Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Second Sunday in Advent

My Friends,

"...a Herald's voice in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.' " —Matthew 3:3

The purpose of Advent is to prepare the way of the Lord, Who is coming to us in a new personal way this Christmas season. But there are different kinds and degrees of preparation. The Church teaches with John the Baptist that our preparation for Christ's coming this Christmas needs to be very extensive. We even need a baptism of repentance, that is, to be immersed in repentance (see Mt 3:11).

Our preparation for Christ this Christmas is comparable to a major excavation where mountains are made low and the fill dirt is used to fill in the valleys so as to make a rough road smooth and a crooked road straight (Lk 3:5). While the world gives us the picture of Santa Claus with a bag of presents, the Church presents the scene of the wild prophet, John the Baptist, driving a Komatsu super earth-mover to bury our sins.
Very few of us believe that Christmas is so great and we are so sinful as to require such an earthquake of preparation. However, the Church is right. We need a big Advent to have a true Christmas.

 Father, send the Holy Spirit so that I will not minimize but maximize Advent.

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

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Frist Sunday in Advent - 1 December 2019

My Friends,

THE GOSPEL.  S. Matthew 21. 1-13

“The night is far spent”

There are degrees of darkness. There is the literal darkness of the night in the twilight of the year. There is the metaphorical darkness of civilisations and cultures in their decay and disarray. There is the social and economic darkness of communities and families in their distress and dismay. There is the darkness of institutions when they betray their foundational and governing principles. There is the darkness of souls in psychological confusion - distraught, anxious, angry and fearful. The “far spent night” is the hour of deepest darkness.
In one way or another, these darknesses are all forms of spiritual darkness. They all belong to the darkness of sin and doubt, the darkness of death and dying, the darkness of despair. The darkness of despair is the deepest darkness, the darkness of the “far spent night” of the soul, the darkness of darkness itself, as it were. Why? Because it is the darkness of denial. Despair is the denial of desire. It signals the rejection of the possibilities of light, of faith; the rejection of the possibilities of hope, of what is looked for; and the rejection of the possibilities of love, of what is embraced in the knowing delight of what is good and true, of what is holy and beautiful. 
Advent begins in the quiet darkness of the year, to be sure. But Advent looks to  the coming of the light. It is the season of revelation - our knowing in faith what God reveals to us. It is the season of hope - our looking to God in holy expectation. It is the season of love - our embrace of God’s love coming towards us.
It belongs to the spiritual nature of Advent to name the darkness; the darkness  within and without. To do so is to be alive to the possibilities of grace and salvation. It means to know ourselves, not simply in the darkness, but through the darkness in the greater light of God.
To name the darkness is to name our need. That is part of the awakening. We look beyond ourselves, beyond the darkness which we so often find within ourselves. We look to God. Advent is the strong reminder of the necessity of our looking to God. But it is our looking to God in his coming towards us. Ultimately, we can only truly name the darkness in his light. He is the light which defines the darkness. The darkness does not define the light.
Advent reminds us of God’s coming to us. It reminds us of the light that is greater than the darkness. Advent is simply the coming of God towards us. There is his coming “then” at “the fullness of time”, “when” all things were ready. There is his coming “now” in the grace-ordered forms of our lives, in Word and Sacrament and in the forms of grace which flow out into our lives in acts of kindness and service and sacrifice. There is his coming “at the end of time”, for each of us individually “at the hour of our death” and for all of us collectively.
These comings - these Advents of God - are themselves judgment and salvation.  The darknesses are judgment. But to know the darkness is also to know salvation. The salvation is the light which encompasses and gathers the darkness into itself. There is at once a deepening of the darkness and an intensification of the light.
Advent reminds us of the light of salvation. It is about our being found in God’s knowing love for us. It signals that coming of God towards us so that we might begin again in faith, in hope and in love. There is simply our looking towards the one who comes.
In the great gospel for this day, Christ comes to Jerusalem. He enters the city triumphantly. It is a royal procession. The King has come to his own city. All is light and grace and glory, it seems. “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest”, the multitudes that went before, and that followed cry, both those who went before, them, and those that followed, us. But is it not that “he came unto his own and his own received him not”, as we shall hear again at Christmas? “Who is this?”, the whole city was moved to say with wonder and in perplexity. We know the story. The King - God’s own Word and Son - will be rejected. All that is light and life ends in darkness and death, it seems; the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the darkness of the cross and the grave.
And yet, this will be the real triumph, the entry of the King into the things of his own. He will reign from the tree. Through the darkness of our sin and death, through the darkness of our rejection and denial of him, through the darkness of the “far spent night”, the darkness of our despair named in him -“my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” – will come the greater light of salvation.
Advent not only reminds us of his coming but deepens our understanding of its meaning. It intends that we might come to know more fully and more truly the one who has come to us. His coming names our darkness in the greater light of his love. Advent is our wake-up call. It means to look again towards him who comes knowing our darkness, the darkness of our refusal and rejection of him.
He wants us to know the darkness of the “far spent night” in light of his grace, the grace of his coming towards us.  He has embraced our darkness in his love. He has made a path of light for us through the darkness, even the darkness of the “far spent night”. He comes that we might know and receive him even through the darkness of our refusals to receive him. He comes “unto his own” in the greater power of his light and grace, making a way to him even through the patterns of our sin-twisted lives. His coming calls us to repentance; this is the royal way of Advent.
“The night is far spent”, to be sure, but “the day is at hand; let us therefore cast of the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light”. The light of Christ awaits us.    
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston, Tasmania,

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday next before Advent

My Friends,

"But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly . . ." (Hebrews 11:16)

 This is the last Sunday of the long Trinity season and the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next Sunday will be the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of the official preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the birth of the infant Jesus at Christmas. And the Church, ever mindful of the fact that the end is for us always a new beginning, has called this Sunday "The Sunday Next Before Advent." Notice please that this Sunday is not called Trinity 25, 26, or 27, but "The Sunday Next Before Advent." As we bring this past year of our spiritual pilgrimage to a close, we eagerly anticipate the Christian New Year. We look forward to beginning the whole process over again, hoping to perform more profoundly and rigorously our Christian duties.

 It is perhaps our liturgical calendar, our Christian year, that most strikingly sets us off as a community, identifying us as the Church. Here you are, God's faithful people, Sunday after Sunday com memo- rating the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us every seventh day is not just a "holiday" but rather a holy day - a day upon which we recall faithfully and unfailingly what God has done for us in and through his Son. But our worship is not just "commemoration," a faithful recalling of some now very remote events; it is also an "appropriation," the weekly taking into ourselves of the Christian year's events. Every seventh day we seek to familiarize ourselves with God's holy dwelling. We listen to God's holy words, and we are partakers at God's holy banquet. Week after week we taste the bread and wine of God's generosity, and we perceive with the eye of faith an eternal banquet.

 And then there is the remarkable Christian year itself: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Trinity Season. It is interspersed throughout with saints days and memorials of major events in the life of our Lord: Annunciation, Circumcision, Presentation in the temple, Baptism and Transfiguration. And in all this we are not content merely to recall - as if we had forgotten - distant historical events, but we attempt to align ourselves with those events. We seek to make that life Jesus lived so long ago our life. We seek by God's grace to become one with him, to walk in the steps that he trod, to suffer with him and to rejoice with him. Our pilgrimage - our annual pilgrimage - is to become Christ-like through God's help. It is to become Christians, those who are bound to Christ himself. The Collect for this Sunday -the Sunday Next Before Advent - begins "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people." Let this liturgical year stir up our mind and our will, so that what has been comes alive in us, and so that we may ever more eagerly anticipate what is to come. Similarly, the Collect for Ascension Day is also not content simply to praise God for the wonder and mystery of the Ascension into heaven of his only begotten Son, but it begs God that "we may also in heart and mind thither ascend." (BCP, p. 201) Indeed, ascension "in heart and mind" is the very "essence of our religion"; as a matter of ' 'habitual practice" we learn to refer "all things to their end in God."

 The Christian year then is not a dry and mindless repetition of bygone history and events, but rather is the systematic attempt to become one with him whom we worship. We retrace his steps; we are baptized; we are tempted; we go to Jerusalem; we share that great final meal in which Christ was united with his disciples through the elements of bread and wine; we carry the cross; we taunt and jeer; we deny Christ; we are crucified; and we are resurrected. We ascend with him, we receive his Spirit and so, living by his grace, we endeavour to walk in those good works he commands and acquire the habits of his Kingdom.

 The Church's year is a great prayer; it is that prayer "without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) which St. Paul demands of all the saints. And the beauty of it is that when we stumble and fall, when we are ill or absent, the Church just carries right on, bidding us, enjoining us, entreating us to share in its greatest gift and mystery. This is the possession of God's life, the unity we can have with Christ through the free gift of God's Holy Spirit.

 And so in the seemingly endless repetition of the Church's year, by the continual making present and re-enactment of those sacred events, in the constant re-telling of the story of Christ's life and of his deeds - without our being really conscious of it - we cease to be primarily the inhabitants of time and slip over into God's eternity. We see how the end and the beginning are indeed united in Christ (the Alpha and the Omega, Revelation 1.8), and so we do not celebrate the last Sunday in Trinity without understanding that it is also the anticipation of the First Sunday in Advent. All the threads are bound together before us, and in wonder and amazement we see how God is all things, first and last. The Church's New Year and the world's New Year are properly celebrated on quite different days, because, in fact, they celebrate completely different truths. While this New Year we shall celebrate the arrival of 1981 - as if that were really anything to celebrate - next Sunday, as we do in the same way on this Sunday, we celebrate our timeless union with God, a union that begins on this day and will last for ever.

 It is through our Baptism that we are initiated into eternity. We died, as we went down into the water, and were reborn as we came out, becoming citizens of another, better country. As a consequence of this rebirth, we are "strangers and pilgrims on the earth," (Hebrews 11.13) having become citizens of the new Jerusalem. As St. Paul says, "Our conversation is in heaven." (Philippians 3.20)

 In a remarkable early Christian Epistle entitled The Epistle to Diognetus, the author speaks directly to our theme:
The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life. . . . They pass their lives in whatever township - Greek or foreign - each man's lot has determined; and conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organization of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising. For instance, though they are residents at home in their countries, their behaviour there is more like that of transients; they take their full part as citizens, but they also submit to anything and everything as if they were aliens.

One of the things which distinguishes us most assuredly is this: our peculiar Christian calendar. For in it we affirm over and over, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, in unbroken prayer, through birth and death, that somehow our citizenship is not just here in this city, in this country, on this earth, but that here we are "strangers and pilgrims," temporary residents, on the very threshold of a land that will be ours forever. We pray "without ceasing," because "our conversation is in heaven."

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Twentyfirst Sunday after Trinity - 10 November 2019

My Friends,

From the gospel according to saint John 4.50

Jesus saith unto him, go thy way, thy son liveth.  And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.
How is faith born?  And how does it grow?  And what does it look like, when it is mature?  These are questions every believer should be able to answer, and today’s gospel lesson is wonderfully instructive in this regard.  Let’s look at it carefully. 

The story begins in “Cana of Galilee”, the place where Jesus did his first miracle, changing the water into wine for the wedding feast.  No doubt the report or rumour of this and other miracles had circulated widely in Galilee; for the news of Jesus’ return from Judea to Cana drew out of Capernaum, a town some distance away, a certain nobleman, desperately afraid for his son, who was “at the point of death.”  He came to him, and begged him to “come down, and heal his son”. 
Now the nobleman it seems was a royal official in the court of Herod Antipas, son of King Herod, who ruled Galilee at that time.  You may savour the irony, that the important, and perhaps self-important servant of a proud and worldly king, humbles himself to seek the help of the prophet of the Kingdom of heaven.  But that is a necessary condition for faith’s birth: only when the barriers of pride are broken down, perhaps by some adversity or sorrow, can there be any opening to God.  Only then can the vague rumours of God’s mercy to men awaken a strange hope – a wild surmise –of his help.  

So in the nobleman we have the vague, rudimentary beginnings of faith, driven by desperate need, and ignorant of what it believes in.  For in asking him to “come down” to Capernaum, he was limiting Jesus’ power to do good to his physical presence, as if Jesus could not heal at a distance, in his absence.  He has not yet learned what it is to believe in Jesus.

And so we should not really be surprised that this initial appeal meets with a kind of harsh rebuff.  Jesus says, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe”.  There is something odd about this saying which no modern English translation can show us.  In Greek and older English, there are two ways of saying “you”.  You can use a word that indicates you are speaking to one other person, which in English is “thou”.  Or you can use a word that indicates you are speaking to more than one person, which in English is “ye” or “you”.  But in modern English, of course, there is only one way of addressing another person or persons, namely the word “you”, and you can’t tell whether one person is being spoken to or more than one, unless you are from the south, and can say “you all”.  Modern English translations of the Bible therefore are intrinsically less accurate than the King James Version – a point rarely if ever acknowledged by the scholars and publishers who profit from them.
The point of this digression is simply this:  when Jesus says “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe”, the word “ye” tells us that he is not singling out the nobleman for criticism.  If he were, he would have said “thou”.  His rebuke is addressed to a general tendency among the people who came to him – a greedy appetite for sensational signs and wonders together with an indifference to the teaching those miracles were meant to confirm.  And in this greed for miracles, there is an unwillingness to believe, an unwillingness to lift up hearts and minds in response to his teaching beyond the realm of things visible and tangible to the realm of things invisible and intangible.  There is a false faith that is blind to the greater goods of the Kingdom of heaven, obstinately materialistic, and lasting only as long as the supply of miracles.  And sustaining that kind of false faith is not the business that Jesus is in. 

 Despite this sharp rebuke, the nobleman persists in his plea.  “Sir, come down, ere my child die”. Here is a powerful man, used to having his own way, yet he does not burst out in a passion when he is crossed.  He does not stamp his feet or waste time in resentment.  Wounded pride is an indulgence he renounces when his son’s life is at stake.  Wounded pride is always an indulgence to be renounced, since our soul’s eternal life is at stake.  And though his faith is still rather vague and confused, yet his humble perseverance in prayer proves that it is real; and Jesus rewards his faith with a word of promise and command, “Go thy way, thy son liveth”.  By telling the man to leave, with the assurance that his son will live, he pushes the miraculous event, the wondrous sign, out of the spotlight, where it cannot be seen and cannot become a sensational crowd-pleaser.  The miracle is pushed ‘offstage’, and the challenge of faith and obedience in response to Jesus’ word are brought into the spotlight instead.  So the question for the royal official becomes not, will Jesus come down and heal my son, but, will I obey his command?  And that in turn depends upon the question, will I believe his promise?

 Those are the questions for us all, when we bring our hopes and fears to God in prayer.  Will we insist on his submitting to our demands?  Or will we subordinate our wishes to the purpose of his will?  When we rise from our knees, are we still trying to have our way with God, or have we decided to let God have his way with us?  Specifically are we ready to trust in his mercy, and obey his will, leaving the outcome to him?  Notice also that you can’t believe, but refuse to obey; or obey, without first believing:  Christ gives us something to believe, and something to obey, and our faith and obedience are the right and left hands by which the soul receives the blessing he gives. 

The first miracle of this story is this:  “And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.”  Without signs and wonders, without Jesus’ physical presence, he takes Jesus at his word, abandons his own condition, and accepts that of Christ, and goes his way, believing what he cannot see, trusting that Christ can work mightily by his word alone, though absent in his body.  Notice that it is at this point that his attitude to Jesus first deserves the name of faith; when he submits his mind and will to the word of Christ, in trust and obedience.  Before he had a vague and wishful hope that Christ would help his son; now in the word of Jesus he has a firm assurance in which he can rest his heart and mind.  Before, in the naivety of arrogance, he had a plan for Jesus to carry out, in order to help his son; now, in the wisdom of humility, he obeys the plan that Jesus has for him, in order to help his son. 

Such true faith and obedience does not go without vindication, even while he is still on the way home, before he has even seen his son.  “And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth.”  By his faith and obedience, he has opened the door to the benefits promised by Jesus, which unbelief would have kept locked close.  Now notice what happens next.  “Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend.  And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.  So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth:  and himself believed, and his whole house.” Earlier, we were told that the man “believed the word that Jesus spake”; but now we are told, that after reflecting on the word of Jesus, and the recovery of his son, we are told that “himself believed”.  What is the difference?  In reflecting upon what Jesus has done for him in this particular case, he is moved to trust Jesus in all respects.  “He [had] believed that particular word of the Lord’s; but this is something more, the entering into the number of Christ’s disciples, his yielding himself to him as the promised Messiah” (Trench 131).  Out of thankful remembrance for all that Christ has done, he surrenders himself and his whole life to Christ.  And so it is for us all.  “The more carefully the divine works and benefits are considered, the more nourishment faith acquires” (Bengel quoted in Trench 130 n3).

This is the fullness of faith, the maturity of believing.  But that is not all.  His faith grows and matures in another way also.  Not only did he believe, also “his whole house”.  His faith did not remain buried in his heart, like an embarrassing personal habit.  It breaks out in joyful testimony, thanksgiving and praise, for what Jesus has done by his word to help his son.  And in response to testimony from such a trusted source, his entire household – family, staff, servants – also came to believe.  “For it is” says Martin Luther, “in the character and nature of faith that it attracts other people, breaks forth and becomes active in love”.  As Paul said to the Galatians, the only thing that avails in Jesus Christ is “faith which worketh by love” (5.6).  Faith does not remain silent, buried in one’s breast like a guilty secret; it cannot stay quiet, it must praise God and seek its neighbour’s good.  Such are the signs of a mature faith, and the fruit it bears in the lives of those it touches. 

Writing many centuries ago in a cold cell in a northern English monastery, the Venerable Bede summed up today’s gospel lesson with admirable conciseness.  “So we see that faith, like the other virtues, is formed gradually, and has its beginning, growth, and maturity.  His faith had its beginning, when he asked for his son’s recovery; its growth, when he believed our Lord’s words, Thy son liveth; its maturity, after the announcement of the fact by his servants”.  May it please Almighty God to grant us all the same beginning, increase, and maturity of faith in all humility and obedience; a faith that is founded upon his word to us in Jesus Christ, a faith that is active in love, fruitful in good works, vocal in praise, redounding to his glory, and effective to our salvation.


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