Monday, September 13, 2021
Monday, September 6, 2021
Galatians 5:25f St. Luke 17:11f
“And one...turned back...giving him thanks”
God is extravagant with his mercies; we are miserly with our thanks. There were ten “that lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”. But only “one of them when he saw that he was healed, turned back and with a loud voice glorified God and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks; and he was a Samaritan”. In short, there are many who cry out for mercy but few who return to give thanks.
To give thanks is more than good manners; it is to acknowledge the mercy freely given and received and to esteem the giver of the mercy freely and supremely. No doubt we have good reason to cry out for mercy like the ten lepers and yet God’s mercy is not given simply for us to take and run away with it. In returning and giving thanks shall we be saved for then we enter into the motions of God’s own love: the going forth and return of the Son to the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. We enter precisely into the thanksgiving of the Son to the Father and that is the greater mercy and point of all God’s mercies towards us.
It is the point of this gospel story and the signal note of all our liturgies – “Lord, have mercy upon us”. Our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” arises only out of a due sense of all God’s mercies. And if we should think the actions of one Samaritan to be bit extravagant and a trifle excessive, then we have only to reflect for a moment upon the extravagances to which our liturgy regularly calls us.
For here we cry out for mercy with triple intensity – “Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us”. Here we are reminded of “the great benefits that we have received” at God’s hands. Here we are bidden to turn back and glorify him with a loud voice, to come before his presence with thanksgiving, to fall down, if not on our faces, then at least upon our knees. Here we give him thanks “for all thy goodness and loving kindness to us and all mankind...for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life, but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and the hope of glory”. Here we bless the one who has blessed us that we may make our eucharist - our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving - in the “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice” of the Son’s Thanksgiving to the Father. Here we are put in mind of “thy manifold and great mercies” in which we are assured “of thy favour and goodness towards us”. Here “we give thanks to thee for thy great glory”.
Our thanks to God has in it nothing so simple as mere good manners but the extravagance of his mercy towards us making his eucharist in us. But it is simply our prayer: “Give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful”. For then we shall be like that Samaritan who perceiving the mercy which had been given “turned back and with a loud voice glorified God and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks”. For then the extravagance of God’s mercy shall be the freedom of our thanksgiving.
“And one...turned back... giving him thanks”
Father Ed Bakker
Sunday, August 22, 2021
Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
“By the Grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Corinthians 15.10)
Humility is the subject of today’s Gospel and Epistle, the humility which accepts salvation as a gift, as the grace of God. The gospel Paul preaches is not of any human invention; it is not credited to human cleverness either in its source and origin or in its power to convince its hearers. Paul simply delivers that which he also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.
Further, he affirms that:
I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2.3-5)
Humility is equally necessary in those who would truly hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Those who trust in their own righteousness and despise the lowliness of others have the words of Jesus against them. It is the despised tax collector, a sinner in fact, who goes from the temple justified. He had no work of his own in which he presumed to take pride. In the presence of God he dared only to strike his breast and beseech God to be merciful to him a sinner. Yet he returned home in God’s favour for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18.14)Humility is at the very root and source of the Christian religion. It is by his own self-humiliation that Christ saves us. St. Paul reminds us of the grace of our Lord Jesus, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8.9)He also commands us to imitate our Lord’s self-abasement:
Let this same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God. . . . made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made man. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2.5-8)
The Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord, testifies herself of the humility of those to whom Jesus comes. She accepts the angel’s announcement with true lowliness: “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1.38) and she sings of her own exaltation through this lowliness of spirit: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden,” (Luke 1.46-48) that is, the humility of his servant. God always acts in this way, it is a law of his dealing with men: He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He puts down the mighty from their seats and exalts the humble and meek. (Luke 1.51-52)
Humility lies at me root and origin of Christianity. It is the character of the God who saves us and of those who accept that salvation. It is for this reason that infants are received into the community of the saved. Remember, Jesus says “unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 18.17) Entrance through the straight and narrow gate leading to eternal life is by the door of humility, acceptance, and trust. It is the weakness and dependence of children, their trust and openness, their capacity to live by accepting all they have from others, which we are to imitate. This is the humility with which the Christian religion begins. But there is another quality of humility with which it continues and ends.
St. Paul teaches us that faith will pass away. Love abides, but faith, though necessary to our pilgrimage here below, will vanish to be replaced by sight when we enter the glorious kingdom. “We shall see face to face and know as we are known.” (1 Corinthians 13.12) Faith is transformed in the course of our journey. We move toward sight, understanding, possession. We grow up in spiritual as well as in earthly things. We begin speaking as children, imitating the language and ideas of others, but then we put away childish things to become spiritual adults. We come to know better what we are talking about. Then comes the real test of humility. After we have become something, are we still willing to echo St. Paul: “By the grace of God, I am what I am?” Will we repeat with him “I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me?” You recollect his labours, his beatings, his imprisonments, travels and sufferings, yet all this he makes a testimony not to himself but to the power of God. We are perhaps willing to recognize this humility with which Christianity begins in another, but are we willing to humbly give God the glory for our acts of knowledge and love? Yet unless we do this, we make our religion nonsense.
When the Bishop performs the laying on of hands, he prays for the grace of God the Spirit for each one he confirms. The gifts of the Spirit include prudence and understanding, wisdom, fear and the fire of love. We pray for these as gifts and we then acknowledge that these our words and acts, these products of our wearisome and painful experience and labour, all these, even love of all that is good and true, these are the life and gift of the Holy Spirit in us. What is good and true in us is God’s act, the Spirit’s gift. “I laboured yet not I but the grace of God which was with me.”
How often do we thank God for the good that we are or do? How continuous in thankfulness is the life of a grown up Christian? A Christian must “always be giving thanks,” (Ephesians 5.20) for all the good he does and is, and even for the good he may be or he may do. A Christian is always “putting to shame the foolish pride of men.” (1 Peter 2.15) He is always practicing the humility which gives the glory “not to us but to the Lord’s name.” (Psalm 115.1) For “His grace is sufficient for us” (2 Corinthians 12.9); it is by it that we are what we are, or come to possess the good we lack. Indeed that “grace is sufficient for us” even when we despair and find we lack all goodness. Discovering this, and growing in humility is our way forward. In order to enter heaven, we must rejoice in what our God has made us. There, even the whole appearance of our own power will have vanished. We shall be sustained only by his glory and only by and in that glory will we be all in all. For his own name sake and his own endless praise, honour and glory, will God Father, Son, and Spirit open to us his endless kingdom of light and joy; to which kingdom belongs all might, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.
Father Ed Bakker
Saturday, August 14, 2021
Did Mary die before she was assumed body and soul into heaven?
We are free to believe either that she really died, or that she did not die before she became the "woman clothed with the sun." Tradition favours her really dying. But what we know for sure is that what will happen to all of us at the final resurrection, being "assumed" body and soul into heaven, or hell," happened to her out of the normal time frame, because God was so delighted with her that He couldn't wait!
So history was "short-circuited!"
Wonderful, and yet so very right and just! Her song, The Magnificat, says it all -- just as Mary, remembering Hannah's canticle in the first book of Samuel, and remembering all that the Hebrew Scriptures say about God lifting up the poor and the weak, composes a mystical prophecy of the final vindication of all the oppressed and the tortured and the poverty-stricken of all the ages.
And, even though five more swords of sorrow would pierce Mary's heart, it would happen to her: this vindication, this justification, this crowning touch of the Divine Artist.
And, oh! The dazzling background for a painter's brush, what with angels and saints, her parents, and her beloved Son, Jesus, to welcome her, the special throne for the Queen of heaven to occupy! And, oh! What music! How truly now she can sing forever:
Father Ed Bakker
Sunday, August 8, 2021
“Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren,
I would not have you ignorant”
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and cleanses the temple of “those who bought and sold therein”. St. Paul instructs the Corinthians of the spiritual gifts with which they have been blessed. The Collect prays that God’s merciful ears may “be open to the prayers of thy humble servant and that they may obtain their petition make them to ask such things as shall please thee”. Such are the bare elements of today’s propers. They are profoundly connected.
Because Jesus wept, Paul must instruct and the Collect must pray. The Jerusalem over which Jesus wept is the fallen Jerusalem of our souls, the Corinthian brethren are ourselves under instruction and “thy humble servants”, the “they” of the Collect are equally “we”; the “them” is “us”.
Christ approaches Jerusalem, the city of peace. His approach is a royal progress; the disciples exalt with joy. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”. And not only themselves but the whole creation is understood to exalt with joy at the coming of her king to his royal city, the city of God.
And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples’. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent the very stones would cry out’.
Sometimes it seems that the only voices of witness and testimony to the glory of God are the temples, our churches, the very buildings in the eloquence of their being. And so the gospel continues in this morning’s reading: “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it”. Christ enters Jerusalem weeping.
Why does Christ weep? Jerusalem is the city of peace, yes, but it is also the city of his passion. Ultimately, we must learn that, because of our ignorance, wilful and wicked, there can be no peace without the passion. No passion. No peace. Jerusalem is the city of his passion because Jerusalem has failed to recognise the things that belong to her peace. Jerusalem has failed to acknowledge the good things of her life as the gifts of God.. She has failed to recognise even the gift of God’s own presence. “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes”.
Concerning the gifts of God and the gift of God himself in Jesus Christ, Jerusalem is ignorant. Such ignorance is, really, a wilful ignorance. For not to acknowledge a gift as a gift is a refusal to recognise that the goodness of something comes from the source of all goodness, God. It perverts and twists to other ends and purpose what has been given to us. The gospel account provides a concrete instance of this ignorance of the gift and the perversion of it in the story of the cleansing of the temple.
Why the temple? Because the temple was the gift of God’s presence in the midst of Jerusalem. The temple was given in the time of peace, during the reign of Solomon, not during the reign of David, a time of war. The temple was given that the people of Israel might worship God, finding in him their peace and unity, acknowledging him as the source of all good things.
The temple was given to be a house of prayer. Prayer acknowledges God as our highest good. Prayer seeks the union of our wills with God’s will, the conforming of our wills to the will of God revealed and declared in his Word. The prophet Isaiah proclaims that God’s “house shall be called the house of prayer for all peoples”, signifying something of the greater vocation of Israel, to be the instrument of God for the redemption of all humanity.
The perversion of this purpose is seen in the perversion of the temple itself as lamented by the prophet Jeremiah. The temple, he says, has been made “a den of thieves”. Christ recalls both these passages: the one from Isaiah, “my house is the house of prayer”; and the one from Jeremiah, “but ye have made it a den of thieves”. He acknowledges both its proper use and its misuse.
The misuse is twofold: first, and most simply, the temple is not a market-place. Its purpose is not the exchange of material goods, the buying and selling of goods and services. It does not exist for the pursuit of worldly ends. Secondly, the temple in its misuse is called “a den of thieves”. Just as thieves pervert, twist and confuse the relation of “mine and thine”, the distinctions of property, and by extension, the distinction between gift and giver, so there is a misuse of prayer when we seek to conform God’s will to our wills, to buy and sell the good gifts of God for our own ends and purposes rather than employ them in his service. In short there is a misuse of prayer and the house of prayer whenever we seek to make God the servant of our desires rather than seeking to be the servants of his will.
Christ weeps because Jerusalem has neglected the gifts of God. That willful neglect is the cause of his passion. Our sins are always about the misuse of the good things of God.
The account of the cleansing of the temple in three of the gospels coincides with Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. The event concerns the fulfillment of the mission of Christ - the redemption of humanity. It coincides, in other words, with the establishment of the new and greater temple, one not built of human hands, the resurrected body of Christ. St. John connects the cleansing and destruction of the temple with Christ’s anticipation of his own death and resurrection.
Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up’. The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he spoke of the temple of his body.
By Christ’s passion and through our baptism into his death and resurrection, we are made members of the Body of Christ. We become ourselves temples of his Holy Spirit. Thus, St. Paul would not have us ignorant concerning the spiritual gifts that have been given to us through the temple of Christ’s body. They are the gifts of our recreation, the gifts of our restoration through the passion of Christ. The instruction is threefold.
First, he teaches that diverse abilities and skills are all gifts that have been given by the same hand, namely, God the Holy Spirit. “Now there are diversities of gifts..., diversities of ministrations..., and diversities of operations..., but it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God, who worketh all in all”, the same Spirit, too, by which we acknowledge “Jesus as Lord”. We are not our own. We are God’s through Christ. Our abilities, our talents, are gifts given to us at the hand of God the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, he teaches that these gifts are bestowed for a purpose. These gifts “are the manifestations of the Spirit given to every one”. They are intended for the benefit of the whole body mystical. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every one for the common good” - the good of the whole body of Christ.
Thirdly, he teaches that there is a great diversity of gifts which in their diversity offer a marvellous reflection of the unity and the majesty of God just as the rich diversity of the colours of the spectrum are but the manifestation of a single beam of pure light passing through a glass prism.
We have different talents, different abilities, but they are all gifts of the self-same Spirit of the Father and the Son. Our task is always to seek the discerning of the gifts that in our use of them the Spirit may be manifest in us through the building up of the common good, the building up of the body of Christ. Prayer has the greatest significance in all of this because it is through prayer that we seek God’s will and seek the proper use of God’s gifts in us. Our lives are to be lives of prayer in the good use of the gifts which God has given us. Our churches are the temples in which we learn about how we are temples of the Holy Spirit with gifts and talents to be used to the praise and glory of God.
About such things, Paul would not have us ignorant even as Jesus would not have us ignorant about the time of his visitation in us. Then there might be peace in our souls, in our churches, in our communities and in our world. Then Jesus would not weep but rejoice in us, in our recognition of the spiritual realities of our world and day as seen in him, in his word and in his life in us. For the recognition of the spiritual gifts in our lives is the recognition of Christ in our lives and our lives in him.
“Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren,
I would not have you ignorant”
Fr Ed Bakker