Monday, June 21, 2021

The Third Sunday after Trinity - 20 June 2021

 

My Friends,


Reading: Saint Luke 15.1

 “Be clothed with humility”

 

The humility of God’s charity calls us to humility over and against our pride.  Pride is that grand delusion whereby we think we are sufficient unto ourselves, whereby we think we stand in need of nothing but presume to be the center of everything.  The self-giving love of God stands altogether opposed to the self-centeredness of our pride.  It is our pride which stands utterly opposed to God and to God’s ways with us.  “For God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.”

 

In the Gospel for today, “all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Jesus.” But “the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying ‘This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them’.”  In other words, the Pharisees and Scribes - the self-righteous in the pride of their religion - complain about the company which Jesus keeps - the company of publicans and sinners.  It is in relation to this division between publicans and sinners, on the one hand, and Pharisees and Scribes, on the other hand, that Jesus tells this parable.

 

Publicans are not the keeper of pubs, but the collectors of taxes - taxes which belong to the res publicae, the public things in the order and rule of the state.  Now tax collectors can hardly ever be regarded in a favourable light, but much less so in the context of the Gospel.  For then, they were seen as traitors to Israel because they were co-operating with their foreign Roman overlords.  And beyond that, they were also seen as extortionists.  The business of tax collection was hired out by the Roman Government to local agents - Rome may have been the first government to outsource taxing!  They were given a quota which they had to meet; anything above that was for themselves.  Thus the publicans were out to get whatever they could from an unwilling population.  No-one could be more despised than a publican.

 

Hardly respectable company for a teacher of religion, or a least so the Pharisees and the Scribes thought.  Their complaint was that they were the worthy ones, the respectable company with whom Jesus should be, not this rabble of unworthy “publicans and sinners”.  Their complaint reveals a feature of pride.  It cuts us off from others and from God.  As Hagar Shipley Currie, in Margaret Laurence’s classic novel The Stone Angel, puts it, “Pride was my wilderness”, a wilderness in which we are lost to ourselves, to others and to God.  There is nothing more empty and more isolating than pride - the pride that is so completely focused on oneself whether in boasting “how great I am” or in whining “how poor, sad, mad and miserable I am.”

 

Jesus’ response is to tell two stories - three actually - the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin, and the story which follows those two, the story of the lost or prodigal son.  The lesson is plain.  Salvation is for those who need salvation, for those who are lost.  “There shall be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.”  To know oneself as a sinner is to stand in need of salvation, to be looking for it and to be where it is proclaimed.  To know oneself as such is itself an act of humility, an act of the grace of God in one.

 

Jesus tells this to the Pharisees and Scribes who, like the “publicans and sinners”, also need repentance and salvation.  But unlike the “publicans and sinners” they don’t think that they need anything whatsoever.  They stand and murmur against Jesus in the pride of their self-righteousness, claiming a worthiness on the basis of their observation of the law.  Keeping the law, however, is not their sin.  Their sin is in despising the “publicans and sinners”, in presuming their own self-sufficiency and in murmuring against the ways of God with men in Jesus Christ.

 

The gospel shows us that Jesus is the infinite charity of God towards us, reaching down to seek out the lost, from the greatest to the least, and to draw us back out of the wilderness to which our sins have exiled us, to bring us into the company which we have forsaken.  He is the humility of God’s charity.  But in this reaching down of God to us, there is also his reaching down in us.  Humility is God’s grace opening us out to the pattern of his love in us.  It is the inner clothing of the soul.

 

And it changes everything.  “Be subject to one another”, Peter tells us.  How different that is from the Pharisees and Scribes.  They would stand over everything else - lord it over us all.  But if it is not so with God, then how can it be so with one another?  “Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.”

 

But being subject to one another does not mean mindless submission.  Humility must also mean a confident openness to the truth which one has been given to see and a confident willingness to act upon what one knows.  Humility is not grovelling subservience.

 

The point theologically is the total primacy of God’s grace in the work of salvation.  It is not our worthiness but the infinite generosity of God that is at work for us and in us.  And this is something which we have to want if ever we will discover how it is all God’s work in us.  Pride can have no place with God for it stands opposed to God and murmurs against God for the company he keeps.  But the company he keeps is you and me - sinners all, whether publicans or not.  And if we think that we are not sinners, then we exclude ourselves from his company and presume to be better than one another.  Such is not of God.

 

The lesson Jesus teaches illustrates the gentle humility of God’s way with us even in the face of the hardness of our proud hearts.  He shows us the infinite extent of the humility of his love for us in his seeking out the lost.  And he shows us that the way of his love must be his way in us.

 

He has reached down to us in the lost wanderings of our ways, but he has reached down to us that he might redeem us, that his humility might be both his example and the workings of his grace in us, that he might be in our company - sinners all - and we in his company - gracious in the sight of God by virtue of God’s reaching down to us.  Such is God’s humility towards us.  Such is the humility with which we should want to be clothed.

 

“Be clothed with humility”



Fr Ed Bakker

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Second Sunday after Trinity - 13 June 2021


 My Friends,

 Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3.18)

 

The great power and the great question of our time are the same. Our great power, ability and skill which makes us superior to every other age of men who have dwelt on the face of the earth, a capacity which has built a civilization the most mighty in human history, is technology, the power of turning thought into practice, the power to apply knowledge to the transformation of reality. The great question and crushing problem, the unsolved dilemma, is equally a matter of bringing together thought and practice, knowledge and love. Our unsolved problem is to know the truth which will tell us what to do with our power to mold and transform our world.  We have knowledge which tells us how to do what we will, but to what ends are we to direct our power? What goals are true and good both?  What is the truth which will make us free?  That is the defeating question of our time.

 

Individuals as well as our social agencies are caught in the same problem.  What ideals are true and good, and provide a sure basis for directing my life? we ask.  The so called 'information explosion' has the effect that there are an almost endless number of so called styles of life conceivable: Which ideals are true? and once I know the truth, how do I make that ideal the reality of my life?  This is the expressed or unexpressed question constantly before every pastor.

 

This great problem of knowing the truth which is our good and goal, and making that truth the practical reality of our lives, this is the great preoccupation of this season of the Church Year, and it is the great gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is sent to lead us into all truth, this truth is the source from which we have come out, and the goal to which we shall return.  For the truth the Spirit manifests is the Son and Word of God by which all things were made and the resurrection of the dead.  The Spirit makes us abide in the Father through the Son.

 

On Trinity Sunday we celebrated the knowledge of the good God, our beginning and end, to whom the Spirit raises us.

    After this I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and a voice. . . which said, Come up hither and I will show you things which must be hereafter.  And immediately I was in the Spirit and behold a throne was set in heaven, and one sat upon the throne.  (Revelation 4.1-2)

The Spirit comes so that we may be born again, and raised to see the heavenly things which are our salvation; these heavenly things are "in this world, knowledge of thy truth, and, in the world to come, life everlasting. (BCP, p. 15)

 

The other side of the work of the Spirit in us is what we call the fruit of good works, putting the truth into practice, charity, love of God, his worthy worship which is always the work of the Spirit. The Spirit makes us cry 'Abba, Father' and our prayer, our reaching out to God, is the Spirit's movement in us.  But worship is not the only work to which the Spirit sets us, though it is the chief. There is the love of neighbour, and in this season we read the Epistles of James, Peter and John because they concern the unity of knowledge and virtuous love, of the invisible world and the visible.  "Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only" commands James.  "Faith without works is dead" he judges. (James 2.17)  How can a man say I love God and hate his neighbour? asks John.  "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3.17)  We have known in Jesus and believed, because we have seen and handled it in him, that God is love; and so we are certain that who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.  This Jesus loved us, gave his very flesh and blood for us, so we know by the Spirit who testifies of Jesus that "If a man say I love God and hateth his brother he is a liar." (1 John 4.20)

 

St. Peter exhorts: "And to godliness add brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make that ye shall neither be barren or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1.7-8)

 

These epistles teach us something about practice, about love and about truth which is a most important guide.  The standards of truth and practice are the same ones they have always been.  The good God we know, and who commands, changes not.  As Jude has it: we are to hold fast to the truth "once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)  Or John, "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning." (1 John 2.7)  Always the same standard: "Who so hateth his brother is a murderer and we know that no murderer hath eternal life in him" because God commanded Moses "Thou shalt do no murder." (1 John 3.15)  "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this," teaches James; namely, charity and purity: "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and keep yourself unspotted from the world." (James 1.27)  Or again: "Whoso seeth that his brother hath need and shutteth up his heart to him, How dwells the love of God in him?" asks John. (1 John 3.17)

 

The same eternal God is made known in "Jesus Christ the same yesterday today and forever" (Hebrews 13.8) and teaches us the same law ever new "Who loves God must love his brother also." (1 John 3.21)  The resurrected Jesus gives us power to fulfill the commandments but he takes nothing of them away.  "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, they will not be pursuaded though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16.31)  This wisdom, so ancient and so new, always makes us hated of the world, the world of change and decay, because the eternal law and unchangeable knowledge cannot belong to it.  "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you."

    If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15.18-19)

Knowledge and love of God and, of our brothers and sisters in God, calls us from the world with the greatest urgency.

    A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, come for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse.

You now hear the truth, and see the things which angels long to gaze upon, which the just saints of old desired to look upon and did not see. Hear and obey. Lest the final word you hear be:

    For I say unto you that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. (Luke 14.24)

Let us pray to hear rather "Come and dine"  "Come inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world." (Matthew 25.34)

Father Ed Bakker

Sunday, June 6, 2021

The First Sunday after Trinity


Dear  Friends in Christ,

1 John 3:13-24 and Luke 14: 16-24

"The master then said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedgerows and force them to come in. I want my house to be full, but I tell you that not one of those invited shall taste a morsel of my dinner.'"  
Today, Jesus tells us a story about an invitation to a dinner party. You and I have been invited to dinner many times and we know that an invitation to dinner is something that we accept, not only to fill ourselves with all kinds of food and nourishment (even though that does happen), but there is something more to the acceptance of the invitation. There is a bond that is established between host and guest. It is really for this purpose that we would have guests for dinner: to share the intimacy of the family with the guest. It is a time for great joy and happiness.  

I will tell you a little story about myself that happened some time back and it was very embarrassing. As a  priest, I was invited to dinner to a couple's house. Before dinner we were visiting over a cocktail about many things including various kinds of food. And, as you can see, I like just about anything and everything. But I said, "There is one spice that I just can't take. I don't like curry. To me, it tastes like soap. I just don't like it." Saying all this to the couple beforehand, what do you suppose was the entree that night? Curried chicken! I felt like an absolute fool. There was a lot of backing and filling, if you can imagine, in my conversation after that. Such statements as, "Oh, this is really good curry. If I knew that curry tasted like this, then that's a whole different thing." I don't think they believed a word of it! But I still don't like curry. However, I didn't go there, to that house to eat curried chicken or anything else just to fill my stomach. I did it because they had invited me to share the intimacy of their family. That was most important; not whether or not the curried chicken was good.  

Because you and I understand what a dinner invitation is really about, Jesus used an example. So often He tried to teach us about the intimacy which God desires in His family. How often Jesus couches this teaching in terms of a shared meal together.  

Look at the different times that Jesus used a meal as a setting for a teaching during His lifetime: He worked His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana - at a meal. He also did some teaching and some criticizing of Simon the Pharisee about the behaviour one should display in this new kingdom that He had come to establish. Jesus shared with His disciples, the night before he died, what was most important on His mind before he would leave them. It's five chapters in John's Gospel! And, of course, at that same meal He gave us His own body and blood as our food. After the resurrection. He appeared to His disciples at a meal in the upper room. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus came to know Him in the breaking of the bread. Over and over again, there was this setting of a shared meal. It is no wonder that Jesus would also use such a setting in His parables, as He does today.  

There is a parallel story that you are familiar with in Matthew's Gospel. There was a king who gave a banquet for his son and he sent out invitations. When all of the invited people failed to show, they were excluded. Then he brought in anybody he could find, from the highways and hedges, to fill the hall. There was also the added detail in Matthew's Gospel about the man who wasn't wearing a wedding garment.  

But Luke's story, our Gospel reading this morning, is much simpler. This was just a man who was giving a dinner party and he invited many. The excuses that they came up with are absolutely beyond belief. "Well, I just bought some land and I have to go off and see it." I suppose that individual was so consumed with the accumulation of things that he really didn't have time for the intimacy between himself and his Lord. And then there is the next individual. What a weak excuse that was! "I've just bought five yoke of oxen and I've got to go out and try them." "I'd rather be plowing rocky ground than eating a meal with you".

Now the third excuse I always thought was the lamest of all of the excuses. But that individual at least could fall back on the Word of God, because he was using something that was in the law of Moses to excuse himself. You find it in the twenty-fourth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. I think it's rather humorous: "When a man is newly wed, he need not go out on a military expedition nor shall any public duty be imposed on him (like a dinner). He shall be exempt for one year for the sake of his family to bring joy to the wife he has married" (Deut. 24:5). At least he had a better excuse than the others.  

Each one of them had spurned the invitation to intimacy. When Luke gave us the parable, he had in mind something much broader. The people who were invited were the Jews. They had rejected the Messiah, the invitation to intimacy with God himself. Now the invitation was sent out to anybody and everybody. Jesus teaches us that His church. His kingdom, is not an exclusive club, but rather He came in order to invite all of humankind to accept the message of salvation.  

I find it interesting to hear the kinds of people that the Master says should be collected. He says, "Go out and find the blind, the beggars, the lame people, all of the people that are the dregs of society. Get them all in here. I want a full house. All the bums you can find!" Truly that is what he was saying. You know that you and I have to identify, not with those people that rejected the invitation, but with that second group collected from the highways and hedges.  

How many times are we really blind to God's teaching. We can't see the woods for the trees. We can't see the love of God that surrounds us. We're so blind. We're lame too. We're crippled by our sins that we repeat so often that they become a part of us and that crippling effect over a period of time leaves us in such a weakened state. We are beggars for we know our poverty: the poverty of our own spirits without God. There isn't much there until God fills us with Himself.  

The banquet that you and I have been invited to this morning is a very special one. Here we are collected from all kinds of places, assembled in this church, in order that you and I might share a special kind of intimacy with our Lord and God. What a privilege it is! Here at this time we do the most important thing that we could ever do this week. First of all, we are privileged to offer ourselves, all that we are and have - body and soul - to God our Father, through and with Christ our Lord.  

But we are also privileged to receive in our hands the Lord of the universe under such simple appearances. Here is the God-made-man, come to earth wrapped in swaddling clothes. Here is the Healer, that if I could touch but the hem of His garment I would be healed. And here He is, in our hand. Here is the One who hung upon a tree in order to give us eternal life. Here is the One who rose from the dead in order that we can confront death and know that it isn't the end of things, but the beginning of life eternal.  

What a gift our God has given to us. Talk about the intimacy of an invitation to dinner! How much more intimate could our God be with us than to become one with us as our food? Not only that, but one with one another in this food? For one bread makes us one body in Christ (I Cor. 10:16). Christ our Lord is not divided at communion time. It isn't one Christ for one person, another Christ for another, and another Christ for someone in Ireland and Christ for one in Australia and one in England. No, it is the same Christ our Lord that each and every one of us receives this Sunday morning. Are we one with them? Yes, we are. This is the communion of saints.  

Is there anything that we could possibly do that would be more important than to accept the invitation - to follow the mandate - of Jesus Christ our Lord at that first Eucharist when He said to His disciples, "Do this in memory of Me"?  


Father Ed Bakker,

 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Corpus Christi

 

Dear Friends in Christ,


We’ve come to church on this Corpus Christi Thursday to do what we do
each and every Sunday, and some of us each and every day: to take part
in the central act of worship of the Christian Church, as small discs of
bread and a chalice of wine is blessed and shared, because two thousand
years ago a Jewish man told his followers to ‘do this’ in remembrance of
him on the night before he died.

But, unlike on Maundy Thursday, when the Church calls us to remember
in particular Christ washing his disciples’ feet, his perfect example of selfabasing,
loving service, today we are called to rejoice in the other gift of
that night, the gift of the Eucharist, the Mass, in which ordinary bread
and ordinary wine become the Body and Blood of Christ himself.
Maundy Thursday is filled with the poignancy of the Garden of
Gethsemane and the impending events of Good Friday; today is a day of
rejoicing that, in this and every Mass, we experience the miracle of
Christ’s promise made true to be with his Church until the end of time.
For many years of Christian history people received Holy Communion
infrequently, usually at Easter and sometimes only on their deathbeds.
Nowadays, we usually receive Communion every time we come to
Mass, and that, of course, can be nothing other than a good thing. But,
to quote the old adage, familiarity breeds contempt: and, though we
might not be contemptuous about the Mass, what we are doing and who
we receive, the familiarity of the rituals and words can breed
complacency, as we become inured to the wonder and power of the
mysteries we celebrate.

So what’s going on when we ‘do this’ in remembrance of Jesus? The key
word here is ‘remembrance’: of course, this word brings to mind
commemorations at the Cenotaph, poppies and bugles; it also conveys a
sense of ‘not forgetting’. But this is not what we do when we ‘do this’ in
remembrance of Jesus in this and every Mass. Yes, we are not to forget
Jesus, his life, death and resurrection; his example and all he taught us
about our humanity and God; but we are also here to remember in
another sense – to re-member Jesus, to bring him out of the past into
the present as we ‘do this’ with bread and wine.

But we are here to remember in another sense as well, or, to make the
same request of Jesus as did the penitent thief who hung beside him on
his cross. We are here to say, ‘Lord, remember me…’ And, as we say
that, we’re not saying, ‘Jesus, don’t forget me,’ but, ‘Lord, re-member
me, recreate me, take my brokenness and put me back together again,
as you made me to be, in your likeness.’

And that is why we are here: we gather as Christ’s body in the world,
broken, fractured, dislocated; we gather to remember Jesus, and
ourselves to be re-membered as his past becomes our present, as we
are fed with his divine life, as we are healed, forgiven, put back together
and sent out to share that love, life, forgiveness and grace with God’s
people in the world.

This is both the mystery and the miracle of the Mass: that the same Jesus
who walked this earth, died on the cross and rose again, is as present in
bread and wine as he was two thousand years ago. But it is also that,
through the mystery and miracle of the cross, Jesus continues to pour
out his life, love, forgiveness and grace so that, being broken for us, we
might be made whole, and as we remember him, be re-membered by
him, re-created, healed and saved.

But that’s not the end of it: the Mass is both the source and summit of
our worship as Christians; it is to the altar that we come day by day and
week by week so that we might live better lives as Christians, and be
nourished for our Christian pilgrimage through life. But the Mass is also
the beginning of our mission: of our being sent out into the world to be
Christ’s body, Christ’s presence here, now, today, as we witness to
God’s transforming love at work in our lives, and seek him in the faces
of our fellow men and women.

As we are sent out from the Mass, filled with the very life and presence
of Jesus himself, he says to us: ‘What you have received is me, so that
you may become like me, and live as I intend life to be. And now I want
you to re-member me; to be my body in the world, as you offer your
lives in the service of others, being broken in the costly service of love.
And when you’ve done that, come back again and feed on the living
bread: be nourished for another week of service; forgiven for the times
you’ve got it wrong, and put back together to live life in my name.’
As we gather once again at the altar, as countless Christians are doing
around the world today, and have done over the past two thousand
years; as we gather to fulfill Christ’s command to ‘do this’ in
remembrance of him; we do this so that we may fulfill our vocation to
be Christ’s body in the world, his living presence calling people into the
fellowship of his life and love; but we do so as well, so that, as his
broken people, we may be healed, forgiven, and sustained by the very
presence of Christ himself.

This is why we are here; this is why we come back time and time again;
this is why the Mass is so special, so important, so central not only to
the life of the Church, but to the life of the world as well. And we will
keep doing this throughout our Christian pilgrimage on earth, because,
however long it takes, in ordinary bread and ordinary wine, we express
our deepest longing to be re-fashioned in the likeness of Jesus, and remembered
when he comes into his kingdom.
Amen.


Father Ed Bakker,



Monday, May 31, 2021

Trinity Sunday 30 May 2021

 

My Friends,

Readings: Matthew 28, 18-20, John 3, 16-18



Three persons and one God: how can this be ?

How many books have been written about the mystery of the Holy Trinity?
And have we also become wiser from that? Augustine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, was a bishop, theologian and church father and found that the mystery could not be phantomed. This is namely a part from a gospel of Matthew: Jesus asks his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and the Spirit, many Bible scholars believe that these words of Jesus were put in His mouth by Matthew.
But that occurs more often in the stories about Jesus, but they are in the spirit of his Good News.

The Holy Spirit of God the Father, together with His Son Jesus, forms the Holy Trinity, which can be part of us life, because after all we are all 'children' of God, and we can meet the Message of God, who wants good for everyone, giving hands and feet in our own way and according to our own possibilities in our life for others. And for that we need the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and His Son Jesus, who inspires us and and so God becomes a little visible in every person who lives well, and who keeps us moving on the road
which Jesus led before us in the Spirit of his Father.

 No one has ever seen God, not even Jesus in his earthly life,so you cannot say that you know God and know who He is, His perception changes according to your age, and what you've been through all in your life. God is sometimes compared to the sun: you cannot look into the sun because then you are blinded, but around you you can see everything as it is illuminated by the sun. You can't see God, but His light does shine in Jesus, called the Son of Man of God, when you look at Him, you also have an image of God for in Him He nevertheless became visible, through His goodness to those in need and attention to the weak and hurt. He was like a Son who was really kind to his Father, God's Spirit was in a special way working in Him. A lot has been written about the mystery of God, but if you don't look at the wonder of it life, the beauty of nature and the good that people do for each other, then you see nothing of God's face in the world.

Our Father in Heaven, made brilliantly visible in His Son Jesus of Nazareth, wants in the Spirit become visible in each of us, if we are receptive to it. But when our minds and hearts are full of all kinds earthly things and things, then it becomes more difficult to pay attention to spiritual matters about God. And there lies precisely the big problem of this time, many are so busy with all kinds of things, that God has the opportunity their 'emptiness' does not get to be filled with his presence, and then you often hear: God does not exist. But God does exist well, however many can no longer find Him because they have no more room for Him in their lives. While it says written, "I am with you every day until the completion of this world," and only God alone can give that guarantee.

Fr Ed Bakker