine, wine, good and better. There are also mentioned a few guests, including Jesus with his disciples, and also the mother of Jesus is present. But, once again, there is no mention of a bride. Only at the end is the groom briefly addressed. Is there actually a bride and groom? You could make a kind of search image: who and where are they, the bride and groom? The attention goes so much to the wine and the water, and to Mary and Jesus that we do not even miss the bride and groom in our story.

For us, people of this time, they may all be right questions and problems, but John's readers knew only too well who was meant by bride and groom. The image of the wedding reminded them of the time of the prophets and the deserts, when God celebrated his wedding with his people. They immediately understood that God is the bridegroom and the people of Israel are the bride. They knew the old writings that read: "I will make you my wife forever, I will bind you to me" (Hosea 2.21). Or as it is with Isaiah (see the first reading): "As a boy marries his girl, He who builds you, will marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, your God will rejoice in you. "So the gospel is not about a happiness day of two private persons but about the Covenant between God and his people that is presented as a marriage, and where the bride - the people of God, initially Israel, then the Christian community, the church community - may share in God's faithfulness and God's love, which brings abundance of life, joy and happiness.

John places this story about the wine wonder of Cana at the beginning of his gospel, immediately after his story about the Incarnation. With this story he starts the public performance of Jesus. What does he mean by that? In a nutshell and by way of introduction he summarizes the life of Jesus - whose incarnation he has told in the prologue - his mission, his message together to communicate it to his readers. It is a kind of foreword.

 A foreword in a book is intended to encourage readers to read the rest, to get them to taste  the contents of the book. We read something similar in the gospel at the feast of revelation from the Lord. The child of Bethlehem wants to be a light, not only for the people of Israel, but also for the people who live further away; people from across the border, people who have a different colour, speak a different language. The message of the child of Bethlehem is meant for the whole world.
We might say it briefly and concisely, but in the gospel of Matthew it is wrapped up in a story about the wise men from the east.


For John, Jesus is someone who wants to make the life of every human being a feast of God. Jesus has come to give the real, the full, the eternal life. The life he offers people is much richer, much deeper, much more meaningful than the (watery) life that we often lead. In Jesus' life we ​​may also see that the goodness and the gentleness and the faithfulness of God reaches to death; that death even changes into life and that love between people of water can make wine. This vision is  then further worked out by John in all his gospels, in all the signs that Jesus performed, as he says it.
With the wedding at Cana, called the sign of Cana by the Evangelist, Jesus made a start with the signs that he would carry on. But the sign of Kana already reflects the core idea and the core content of all signs. John also did not want to communicate this in a sober, businesslike way. He turned it into a beautiful and colourful wedding story. You can do it. And so on our side, we should try to interpret it.

In doing so, we can start with the question of whether Jesus and his message can also add colour and season our (my) life. Let us make the covenant that God also wants to enter into with us (with me) in our lives.

If we answer 'yes' to this question, we can probably go one step further.
Often people say in a funny way that they are jealous of Jesus. That they, like him, also want to change water into wine.


Well, we can all do that. All of us can turn the often watery lives of people into wine, to a colourful and tasteful life. If we are inspired by Jesus' message and live from God's covenant with us, we should be able to be a bit like Jesus and to do what He did: through His wonderful ways turn the life of every human being to a feast.


Father Ed Bakker,
Priest and Missioner,
Anglican Catholic Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston, Tasmania,
Australia