Monday, August 10, 2020

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity


My Friends, 
Readings: 1 Cor 10 v, Saint Luke 16 v 1
“Now these things were our examples”
 
Today’s Epistle and Gospel form a complementary exhortation to the practise of a Christian life. It is well captured in the Collect: “the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will”. 
 
Our thinking and our doing are intimately related.  What we think, what we believe, what we know are to be expressed in what we do.  Our actions reveal our intentions.  We endeavour to live a life worthy of our calling. We are all pilgrims who know, in some fashion or other, the incompleteness of ourselves but acknowledge our  completeness in God through God to God.  Our purpose lies in the Son’s love for the Father in the embrace of the Holy Spirit. Such an understanding impells an activity of purpose in our everyday lives.  It is the note which the Gospel sounds.
 
The Gospel exhorts us to be prudent, not unrighteous.  To be prudent means to discern the Good, “such things as be rightful”, and to pursue it, “living according to thy will”.  It means to think and do - thinking and doing the right thing at the right time, in the right way and for the right reason.  It is, we may say, a tall order.  The challenge is to get all of those things together. 
 
The unrighteous steward in the Gospel is simply all of us.  We are all stewards - those to whom things are entrusted.  It is a profoundly biblical view.  Nothing we have is of ourselves.  We can only enter into what God has provided for us.  Our wills and our actions apart from the will of God are never right.  My ways and your ways, considered in themselves, are at best ways of self-righteousness, tinged and coloured by our own agendas and motives whether known or unknown to ourselves and others.  They are always less than the full righteousness of God; in short, they are ways of unrighteousness.
 
Yet who we are and what we have are given by God, who, like the “certain rich man” in the parable, demands an account of what we have done.  We stand accountable.  This, too, is a profound point-of-view which speaks to the dignity and freedom of our humanity.  How do we stand in the light of God’s truth and justice, the ground and measure of our standing?  How faithful have we been to God with what he has entrusted to us?
 
To be prudent is to be faithful in that which is least for the sake of that which is most. It means to make proper use of the goods of this world but with an eye firmly fixed on the highest good of God in whom are “the everlasting habitations”.  In themselves, apart from the justice of God, the things of this world are “the mammon of unrighteousness”.  Prudence means their proper use according to God’s justice - righteous dealing with things according to their purpose in the rightful ordering of all things by God.  Being faithful in the least things of the world - honesty, courtesy, kindness, consideration in our families, churches and workaday lives - is the condition of our being faithful in much.  In other words, right dealings in the world through right dealings with God.  In a way, it is about the much in the least. 
 
The Epistle offers a marvellous correspondence between the ancient people of Israel and Christians, then and now.  All are pilgrims who walk and live under the providential care of God who has made his love known to his people: their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt through the Red Sea waters; our deliverance from the chains of sin and death through the “red sea” of Christ’s blood in our baptisms. 
 
And his providential care extends beyond deliverance to sustenance.  He provides for the means of our wayfaring.  He feeds his people spiritual food, the manna in the wilderness, the water from the stricken rock.  He feeds his people with the holy bread of eternal life, the Body of Christ, and the cup of everlasting salvation, the Blood of Christ, flowing out like water from the stricken side of Christ crucified, for “that rock was Christ”.
 
But Paul, writing to that particularly cantankerous congregation at Corinth and so to the canker of Corinth in each of us, recalls as well the disobedience of the people of Israel even in the face of God’s deliverance and sustenance of them. They did not act in accord with the knowledge of God’s providential care. They were unfaithful and unrighteous with respect to what had been given to them. To act contrary to what has been made known to you is sin. It has consequences.
 
Paul specifically warns against lust and idolatry.  Both treat the things of this world as if they were the be-all and end-all of everything.  This is false to things of creation, false to their place and purpose in the justice of God.  To lose oneself in the appetites of the flesh - food, drink or sex, for instance -  or to be defined by the nature and number of one’s acquisitions is really to deny God from whom all things do come, to whom all things return and upon whom all things depend. 
 
Our bodies, our appetites, our daily lives must share in the right way of the pilgrim; they, too, must be directed and ordered to that home and end with God, “the everlasting habitations” of our wills at one with God’s will.  That end gives purpose to our lives and calls us to act in accord with the reasoned will of God manifest in the just order of his creation.  For we are neither self-complete nor wholly self-sufficient.  We are not our own; we are God’s.  Indeed, we are God’s dearly beloved whom he has loved in his Son who was made man and dwelt among us, who died for us that his life might live in us. 
 
Our pilgrimage proceeds in God’s awesome and accessible love by way of the practical means of that love. We come not to the food of idols, not to the idolatry of our false worship of ourselves in our self-made imaginings and the conceits of our complacencies, but to the great groaning-board of God’s infinite love.  Prudence calls us sacramentally to make use of the good things which God has given us.  In the sacrament we see the use of the things of this world but for the higher purpose of our life with God. 
 
“These things were our examples”, both Israel in the wilderness and the wild ones at Corinth, but also the prudence of the unrighteous steward - both what to do and what not to do.  They are our examples, but bring us to what is more than an example.  They bring us to Christ and to our abiding in him, to him in the Sacrament by which he would be in us and we in him.  It is our prudence to enter faithfully into what he wills to give us.
 
“These things were our examples”

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


Monday, August 3, 2020

The Eight Sunday after Trinity 2 August


Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ, 

Romans 8:12-17 and Matthew 7:15-21 

Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits."   
If we are a typical congregation, I submit that there are a number of you who are afraid of snakes. If a large snake came slithering down our center aisle, I am sure you would probably move very close to the wall. I recently read about the reason for our phobia about snakes. It seems that many of us have an unreasonable fear of snakes because of the story of the fall of man in the Book of Genesis. Remember that the villain in the story was a snake. Something happened to many of us as children after we heard that story and we developed an inordinate fear of snakes because of it. Now I know there are others that fear snakes because they know that some of them are poisonous, but it seems that many, many people are afraid of snakes because of that story in the Book of Genesis.  


Perhaps if we were to understand why the snake is the villain in the story, maybe that might change our attitude a little bit. The people of Israel entered the land of Canaan, inhabited by people called, properly enough, Canaanites. The Canaanites were people who worshiped all kinds of false gods. For example, they worshiped what are called astrodeities: the sun, moon and stars. They had names for them and worshipped them. When we hear the story of creation, the author of the Book of Genesis says, "He created the lesser light to rule the night and the greater light to rule the day and created the sun, moon and stars. With one sweep of his pen he just wrote off all of those astrodeities.  

Now, one of the most abominable forms of worship that the Canaanites indulged in had all kinds of unsavory elements in its celebration. It involved the worship of a fertility god. Guess what symbolized that god: the form of a snake! When the author of Genesis came to write the story of the fall of man, he took the principal god, or at least the basest god, of the Canaanites and make him the villain. Again, with one sweep of his pen, he has put down the Canaanite religion. Now, some say, because the Genesis story, a lot of people developed a fear of snakes.  

I think another unreasonable fear might also have developed because of the Scriptures: the fear of wolves. Because of the gospel reading this morning, "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves", the wolf gets a very bad press. It might be interesting for you to know that there is no documented case of a wolf attacking a human being. But wolves were looked upon as evil predators. Because of that, they were hunted nearly into extinction in the lower 48 states. We have developed greater sophistication in later years and we understand now that wolves have a very essential place in the ecosystem. Now they are a protected animal. In fact, in northern Minnesota, near Ely, there is a place where naturalists study the habits of wolves.  

Perhaps because what Jesus said here about wolves, that they are "ravening" wolves, they get very bad press. They become the villains of Jack London stories. It's very unfortunate that sometimes the fiction develops in a culture and people develop an inordinate fear of wolves. 
 
If we don't have to fear the wolves, at least we have to listen to what Jesus our Lord has to say about the wolves. I never knew a wolf yet that dressed up like a sheep to attack a herd of sheep. That's all symbolic, isn't it? And yet, what Jesus teaches is that there are some who would mask themselves as angels of light and really they are angels of darkness. They are evil. From the time of Matthew's gospel all the way to the present time, there have been those who have clothed themselves in sheep's clothing and have attempted to destroy the flock of Christ. In every age there has been one or another kind of heresy, a deviation from the teaching of Jesus Christ our Lord.  

Time after time, the apostles had to deal with what was called Gnosticism in which Christianity and the teachings of Jesus became the foundation of an elitist religion. If you have the "inside" knowledge then you were a lot better than those ordinary Christians and certainly a lot better than those pagan types. But whether it be Gnosticism or Manichaeism or Albigensianism or Quietism or Puritanism - no matter what it is, all through the ages it has always been an aberration. The individuals that were involved in them were like wolves in sheep's clothing. It looked so good. It sounded so right. And it tended to deceive people time after time.  

In our own time there are still heresies around. They still abound. One of them is called New Age. New Age theology, if you want to call it that, is simply a belief that we're all gods and if we only knew that, we could just develop our potential. But we are not gods. We are made in the image and likeness of God, but we need the redemptive work of Jesus Christ our Lord by his passion and death and resurrection to restore this impaired human nature of ours. We know that. Yet, so many people would embrace this New Age thinking. Now there are some good things about it. It involves a lot of beautiful meditation, but not all of the spirits conjured are benign; not all of those spirits are of the Holy Spirit.  

There's another heresy that abounds in our society: secularism. Secularism is, simply, the separation of religion from life. You compartmentalize the two. "Religion is fine for old folks and children, but for anyone who has a brain, no thanks! We are more sophisticated than to believe in myths of the Bible and that kind of thing. It really doesn't have anything to do with real life". Individuals can again masquerade as sheep and they are ravening wolves. There is a great danger in that kind of thinking.  

The separation of religion from life, secularism, is a very subtle thing. It would mean that we need Jesus and we love religion, but it doesn't have anything to do with - or anything to say to - what is real. These individuals would have us believe that there is nothing that religion can contribute to our understanding of society, of economics, of politics, of any of these things. Truly, the separation of religion from life.  
What would Jesus say to an individual like that? Did Jesus come into the world to build some kind of pie in the sky notions without realizing that you and I had to live in the real world and did he not give to us truths by which we could live in this real world? Secularism is a very subtle form of heresy.  

And yet the people that would espouse the heresies now as they have in the last two thousand years are not people with horns and evil looks in their eyes. These are people who are, to all appearances, very benign and very good and righteous. Sometimes, some of the things that they say are true and good. But so much of what they say, if followed to its logical conclusion, would end us in destruction. So Jesus was warning us and He says, "Sometimes they look great but they're ravenous wolves."  

How can you tell what is of God and what is of man? After all, the heresies are of man, not of God. How can you tell the difference? Jesus tells us very simply, "By their fruits, you will know them. "What kind of fruits would we look for if we were looking for something that is true and authentic religion? Would we look for some kind of exclusive little club that gets together on Sundays, pats one another on the back, and wishes everybody "happy alleluia"? And then goes home and does whatever they can during the week to stab their neighbor in the back? No. That wouldn't be right. "By their fruits you will know them".  

Jesus our Lord intended that you and I receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. He gave us that Spirit to dwell in us individually and collectively in order that we can discern what is true and authentic, what is false and ignoble. Jesus our Lord has given us the Holy Spirit in order that you and I can see whether or not the community is up-building, whether it is growing, whether it prospers, whether it really does care about one another. That is of the Spirit. Anything else isn't. And even though one can masquerade in all kinds of things, it is not of God. We have to discern spirits all of the time. We have to see what is the fruit of an individual's or a movement's philosophy.  
It doesn't take the proverbial rocket scientist to understand, for example, that there really was something strange about communism. In fact, the people who had to live under it said, "We don't want this." And the first time they had the opportunity, they got rid of it because it subjugated man to the State. Not to God, but to the all-powerful State. It was wrong.  

You and I must discern what is right and what is wrong. You and I must discern what is the fruit of God's work and what is not. You and I can listen to someone and we can say, "Yes! That's right. This is what I believe." Sometimes we can hear something and we say, "You know, there is something off here. There is something that is not quite right". We don't have to be able to assemble a great treatise on why it is wrong. The Spirit Himself teaches us, speaks to our spirit, to say, "This is not of God. This will not build up the kingdom of God in the world. Therefore, it's not for you." You can listen to that Spirit and follow it. That is what Jesus our Lord meant.  
We don't really have to be afraid of snakes. We don't have to be afraid of wolves. In fact, we do not have to be afraid of false doctrine. All we have to do is do what Jesus told us to do: take a look at it, prayerfully. "By their fruits you will know them."  

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

Sunday, July 26, 2020

From Father Bakker

My Friends
I am recovering from 2 eye operations - I need a break from blogging for a while for the eyes to settle.

Love and Prayers 

Father Ed Bakker


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity - 12 July 2020

My Friends, 

Saint Luke 5 v 1

“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing;
nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net”
 
It is a wonderful and yet a most challenging Gospel story. It illustrates at once the emptiness and the futility of our lives and the fullness and the purpose of our lives. It suggests something about what it actually might mean to be “all of one mind”, as the Epistle puts it, showing us just what it means to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” It has altogether to do with our attitude and relation to Jesus and to his Word. “At thy word I will let down the net”, Simon Peter says, even in the face of the empty toil and fruitless labour of the night.
 
Our lives are empty and futile in themselves. This is a hard, but necessary and humbling lesson, yet it is the counter to our folly and our pretension. Only “at thy word” can we “let down the net” and discover what ‘fulfillment and purpose’ might mean for us in our lives. It is altogether about our being with Christ. And what is our attitude to finding ourselves in the presence of God revealed in Jesus Christ? It is what Simon Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
 
This must trouble us. Why does he say this? Why doesn’t he rejoice in the sudden abundance of a rich catch of fish, the nets breaking with the fullness of the unexpected harvest? Because of a deep and profound spiritual insight, an insight which belongs to biblical wisdom. Simon Peter is aware of a power that is more than natural and more than human. He realizes the presence of God in Jesus Christ. He gives expression to the deep biblical insight of the distance between God and man, the distance between God’s righteousness and truth and the unrighteousness and folly of human lives. The language is that of knowing oneself to be a sinner and therefore not presuming to stand on equal ground with God. It is the attitude of an humble yet philosophic piety. It is to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” You are in the presence of the Holy.
 
The Gospel story suggests that the real purpose of our lives and our lives as being fulfilled, to use the psychological language of our day, is about our being with Christ and acting in obedience to his word. “At thy word” is a phrase which echoes the response of Mary to the Angel, “be it unto me according to thy word” which is the condition for the richness and the wonder of the Word made flesh, the Incarnation of Christ.  We can have no fullness apart from Jesus. “Apart from me, ye can do nothing”, he says. We can only enter into the will and purpose of God in the order of creation, redemption and sanctification. Our lives, in other words, find their purpose and meaning in his word.
 
It is the hardest thing for our age to accept. The secular culture, which is itself a true product of Christianity, has forgotten its spiritual origins in its hostility to God and in its own emptiness, the culture of nihilism and atheism, because it has yet to rediscover the truth of God out of the vanity of itself. “We have toiled all the night” and to what end? Is there anything substantial and eternal and absolute that can be said about our lives? What does it mean to put images, for instance, of eighteen–wheelers or fishing–rods or knitting-needles on modern day tombstones where there were once texts from Scripture and the Cross of Christ? There is the tragic irony of giving attention to the particular elements of our own lives at the expense of the particularity and the uniqueness of Christ, the God made man, who alone gives meaning to such things in our lives, who alone redeems them and us, who alone sanctifies our lives when we hold ourselves accountable to his sacred truth. We find the real meaning of our lives in the story of God written out for us in the life and death of Christ.
 
Our work and our play have their truth, to be sure, but only when they are brought into the company of Christ, only when our lives are seen as having an end with God. Then they are meaningful and fulfilling. We are all called, in one way or another, to “catch men” for God by being witnesses to the truth of Christ, by forsaking all the idols of our lives and by following him; in short, by the quality of our life in Christ.
 

 
In the Gospel, “letting down the nets” is not about material prosperity. It is about our obedience and commitment to Christ in his Word. Without that we are nothing and nothing worth. Right now, in the Anglican Communion worldwide, there is a real struggle about being attentive and faithful to God’s Word Written. There is the suggestion that the Scriptures are merely culturally determined and must be culturally interpreted and that the interpretative principles are governed by our social context and experience. Against the clear categories of creation with respect to our humanity as male and female, we are meant to embrace new categories as having equal weight and meaning, terms such as homosexual and heterosexual, for instance, which at best are “social constructs” and are fraught with no end of ambiguity and uncertainty in the secular culture itself.
 
But to pretend that such terms are the categories of creation or the categories of nature is the greatest folly, at once a betrayal of revelation and a betrayal of reason. The psychologising of sexuality has disengaged human sexuality from the categories of creation, redemption and sanctification, and the categories, too, of natural reason, the categories in and through which we discover our truth and our untruth, the truth of ourselves as sinners and the truth of ourselves as the children of God, the truth of ourselves in the dignity of our humanity.
 
The casualty in all of this is ourselves in our approach and understanding of Scripture and in our life with Christ. If the context is all-determining, then there is no word and no meaning to human activity. It remains a barren emptiness, the futile toil of the night.  Only in our commitment to thinking the Word, can we begin to discover the purpose and end of our lives, our true fulfillment in Christ and in obedience to his living word. For, in spite of the empty terror of our lives and even the troubles of our experiences, “at thy word I will let down the net”, holding ourselves accountable to Christ and his Word, sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts.
 
“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing;
nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net”

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity - 5 July 2020

My Friends

“In thy light we shall see light.” (Psalm 36.6

How frightening to our condition is today’s Gospel.  “Judge not,” Jesus commands.  Every statement we make is a judgement and every free act involves choice, which is judgement by another name.  Yet Jesus rightly forbids our judging, for we lack the necessary clarity of vision.  We are like the blind leading the blind or like a man with distorted sight who tries to correct the vision of his brother

A moment’s reflection on this deepens the despair.  Our disorder is so complete that we have good reason to fear our virtues as much as our vices; indeed they are profoundly connected.  Our vices are often the extensions and complements of our virtues.  The virtue of frankness runs on to become the viciousness of a gossiping, indiscreet and cruel tongue.  The man who is at home open handed, liberal, and generous demands harsh meanness of the government.  The steady conservative upon whom we rely to guard our treasure cannot discriminate between the precious and rubbish.  Reformers, so necessary to counterbalance these, throw out the baby with the bath water.  The obedient follow Hitler as easily as God.  The careful are mean, and the modest, cold.  The well-intentioned are busybodies and meddlers.  Liberators become dictators.  There is none good, no not one.  Jesus justly cries ‘Woe unto you hypocrites for ye are like unto whitened sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23.27)  We understand ourselves no better than we know our neighbours; we are better acquainted with our outward loveliness than with our inner rot. 

So, when we beg God to cleanse us of sins which are secret, we speak of the disorder hidden from our own sight by the fact that our vision is bound up with our personality, with our very identity.  And yet our whole salvation depends upon clarity: “This is the judgement,” Jesus declares, “that light is come into the world, but men chose darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” (John 3.19)  We are caught in a horrifying vicious circle.  We cannot do the right and good because we choose darkness instead of light, and the blindness which prefers darkness is seeking to cover its evil deeds.  “If the light which is in you be darkness how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6.23) 

Today’s Gospel leaves us self-condemned, blind, endlessly falling and without any power of ourselves to help ourselves, but Paul’s epistle offers hope in our despair and light in our darkness.  Vanity, empty pride, self-love and self-deceit are not the end of the story. 

For the creation was not made subject to vanity of its own will but in accordance with the will of him who made it subject in hope.  (Romans 8.20)

God did not allow us to fall into this dreadful condition in order to destroy us, but so, in saving us, to unite us to himself.  God allows us our own way in order to adopt us as free children.  Our self-destructive freedom is the means to the glorious liberty of the children of God, the splendid inheritance of the saints in light.  We must experience the vanity of our purposes and the weakness of our power so that we are willing to be redeemed soul and body, to be made a new creation.  We must love that by which we are transformed.  We groan, oppressed and weighed down by our sins, but this is not sullen, silent suffering.  These groans are impatient waiting, full of expectation and hope.  God breaks into the closed circle of our self-deceit.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome.  Outside ourselves we find a light by which we can see ourselves.  The light shines in our hearts to give knowledge.  By his light, and none other, knowledge is increased. 


In this way we love and choose rightly, not because we first loved God, but because he loved us and gave himself for us.  The love is no more our own than the light was our own.  It is not just a matter of pooling our collective ignorance as if that would awake the spark of light.  We are all caught up in the great cosmic motion by which we are being carried out of ourselves.  This and this alone is our hope.  On this account I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed.  These groans of the whole creation are a desire to pass through temporal things so as to gain eternal things.


To bring about this change, which is far beyond our natural expectation and capacity, God must be our ruler and guide.  For in Christ, God is not just a light to show us the way, God is the way into himself as the end of our journey.  Jesus is the way which is both light and life: not only a light shining out of heaven, but also a life into which we can enter to carry us over.  And so he is the life-giving food of man wayfaring.  Here and now in this blessed sacrament he transforms the earthly bread we offer to make it his glorious body, the bread of angels, the food of heaven.  And therefore, earnestly hopeful and eagerly expectant, we offer to God the sacrifice which is his due and give to Father, Son, and Spirit, all praise, honour, glory and dominion, now and ever. 

Amen

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