Sunday, November 29, 2020

First Sunday in Advent


Advent 1

My Friends
“Who is this?”
 
“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee”. He came unto his own city and they welcomed him, it seems. “A very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way”, all the while crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David”. They received him, it seems, with wondering gladness. For “when he was come into Jerusalem all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?”
 
A welcoming scene, it seems, but how did he receive the city into which he came? With open arms of gladness and joy?  No.  With wrath and anger.  And surely, too, that must move us to ask, “Who is this?”  Who is this who casts out, with such fury and wrath, “them that sold and bought in the temple; and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves”?  He was received with the cries of hope and joy; he responds with judgment and with wrath.
 
We would rather not see this, I fear.  We would rather the spectacle of our welcoming Christ and not the sight of his fierce anger and disapproval of our ways.  Our ways?  Yes.  It will not do to suggest that Christ’s anger is only directed at some imaginary ‘them’, as if we can be in the crowd that welcomes him – or so it seems – and not be in the same crowd busy at everything in the temple except what belongs to the purpose of the temple.  For what has provoked his wrath and anger?  Only ourselves in the busyness of our own ways, in the pursuit of our own self-interest and selfish gain wherever we are.
 
Make no mistake.  Between the church porch and the church pew, between the church pew and the altar rail, have not you and I thought about a myriad of things, none of which bear any connection to our being here in this Church and in this service?  Are there not thoughts of Sunday dinner, of the Grey Cup game, of an afternoon nap, of a visit and a chat, of gossip and a drink, and that is only to begin to speak of the things which are, in some sense, speakable!
 
O, what a judgment you are thinking!  How dare he!  He doesn’t know what goes on inside me, inside each one of us!  True enough.  “We do not have windows into men’s souls”, as that wise theologian and ruler, Queen Elizabeth the First once said, and a good thing, too, we might add.  The sight of our thoughts about one another, I am sure, would slay us all.  We would all be dead if thoughts could kill.  Even worse, we would all be murderers.  And yet, we can look, albeit in a glass darkly, into ourselves and if we will be honest, see what is there that should convict and move us to find ourselves in this story here.  In the telling of this story we are compelled to look into ourselves and to recognize that which in ourselves is unworthy of God and unworthy of ourselves.  It is undoubtedly true of me and do I really err in supposing that it might, just might be true of you?  I think not.
 
For the good news of this wonderful scene of Christ coming into Jerusalem and cleansing the temple is that it speaks to you and me.  It speaks about the meaning of his coming into our souls, the meaning of his advent, we might say, and unless he cleanse our souls and make straight his way within us, there can be no coming and no hope, no Christmas joy, no delight in the wonder of the mysterium divinum, the wonder of God with us.  His wrath and anger are about our denial of his coming really and he would shock us into receiving him in his truth.  
 
It makes no sense, of course, if we close our minds to the meaning and the truth of the one who comes.  It matters altogether “who he is”.  In a way, it is the Advent question.  For the coming of the king is not about the politics of power; it is about the power of truth, the truth that at once transcends the political and shapes our souls into the things of heaven.  We neglect and deny that truth at our peril.  Advent is our wake-up call, a wake-up call through the spectacle of the wrath of Christ over and against the sentimental emotionalism of the Christmas season, the saccharine sweet over-coat of our vulgar and grasping natures.  We are the thieves of God’s grace because we would take the things of God captive to ourselves, to our own ends and purposes, ends and purposes which are invariably about ourselves at the expense of God. 
 
Advent begins as it has for centuries upon centuries with the spectacle of Christ’s royal entry into Jerusalem. Since the late sixteenth century, thanks to Archbishop Cranmer, we have been privileged to read the further continuation of that story in Christ’s wrathful and violent cleansing of the temple.  Somehow we have to hold these moments together, the regal entrance and the joyous reception of the King coming to his city, on the one hand, and the scene of his wrath and anger at what he finds within the city, in the holy place of the holy city, the temple, on the other hand.  We cannot help but ask, what will he find within us?
 
“He came unto his own and his own received him not”.  That is part and parcel of the great mystery of Christmas, part and parcel of its essential meaning, and we will not even begin to understand that mystery apart from the pageant of the Advent of Christ which begins here with joy and celebration and then turns to wrath and anger.  Both moments have their truth in Christ. He is our joy, to be sure, but when we fail to perceive and know who he is, then there is the experience of his wrath and anger against us.  Why?
 
Because he comes with a purpose, the purpose of Revelation and Redemption, but we have ignored all the signs and markers along the way, both the long way of prophecy and law in the witness of the Scriptures and the long, long way, too,  of the folly and deceit of human experience.  We seem to have received him with gladness - everyone likes a parade - but in truth we “received him not”, received him not in the truth and purpose of his coming.  He comes to restore and redeem and in ways that challenge all our fondest hopes and aspirations, and all our assumptions and preconceptions.  Only his wrath, it seems, might, just might, get our attention.
 
And such is the Advent of Christ.  “The night is far spent, the day is at hand”, now and always, as St. Paul reminds us.  “Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness”, those works of hard thoughts and harsh words, of mean and selfish actions, of blindness and ignorance of the wonder that is before our eyes, the wonder of the love of God who wills to come unto his own.  We are his own despite our wayward ways.  He would have us know that so that now we may repent and accept his chastening wrath, that then we might finally be among them who received him, “to them that believe on his Name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  It means to learn from the one who comes, to learn who he is and who he is for us.  Such is the purpose of his advent towards us.  We are bidden to “come and see” that we may know “who this is” and follow him into the joy he brings.
 
“Who is this?”
 

 
 Fr Ed Bakker



Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday next before Advent


My Friends

Come and see”

 

Scripture sounds the notes of an ending and a beginning on this day, the Sunday Next before Advent.  This day both concludes the course of the Son’s life in us – “the Lord our Righteousness” - and returns us to the beginning of the course he runs for us – “Behold the Lamb of God”.   The righteousness of Christ, the right ordering of our loves and our lives, is what we have sought in the long course of the Trinity season.  But the course he runs for us is the way of the cross, the way of sacrifice.  It is the way that we travel with him in the pageant of faith from Advent to Trinity. 

 

Such times of transition signal occasions of renewal - a renewal of love, a re-awakening of the soul’s desire for holy things, a divine stirring up of our wills.  We come to the Advent of Christ. Advent is the season of God’s revelation, the motion of God’s Word and Son towards us for the sake of our knowing.  Our text sounds the measure of the season and beyond the season strikes the note of our soul’s salvation.  “Come and see”.  

 

In St. John’s Gospel, this is Jesus’ first statement.  It comes in response to the disciples’ answer to his very first gospel utterance, a question which he puts to them and to us, “What seek ye?” (What do we want?).  They answer with a question that has a twofold significance: “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?”  Here is no question of idle curiosity, but one which is deep and profound.  It speaks about the yearning of our hearts and the desiring of our minds.  It speaks about the awakened desire of the soul for God.  But how is the question twofold?  By its address as well as its request. 

 

"Rabbi – Teacher”.  They identify Jesus as a Teacher, one who can instruct them, teach them, enlighten them with an understanding which they seek but do not have.  They seek to know.  To know what?  Is it information?  Do they seek to know a host of busy details about a myriad of busy things?  “God is in the details”, it is commonly said.  To be sure, but he is not the details.  God cannot be reduced to a data sheet of statistics or to the memory bank of a computer.  “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T.S.  Eliot asks, the knowledge of God lost not found in the details, in the rush and crush of busy and disordered lives. 

 

For in such things there is no satisfaction; no true seeking where there is no desiring for a true finding .  No.  They seek more than information.  And so must we.  They seek the understanding upon which all our inquirings and all our doings depend.  They seek the reason and cause of all things, the knowledge of what is, what remains, and what ever shall be.  And so must we. 

 

They seek an understanding of God’s will and purpose.  They seek his abiding Word in the midst of the changing world.  Why?  Because nothing else is worth living for and they would live with the knowledge of that truth.  And so they ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  They would remain with him who would enlighten their minds to their heart’s desire.  They seek the Messiah, the promised anointed one of God, yet Christ will be more than the Messiah  they seek.  For God’s revelation of himself does not so much mean  the lowering of God to us, as the raising of us to God, hence “Come and see”.  He has come to us in order that we might come to him. 

 

But our seeking is not itself our seeing.  Jesus’s question seeks to draw out their proper intention, their true desire and what is truly to be desired.  They seek for what they do not have.  They seek for what is beyond them.  Such a seeking manifests an openness to God’s Word, to the possibilities of divine illumination.  As such it belongs to Revelation, to what comes from God to man, what we could in no wise invent.  Revelation, not our seeking, is the premiss of our seeing.  “In thy light, shall we see light”.  We cannot attain to God simply by our seeking.  Our seeking cannot make him in the image of our seeking.

 

No doubt our lives are lives of seeking, of the desiring to know, to have and to enjoy.  But according to our own lights, according to the light of our own experiences, we are but darkness.  To know that and not to yield to it, but instead to seek for the light which shines in the darkness, is to be open to God’s Revelation. 

 

“Show us the light of thy countenance and we shall be whole”, the Psalmist cries and behold, “Jesus turned and saw them”.  Our illumination depends upon God’s Revelation, his turning towards us, his seeing us in the light of his divine knowing.  His motion towards us manifests his divine light and makes us partakers of his eternity, now in the illumination by grace and then in the vision of glory.

 

We are light only in the light of Christ. We are bidden to “come and see” because that light who is Christ comes to us in the darkness of our uncertainties and fears.  It is no mere lightning bolt which comes and goes in a flash; it is more like the beacon of a lighthouse constant and secure, at once a warning and a guide.  Our faith shall deepen to understanding if we attend to his revelation and let the Teacher teach us about the truth of himself and the truth of ourselves in the light of his grace.  He comes to teach us.  And so let us indeed cry out, “Rabbi-Teacher”, but even more, let us “come and see”, this Advent and evermore.

 

Come and see”

 

 

  Fr Ed Bakker



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Twenty Third Sunday after Trinity 15 Nov 2020


My Friends

"Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way" (Matthew 22:21-22). 

The Prayer Book "Offices of Instruction" summarize our duty under the Eighth Commandment ("Thou shalt not steal") in this manner: "To keep my hands from picking and stealing: To be true and just in all my dealings" (BCP 289). 

This is wisdom, first of all, because the Church recognizes here in her teaching that there are two kinds of stealing, two ways of depriving someone else of what rightfully belongs to him. The first is "picking and stealing": theft as an act of undisciplined impulse. And this impulse just to grab whatever we desire is very destructive. All loving parents try to teach their children how to fight this temptation and to respect the property of others. 

But while the urge to pick and to steal is "childish," it is not "childlike" or innocent in its results. One of the hidden costs of every purchase we make is the storekeeper’s loss through theft, passed on to his customers in higher prices. And it is the weakest and most defenseless members of society who are hurt most by theft-inflated prices: the sick, widows, orphans, the elderly—everyone on a fixed or limited income. In fact, there are entire neighborhoods in our country without a single store because all the stores have been driven out of business by picking and stealing. 

And yet, surpassing impulsive theft for sheer destructiveness is the second sort of stealing identified by the Prayer Book: the planned, cold-blooded theft of failing to be true and just in all our dealings. Truth and justice demand effort, but so do their denial. And if picking and stealing can destroy a business or neighborhood, the refusal to be true and just can destroy an entire church, society, or nation. 

People make mistakes, of course. But honest people try to learn from their errors. They spend their lives trying to learn truth and justice; while dishonest people actively cultivate their ignorance of what God demands of every human being. Although we can pass a thousand laws to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty (and we have); no human law can succeed where the law of God is despised. The Prayer Book is right. I have no hope of teaching or even forcing you to be honest, until I have worked to keep my own hands from picking and stealing, until I have given my heart to God’s justice and truth in all my dealings. 

We are all born into this world as hypocrites, so justice and truth are life-long pursuits of our sanctification in Christ, who even provides for our failures by offering us his Father’s pardon any time we repent our sins. It was this same repentance that Christ sought from the Scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel, even though they had come to trick him, and not to learn about justice and truth. 

Their question about paying taxes to Caesar was a trap. If Christ said to pay the tax, the Pharisees could denounce him to the people as a Roman collaborator. If he spoke against the tax, they could hand him over to the Roman governor as a revolutionary, something they did manage to do on Good Friday. 

Yet the Scribes and Pharisees failed, because Christ asked to see their money, which turned out to be Roman coins. Under the Jewish law that the Pharisees claimed to follow, even touching a coin engraved with the image of a man, in this case Caesar, made one unclean and unable to enter the Temple. But they had just come from the Temple with their pouches full of ritually unclean Roman money. 

The crowd that had gathered probably burst into laughter at the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, and at Christ’s defeat of their clever plan to best him. All the Pharisees could do was to marvel at their comeuppance, as Christ declared, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." 

That word "render" is our key to understanding this teaching of our Lord. It means, "to give someone else what is rightfully his." In this case, the Pharisees had taken Caesar’s money and the other benefits of the Roman political system. In return, they owed Caesar his taxes on that money. The tax wasn’t voluntary. It wasn’t a gift. The tax was a debt, and to fail to pay it would have been theft. 

But if Christ has bound us to meet our obligations to our civil governors, we ought not to forget the rest of his teaching that day, by which he bound us to render to God the things that are God’s. It is the Pharisees’ doctrine, and not Christ’s, that we have no king but Caesar (John 19:15). Our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Whatever lawful authority any king or government may possess can only be given by God. And no state can command our worship, because worship belongs to God alone. 

One of the founding principles of the United States, now obscured by secularist propaganda, is that we Americans have no King but Jesus Christ. Our American heritage of national Thanksgiving Days and voluntary annual stewardship drives constitutes our tribute, our custom, our fear, and our honor that are owed to the Sovereign Majesty that rules us and provides for us (compare Romans 13:7, and our duties to earthly rulers). We render unto God what belongs to him by right, our praise and our thanksgiving. We obey his demand for truth and justice in all our doings, even when we deal with him. And, so, what do we owe him? 

"Firstfruits" in the Bible are the first, indivisible portion of what we make or do that belongs by right to God, just as "tithes" are God’s first tenth of whatever can be divided. Our lives, therefore, are "firstfruits," because they cannot be divided. They belong to God, or they don’t. In the same way, we pay to God the first, not the last, portion of our income or increase, not as a gift, but as a debt, or we are not giving him what already belongs to him (like a bank that refuses to return our deposits). 

But make no mistake about it. God, our King, requires tribute from us, a return on what he has given us. God is the Lord of the visible, as well as the invisible, because he made them both. We owe God our visible tribute for his visible blessings, just as much as we owe him our spiritual worship for his invisible grace. 

The Christian Church in modern times has been weakened by the childish myth that we have it harder than the ancients did. We have acted for a century as if we were the first people ever to have the burden of taxes, even though the Lord who taught us to pay firstfruits and tithes was born in Bethlehem because his parents had gone there to pay a tax. We have acted as if money were the issue, and money is always tight. Even billionaires worry that they could use just a few dollars more. 

But what matters is truth and justice in all our dealings, even our dealings with God. What matters is, as we say today in our prayers, that "we yield unfeigned thanks" and learn "to ask faithfully [so] that we may obtain effectually." We cannot seriously ask for blessings from a God we disobey. We cannot convert the world to a Faith that we do not practice. We cannot help the poor and the weak if we fail to use the time and the money that God has already given for these purposes. 

As we sow, so also shall we reap (Gal. 6:7), and sowing means letting go of something so that God can multiply it and make it great. And if this sounds too direct, consider the bluntness of God in the Holy Scriptures, where he says: 

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me…in tithes and offerings. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be [food] in my house and prove me…if I will not pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it (Malachi 3:8,10). 

Truth and justice take courage, and we take courage together because two thousand years ago the Son of God offered everything to save us and to build his Church. We continue to build that Church with him when we do our bounden duty together and render to our Father in heaven the physical worship, our support for his Church, which is his true and most just due. And God will bless our loyalty beyond our reckoning. 

But we ought also to remember that whether we render unto Caesar or to God on the basis of our Lord’s teaching, we are not doing something new, but only obeying that ancient commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."  
 


Father Ed Bakker




 

  

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Twenty second Sunday after Trinity


Dear Friends,

“He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy.” (James 2.13)
This parable of the unmerciful servant is wonderfully instructive, illustrating for us the superabundant mercy and forgiveness that we Christians must give to one another if we are to take advantage of the saving forgiveness which comes to us from God the Father through Jesus Christ.  

The telling of the parable is occasioned by St. Peter’s question: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Peter, sensing that the new law of love which his master had been teaching extended beyond the regulations of the old Law, suggested seven times, rather than the three times laid down in Amos 1.3, and generally accepted by the Jews. No, says Jesus, your brother who offends you is to be forgiven an infinite number of times, seventy times seven, because the mercy and forgiveness extended to us by God is that deep.  

Jesus tells the story of a king who decides to call in some of the debts owed him by his subjects. He demands repayment of one who owes him 10,000 talents, which is a great deal of money. The man cannot pay him, and as a result, he threatens to sell him and his family into slavery, which in those days was allowed. (Leviticus 25.39) But the debtor falls down and begs for mercy so convincingly that the king wipes the debt out altogether. The same man, once he was forgiven for his debt, goes out to a fellow-subject of the king and demands of him the tiny sum of 100 pence. In turn the one owing 100 pence asks for time to pay, but the fellow has no mercy and has the debtor thrown into prison. The word gets back to the king, who, like his subjects, is appalled at the unmerciful servant’s behaviour. He throws him into prison, reinstating the original debt of 10,000 talents.  


The interpretation of this parable is clear. The king is God. We are his subjects and we are his debtors, because we have sinned against him. It is a large debt indeed that we have incurred, and if God were to call it in, there is no way that we would be able to pay it. But we know that when we in sincerity ask God our Father for forgiveness, we receive forgiveness, not because we deserve it, but because he is a merciful Father. We have no claim, no right to God’s consideration, but he hears us and has pity.  

Second, we must forgive our fellows the sins which they commit against us, which are minuscule compared with the sins we have committed against God and yet have been forgiven. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive them who trespass against us.” Another translation which is sometimes used of this model prayer makes the message even more clear: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
  
If we are not willing to forgive one another, the forgiveness which we seek from God will be of no effect, no benefit whatsoever. Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans says: If we live according to the precepts of the old Law, we will be judged according to the old law. And Jesus himself said: 
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for any eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5.38-39) 
Forgive seventy times seven. Because we ourselves have been forgiven, we have no right whatsoever to demand our ‘pound of flesh’ from others.
  
Think: Whom have you refused forgiveness, either openly, or secretly in your heart? And conversely, whom should you ask for forgiveness that you have offended? With whom should you be reconciled today? This is serious business. Your refusal, your stiff-necked refusal to forgive and really forget may be the stumbling block which prevents you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven, and may rather be the reason for which you are delivered to the tormentors The American writer Henry Ward Beecher said: “I can forgive but I cannot forget is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note which is torn in two and burned up, so that it never can be shown again.”  


It is true that old hurts cut deep. Like a well-travelled road, the longer they are borne, the deeper the ruts become. It is even harder when those who have hurt and betrayed us are dear to us. Someone once said, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than a friend.” Those who are able to wound us most are those that we love. Yet, as George Herbert said, “He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.”  
Week by week, day by day, we pray that God will forgive us our sins. Let us make a special point today to ask God for the strength and courage to forgive others, and to ask for forgiveness, knowing that if we ask in faith, God will grant us grace to do both.

Father Ed Bakker





Monday, November 2, 2020

All Souls


My Friends 

As we celebrate the Commemoration of All Souls, let’s reflect upon the Church’s teaching on Purgatory:

The Church Suffering:  Purgatory is an often misunderstood doctrine of our Church.  What is Purgatory?  Is it the place we have to go to be punished for our sins?  Is it God’s way of getting us back for the wrong we’ve done?  Is it the result of God’s anger?  None of these questions really answer the question of Purgatory.  Purgatory is nothing other than the burning and purifying love of our God in our lives!

When someone dies in God’s grace they are most likely not 100% converted and perfect in every way.  Even the greatest of saints most often would have some imperfection left in their lives.  Purgatory is nothing other than that final purification of all remaining attachment to sin in our lives.  By analogy, imagine that you had a cup of 100% pure water, pure H2O.  This cup will represent Heaven.  Now imagine that you want to add to that cup of water but all you have is water that is 99% pure.  This will represent the holy person who dies with just some slight attachments to sin.  If you add that water to your cup then the cup will now have at least some impurities in the water as it mixes together.  The problem is that Heaven (the original cup of 100% H2O) cannot contain any impurities.  Heaven, in this case, cannot have even the slightest attachment to sin in it.  Therefore, if this new water (the 99% pure water) is to be added to the cup it must first be purified even of that last 1% of impurities (attachments to sin).  This is ideally done while we are on Earth.  This is the process of getting holy.  But if we die with any attachment, then we simply say that the process of entering into the final and full vision of God in Heaven will purify us of any remaining attachment to sin.  All may already be forgiven, but we may not have detached from those things forgiven.  Purgatory is the process, after death, of burning out the last of our attachments so that we can enter Heaven 100% freed of everything to do with sin.  If, for example, we still have a bad habit of being rude, or sarcastic, even those tendencies and habits must be purged.  

How does this happen?  We do not know.  We only know it does.  But we also know it’s the result of God’s infinite love that frees us of these attachments.  Is it painful?  Most likely.  But it’s painful in the sense that letting go of any disordered attachment is painful.  It’s hard to break a bad habit.  It’s even painful in the process.  But the end result of true freedom is worth any pain we may have experienced.  So, yes, Purgatory is painful.  But it’s a sort of sweet pain that we need and it produces the end result of a person 100% in union with God.

Now since we are talking about the Communion of Saints, we also want to make sure to understand that those going through this final purification are still in communion with God, with those members of the Church on Earth, and with those in Heaven.  For example, we are called to pray for those in Purgatory.  Our prayers are effective.  God uses those prayers, which are acts of our love, as instruments of His grace of purification.  He allows us and invites us to participate in their final purification by our prayers and sacrifices.  This forges a bond of union with them.  And no doubt the saints in Heaven especially offer prayers for those in this final purification as they await full communion with them in Heaven.  It’s a glorious thought and a joy to see how God has orchestrated this entire process for the ultimate purpose of the holy communion to which we are called!

Lord, I pray for those souls going through their final purification in Purgatory.  Please pour forth Your mercy upon them so that they may be freed of all attachment to sin and, thus, be prepared to see You face to 


Fr Ed Bakker