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Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 6

Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 6

The first Christians had a remarkable saying with which they distinguished themselves from their contemporaries: “We Christians stand above destiny.”

Was it courage, presumptuousness, or hubris that led to this saying?  One thing is certain: even when they had to die a horrible death, they faced their lot with unwavering trust.  Bishop Cyprian of Carthage wrote in a letter to his congregation where that trust came from:

“We do not leave the martyrs unarmed, but we provide them with the shield of the body and blood of Christ.  For those who are not armed for the battle are incapable of martyrdom, and the soul becomes powerless when it is not fired by the holy meal, the eucharist.” *

The first Christians knew from their own experience: a day will come when evil will reign.  Every day they prepared themselves for this day with the sacrament of bread and wine, knowing that a time would come when they would have nothing to lose anymore and would make their last stand.

Paul, with his foresight, described in his letter to the Ephesians the time when evil would reign.  In his own language, he called it literally “the evil day.” (Eph.6:13)

Although it is a long time ago that Christians were thrown to the lions, in our time the powers of the adversary, perhaps more than ever before, are having free play.  The evil day—we are in the middle of it.

Whoever thinks they can handle the battle on their own power are the real presumptuous ones and will get the worst of it against the demons that are lord and master in our time.  But whatever happens, whatever befalls us in the trials, those who make the Lord of Destiny their Lord and Master stand with Him above destiny.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, October 10, 2021

* 57th letter of Bishop Cyprian of Carthage (app. 210-258 AD).

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The Blind Man of Jericho (Lk.18:35-43)

Sometimes blind people can recognize more than those who have eyes with which to see.  Once, in a group of people who were observing flowers, I was impressed with the way a blind person examined a flower.  Very cautiously he traced with his fingertips the stem and the leaves; even more gingerly he touched the flower, attentively breathed in the scent of the flower—and afterwards he could tell us more about this one flower than all the other people.  Now, which of them is blind, the blind person or the seeing ones?

The same thing happens with the blind beggar by the wayside and the people who pass him by.  The people may walk in crowds ahead of Jesus and behind Him, but they only recognize the carpenter’s son from Nazareth in Him.  “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” they shout at him.

But the blind man sees something else: not Jesus of Nazareth, but the Messiah. “Jesus, son of David, have compassion on me!” he loudly calls out.  The son of David, that is after all the identifying mark of the Messiah.  Long before the people finally recognize Him as the Messiah, for a moment, on Palm Sunday (“Hosanna to the Son of David!”) the blind beggar had seen it already.

And we?  How often do we blindly pass by the most precious thing in the world?  Learn from the blind, from the beggars, the homeless, and the outcasts who have nothing to lose, to distinguish the essential from the non-essential.  And otherwise: realize that you are blind yourself, and become a beggar for the spirit.  Maybe then you will learn to see the world with different eyes.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, August 22, 2021

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Sending the Disciples

“Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” (Lk.9:3)

That sounds like an impossible task in a world where we are used to traveling with full suitcases.  What was still possible two thousand years ago seems in our time like a reckless undertaking.  How can we fulfill this task—perhaps not in a literal sense, but in the figurative sense of the word?  Can we go out into the world without inner ballast?

Every person carries a load with him from the past, not only from the course of his own life, but also from the lives of his ancestors.  We have been marked by all of these, whether we want to or not; it has made us into prejudiced persons.  Usually, it is with this burden that we meet other people.  The burden becomes ballast when it is the only basis on which we evaluate others. Whatever does not fit into our limited images is then soon condemned.

“Tabula rasa” *, clean slate, was the name of the wax tablet used in antiquity, on which one wrote with a slate-pencil, and which was afterwards rubbed clean again, so that it could be used anew.  It was a picture for the original state of the soul before it was filled with observations, thoughts, and feelings—a clean slate.  We will never be able to go back to that original condition.  But what we can do is to become conscious of the baggage we have brought with us for this life—in order, if only for moments, to become all eyes and all ears for every human being we meet, as if it were the first time we met this person.  And otherwise, as if it were the last time we were meeting him—in order then to continue on the closely written path to our unknown destination.  When we meet another person in this way, we fulfill the task Christ gave to His disciples: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.”

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, August 16, 2021

* Literally: rubbed out writing tablet.

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“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Mt.7:1)

Do not judge. That seems like an impossible task in a world of clashing opinions—perhaps the most difficult task in the world.  Hardly have we met a person, and our judgment is made, sometimes with the irrevocability of the Last Judgment, so that from that moment we can no longer meet this person with an open mind.  Do not judge—how do you do that?

As soon as we have even a little bit of self-knowledge the judgment falls back on ourselves.  For it is because of my one-sidednesses, my prejudices, that I cannot see others as they really are.  If I would be all eyes, others would be able to appear to me in their own true individuality, instead of in my muddled look.  In order to learn to see others, I must not only observe them all the time, but also myself.  After all, my judgment says more about myself than about those others.

To make a step on the stubborn way toward open-mindedness the most effective means is perhaps to meet each human being as a riddle.  For that is what we are to each other as long as we only appear to each other in our outer form.  Within this riddle hides in the Holy of Holies the unknown I, which is still in a state of becoming.  Each human being has a secret—so deeply hidden that we are even unable to discover our own secret, let alone that of another person.  Whoever is aware of this riddle will guard against judging anyone.

Do not judge—not even yourself!

For judgment is not ours, but that of the Lord of the living and the dead.

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, August 1, 2021

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Can you also be an angel for your neighbor?

Each human being has an angel, thank God.  We badly need him in our chaotic daily lives, for otherwise, we would get into big trouble.  Even when we are about to lose our inner compass, the angel still watches over us and does his utmost to keep us on the right track.  A Dutch saying goes: Children and drunkards have a special angel.

Still, an angel is not sufficient to prepare our way on earth.  What would happen to us if there were no human beings who cross our path?  One person can become as an angel for another when he serves him selflessly.

Christ—even Christ—also needs such a companion on earth, who prepares His way.  “See, I send my angel before you.” (Mt.11:10) This task, the task of John the Baptist, is given to each human being, not only to the greatest of all human beings on earth.  Each of us, wherever we go or stay, is called to stand ready for his neighbor like an angel.  Since Christ lived on earth, since someone asked him: “Who is my neighbor?” we know who that is: for every person we meet on the path of our life, we can become a neighbor.

Keep your eyes and ears open, for in every encounter sounds a question.

You do not only have an angel.

Can you also be an angel for your neighbor?

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, July 17, 2021

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St. John’s Tide

When as parents you have taken care of your children for years, when you have spared no cost or effort to give them the best that was possible, perhaps the moment comes sooner or later when they give something back.  As small children they naturally accepted little and large gifts without any idea of what it took to get those for them.  As growing children and rebellious youths, perhaps they never uttered a word of thanks, sometimes even the opposite.  And when that time is also past, when they are experiencing personally what it takes to care for others day in, day out, the moment comes perhaps that the children give something back to their parents, out of their own free will.  Usually, the story starts from the beginning again as soon as our sons and daughters get children of their own.  Then only do they realize what their parents have done for them.

God is as a Father for human beings on earth.  No heartless, despotic tyrant, but a Father who ceaselessly bestows love on us, whatever happens.  Our humanity mostly reacts to this gift like little children: carelessly, ignorantly—or like rebellious youths: mockingly, shrugging their shoulders.

In the Act of Consecration of Man we learn what this gift means to us.  For the Divine Father this is the moment when His beloved daughters and sons respond to His gift out of their own free will.  Every Act of Consecration is a eu-charist—literally: thanksgiving.  In St. John’s Tide this eucharist culminates in the eulogy:

“To the Father God … shall stream our souls’ devoted and heart-warmed thanks.”

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, July 11, 2021

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“In your midst already stands one whom you do not know.” (Jn.1:26)

“In your midst already stands one whom you do not know.” (Jn.1:26)

In our fragmented world, which more and more breaks apart into differences and oppositions, there is an open spot in the middle.  You might think of the middle between two extremes, but also of a place in each of us where we come to ourselves.  Now, most of the time this middle is hard to find because we live in such a torn world, and that tear most often runs right through us.

To find the middle you have to learn to walk a tightrope, keeping a balance between extremes, and step by step bridge the chasm of opposites.  And to learn to keep balance, you first have to find it in yourself, usually by trial and error.  The instrument we use in these efforts we call the I.  That is not the little, everyday ego, with which we constantly alternate between fight and flight, between recklessness and fear.  The world is full of egos, and all of them fight for first place.  The true I is only itself, no more and no less.

Only after we have died does the I show itself in its true essence—as one single tone in the world symphony, the harmony of the cosmos.  Then only do we discover: I am that—and without me the world symphony would not be complete.  But during our life we can already practice trying to catch a glimpse of this true I and enable it to manifest as a reflection in our work.  I do this by asking with everything I think or do:  Lord, what is Your will that I do?

“In your midst already stands one whom you do not know.”

Get to know Him by listening to the still voice of conscience, in which Christ is speaking.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan

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Giving Thanks

Life can only be understood when contemplated backward, but it has to be lived forward.” That is the life wisdom of a well-known philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard.

Under normal conditions, these two one-sidednesses keep each other in balance. Imagine that we would only go back: we would eventually, literally and figuratively, be unable to make another step in life. And imagine we would only live forward: we would lose ourselves in bustling busyness. Unfortunately, we see the latter all too often: lots of people do nothing but rushing along without understanding where they come from and where they are going.

Of old, it was known that every day we should look back to understand in retrospect what really happened. Through reflection—and most of all self-reflection—we will sooner or later understand the threads of destiny in the fabric of our life. And once we learn to have an overview of all the threads of the fabric, we can lastly be thankful for everything in our life, for joy and suffering, happiness and unhappiness, good and bad luck, because we recognize: it belongs to me. For life is right, in every case.

We take the highest standpoint in the backward contemplation only after we have died. In the life panorama that the Lord of Destiny shows us, we understand backward how we lived forward. If there is anything that connects the living and the dead, it is thankfulness. But as long as we are only thankful for this one human being, for this one happiness that came our way, we have not yet arrived at the right destination with our thanks. The dead recognize whom we have to thank for our existence.

And we? At St. John’s Tide we join in with this highest standpoint, and cry to Him at the altar: “To the Father God, all wielding, all blessing, shall stream our souls’ devoted and heart-warmed thanks.”

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, St. John’s Tide, 2021

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“I pray for the human beings which You have given me.” (Jn.17:9)

“I pray for the human beings which You have given me.” (Jn.17:9)

When praying we are never alone.  No matter how lonely we are, there are always others who pray with us in silence.  We can notice that especially in the Act of Consecration of Man, where our weak attempts are supported from all sides.  That is also the actual reason why at the altar we form a community: communal prayer gets wings.  The individual forces are not only added together, they multiply, they potentize each other.  More than ever it is necessary in our time to work together in prayer.  “One single one does not help, but whoever unites himself with many at the right moment.” (Goethe)

In the Act of Consecration, we unite in prayer not only with the visible congregation but also with all “those from whom You received before us Your Son’s offering.”  Soon after this sentence is spoken in the Act of Consecration, sounds the Lord’s Prayer.  Have we in that moment connected ourselves with the invisible congregation?  At any rate, they, the deceased, connect themselves with us.

But more than any other, the Father connects Himself with us whenever we speak a true prayer.  In antiquity it was said: “God hears our prayer.”  The psalm in which this sentence occurs does not add: God answers our prayer.  That is up to God alone.  But since Christ lived on earth, He prays with all and for all who want to follow Him.  The High Priestly Prayer, spoken by Christ just before He was taken captive, is one great intercession: “I pray for the human beings which You have given me.”

Therefore we trust, even in the greatest loneliness: when praying we are never alone.

 

Bastiaan Baan, May 30, 2021

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Easter Octave

“And while He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. (John 20: 20)

When hearing the word peace, every person will make some association.  More than just an abstract concept, the word evokes images in us.  You can see it before you: a peaceful landscape in the light of the setting sun, a still lake under a blue sky, a little child in deep sleep—all of them are pictures we yearn for, exactly because the world in which we live is such a jumble of unrest, chaos, and conflicts.  And when words and images fall short, there are always sounds that can perfectly express peace: a lofty symphony, a lovely pastoral, or just a simple lullaby.

If there is anyone who knows what peace is, it is Christ.  Not only is He a human being in perfect harmony, but He is also at peace with the world.  How in God’s name is that possible?  Not only with the world in as much as it is still in a state of harmony but also, and above all, with the disharmony of the world.  You can tell by looking at Him.  When after His Resurrection He bestows peace on His disciples, He shows them His hands and His side.  Whoever receives His peace has to see His wounds, has to see what human beings have done to Him.  It is as if with these wounds He wants to say:

My peace is not of this world.

My peace is born out of pain.

Whoever endures the pain with Me,

Whoever has fought the battle with Me,

On them I bestow My peace.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, April 11, 2021