Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Sunday called Laetare - 26 March 2017

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
Laetare Sunday 2017
"When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do" (John 6:5-6). 
In this week’s collect and lessons, we encounter Chapter Four of the ancient Church’s course of Lenten study. The first chapter taught us about Christ’s sacrifice of himself for the sake of his Father’s glory and for our salvation. The second chapter laid out for us the fact that only a life of sacrifice for Christ’s sake is a proper and sufficient response on our part to the self-sacrifice of the Son of God. 
Last week, in the third chapter, we learned that the vows of Baptism commit us to worshipping only the One True God, who never changes. We also learned that such worship is only possible when we have been cleansed of the devil’s influence in our lives, so that we are set free by the grace of God to serve him alone in all things public and private. 
These lessons were not meant just for the time of Sunday service. They were intended to be the special focus of our prayers and meditations throughout the week, so that each week leads us deeper into the Christian Faith and closer to keeping a Scripturally informed and purposely holy Easter. 
And so, this week, we are expected to consider the cost to us of our salvation. What did we do to deserve Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection? What must we pay to receive the benefits of the one sacrifice, once offered, of the Son of God on the cross? The "short answer" to both questions is "absolutely nothing." The "long answer" is the same, but understood in a deeper humility. 
Today’s Gospel is St. John’s account of one of the times when our Lord Jesus Christ fed a great multitude. It is important to notice as we think about this Gospel that St. John provides the detail, "And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh" (6:4). The Passover, after all, was more than an earthly meal. It represented the supernatural Covenant of life between God and his Chosen People, and in particular the liberation of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt on the night when the angel of death "passed over" God’s people and took the first-born of the Egyptians. 
At the Passover, the main food was the flesh of a sacrificial lamb, whose blood also marked the doorways of the Israelites to set their houses apart from those of the Egyptians. The Passover was a prophetic meal, and not and end in itself. The meal spoke for God, not only in recalling the Exodus from Egypt, but also in promising the manner of mankind’s liberation from sin and death. The early Christians recognized, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost who descended upon them at Pentecost, that the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ were the fulfillment of the Passover’s ancient prophecy of life. 
For example, St. Paul wrote "…Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). He meant, of course, that the Lord’s Supper is the Christian Passover meal, the prophetic meal of a new and eternal life in Christ, to be continued until the Lord returns in glory. But he meant as well that Christian life depends in general on the historic and supernatural realities that give meaning to the visible rites and ceremonies of the Holy Communion. 
The Holy Communion is more than magic, and greater than magic could be. The Holy Communion is the making visible of the saving love and grace of God. Likewise, then, the miraculous meal fed to the multitude was both more than food and more than magic. It, too, was the making visible of the saving love of God and of the power of God’s grace. It, too, was a prophecy of the saving death that should come and of the spiritual food that would be fed by Christ to the multitudes of his believers forever—his own sacred Body and Blood. 
Thus, the Body and the Blood of Christ are both the means of salvation and the visible signs (or "fulfilled prophecies") of salvation. If this is true (and it most certainly is), then we can learn the cost to us of salvation by learning the cost of the bread that Jesus Christ fed to the multitude in the wilderness. How much did they pay? 
Our Lord looks out over the multitude with his disciples and asks, "When shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" This is a "teaching question," and not a "catering question," since our Lord already knows what he is going to do. He is testing his disciples to see if they understand what is happening, and as usual they don’t. The Cross, the Empty Tomb, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost are all still in their future. Thus, Philip informs our Lord that two hundred days wages ("two hundred pennyworth") won’t buy the bread that they need. 
And that is the point. In the middle of the wilderness (representing this fallen world of sin), the Son of God is going to feed the multitude by a free gift of bread that represents the eternal life that he offers in himself. With the Father and the Holy Ghost, but otherwise on his own, Jesus Christ will give the men what they need to live, not just today, but forever. To take the bread that Jesus Christ offers, trusting in him, is to make visible the gift of faith. Christ doesn’t force his bread down the men’s throats, but he gives them the grace to accept freely his gift of life. 
Jesus Christ, whether in the prophetic act of feeding the multitude or in the fullness of the salvation that he offers by his death and resurrection, retains all of the initiative and all of the authority. He pays, personally, the entire price of eternal life. All that remains for the multitude or for us to do is either to take, eat, and live; or to refuse to take, refuse to eat, and choose to die. 
The self-sacrifice and obedience that Christ’s own self-sacrifice and obedience calls from us are not the "price" or the "means" of our salvation. They are the result of our salvation. The multitude ate because Christ made it possible. We live because Christ makes it possible. Freed from sin by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we become able for the first time in our lives to live as we ought to live, to the glory of God and with a decent care for one another. Our good living is a benefit that we receive from Christ, and not something that comes from within us that allows us to "pay Christ back" for Calvary. A few moments thought, moreover, will teach us how ungrateful and insulting it would be even to suggest to Christ that living as we ought to live, as he enables us to live, is some kind of "tit for tat" that cancels out his agony and death. 
Our Collect today reminds us of what we truly deserve from God: that we "worthily deserve to be punished for our evil deeds." We can never place God in our debt because we will always owe him either the debts of sin and death, or the debts of eternal life and salvation. He will always remain God, and we will never replace him. Nor can God’s Law, which teaches us how to use the freedom that he has given us by grace and the sacrifice of his Son, be perverted into a list of good works that place him in our debt. 
As St. Paul teaches in today’s Epistle from Galatians, the Law of God is intended for free men and not for slaves. The Law of God describes the freedom of those made just by grace through faith. Those who have been freed from sin by grace will act as God’s commands, or repent as sin their failures to do so. Those who remain in sin can only have the Law in the bondage of their will, so that the Law offers them only condemnation for not being what God created them to be. And it is a sinful delusion to believe that we can keep the Law of God before God gives us the grace to do so, before we have received the benefits of Christ’s one sacrifice for the sins of all men. 
This week, then, our Lenten study is to major in grace, gratitude, and freedom. We are to purge our minds of any thought that God owes us anything when we live according to his will, because such living is God’s gift to us and not the price that we pay for admission into his kingdom. More even than this, we are to remind ourselves, in every way that we can think of, that every good thing in our lives has been made possible by the agony of our Saviour. Thus, we keep the Law of God, not as the regulations that govern slaves, but as the kindly guidance of a loving Father in heaven who desires every good thing for us and from us, so that we can live with him in grace and happiness forever. 
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Former Queen's Chaplain Gavin Ashenden quits 'liberal' Church of England

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

This reached my desk yesterday and frankly I am not surprised.

Former Queen's Chaplain Gavin Ashenden quits 'liberal' Church of England
By Harry Farley
 17 March 2017
A former Queen's chaplain has quit as a Church of England priest after a long-running objection to what he saw as the liberalising trend of the CofE.

Canon Gavin Ashenden made the unusual move of resigning his orders on Friday, Christian Today can reveal, leaving more than 35 years of ordained ministry.
Gavin Ashenden used to present the BBC's weekly Faith and Ethics radio programme and was a member of general synod for 20 years.

An ardent conservative on both sexuality and women priests, Rev Ashenden confirmed to Christian Today he had signed the 'deed of relinquishment' under the Clerical Disabilities Act 1870. This starts a six-month interim period before he officially leaves the Church.

He declined to comment on the move until his six-month waiting time is up.
It comes after the long-standing critic of the Church left his post as Queen's chaplain in January following a row over a Quran reading in Glasgow Cathedral. The Shropshire-based priest criticised the decision by Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary's Cathedral, for inviting a reading from the Islamic holy book at the Epiphany service on January 6.

'After a conversation instigated by officials at Buckingham Palace, I decided the most honourable course of action was to resign,' he said at the time pointing to a 'a very important convention that the Queen should not be drawn into publics affairs where she is deemed to be taking a position'.
His decision to leave ministry in the Church could lead others to follow suit. A number of conservative Anglicans have voiced their concern about the Archbishop of Canterbury's call for a 'radical, new Christian inclusion' after a report maintaining a largely conservative stance on sexuality was rejected by the CofE's ruling general synod.

'There is no sign the Church of England is going to reconsider its policy of accommodation with the secular culture,' Ashenden said in a previous interview with Christian Today.
'It has abandoned certain key and apostolic norms,' he added, warning the CofE would collapse within decades because of its refusal to adhere to conservative Christianity.
He contrasted the year-on-year decline in England with the rapidly growing churches in Russia and China and said the difference was they had 'not made an accommodation with the culture'.
He said in the January interview: 'There are two kinds of Anglicanism. A secular Anglicanism and a traditional biblical Anglicanism.

'I see myself and others as very soon having to make a choice.'
He described himself as 'in limbo' between the CofE and other Anglican churches around the world.
'I certainly look at worldwide Anglicanism and I associate myself with some parts of the Anglican church that have kept the biblical faith. And I increasingly disassociate myself with parts like the Church of England.


All the reason the more that I moved to the Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province

Father Ed Bakker

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Third Sunday in Lent

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

On the past two Sundays, we saw how the Lenten Collects and the Scripture Lessons appointed by the Church are meant to be an organized course in Christian faith and practice, leading up to a renewal of our commitment to our crucified and resurrected Lord on Easter Day. In the first installment of this course, we were reminded that the self-sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ is the heart of the Christian religion. In the second, we were taught that our own self-sacrifice, in response to that of Jesus Christ, is the chief means by which we practice Christianity, demonstrating that our faith and trust in our Savior are real, rather than mere lip service. 

Today, on the Third Sunday in Lent, we can see just how ancient this Lenten course in Christianity truly is. In the early Church, except in emergencies, converts to Christianity spent three years preparing for Baptism, which was usually administered on Easter Even, as Lent gave way to Easter. Those getting ready for Baptism were called "catechumens," from a Greek word that means "to teach by repetition." What the catechumens studied was their "catechism," a constant repetition of certain Biblical truths. There is still a catechism in our Prayer Book, intended to perform the same function. 

On this Sunday before Easter, and through the following week, the candidates for Baptism would be tested on their knowledge of the Christian catechism in a process called "the scrutinies," from the Latin for "a careful and searching examination for flaws." Also, in recognition that knowledge without grace is useless, the baptismal candidates would be exorcised, so that cleansed of any influence of the devil, their hearts and minds would be free and open to the indwelling grace of God. 

Thus, if we look at today’s Gospel from St. Luke, we will find both a lesson from our Lord on the casting out of devils and an assertion that only those who "hear the word of God, and keep it" are truly blessed (Luke 11:14-28). Likewise, if we study today’s Epistle from St. Paul to the Ephesians, we will be taught how those who have been cleansed of darkness and made the children of light, and the adopted children of God by grace, must behave to remain in the light. These, and similar passages from Scripture, are the actual lessons that those ancient converts were taught before their Baptism. 

Today’s Collect is almost as ancient as the Scriptures themselves. It begins, "We beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants." Those "hearty desires," meaning "desires of the heart," were simply called "vows" in the original Latin of this prayer. And those "vows" were the vows of Baptism, which you can still find in the baptismal service in our Prayer Book. 

These vows are both negative and positive. In our negative vows, we renounce the devil and all his works, along with the vain pomp and glory of the world and the sinful desires of the flesh. In our positive vows, we declare our belief in the Christian faith as summarized in the Apostles’ Creed; we swear that we truly desire to be baptized, holding nothing back; and we solemnly announce our intention to follow God alone, keeping his holy will and commandments, and walking in the same all the days of our lives (BCP 276-277). 

Our own experience of living in a fallen world ought to teach us, if nothing else, that these are hard vows to keep. That is why the candidates for Baptism were exorcised, and why we still pray to God in our Collect "stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord." These words connect us to those ancient converts, since we have the same spiritual enemies that they had, and because we still need, as much as they ever did, all of God’s help in maintaining our life in him.
We still pray for that help, and we still receive that help, only through our Lord Jesus Christ. And so, although we may already be baptized, we can only maintain our faith and our new, God-given life in Jesus Christ by constantly remembering the truths of the Christian Faith; by daily renewing our efforts to keep the vows of our Baptism; by renouncing the devil and his works just as often; and by keeping a holy Easter as the memorial of our rescue from sin and death. 

The Church’s general message this morning, meant for all believers, is, first of all, that the constant study and repetition of the truths of the faith is an indispensable part of any Biblical life. The second part of her message is this: we each must be exorcised of the devil to live a godly life. This sort of true exorcism, however, is not just some sort of ceremony. It is to become so filled with the things that belong to God, to live a life so full of truth and so completely taken up with righteous behavior, that there is no room in our lives for the devil or his works. 
The Church did not invent these principles of good living. God did. We find the evidence in today’s Old Testament Lesson from Deuteronomy: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (6:4-5). These words are the oldest written Creed of God’s true religion. They are still recited daily by Jews and tied to their bodies in little boxes call "phylacteries" so that they will never forget them. We say them, too, at the Holy Communion, because it was only natural that our Lord, when asked to summarize the Law of God, should have used these same words, adding to them the words of Leviticus 19:18, wherein we learn our God-given duty to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Christ used these words because his Father had commanded them to be used. God told the chosen people through Moses: "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). 

This commandment of God delivers to us the pattern by which Biblical Christians are meant to live today, and the pattern by which such faithful Christians have always lived. We say more than the words of Deuteronomy because God has given us more than Moses could deliver. God has given us his Son Jesus Christ to fulfill all the Law and prophecies of the Old Testament, and to be the center of our belief and understanding of his Father’s will in the New Testament. 

God has not changed. He is still, and he will always be, One Lord. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, has revealed to us that the One Lord of the Bible is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. More than this, Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to live in communion with the One Lord God by dying on the cross and by making us members of his own Body. If we belong to the Son, we necessarily belong to the Father and the Holy Ghost. 

The Church teaches us today what God has taught us through his Living Word. The Church teaches us how to belong to God and how to remain in the communion of God the Father, through God the Son, and by God the Holy Ghost. We must drive out the devil by the grace and power of God, made manifest and available through the Truth that God has revealed and the righteousness he has commanded. We must keep ever before us the Truth of God’s love and our salvation, repeating that Truth to ourselves, to each other, to our children, and to a needy world.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Light in the darkness of Lent

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the second week of Lent, we ask for light. Our minds are limited in what we can grasp, and our memories are limited in what we can retain. We can easily forget or misremember what we did, felt, and thought—especially something that we want to forget. So we need His light if we are to grow in God’s service.

When we ask God for light, we are asking to know as God knows: good, bad, up, down, all of it. A good prayer is to ask the Father to let me know myself the way the Holy Spirit knows me, “for the Spirit searches the depths of everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

God does everything to bring us light. In our turn, each of us must get ready to accept God’s illumination. One important way to get ready for God’s light is to pray to be unafraid of what we see.

We can ask God to shed light on our routines and habits. Is a good habit growing stronger? Is a certain habit more harmful than I admit? We need our usual ways of doing things. Without routines we’d take all day just to have breakfast. At the same time, almost any habit can either enable our freedom or impede our freedom. We have to watch.

And habits can turn into harmful attachments. We can hold on to things or ideas so tightly that we are no longer really free. So we beg God for light to see when an attachment is leading us to sin. God sees it for what it is; we ask to share that insight.
Finally, when we ask for light, we need to be ready to accept what God gives us.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Second Sunday in Lent

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

THE GOSPEL.  S. Matth. 15. 21 
“O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

You get what you want sometimes, it seems. Let us hope that we really know what it is that we want. Let us hope that what we want is what is right and good for us, that what we want is, ultimately, what God wants for us.  But is that all that is required for us to get what we want, namely, a certain clarity about our desires and wishes?  No.  There is something more than mere clarity about the desires of our hearts, the collection of whims and fancies that belong to the restlessness of our hearts.
Lent seeks the clarification of our minds and the purification of our wills.  Purgation and illumination are fundamental features of the classical understanding of Christian pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that is concentrated for us in the season of Lent, but which is really the pilgrimage of our souls to God.  The third part of the classical understanding of Christian pilgrimage has to do with the perfection and unity of our wills with God.  Purgation, illumination and perfection or unity. For all three of these classical aspects of pilgrimage – the Trinitarian principles of our journeying to God – there is a necessary prerequisite.  It is the note sounded in our liturgy in what is called The Prayer of Humble Access, the note beautifully and powerfully signified in today’s gospel.
The Prayer of Humble Access is familiar to you all, I am sure.  At once poetic and theological, it speaks directly to the nature of our engagement with all things divine, especially the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
“We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord; Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy...”
We pray this as a necessary and critical part of our preparation and approach to the Sacrament of the altar.  The prayer echoes explicitly the Gospel for this day - the story of the Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus so resolutely and yet so humbly. 
There are two words which stand here in a complementary relation.  They are the words ‘humble’  and ‘access’.  Humility is the condition of our access to God.  What the prayer expresses is a fundamental attitude of Faith.  It is not our presumption - our “trusting in our own righteousness” - but our humility - our trusting in “the manifold and great mercies of God” that is altogether crucial.  Against all that is thrown at her, this woman has a hold of this one thing - the mercies of God in Jesus Christ.  To have a hold of that is humility - she presumes upon nothing else - and it is this that gains her access to the heart of Christ.  Humility gains access.
Humility is not the same thing as low self-esteem.  It is not the whinge of “I can’t do that” which really means “I won’t even try”.  It is not the whine of the “poor-me’s” which is really our grovelling for attention, in other words our self-centered pride.  Humility is not grovelling self-pity.  For such things are really our presumption.  We demand all the attention as if we were the centre of everything.  We aren’t.  Humility is the recognition that Jesus is the centre and that we can have access to him – on his conditions, not ours.
“Then came she and knelt before him, saying, Lord, help me”.  There is an encounter and an engagement with Jesus.  The dialogue is quite intense - even frighteningly so.  But her kneeling down is not manipulation.  It is not grovelling self-abasement.  It is, instead, the attitude and posture of Faith.  It says, in effect, that God is God and we are not.  Such is humility.  It is the condition of our access to God.  The woman does not presume to be the centre of attention.  For all her persistence, what is constant is her focus on Jesus.  He has her undivided attention.  She sees in him the mercies of God which she seeks.  “Lord, help me”.
It is not a plaintive cry.  It is the prayer of Faith.  The strong sense of the mercy of God is the counter to our self-presumption and self-preoccupation.
She seeks a healing mercy from Jesus not for herself but for her daughter.  A mother’s love is a strong and compelling motive.  The sickness of a child or some other crisis in our lives will often bring us to our knees.  We are rendered helpless.  “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves”.  It would be foolish to deny this.
But the point of this Gospel really is not that we should wait for some emergency to bring us on our knees before God.  No.  The point of the Gospel is seen in its application as expressed in The Prayer of Humble Access.  “Lord, help me” is a constant prayer, a daily prayer.  It belongs to the constantly recurring theme of our liturgy: “Lord, have mercy upon us”.  It belongs, in other words, to the maturity of our faith, the faith that holds onto the mercy of God and will not let go.
Humility ever looks to Christ.  It is our openness to him as the centre of our lives.  It is the condition of our access to him.  When we are presumptuous we are full of ourselves.  There is no room for God.  We presume to be the centre which we are not.  Humility opens us out to the mercies of God in Jesus Christ. “O Saviour of the world, who by thy Cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us; Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord”.
The humility of Christ is the hope of our exaltation.  He lifts us up.  Humility is not only the condition of our access to God; it is also our exaltation.  For in our humility our wills are one with God’s will.  We are open to what he wants for us.  “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt”.

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