Thursday, February 23, 2017

Feria for the Thursday

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? (Mark 9:50)

Did you know that every day, God calls you “very good” (Genesis 1:31)? Even with your sins, weaknesses, and wounds, he delights in you. He never tires of holding out his dreams and goals for your life. So if you find that you have lost some of the “flavour,” vigor, and energy that God has endowed you with, know that you can restore it. It’s never too late!
But how can this happen? By grace.

Scripture tells us that Jesus came to live among us, “full of grace and truth,” and that “from his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (John 1:14, 16). This means that, not only have you been saved by the grace of God, but his grace surrounds you constantly. Every time you breathe in, you can welcome it. And anything you’ve “lost,” any enthusiasm that might have waned, can be restored with each breath.

This can be so hard to believe! How can I, sinner that I am, have such free and constant access to God’s unfailing grace? But it’s true. Jesus died in order to win this grace for you; how can he hold back now?

There’s something else here too. If you “re-flavour” yourself by welcoming God’s grace, you’ll find yourself growing in peace with the people around you. Look at the stories from Mark’s Gospel that come just before today’s reading. A father whose faith is faltering receives the grace to believe (Mark 9:14-29). Glory-seeking disciples receive the grace to be humble (9:31-37). Those who sought to exclude people are urged to receive the grace to accept them (9:38-41). In each instance, life and peace were restored. God wants this for you as well! He wants you to have peace in yourself so that you can have peace with other people.

If there is an area of your life in which you feel you have lost some “saltiness,” don’t panic. Just sit quietly with the Lord. Praise him for his mercy. Thank him for his grace. And then just breathe—slowly, deeply, calmly. Let his Spirit fill you with his grace. Let his love, his word, and his promises soften your heart. Let him restore you.
“Thank you, Jesus, for all the grace you have ready for me today!”

Sirach 5:1-8
Psalm 1:1-4, 6

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Sunday called Sexagesima - 19 February 2017

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

"The seed is the word of God" (St.  Luke 8:11).

Last Sunday, as we examined the Scriptures together, we saw that a right relation to God is established by him and on his terms alone.  God had told Joshua, "As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Joshua 1:5).  In doing so, God had not invited Joshua to negotiate the terms of their "personal relationship," as if they were forming a club together.  God offered Joshua life, take it or leave it, and he guaranteed that life by his own faithfulness: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. 

None of this detracts from God's love of Joshua or from his love of anyone else in particular.  But it does tell us that the love that God shows towards each of us began before time, in God's purpose and plan of creation.  God created life to manifest the goodness and glory of his own life, the life of the Blessed Trinity in love and in order, and to share that life with us: a human race created in his own image and likeness. 
But giving the image and likeness of God to creatures has its dangers, not to God, but to such creatures.  God was not creating equals, since he alone is or can be God.  He did, however create companions in life, sons and daughters to live on earth, in time and space, the same life that he has lived and will live eternally.  He wasn't looking for perpetual babies, helpless and fragile, but for mature men and women with lives and minds of their own, persons in their own right, even if creatures.  He proved this by creating first Adam and then Eve as a grown man and a grown woman.  Then he invited them to live with him forever in his righteousness. 
They refused.  God had made them free to choose a good life in him, but they demanded something else.  This first sin was as stupid and illogical as every other sin that has followed it, since only God is free and alive in and of himself, and mankind is only free and alive in God's image and likeness.  They used their freedom to destroy their freedom and to make themselves the slaves of sin, Satan, and death. 
The Living God in his freedom cannot be defeated or surprised by slavery, nor will he allow those created children whom he has loved from before the creation of the world to be defeated by sin.  Thus, God began the long process of human reclamation: long, not because of a lack of power on God's part, but because of the slowness of the fallen human heart and mankind's need to grow up by experiencing the consequences of its actions. 

Not all of the consequences, of course, for then mankind would have died completely.  The very worst of them God took upon himself on the cross.  God the Father sent his only-begotten, eternal, and uncreated Son to become a human being, to save mankind from within, and to make it possible for human beings to become his sons and daughters again by grace. 

The lives of Moses and Joshua were prophecies of this new life in Christ, so that now God says to each of us when he calls us to eternal life in his Son: "As I was and am with Jesus, so will I be with thee.  I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." But it must be clear that life is only available in Jesus Christ and in his one perfect relation to the Father, take it or leave it.  This life is our rescue, and not our choice.  We only begin to recover our freedom from within this one life shared with Jesus Christ, and we will not recover it completely until it is restored by God on the last day and at the General Resurrection when we become in ourselves by God's grace what Jesus Christ is now. 

It was to make these facts clear that our Lord preached the sermon of the sower and the seed, which we heard this morning.  A seed is life, but it must grow to become what it was planted to be, and it can only bear the fruit of its own kind.  The presence of some other kind of fruit means that some other kind of seed, and thus some other kind of life, has taken its place, or is trying to. 

Our Lord says flatly, "The seed is the word of God." This seed, then, isn't a "what" but a "who." It is Jesus Christ himself.  He is the Word of God, as St.  John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodÅ in him was life and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:1,4,14).  The life that is being planted when God sows his seed, is the life of Jesus Christ, and in him, and through him, the life of the Blessed Trinity. 
This Word is not a "message" from God, but God himself.  He is, in and of himself, all Truth, the basis and explanation of all reality, the living reason and goodness of God the Father, and thus the Personal solution and sole alternative to sin, slavery, and death.  To live forever, a human being must live as Jesus Christ, God made man for our sake, lives forever with his Father.  This should have been clearer to Jesus' original audience, since they were Jews, and the Jewish name for what we call "the Ten Commandments" was "the Ten Words of God." But they were mystified, as the Gospel tells us, since they were used to thinking of the commandments as "something we do," and not as "something we become" by God's grace and his planting of his living Word and Commandment as a seed of new life in our hearts. 
So, how do we tell if that seed has been planted and has taken root in our lives? In other words, how do we tell if we have the right, life-giving relation to God in his Son Jesus Christ? Our Lord himself provides the tests, so that we may know the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:10). 
It is not good enough merely to know about Jesus, or even to acknowledge that he is God.  This is like the seed that falls by the wayside and never really gets planted at all.  The devil takes it away, and something else grows in its place, but not belief, not a new life in Christ, and not salvation (Luke 8:12). 

It is not good enough to want to keep the fallen lives that we have already, with Jesus Christ as a kind of "fire insurance," just in case.  It isn't enough to "add" Jesus to our lives for what he can do for us, or because it makes us sentimentally happy to go to church when we're in the mood for that sort of thing.  There is no repentance here, and no admission that we deserve to die for our sins, or that we certainly did not deserve to have the Son of God die in our place.  Thus, the seed of life falls on hearts as hard as stone, never putting down any roots, let alone bearing the fruit of a whole new life in Christ (Luke 8:13). 

It is not good enough to go through the motions of Christianity but to make Jesus Christ compete for our attention.  We may call ourselves "just practical," or consider ourselves to be "socially active," or kid ourselves that "everybody has to have fun, and no one wants to be a religious fanatic." But these are the thorns that crush the life out of our Christianity and keep us from following through to bear the fruit of a complete, disciplined, faithful life in Jesus Christ (Luke 8:14). 

Jesus Christ does not tell us that if we fit into one of these categories we can never be saved.  But he is telling us that if we do fit into one of them, we are not saved now.  There is no fruit of salvation, so there is no proof of salvation, or any reason to feel any assurance of salvation.  This is a warning, and not a death sentence, unless we refuse to change.  With the help of God's grace, however, we can change and we can bear the fruit of Christ's life in our own. 

What must we do? We must seek from God "an honest and good heart," so that having heard the Word of God, we may keep it and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).  These few, simple things are the only way to life, and they are the substance of a right relation to God.  God is not asking any of us to do miracles.  He is offering to do miracles in each of our lives. 
He is offering to help us overcome the sinful heart that is in each of us, and to replace it with the heart of Jesus Christ.  He is offering to give us Christ's Truth in the place of all the lies we tell ourselves about who and what we are.  He is offering to change our lives into Christ's life.  He is offering to bear with us the cross of resistance to evil, selfishness, and self-defeating stupidity, and to demonstrate to us that Jesus Christ has carried precisely the same cross for our sake before us. 

He is offering us a triple gift of patience.  First, the gift of his own patience with our weakness and failures.  Second, the gift of grace to enable us to pay any price and to do whatever it takes to follow Christ.  And third, the gift to be patient with ourselves, however many times we fall, trusting that his grace will bring us to perfection. 
Finally, God offers us the surety that, in a right relation to himself, his Son Jesus Christ will bear the fruit of eternal life in us, not only in the world to come, but beginning in this world as well.  This is not only the assurance of our salvation, but also our salvation itself, the recovery of our freedom, our restoration as children of God, and the fulfillment of the promise that God has always made to the faithful: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.  And, thus, God's eternal purposes in creation will be achieved.

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


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Sunday called Septuagesima

Dear Fathers and Friends in Christ, 

Today we make a decisive turn in the Church year. During Epiphany season it is as if we were looking backwards, walking in the right direction, but looking back at Christmas and Jesus in the manger, looking to see the meaning of the Word made flesh, the Son of God become the Son of man, looking to see divinity manifest among us. Now we turn our heads around to look toward Easter and to what brings us to Easter: the ministry of our Lord Jesus, his suffering and death, his triumphant rising again. We look forward to Lent, Holy Week and Easter. And the Church asks us to begin considering and preparing for these holy seasons. The Church calls us in Lent to “self-examination and repentance by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word” (BCP, p. 612). What new discipline of soul or body? what new generosity of time, money and talent will you undertake this Lent? Now is the occasion to ask these questions. But, before you arrive at the answers, our Church asks you specifically this Sunday to ask ‘Why?’ Before asking ‘what should I do this Lent to prepare for Holy Week and Easter,’ ask yourself ‘Why?’ For this is the question answered in today’s Epistle and Gospel.
Today we are shown the two opposed aspects of our salvation. The Gospel emphasizes that salvation is God’s gift to us, a generous gift more than we could earn, and an equal gift: everyone is given the same at the end. The Epistle emphasizes our labour: our discipline and effort: an effort which will differ from person to person, some doing more, others less.
The teaching about salvation as God’s equal gift is of course the Gospel story told by our Lord Himself: the story of the master of the vineyard who paid all his workers the same at the end of the day despite the fact that some had come early and laboured all day long; others had come late and had worked only one hour. The master protests that he is nonetheless just because he has paid the longest labourers what he had agreed to pay and he was generous to all. This story teaches us three things about our salvation.
First and foremost, salvation is God’s gift in virtue of what Jesus has worked for and paid on our behalf. It is never what we could earn, and, as it is a generous heart which gives it, so also, it is only a humble and thankful heart which can receive it.
Second, the reward for us all is the same: life with God. The way to the reward is the same for all the redeemed; the work of Jesus who was obedient unto death to pay what we owed and could not pay. The work of Jesus makes us friends with God and everyone’s reward is friendship with God, life with Him in this world and seeing Him face to face, enjoying the fulness of his presence in the next. This is our happiness. It is the only reward which is offered. It is the same for all, the greatest and the least.
Third, we are reminded that latecomers are just as welcome to the kingdom as those who have laboured all the day. Jesus tells us to seek the lost coin, to go out and find the lost sheep and tells us that there is more joy over a lost sinner returned than over the ninety and nine which need no repentance. “This is a true saying and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1.15)
We all know this: scarcely any know how to live it. Those who have laboured all day in the vineyard are almost always full of self-righteous disdain and resentment when someone is received at the last hour. Consider working to overcome this as your Lenten discipline. I would be astonished if anyone of us here is free of the resentment of those who have “borne the burden and heat of the day.”
The other aspect of salvation is our effort, here compared by St. Paul to the training and hard running undertaken by the runner of a race. He preaches the same message as the Gospel does: keep your eye on the goal, the prize, he says, the incorruptible crown, the prize which, like the coin, is equal for all, namely immortal life with God given through the work of Jesus on our behalf. So in all our effort, we must always keep before our minds on the equal prize, the free gift of God through the one Lord Jesus our Saviour, namely life with God. But, there is another side, our discipline, exercise, our labour and effort: like the practice, discipline, exercise, and finally, the effort of a runner. The runner’s exercise is likened to the work and discipline we undertake in Lent. But why do we undertake this? To earn the prize? No says Paul: rather to “keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” For both St. Paul, in the Epistle, and Jesus, in the Gospel, our work and the prize are disproportionate: we cannot earn the prize by our labour. It is equal for all no matter how much they have laboured. It is given in virtue of the generous love of the giver, not in virtue of our labour. According to the Collect “we ... are justly punished for our offenses” and we are “mercifully delivered” by God’s goodness.
Our labours do not earn salvation; they enable us to live lives of temperance, humility, generosity, thankfulness, and praise consonant with the salvation God gives us. Lent trains us to live lives “worthy of our calling.” Remember this: the obstacles between us and our goal in God’s kingdom are erected by us. The devils and idols who stand between us and God have no power of themselves to stop us. They are impotent against us by themselves. Christ destroyed their power. They have only as much substance, power and reality against us as we give them. That is why we ourselves must be subdued. This why having come under God’s rule we must bring every aspect of our lives within his control.
The doctrine that Christian salvation is not all free gift but is also partly in our effort is a great comfort. For if it were all in God’s gift, then every aspect of our lives should be already experienced as saved. But we discover the very opposite. We discover that we are not even able to repent. We rid ourselves of the evil deed, but the love and consent to the evil desire is still there. If we were simply saved already, on reflection we would find ourselves damned. But we are not damned.
We are not damned because Jesus has won salvation for us as the free gift of God offered to everyone. We are not damned because the Father and the Son sent their Holy Spirit to work and labour with us and in us to make us day by day more conformed to the perfectly obedient humanity of our Lord Jesus. We are saved by free gift which is the beginning and end of our labours and we have also the gracious comfort of good works by which we are able to live lives of thankfulness and praise, the lives to which we are called that we might in all things glorify God, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, to whom belongs all might, majesty, dominion, and praise, honour and glory, now and ever.  Amen.

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



Thursday, February 9, 2017

Feria on the Thursday

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,


“Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  John 14.27

There are many ways you can have a “peace” from the world. You can have many powerful friends, have a lot of money, live in a prosperous country and believe in a law and government.
But as you know by now, all this is a piece of junk and can be taken from you when you expect it the least. Those things are not evil or bad, but you cannot rely on them, ever! The only peace that is stable, everlasting and solid like a rock is the one given by God himself!

What Jesus is saying? Do not let your hearts to be troubled or afraid! This means it is your decision! Decision to not be afraid and trust God. But this promise of God is not based on a sand foundation but on a rock one. That’s why Jesus said my peace, I give you, and it is not the same as the one from the world.

Jews would believe Him. Why? Because of what word peace means in their language.
Peace in Jewish is Shalom. What Shalom means for a Jew? It means: safety, all well, happiness, health, prosperity, peace, favour and wholeness. When Jesus was talking that He is giving us His peace, He meant that he is giving us: safety, wellness, health, happiness, prosperity, peace, favour and wholeness. It is not just freedom from war and disturbance; it is much, much more. His peace is enough; it covers all areas of your life with God’s protection and power!

Father Ed Bakker

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:12-13). 

I rarely disagree with the editors of our Book of Common Prayer, but I do think that they over-reached themselves in substituting "a heart of compassion" for "bowels of mercy" in this morning’s Gospel. "Bowels of mercy," after all, is the literal translation of the original Greek New Testament, and while "a heart of compassion" is an effort to provide an example of what that strange expression means, it hides more than it reveals. 

For us, in modern English, except in the practice of medicine, "the heart" is more of a metaphor, a kind of poetic expression that indicates "love," as in "I love you with all of my heart." And in a week or so, simplified, stylized "hearts" will appear everywhere as decorations for St. Valentine’s Day. 

But for the ancient people of the Bible, "love" was more than mental, more than emotional or psychological, and certainly more than sexual. Moses or St. Paul probably wouldn’t have known what to make of our willingness to separate the mind or the soul from the body, since they believed, under the guidance of the rest of the Scriptures and the Holy Ghost, that human beings were created by God as a united whole of body, mind, and spirit. When one tried to break a human being into his "parts," say separating "the mind" from "the body," all one would get was a corpse. 
What we have to face this morning is that these ancient Biblical people were right, and certainly understood human nature better than we do. They had more than the observations of this world from within this world that guide modern science. They had divine revelation on their side. We insist that we must "understand" something before we can "know" it. They, on the other hand, from their congress with the Living God, would have insisted that we must "know" something first, trusting in the God who reveals it, before we can even begin to understand it. 

Not that Biblical people were against the evidence of their own experience. The mighty acts of God in history were part of their experience. So, too, were what they felt inside themselves when they experienced the range of human emotions. They didn’t say "my mind feels this" or "my body feels this." They said, "I feel this." And modern science has proved them right. A person really can die from "a broken heart" and the stresses of life do affect the body as much as the mind. Battle fatigue, for example, isn’t "mental" or "physical." It’s human. 

Thus, St. Paul approaches the mystery of human life, body and soul, on this earth, when we says, "Put on bowels of mercies." He means more even than "love" and more even that "a heart of compassion." He expects us to call up every kind of mercy, even for those that we do not approve of or for those who have made themselves our enemies, from our "guts"—from everything that is in us, from everything that makes us who we are. He expects us to become the living examples of mercy, and not merely to think about it, and especially when some other person doesn’t deserve mercy in our ordinary human calculations. 

But why should St. Paul, speaking with and for the Holy Ghost, demand such a thing? The "bottom line," as we like to call it today, the simplest and still complete answer is this: "Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." We were not worthy of God’s forgiveness, and we certainly did not (and could not) be worthy of God the Son’s becoming a man to die for us upon a cross. We had no right to the nails that pierced Jesus Christ’s hands and feet. We had no right to the crown of thorns. We had no right to the lance that pierced the side of the Word-made-flesh. 

We will never deserve such infinite mercies made so physically real in our fallen world. And if we think about it for a while, we will realize that the mercy of Christ, who is, of course, our Creator (with his Father and the Holy Ghost) takes us farther back in time to considering our creation and the creation of the world. Even before our fall into sin, creation itself was a mercy of God. We never had a "right" to exist, the sort of thing that could require God to create us from nothing, especially since he knew in his infinite knowledge that almost the first thing we would do with our existence was to rebel against him and sin. We sinned, and God paid the price for our sin, dying in agony the death of a convicted criminal on the cross. 

That glorious Body of the Son of God on the cross is our only link to God in heaven, as he ratifies the will of his Father and the truth of revelation by the offering of his own Divine Person. But God, who is a pure, eternal, spiritual being (and the source of all being), did not have a body until God the Son became man. What Jesus Christ did, when he became man, when he became "incarnate" or "in the flesh," was to "put on bowels of mercies." 

Jesus Christ demonstrated by a perfect human life that human nature restored to its created dignity as the image and likeness of God could manifest the character of God. And what he showed us of God’s character was precisely what St. Paul demands of us this morning. He showed us, by the human life of the Son of God made man, "kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long-suffering," forbearing his rights as the Eternal God to forgive us and to die for us. 
God is, of course, all-powerful; but when we think of power in our fallenness, we almost inevitably think of brutality, tyranny, and lording it over others. Jesus Christ is God, and he is all-powerful. He is also the "brightness of his [Father’s] glory" and "the express image of his Person" (Hebrews 1:3). And yet, what does Jesus Christ show us? —"kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long-suffering." These are the very character of God, and the essence of the infinite power of God. The true Lord of all is all mercy, even as he is all just, without any conflict, without any tyranny, without any brutality. 

When God became man, his divine character was expressed in human flesh by the "putting on of bowels of mercies." We can say, "Well, that’s easy for God," but then we would also have to say that the lash was easy, the nails were easy, and the cross was easy. If we are ever tempted to say such a thing, by the grace of God, the words will stick in our throats. 
Our calling as Christians, as what St. Paul calls "the elect of God," those chosen to live eternally with God and called out of the midst of a sinful world and a sinful human race, is to be exactly what Jesus Christ is. This calling and the fulfillment of it are not within our power, but they are within the power of God’s grace. We are called to be "sons of God" by adoption and grace. We are called back to what God created us to be—his image and likeness in human flesh, just as our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect expression of God’s character and being in the same human flesh that he shares with us. We are called to become what Jesus Christ is, by grace and sanctification, that we might share in the glorification of his Body at Easter, and receive the perfection of God’s image in us, by our own rising from the dead on the Last Day. 

To become like God in Christ, we must become kind, humble, meek, long-suffering, "forbearing one another and forgiving one another" as Christ came among us and forgave us. We cannot do this, and we will not do it, until we seek the grace of God to "put on bowels of mercies." Mercy must fill us spiritually and physically. Mercy must become as central to our nature as blood, bone, or sinew. Every organ of our bodies must become an organ of God’s mercy, so that the love of our Father in heaven becomes our very heart and soul. And then we will really be "Christians" in the most precise meaning of that word, and we will truly be the faithful children who have been empowered by grace to say, "Our Father" and "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

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