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STAND UP! (Jn.5:8)

STAND UP! (Jn.5:8)

Illness is everyone’s affair.  This not only means that we will all fall ill some time or other, but that each human being carries a lifelong ailment with him or her.  In the language of the Act of Consecration of Man this is called the sickness of sin.

A critical question applies to every form of healing, including the sickness of sin: “Have you the will to become whole?”  Not only does this question sound in many different ways in the healings Christ performed during His life on earth; today also, this is the most important question that can make healing possible, yes or no.  Of course, a physician can provide a remedy that takes the symptoms away.  But that does not affect the cause, and sooner or later the illness will raise its head again in another form.  Strangely enough, there are people who don’t even have the will to be healed anymore.  The only thing they want is a miracle drug that does the work for them.

Such a one was the paralyzed man in Bethesda.  He had almost given up the hope to be healed—even though he was still waiting for someone who would take him to the water at the last moment.  He did not even answer the critical question: “Have you the will to become whole?”  Instead there was his despondent message: No one helps me.  Nothing helps me.  I give up.  But as long as there was a trace of life, Christ called in the depths of his despair: “Stand up!”

And we?  When sooner or later we go through an illness, when we have direct experience of the sickness of sin and are close to despair—listen to the still, strong voice that calls: “Stand up!”

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, February 7, 2021

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“According to Your Faith, So Let It Be” (Mt.8:13)

“According to Your Faith, So Let It Be” (Mt.8:13)

It is in our social environment not at all a matter of course to trust people.  How often is our trust in others betrayed?  But as foolhardy as it is to blindly trust people, so destructive can it be to face the whole world with distrust.  And yet, these days this happens everywhere, people against people, party against party, all against all.  Even in our own circles individuals are divided by distrust.  And that does not go away by itself, even though in the Act of Consecration of Man we are reminded of Him “who makes hearts to be at peace, strengthens wills, unites mankind.”  Why then do we not succeed in becoming one?

We can only connect with people who have different ideas when we really search for the essence.  The essence—that is Christ in us.  Easily said—hard to achieve.  For how often is that essence hidden behind outer appearance?  In our world, where everything is focused on tangible results, we are all in danger not only of losing our essence, but even of burying it.  But if that ever happens—even what was buried can still be raised from death.  Look at the world through the eyes of Christ.  Most of all, look at your opponent through His eyes—and you will help him to come back to himself again.  Have you prayed for your enemy?  Have you forgiven him, because he has become a debtor just like you?  Do you put your trust in the essence that will sooner or later come to light?

In the tragedy of life it can come to the point that a person loses himself and doesn’t even know that he can’t find himself.  Even then, I can still find him: in my faith, in my hope, in my love.  This most profound trust is what Christ asks of his followers.

When He was still living on the earth, people often listened to Him with the usual distrust and disbelief.  That is how people are, even then.   But when an individual recognized Him and believed, He could achieve miracles in the life of that individual.  To such a person He could say: “According to your faith, so let it be.”

Now that He is come again and goes with us all our days, He asks of us: “Recognize Me—even though I am hidden in the least of your brothers and sisters.”  And if we do recognize Him there, He can say to us also: “According to you faith, so let it be.”

 

-Rev. Bastiaan Baan, January 31, 2021

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“And His Disciples Believed in Him” (Jn.2:11)

“And His Disciples Believed in Him” (Jn.2:11)

In a society where everything is focused on visible, tangible results, we all actually live according to the principle of first seeing, then believing.  Whether we want to or not, we have in a certain sense all become materialists.  We want to see, hear, touch and taste—then only do we believe that something really exists.

Thus it goes at the wedding in Cana: the disciples see and hear—and not until it has passed the test of their senses, and they have drunk, do they believe.

Just like doubting Thomas, we can stay at a distance, ask critical questions, and have doubts.  But we can also, if we want to, take the test.  The test—for us that is the service at the altar.  The Act of Consecration of Man has been given to us to learn to believe through all our senses.  Whoever does not want to take in the words, but judges like an aloof spectator, remains on the outside and cannot believe.  But experience teaches that the presence of Christ can be recognized, heard, touched and tasted.  At the altar He manifests His Light Being day in, day out—until we become His disciples and believe in Him.

And whoever has once recognized Him in the bread and wine can, just like doubting Thomas who sees, hears, and touches Him, affirm with heart and soul: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn.20:28)

 

-Rev. Bastiaan Baan, January 24, 2021

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And His Mother Kept All These Words in Her Heart

And His Mother Kept All These Words in Her Heart

Lack of understanding separates people all over the earth.  It causes barriers between individuals, groups, and peoples.  Wherever we go, everywhere on earth we see the tangible results of these invisible hurdles.  Lack of mutual understanding can escalate so badly that people exclude each other or threaten each other’s lives.  Each of us, whether we want to or not, forms part of the collective confusion of thinking that shuts out those who have different ideas.  Before we know it, we are involved in a conflict by spouting a judgment or taking sides.

How will these separate worlds ever come together again?  How can we ever understand what the other actually wants to say when we are always kept apart from each other by walls, words, judgments, and prejudices?  Most people take the easy way: they turn away from their opponents as if they don’t exist anymore.  However, sooner or later the confrontation will begin again.

Perhaps we have to look for a different place to put the words and ideas we don’t understand—somewhere beyond our lack of understanding.  The gospel shows a way to find such a place for all we don’t understand.  When the child Jesus, after having disappeared without a trace, returned to his parents after three days, he spoke words no one understood: “Why did you look for me?  Don’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk.2:49) The gospel has an extraordinary expression for the way His mother received these enigmatic words: “His mother kept all these words in her heart.” (Lk.2:51)

No more than this and no less than this is needed to create a space for all that we do not understand—even for the injustice that happens in the world.  Bear it with patience.  Take it into your heart.  Sooner or later life itself will give an answer to the riddle you were given.

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, January 17, 2021

 

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A New Year

A New Year

In our time it does not often happen that people face the future full of confidence.  Everywhere sounds concern about the future, fear of the future, doom-thinking about what the future has in store for us.  There is even a “no-future-generation,” young people for whom the future is hopeless.  How can they, how can we have hope for the future?  Isn’t it an illusion when at the beginning of the year we wish each other Happy New Year?

Indeed, in the world that is built by human hands the security of existence is steadily crumbling away.  It is as if we no longer stand on firm ground, as if from time to time the water rises to our lips, as if the only choice we have left is: survive or drown.  How can you wish someone who has the water standing at his lips a Happy New Year?

In the physical world happiness is often hard to find.  Wealth does not usually bring happiness; of course, neither does poverty.  Happiness must be found far from the perishable world—in an invisible world which we call providence.  In this word you recognize a world that foresees in the spirit what is going to happen, even before it becomes earthly reality.  But the word “providence” also has another meaning: the spiritual world provides for our needs, and takes care of us—albeit often in very different ways than we imagine.*

One thing is certain concerning the future that is waiting for us: less and less will we be able to build on outer certainty of existence.  But whatever happens, we can build on trust in the ever present help of the spiritual world.  You don’t find this help on every street corner; it isn’t thrown into your lap.  You have to keep your eyes and ears open for the people who cross your path, for the possibilities life is offering you, for the lucky circumstances that may occur.  That asks for uninterrupted wakefulness.  But in due course we will then recognize that in our fate and destiny we are never alone.  The Lord of fate and destiny, the Lord of providence, goes with us, always, at all times, to the end of the world.

-Rev. Bastiaan Baan, 1-10-2021.

* The Latin word provideo means literally: to see ahead, foresee, see into the future, as well as: to provide for, to take care of someone or something.

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Christmas Epistle

Christmas Epistle

One of the paradoxes of Christianity is that the Son of God lived only once on the earth, and that he is at the same time “the Son born in eternity.”  The reality of His one-time embodiment is expressed in classical Christianity with the words Et incarnatus est.  The Word became flesh.

The reality of His timeless embodiment is expressed in the epistle of the Christmas season with the words: “Christ has chosen the earthly body.”  More is meant with this than a mortal, material body.  Since His death and resurrection, the whole earth is His body.  In a certain sense, He moved his dwelling place from heaven to the earth.  Our dying earth existence is permeated with His presence—no matter how sick, damaged, and exhausted this earth may be—in order to transform the quintessence of this existence into a new earth and a new heaven in the future.

Undoubtedly, this is for Him, even though He rose from the dead, a lasting path of suffering.  It means an uninterrupted battle with the opposing powers, “in all future cycles of time,” as the epistle expresses it.  For us humans, death is sooner or later a liberation.  As long as we are more or less healthy, and are living without too many worries, we don’t want to think of dying.  But when we grow old and weak, when we cannot expect anything from life anymore, death is our liberator—the crown on our earthly existence.

And for Christ?  His death is but the beginning of a new, unknown path of suffering, a way He has chosen Himself.  The epistle expresses this with the unusual words: “Christ has chosen the earthly body.”  Just as He once came as a human being of flesh and blood—not for the righteous, but for the sinners, the ill, the possessed—so he chooses the dying earth existence “to release man from the deceiving false light, to release man from the senses’ unworthy craving,” always, to the end of the world.

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, 1-3-2021

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Do You Love Me? (Jn.21)

Do You Love Me? (Jn.21)

Love has to be a two-way street.  In this well-known saying the secret of the alchemy of love is expressed.  Love should not just be given; we should also learn to receive it.  Only through the interactive effect of both, giving and receiving, something new comes into being that neither of the two persons involved would have been able to achieve alone.  That is called alchemy: the beginning of a new creation.

Some people only want to receive love, and it is never enough.  Others can only give, so that you are buried under a superabundance, and there is no room left for you.  In the shadow of such people, endowed with a shining charisma, you may feel small and insignificant.

Christ gives a love that transcends all human ability to imagine it.  People who have experienced it themselves say: “His love knows exactly all I have done in my life, all I have done wrong—and in spite of that He loves me.  This is why Christ is called the teacher of human love.  But He not only bestows His love on us; He also asks each one of us:

“Do you love me more than the others?”

And when we, like Peter, are not capable of giving Him unconditional love, He asks more modestly: “Do you love me?”

And when we, like Peter, are also incapable of doing that, He finally asks: “Are you my friend?”

He does that for our sake, for in His love for the imperfect, even our deficient friendship is for Him an indispensable gift.

Love has to be a two-way street.  Can I give Him something?
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Commentary on the text in John 21: 15-18

In many versions of the Bible the text is not correctly translated.  It looks as if the Risen One asks Peter three times almost the same thing: Do you love me more than these?  Do you love me?  Do you love me? (RSV) Moreover, in this translation it looks as if Peter gives three times the same answer as the question he was asked: You know that I love you.

However, in the first question Christ speaks of the highest form of love (Greek agapē): Do you love me more than the others?  Peter, who is not capable of giving this unconditional love, replies three times: You know that I am your friend. (Greek phileō) (Madsen: you are dear to me)

The second time Christ no longer asks for love “more than the others,” but for unconditional love without comparison to the other disciples: Do you love me?  Again, Peter can give nothing other than philia, friendship.

The third time Christ, knowing that this is all Peter is capable of, asks him for friendship.  That is His unconditional love for the imperfect.

With these three questions Peter is, in a certain sense, set free from his three denials.  And to indicate the connection between these two events, John specifies: They saw a charcoal fire there (Greek anthrakia, the only two times this word occurs in the New Testament—Jn.18:18 and 21:9).

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, Dec. 27, 2020

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Second Coming – Far or Near

Second Coming – Far or Near?

In a world of estrangement, the concepts of nearness and distance are no longer unequivocal.  Is someone near because he happens to sit next to me?  Some people may live together for years and experience nothing but loneliness, as if they were miles away from each other in their estrangement.  And in reverse, people may live miles away from each other, separated by mountains and oceans, but in spite of this feel each other’s closeness in unbreakable friendship.

There is a saying that expresses the paradox of closeness and distance in the words:

The greatest closeness is: being far and feeling near,
The greatest distance is: being near and feeling far.

Between these extremes human relationships grow or starve.

Only one being on earth is simultaneously present everywhere and near to each human being separately, as if that human being were the only one He is concerned with.  His presence is as the air that envelops the earth like an invisible mantle.  The apostle Paul expressed this omnipresence with the words:” In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Since his Second Coming, Christ is present every day, just as truly as the air in which we live and move and have our existence.

For each of us, and for humanity as a whole, there will come a moment in which all that surrounds and carries us will fall away, when the moment has come to go through the eye of the needle.  Then only He will be close to us and lead us to a new form of existence.  That is the reason why Paul, who was the first to see His Second Coming, could say: “Rejoice! … The Lord is near!” (Phil.4:4-5)

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, December 13, 2020

 

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Awaiting–Waiting–Expecting

Awaiting – Waiting – Expecting

Waiting and watching—that is the characteristic position of the human being who observes the world around him without doing anything himself. It is the attitude of the modern person who watches events around him from a distance: “Wait and see.” Most of the time, this expression means that we are standing aside as silent witnesses.

But in our time it is beginning to look as if we are less and less inclined to watch the world scene from a distance as objective spectators. As soon as fear starts playing a role we look at the world around us with different eyes. And fear reigns in our time. In a state of fear we are no longer awaiting things from a distance; our view is no longer impartial or objective. Fear makes blind.

A well-known playwright once depicted a dramatic expression of blind fear: in his drama Dream Play, August Strindberg displays a scene in which a ship is in distress, rudderless in a storm, big waves washing over the deck. In their mortal fear the people aboard cry to Christ for help. Suddenly a bundle of light breaks through the clouds, and a shining figure walks to them over the water. In their panic, the people on the ship fail to recognize that their prayer has been heard. In confusion they jump overboard and drown in the sea.

That is what happens when people are blinded by fear, and no longer understand the signs of the time: they drown in the chaos of events.

Advent is the time of year that calls on us to await and watch; in the best sense of the word: we begin to expect. Are we able to keep our footing in the storm, and recognize what is coming to us? Are we prepared to stand before Him, who is coming?

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, December 6, 2020.

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World-Calm

World-Calm

At the time of Advent, words are spoken at the altar that sound as an echo of the past.  It seems as if these words no longer fit in our hectic world.  What are we to make of the expression the world-calm around us?  Where can that calm still be found?

When we listen to the world around us we usually hear nothing but noise: traffic, machines, masses of people who are restlessly on their way.  And when we listen more deeply than the audible noise, we hear inwardly a world of anxiety and pain, a world that is shaking on its foundations.  Even when some people show outer self-confidence, under the surface you can sense profound insecurity.  Is that perhaps the world that Christ meant when He said: “And human beings will lose their heads for fear and expectation of what is breaking in upon the whole earth”? (Lk.21:26)

When you listen even more intensely, more deeply than anxiety, more deeply than the ground of the soul, more deeply than the abyss, you find the ground of existence—a world of infinite calm and unshakable security.  That is what in the Advent epistle is called: the working of the Father Ground of the world.

And when in a chaotic world you look higher than our restless cities that never sleep, you find at this time of the year the rays of the dimming sunlight, that change everything they touch into gold—even the most banal and unsightly things people build on earth.  And above it the unshakable firmament.

Wherever we go and stand:

Christ walks by our side,

hidden in the world-calm around us,

hidden in the ground of the soul,

waiting to be recognized,

waiting to be found,

even when we are lost.

 

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, November 29, 2020.