Sunday, March 18, 2018


My friends,

"Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister." (Matthew 20.27) 
Zebedee's wife seems to have been surprisingly optimistic about the political prospects of Jesus.  She was proud of her two sons, James and John, who were among the closest followers of Jesus, and she asked Jesus to do something special for them when he came to power.  Her ambition seems natural enough, and her straightforward honesty is really almost touching: she wanted the best for her boys.  "She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom." 

"But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask.  Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  The coming of his kingdom would not be quite the sort of thing the ambitious mother had in mind.  Jesus knew that it would involve the bitter cup of his Passion, and the baptism of his own blood shed on Calvary.  But the impetuous sons, James and John, whom he had nicknamed "Boanerges," "Sons of thunder," were quick to assure him that they could endure any hardships which might be in store. "We are able," they say. 
Well, yes, certainly they would share in the Passion of Jesus, but still their mother's request was impossible: "To sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father."  That is to say, the rewards of God's Kingdom are not like political patronage, distributed to faithful party workers.  Remember the Gospel lesson for Septuagesima Sunday: those who came to the vineyard at the eleventh hour received the same as those who had borne the burden and heat of the day. (Matthew 20.1-15)  The rewards of God's kingdom are not according to worldly merit, but only according to the free grace and mercy of God.  We do not earn a place in heaven.  God owes us nothing. 

James and John and their mother must have been rather disappointed and puzzled by Jesus' answer, and to top it off, the other disciples were angry about this request for special preferment.  "The ten were moved with indignation against the two brethren."  But the other disciples were really no wiser in their indignation than James and John had been in their request. 

And so Jesus gathered them all around him, and used the occasion to teach them all an important lesson; and his explanation is really the essential message of Passiontide. 

"Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them."  That is to say, there are certain worldly ways of doing things and looking at things which James and John and the other ten have in common.  They are like the "princes of the Gentiles" for whom greatness is a matter of worldly power and domination.  But in the kingdom of God, says Jesus, that is not the way things are: "It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." 

That is to say, the kingdom of God requires a reversal of perspective, a reversal of attitude.  I said that the ambition of Zebedee's wife seemed natural, and I think that it is, indeed, natural, in worldly terms.  The point is that the kingdom of God requires an inversion, an overturning, of our "natural" worldliness: "whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, whosoever will be chief among you let him be your servant." 

This is the essential lesson of Passiontide.  We celebrate at once a kingship and a crucifixion.  They are not separate; the humiliating cross is the throne of glory.  Consider the words of Fortunatus' marvelous hymn: 

Fulfilled is all his words foretold; 
Then spread the banners, and unfold 
Love's crowning power, that all may see 
He reigns and triumphs from the tree.  

"He reigns and triumphs from the tree."  It's a strange kingship, surely, and one which the world finds incomprehensible.  Pilate didn't know what to make of it: "Art thou a king, then?," he asked. (John 18.37) "The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion."  What kind of dominion is this?  Here is no dominion but the monarchy of love, which endures when all worldly dominions are long gone in dust and ashes. 
Lent leads into Passiontide, and it is in the Passion of Jesus that all the lessons of Lent are summed up.  The whole point of Lenten discipline is that the demons of worldliness, the demons of false and empty ambitions and expectations should be cast out of us.  "It shall not be so among you."  We should be filled with the living bread which comes from heaven, the Word of God himself, who comes "not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." 

We do not learn such lessons easily.  "By the finger of God," our demons are cast out; but sometimes there's a great struggle: some kinds of demons, as Jesus says, are cast out only with much prayer and fasting.  The attitude of Zebedee's wife seems all too natural, and that old nature seems very strong.  "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace; but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth the spoils." (Luke 11.21-22)  The "princes of the Gentiles" seem strong in their dominion, but surely the Word of God unmasks their pretensions as nothing but dust and ashes in the end.

"Whosoever will be great among you," therefore, "let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." 

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, called Laetare - 11 March 2018

My Friends,

“Thou hast the words of eternal life”
The sixth chapter of St.  John’s Gospel is known as “the Bread of Life Discourse.”  It is an extraordinary chapter with important consequences for our life in faith.  It concerns our Lord’s teaching about himself and about the means of our abiding in him.  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (vs.56).  The deeper meaning of our refreshment is to be found in the chapter as a whole.  “The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (vs.63).  The last sections of this chapter (vs.41ff) indicate how hard and yet how necessary are the teachings of our Lord.
God teaches us about himself and about our life in him.  But these are hard teachings.  The Jews murmur against Jesus because of the identity they perceive he makes between himself and God, “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5.18).  They murmur against him here “because he said, I am the bread of life which came down from heaven” (John 6.41).  This conflicts with what they think they know about him.  “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (vs.42).  Their sense of his earthly identity gets in the way of what he would teach them.  And what he would teach them is an heavenly knowledge conveyed through earthly signs.
He recalls the point of the prophets, “they shall all be taught by God” (Is. 54.13, Jer. 31.33,34), and centres it upon himself, “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me”(vs.45).  They murmured because in saying “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (vs.41), he identifies himself with the Father as the one who is “from God” (vs.46).  That is the meaning of his being the Son, the Son of God become the Son of man.
This divine teaching has a specific focus: “I am the bread of life” (vs.48), “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (vs.51).  It has an even more definite force: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”(vs.53).  The teaching focuses on our feeding. 
To put it even more forcibly, the teaching is the feeding.  It is the means of our abiding, indeed, our living in the teaching of God.  “As the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (vs.57).  God’s teaching centres on this heavenly feeding.  “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (vs.58).  Consequently, we can have no other refreshment in the wilderness journey of our lives. 
This teaching that is feeding, this feeding that is teaching, is the meaning of our sacramental life.  It is the means of our abiding in Christ.  The bread of the fathers was the manna in the wilderness.  It was a sign which pointed to what is here realised in Jesus Christ.  He identifies himself with the bread of heaven.  He is what he signifies.  It becomes the hard saying for “many of his disciples”(vs.60), then and now. 
The identity of the Son with the Father centres on his identity with the bread, “the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh”, and the necessity of our feeding on him, “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever” (vs.51).  Even as he had responded to the murmuring of the Jews about his identity with the Father, in saying that he was “the bread which came down from heaven”, so he responds to the murmuring of his disciples about our feeding upon his flesh and blood.
His response underlies the unity between the teaching and the feeding.  Being taught by God and being fed by him are the same; the teaching is feeding, the feeding is teaching.  How? Because of why.  “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”(vs.63).  The Word is God’s Son who identifies himself in his essential life with the Father.  The Word who teaches us about himself and the Father identifies himself with the bread/flesh given as the means of our abiding in his essential life.  It is the effective sign of his teaching and the means of our abiding in him.
Yet heavenly teachings are hard sayings.  Will we abide in his teaching or not? The context of the teaching is the rejection of the one who teaches.  There is the murmuring of the Jews.  There is the murmuring of the disciples, but even more, there is the refusal to follow him about and there is the foretelling of his betrayal from within (vs.70).  “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (vs.66).  Will that be said about us? Jesus said to the twelve, and through them to us, even in the hardness of our hearts, “do you also wish to go away?”  (vs.67).
Simon Peter’s answer must be our response to his teaching and to our living what he teaches.  “Lord, to whom then shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (vs.68).  He has grasped the teaching and the meaning of the teaching in the feeding.  They are the words of eternal life “and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vs.69).  He has been taught by God.  He has come to Christ.  “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (vs.45).
The identity of the Son with the Father is conveyed to us through his identity with the bread, his flesh and his blood, which he gives for the life of the world and which he gives for our abiding in him.  The heavenly teaching is our spiritual feeding, even in the face of the rejection of his words and the betrayals of his love.  Peter, after all, will deny our Lord, only to be returned in love by him from whom he had turned away.  Such, too, are the words of eternal life.  Even the hardness of these sayings only highlights the necessity of this teaching for our abiding in him whose “words are eternal life.”  This teaching that is feeding is our life in Christ.
“Thou hast the words of eternal life”

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

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The third Sunday in Lent - 5 March 2018

Dear Friends,

"If I cast out devils by the finger of God, no doubt the Kingdom of God hath come upon you." (Luke 11.20) 

The Church's lessons for the Lenten season are concerned chiefly with the fundamental elements of moral living: the casting out of sin, and the acquisition of virtue. That is most obvious, of course, in the Epistle readings, such as today's lesson from Ephesians; but it is also the basic meaning of the Gospel lections, of today's story, for instance, about the casting out of devils. That story tells us that the casting out of sin is not enough: the empty soul the house swept and garnished the disillusioned soul, unless it be filled with virtue, is vulnerable to still more grievous sin, so that "the last state of that man is worse than the first." 

The casting out of sin, and the acquisition of virtue is the point of all the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The purpose is our liberation: that we should, be delivered from servitude to sin, into the spiritual freedom of the children of God. "By the finger of God" our devils are cast out, and God's Kingdom comes upon us. 

The idea of liberation is very popular nowadays, and finds expression in all sorts of liberation movements, even including what is called "liberation theology." In such movements generally, the idea is-that our freedom as individuals, our freedom to be ourselves, is painfully and unjustly restricted by traditions and social and institutional forms, both secular and ecclesiastical. The idea is that if we could only be freed from all those forms of external oppression, then we could really express our true selves, and fulfil our potential as human beings. Then life would surely be worth living. 

Such ideas and attitudes have in recent years penetrated very deeply into the whole fabric of our society, and have profoundly affected our family life, our educational theory, our Church life, our political institutions, and soon, for better or worse. I think that many people now are beginning to wonder how genuine this liberation is. At any rate, the Christian religion, especially the message of this Lenten season, calls us to look more deeply at the problem of oppression and liberation. Just what is the nature of our servitude, and what is our way to freedom? 

In Christian language, our servitude is sin, and our liberty is the life of virtue, finally the life of heaven. We are promised deliverance "from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Romans 8.21) And these are not fundamentally matters of oppression and deliverance by powers outside of ourselves. Sin and virtue are not fundamentally matters of environment or luck, or external forms, though of course they are expressed externally. Fundamentally, they are matters of the soul. 

The virtue of the soul is not a matter of free self-expression: it is a matter of humility and obedience. We do not become good by the free expression of our fallen nature, and our natural feelings and inclinations are no sure guides to virtue. More often, they are our temptations. Nor do we become good simply by education. To be informed about the good is not enough. We become good only by doing good, often against our feelings and inclinations, often without very much understanding the sense of it at all. We become good by doing the good, over and over and over, until it becomes the habit, the very pattern of our lives. That is the whole point of religious discipline: we do these things not because they seem agreeable, or sensible, or make us feel good, but we do them in obedience. 

So Christian living is all about the casting out of sin, and the acquisition of virtue. Today's Gospel tells us that it is the "finger of God," the Word of God, that casts out our sins, and next Sunday's Gospel tells us that it is the same Word of God, the "bread of heaven," (John 6.41) which fills our empty souls with virtue. Sin is not what we happen to find disagreeable, or inconvenient, or disgusting. Sin is what the Word of God forbids. Virtue is not what we happen to find pleasant, or nice, or pretty. Virtue is what the Word of God demands. Our liberation lies in our humble obedience to that Word. 

We need the grace of humility to see that our likes and dislikes are not the standard of good and evil. Nor is human calculation any final standard. It is the "finger of God," it is the Word of God that casts out the devils and liberates the soul. Therefore, Christian life must be life lived in attentive obedience to that word. 
Now, perhaps if you were not just politely listening to a preacher in a pulpit, you would say to me "All that is obvious enough, but easier said than done. In the world of practical affairs, moral problems are not simple, not black and white, but a thousand different shades of gray; and how do I know what the Word of God says about this or that particular situation?" 

Well, certainly, I dare not pretend that it is easy. I do not find it so, and I don't suppose that you do, either. But at the same time, we do know something of what the Word of God demands of us. Let's start with the little bit that we do know, and let's not make the complexities of our problems an excuse for doing nothing. Let's start with the little that we do know, in humility and obedience, and trust God for the rest. 
In the Church's Lenten message, humility and obedience are the keys to liberation, and that message focuses in the humble obedience of Christ our Saviour, "that we should follow the example of his great humility." In the ancient garden of man's innocence and folly, the serpent tempted man and woman, saying, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing Good and Evil." (Genesis 3.5) In vain ambition, forsaking God's command, we ate of that forbidden tree, asserting the pride that we can do everything on our own. Our Lenten journey is the road between that ancient tree of disobedience, and the tree of Christ's obedience, on Calvary. That is the price of liberation. 

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Second Sunday in Lent - 25 February 2018

My Friends,

"O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee as thou wilt."  

In our Gospel lessons for these Lenten Sundays, we hear a great deal about devils. 
Last Sunday, we heard about Jesus being "led up by the spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil." (Matthew 4.1) In today's Gospel, the Canaanite woman implores Jesus to save her daughter, who"is grievously vexed with a devil." In next Sunday's Gospel, Jesus is accused of casting out devils "through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils." (Luke 11.15) The message of Lent seems much concerned with devils, and with what can and should be done about them. 

But what, really, are we to make of such stories as these? Who, or what, are these devils? In the Bible and in religious literature and art, both Christian and non-Christian, they seem to have a prominent place; but for many modern readers, I suspect, these old stories seem very strange. Talk about devils seems weird and occult, and even superstitious. Devils seem to be nothing more than products of an unhealthy imagination or characters in rather unpleasant fairy-tales. Sensible, modern people are not inclined to take them very seriously. 

But this is really no matter of fairy-tale and superstition, and our Gospel lessons should remind us that it is a grave mistake to underestimate the reality and power of devils. No doubt our vocabulary in such matters has changed a good deal since ancient times, but the realities of spiritual life remain much the same. The devils are very much with us still, around us and within us. Basically, devils are wicked, unclean, perverse spiritual powers, or perverse spiritual principles and ideals, by which we are constantly tempted, and often governed. To be "vexed by a devil" means to have one's will fixed and focused upon some spiritual perversion. It is to have one's personality wholly absorbed with some worldly lust, some idle curiosity, some vain ambition. It is to have one's will fixed upon some finite good, as though it were divine. It means to be devoted to some false god, devoted to a worldly idol of one sort or another. 

Spiritual perversion is not just a mistake; it's the willing of a fantasy, the willing of a lie. And he who wills a lie is possessed, consumed and incapacitated by that lie, both mentally and physically. We do, of course, make mistakes and we are, of course, troubled by all sorts of accidents and problems in the ordinary course of the natural world. To be possessed by a devil is something quite different from that. To be possessed is to will a lie, to make up and love a lie, as though it were the truth. Every one of us is vulnerable to such pretense in many more or less subtle forms. 
In today's Gospel story, the Canaanite woman begs Jesus to deliver her daughter, who is "grievously vexed by a devil." In the Gospel stories, details are always significant, and in this story, it is particularly significant that the petitioner is a Canaanite. The Canaanites, as you will remember, were the old pagan population of Palestine, whom the Israelites tried to expel when they took possession of their Promised Land. Those Canaanites who remained, remained as despised outcasts. Thus, the Canaanite woman is as far as possible from having any claim upon the "children's bread," any natural right in the nation of Israel, the commonwealth of God. But she comes, nevertheless, in humility and trust: "The little dogs," she says, those who have no rights, "eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table." And the grace of God, unmerited by any natural claims, is not withheld: "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee as thou wilt." This Canaanite woman is the symbol of all of us, who have no natural claims upon God's favour. Jesus' gift to her stands for the free, unmerited grace of God. 

"O woman, great is thy faith." It is only in relation to faith that his grace of healing comes. That is to say, it is only in the recognition of the true and living God that we are delivered from the false gods, those fantasies which are our devils. We can perhaps cast out one devil in favour of another, but that is no deliverance. As next Sunday's Gospel explains, 

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out; and when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished; then goeth he and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11.24-26) 

It is only faith, only the recognition of the true and living God, which brings deliverance. Simply to cast out one false god, is to invite another in. Disillusionment with one set of lies or false gods is not enough. The empty soul is no solution since it only invites the bitter devils of cynicism to come and dwell therein. Deliverance comes only as our souls are filled and our minds renewed with God. We must be nourished and nurtured by his living Word. 

Lent is a season of renewal and reformation: "Be not conformed to this present age, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12.2) It is a time for the casting out of devils, the unmasking of the perversions of our spirits, a time for the nurturing of our souls by the word of God revealed in Christ our Lord. It is a time of death and resurrection. 

We come as the Canaanite woman came, without any particular merit, without any natural claim upon the grace of God. But welcome, nevertheless, with faith and hope in the abundant charity of that grace. Perhaps a crumb is all we seek; but he calls us to be his table guests, to share the rich banquet of his Word. 
Amen. +

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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The First Sunday in Lent - 17 February 2018

My Friends,

It is Saturday night here in Australia and I just got into my office to write a short reflection for tomorrow, the First Sunday in Lent. As you know this Sunday is the beginning of the 40 days and 40 nights our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ spent in the desert where he was temped a number of times by the devil. You can read this Gospel story in Saint Matthew, chapter 4 beginning at verse 1.

In spite of the fact that Jesus was the Son of God, it was still a very distressing time for him being isolated in the desert without too much to eat. Why was it difficult? Because although Jesus was the Son of God , He became fully human when He came to us a child in order to save us . So He would have been vulnerable being temped by the devil, but every time He quoted the word of God and resisted the temptation. When it was all over, He was exhausted and God sent His Holy angels to administer to Him.

In many ways the world that we live in is like a wilderness , lets say a desert.
It is a place of darkness, misery and pain. A world of war and cruelty committed by humans of this earth against other humans. Our daily lives are full of sadness and full of temptations, just like Jesus had to face in His desert. Because we are weak and also because we are sinners we find it extremely difficult to cope and often are lead into temptation because we are not equipped to resist them . Also we are longing in the season of Lent to have a quiet time somewhere and contemplate Christ's suffering on the Cross for our redemption. We need some quiet time to pray and ask that God will help us to live life as His followers, who love Him and serve Him and resist all the earthly temptations.

Let us therefore make time and retreat to our private desert to pray and meditate.
At the end you will see that God will sent us His Holy Angels to administer to us.

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