May the words of my lips & the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer – Amen
So we’ve just got started on our readings from the book of Romans. Almost every Sunday between now and the end of September the New Testament lectionary reading is from the book of Romans – so today, rather than go into detail on the passage, I thought I would give a bit of an introduction to the book of Romans, to help set the context for the next three months of readings that we’ll be hearing.
There are 27 books in the New Testament – we’re all probably most familiar with the first four – the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Gospel – meaning Good News, these four books all tell the stories of Jesus. Then there is the book of Acts, which is a bit like Luke part 2 – which tells the story of the early church and Paul’s missionary journeys. And the last book is Revelation, the visionary, apocalyptic account.
Sandwiched between Acts and Revelation we have 21 letters – a collection of letters written by Paul, and a collection written by other people (although there are still disputes about some of the letters, about whether they were actually written by Paul, or by other people.)
Whenever we look at passages from the bible, there are several different places we can stand, to help us consider what is written…
we can look at the world behind the text – what was the world of the person writing that particular bit of the bible, and who were they writing it to
we can look at the text itself… what is there in the way that it is written, the particular words used etc…
and then there is the standpoint of us, 2000 years later, who are reading this text as scripture, what does it mean for this particular text to be scripture, what is it saying to us today. When we heard it read, we also heard – This is the word of the Lord… Although these are historic documents from a particular time, we’re not reading them just for historical interest, or as literature… we’re reading them as scripture, we need to determine what these letters say to us today, and how they enrich our faith and our understanding of God.
For each of the letters in the bible… they didn’t start out expecting to be documents that would be incorporated in our bible, and still being read 2000 years later… I suspect Paul would be rather surprised to find that his letter to the christian communities in Rome was now being read worldwide by millions of people!
Each of the letters was written by a pastor and teacher, writing to a particular community at a particular time in relation to a particular situation or crisis that was going on.
So in the case of Romans, Paul was writing a letter to the community in Rome… he was adapting his theology, his understanding of God, to help the church in Rome think about particular situations…
As we read it today, as part of scripture, I think it’s important that we remember who it was written for in the first place… as this can help us better understand what Paul was trying to say, and the situation he was addressing. Understanding the history, the target of the letter, can help us think about how the text speaks to us today.
So, what do we know about the book of Romans. Nobody doubts that Paul wrote this particular letter, in the middle to late 50s of the first century AD – so only 20-30 years after Jesus has died, risen and ascended. It was written whilst Paul was in Corinth or nearby, planning his final voyage to Jerusalem, with his intention of going on from Jerusalem to Rome and then to Spain. At the time of writing, he hadn’t yet met the community in Rome.
In the time of Emperor Claudius, the Jews had been expelled from Rome, around year 49. Under Emperor Nero a few years later, the Jews had been allowed back – so at the time of this letter there were likely tensions within the church house groups between the Gentile believers who had been able to stay in Rome, and the Jewish believers who had only just returned (it is likely that they had lost property and their community ties whilst they’d been in exile.)
In chapter 11, Paul appeals to the Gentiles not to boast over Jews, and this letter responds to the anti-Jewish feeling that was around. (Remember Paul himself was a Jewish believer – and so Paul was trying to prevent some of the Gentile vs Jewish disturbances that had happened elsewhere.)
The letter to the Romans contains the longest and most complex sustained argument in any of Paul’s letters… It sets out God’s plan of salvation and righteousness for all of humankind… so just a little topic then! Perhaps that’s why we have three months to read it and get to grips with it!
Bishop Tom Wright, in his commentary, tells us ‘It is no good picking out a few favourite lines from Romans and hoping from them to understand the whole book. One might as well try to get the feel of a Beethoven symphony by humming over half a dozen bars from different movements.’ (New Interpreters Bible Commentary)
It is a really interesting book, and if you have time, I would recommend sitting and reading it together, not just in the little chunks that we will have on Sundays.
There are some key themes that Paul develops in the book of Romans, which we’ll see over the coming months.
“The theme of God’s ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ resonates throughout the letter. AT stake is God’s faithfulness in the face of human faithlessness” Paul uses rhetorical questions throughout the book to draw this out.
(2:3-4, 21-23; 3:3,5,7,9,27-29; 4:1; 6:1-3, 15-16; 7:7,13; 9:14,19,30; 11:1,11)
(The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, study bible – intro to Romans)
Paul sees himself as Christ’s apostle, and he feels compelled to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles”, or all the nations – and this includes the people of Rome – just a little task then!
He is really clear in this book about God’s salvation for all that believe, whether they are Jew or Gentile – but he is very clear that this includes the Jews.
As with others of Paul’s letters, there is a lot of moral teaching too.
Some see the book as being about justification through faith… but I think it is more than that. In this letter to the Romans, Paul sets out that those who have been baptised into Christ must no longer let sin have dominion over them. (6:1-14), They are no longer to live as the unbelieving world does, but to give “spiritual worship” to God through sobriety of thought and bodily purity.
It’s about how we live our lives in faith… not just having faith… but that faith affecting all that we do, the way that we live, the way that we relate to each other, the way that we worship.
The theme of universal accountability to God’s justice also flows through the book of Romans. No-one is free from God’s judgement… there’s no way round it.
Romans is an appeal for holy living, for all of us to be transformed by our faith, and to celebrate this call as believers in God.
The reading that we had today, from Romans 6, reminds us of the whole story of our faith.
As Christians, we are all living from within a very particular story. “It is the subversive story of God and the world, focused on Israel and thence on the Messiah, and reaching its climax in the Messiah’s death and resurrection. No Christian can ever tell this story too frequently, or know it too well, because it is the story that has shaped us in baptism, and that must continue to shape our thoughts”, our lives, our prayer, now and ongoing. (New Interpreters Bible Commentary reflection, Tom Wright, p547)
“This whole chapter shines a bright spotlight on the dangerous half-truth, currently fashionable, that “God accepts us as we are.”” (New Interpreters Bible Commentary reflection, Tom Wright, p548)
The question at the start of today’s reading raises this question. Is God’s acceptance enough?
God does indeed accept us as we are… that is part of the story.
Grace reaches us where we are, and accepts us as we are… if it didn’t, nobody would ever be saved!
Justification is by grace alone, by faith alone…
but that is only the first bit of the story.
Yes, God accepts us, God’s grace reaches us exactly where we are…
But grace is always transformative… God accepts us as we are, but God doesn’t intend to leave us where we are…. Romans is not an easy, comfortable read
verse 1 says “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? and the answer is – By no means! How can we who have died to sin go on living in it?”
Yes, Paul spells out the radical inclusivity of the gospel, God’s love is for every single person throughout the world…
but this passage also spells out the holiness that we are each called to…
as our story is woven together with Jesus story, we are called to turn our back on our sin… that is the hard graft of Christian life, it requires serious, deliberate effort, day in day, out. We are called to keep turning our back on sin… we are called to live our lives under the lordship of Christ, made in the image of God.
So I invite you to take seriously our readings from Romans over the coming weeks, to read them and consider them, and work out what they mean for you in your daily life. How are you going to put them into practice?
This isn’t just a Sunday morning thing, it isn’t just a baptism thing… this isn’t easy, or comfortable….
but liberation will come as we continue to allow God’s love to work in us, to transform us. AMEN
Tante agurri! Happy Birthday. Pentecost, Whitsunday is traditionally a day when we reflect on new life, on birth. The writer of Genesis reflects on the meaning of creation when he writes,
“…and the Spirit of God was moving over (or was hovering over) the face of the waters”.
St.Luke in his gospel story in announcing the birth of Jesus through the words of the angel writes,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”.
And again St Luke in the book of the Acts of the Apostles records his version of the birth of the church, a community of followers of Jesus of Nazareth when he writes,
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”.
The anticipation of births is exciting and full of apprehension for the child bearer and those who stand by to witness the miracle. Births are painful processes producing considerable discomfort, sometimes anxiety as the mother prepares to bring to life the new born within her. Each birth is different. Each birth signifies a new life to be lived, a new person joining and searching to belong to the human race. Each birth is so normal and so special that we set aside a day in which we seek hold on to the significance of the miracle of life. St Luke paints a vivid picture for us in metaphor of the first Christians awareness of the Spirit. The word ‘wind’ is the same word as ‘breath’. God in Christ is as present to them as close as breathing. The Greek translation is ‘pneuma’ reminiscent of pneumonia and a pneumatic drill and the considerable power unleashed by it. Why ‘tongues of fire’? One explanation is found in a rare book in the Apocrypha, the Book of Enoch where ’tongues of fire’ refer to the indwelling of God in his temple-hence, tongues of flame representing the indwelling of God in his people.
As Jean Vanier writes, “There is a universal I hidden in the depths of every human soul, an I who gathers all together….fragile, secret, silent like the flame of a candle. And that is the true God.”
So it is right that today we as a Christian Community here should celebrate its birth once again. As we celebrate the Church birthday in today’s complex cosmopolitan world what have we to offer? Are we a dying institution or are we a spirit-filled community?
The spirit of truth is constantly prodding us to renew our perception of truth, cleansing our vision. We must confuse words as truth. We bring to words our experience and this makes it our truth. I use the word ‘prod’ advisedly. How much do we examine what we do and what we are for? What are we hanging on to which needs pruning? What questions are too difficult to ask? The message of the early church is that they found a new freedom from fear of others to boldly live by a set of values, kingdom values. How can we free up our Churches from encumbrances which tie us to old and worn out traditions and language? For me the Church is in danger of becoming too identified with a business model so that we are losing our spirit led freedom to respond in more spontaneous ways. Business like we must be as we are good stewards of our inheritance, but we are primarily ambassadors of the kingdom of God a way of being in the world and worshippers of Almighty God.
Hear the words of Martyn Percy , Dean of Christ’s College, Oxford:
“Only when the church is free of impose ideologies and agendas, can it begin to reclaim an identity as an institution that radically speaks of and embodies God-rather than being consumed by shallower mission and management targets.”
If we give some time to contemplation and meditation we shall find that the Spirit will bring to birth in us riches beyond our imagining. One of the daily times I treasure is in the practice of contemplation, meditation call it what you will. I am talking about a conscious effort to allow yourself to be aware of the mystery of God present within you. This requires few if any words. We can fill our God time with so many words that if we are not careful we shall miss a sense of his presence. Yes, it requires an act of faith on your part to allow yourself to rest in him, to let him take over you rather than you trying to badger him. And you have to keep at it even when you feel empty, knowing that his spirit will never abandon us.
To be aware of God’s Spirit within us is to seek to connect with a power, a dynamism, an evolutionary force of love which alone will transform people’s lives. Allow him to bring to your awareness all the things you are grateful for, all the people who have enriched and continue to enrich your life and that of his church. “He will bring to mind all of which I have told you”.
That is a great gift for our world. Many will never know the source of their capacity to love and serve. They may never know loves name. But that does not matter. Your being there in the presence of God on their behalf is a way of being Christ for the world. John Taylor a former Bishop of Winchester put it like this,
“Love for life, love for the world, love for little things, love for people you have never met is actually brought to birth as you meditate on what you have known and experienced. It is the bread of our love that is produced by this quiet milling over, which is also the work of the Holy Spirit”.
The celebration of Pentecost alerts us to the disturbing nature of the God we worship. We are to be renewed, transformed ourselves and be renewing and transforming agents of the lives of others. We are Spirit bearers and as such we live by a set of values which some will find odd. We shall be tempted not to believe it is the Spirit.
We are in danger of becoming a busy church, a money raising church, a local tribe only concerned with its own life and continuity. Jesus challenged us with much weightier questions, questions that a coming Election we could well ponder on.
Who expects us to forgive those who offend us? Who expects us to place the marginalised and the poor of the world before the respectable of society? Who expects all races and religions to treated with respect and tolerance? Who expects us to go the extra mile? The church is seen by many as an odd community. Believing in the power of the Spirit will cost us. As we celebrate the church’s birthday let us reaffirm our commitment to those spirit led values which make us fearless, believing, peaceable, loving and accepting and spirit bearers for all God’s people. It is by the tongues of fire at Pentecost alone that we can have life and have it more abundantly. T. S. Eliot in his Four Quartets gives the reason:
“Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove”.
Dear All in Christchurch Deanery:
We’ve had distressing news of the continuing drought in Kinkiizi, Uganda – see pictures overleaf and the message from the Diocesan Secretary below.
People have been very generous with the Hymnathon recently, and Gill Tybjerg from the Deanery will be taking some extra money from Deanery funds specifically for the drought with her when she goes next month.
However, if anyone would like to make an extra donation, we would need to know by Monday, July 3rd, so that she can take it with her on Friday 7th.
Please also remember Kinkiizi Diocese in your prayers.
Canon Gary Philbrick, Area Dean
From the Diocesan Secretary of Kinkiizi Diocese:
To all our development partners and well wishers
Christian love and greetings from the Diocese of Kinkiizi in Kanungu District, Uganda, East Africa to all our development partners and well wishers.
We thank you for your continued support for our Ministry to God’s people.
We are writing to bring to your kind attention the adverse effect that the prolonged drought has seriously caused to our people in Uganda and Kanungu District in particular some people have already started dying as a result of hunger. We fear that if nothing is done urgently, many more people are going to die. Schools may not operate up to the scheduled time of second term because of lack of food.
There are very many families affected but we would like to provide support to the most needy families with beans, posho and rice.
Each of these items is estimated at the cost of Ugx 3,000= (Three thousand shillings only) per kilogram today. We do not know what the cost will be tomorrow as it is changing every other day. As a church, we feel we cannot sit back while our people are facing this great challenge.
We will appreciate any kind of support towards our efforts to mitigate this challenge facing us today.
We have attached photos showing the extent of the effect of the drought on our crops.
We thank you for your positive response to our appeal.
Yours in Christ’s service.
Diocesan Secretary. Diocese of Kinkiizi
Our sufficiency comes from God (2Cor.3:5)
THE DROUGHT IN KANUNGU DISTRICT, KINKIIZI, UGANDA
A Sermon preach by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s Fordingbridge on the First Sunday after Trinity, Music Sunday, and at a joint Service with Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Methodist Churches.
‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’ [Matt 10:7].
We have entered the season of Trinity, that part of the Church’s Year known as ‘Ordinary Time’, which stretches from Trinity Sunday to All Saints’ Sunday at the beginning of November – something over a third of the year. The liturgical colour is green – green for growth – and our readings follow through pretty sequentially – we concentrate mainly on Romans and Philippians for the first readings, and then hear Gospel Readings from Matthew right the way through until the end of October.
In his famous poem, After Trinity, John Meade Falkner puts it like this:
We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.
But I don’t think he’s entirely right. Trinity is certainly a ‘long, long season’ – and by the time we get to Trinity 19 in October it’s difficult to remember what number we are up to. But surely, it shouldn’t be ‘passionless’. It should a time of steady growth, of exploration, of thinking about new ideas, of moving forwards in our relationship with God.
The very name can do this season something of a dis-service. We live in a culture where ‘ordinary’ is often seen as something substandard, mundane or mediocre – on a par with satisfactory: it’s okay, but nothing to write home about. In fact, the term Ordinary here comes from the Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, ordinal numbers, and stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order. So, Ordinary Time is the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in fasting (as Advent and Lent) nor in feasting, (as in Christmas and Easter).
Ordinary time provides the opportunity to dwell on all that we have celebrated in the last six months and ask, ‘What was that all about?’, and ‘What difference does it make to our lives and to our world?’ Ordinary Time is not so much dull as necessary. After six months of a full and often intensive liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time provides contrast, variety and relief. Just as the disciples couldn’t stay on the mountaintop with Christ after the Transfiguration, but had to come back down to the everyday world below, so we need Ordinary Time to provide a sense of balance in our lives – we need both routine and excitement, the everyday and the adventure, stress and ease, nights in as well as nights out. There would be no rainbow without the rain, no extraordinary without the ordinary. Both are valid and both are vital in our development as disciples.
So, it’s very good that we are worshipping together, Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Methodists, along with those from the congregation here, celebrating our life in Christ together. And it’s actually rather long overdue.
I’m not sure when we last worshipped together as Anglicans and Methodists in Fordingbridge – we do it all the time in Sandleheath, of course. Not only are we very near neighbours here, but also the Methodist Church and the Church of England are in Covenant with each other. It was signed in 2003, and amongst many other things, we have covenanted: ‘to realise more deeply our common life and mission and to share the distinctive contributions of our traditions, taking steps to bring about closer collaboration in all areas of witness and service in our needy world’ [An Anglican-Methodist Covenant, 2003, Commitment 2].
And the Final Report on the Covenanting Process, from October 2014, begins, ‘An Anglican Methodist Covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain was signed in November 2003. It established a new relationship between those churches, based on mutual affirmations and commitments to grow together in mission and holiness and make the unity of Christ’s Church visible between them’ [See both documents at http://www.anglican-methodist.org.uk/]. You can easily find both reports by searching for Anglican-Methodist Covenant – they make interesting and thought-provoking reading.
So, as Anna and Rachel and I have met from time-to-time to discuss our working together, it seemed like a good idea to take some practical steps to develop the already good relationships we have between the three Churches gathered here this morning.
And how appropriate the Gospel Reading for today is. Mathew 9:35 – ‘Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.’ And Matthew 10:1 – ‘Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.’ Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and then instructed his disciples to imitate him, and sent them out to do it – and we are his disciples. ‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’ [Matt 10:7].
And it’s not a Methodist Kingdom we are proclaiming; it’s not a Church of England or even an Anglican Kingdom; it’s the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near. It’s very easy for us to become so immersed in our own comfortable, little bubbles, that we forget that the rest of the world is out there, and in dire need of God’s love. We get so set in our ways, so comfortable with our traditions, so concerned that things should stay the way we like them, that we forget that we are called to ‘proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’.
We forget, as Tim Dearborn has written, that ‘It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a Church in the world’ [Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, a Heart for Mission by Tim Dearborn, p. 2].
‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’.
And it’s also very appropriate that we should happen to be gathering on Music Sunday – as music is one of the important facets of worship in both of our Church traditions. Music Sunday is promoted by the Royal School of Church Music – for whom Tim, one of our Directors of Music, works – and is to celebrate and reflect on the gift of music in worship, as well as to remember the work that the RSCM does in supporting music across the Churches and across the world.
At the Offertory, we’re going to be singing a hymn from the Methodist Hymn Book, Singing the Faith, called ‘Born in Song’. I’m pretty certain that it’s going to be new for us here, and I have a feeling that it may not be used all that much in the Methodist Church either – which is shame, because it’s a great hymn, with wonderful words and a soaring tune, both by Brian Hoare, a Methodist hymn writer and composer.
Born in song!
God’s people have always been singing.
Born in song! Hearts and voices raised.
So today we worship together;
God alone is worthy to be praised [V. 1].
It was on a train journey from London to Chesterfield in 1979 that the Revd Brian Hoare wrote this hymn. Inspired by the opening sentence of the preface to the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book (“Methodism was born in song”), Brian traces the connection between worshipping together and the task of spreading the Gospel story: verse 5 begins. ‘Tell the world! All power to Jesus is given… Spread the word, that all may receive him; every tongue confess and sing his praise.’
At the time, Brian was serving on the committee producing Hymns & Psalms, the predecessor to Singing the Faith. He was also on the staff of Cliff College, an Evangelical Bible College in Derbyshire. From his home nearby he could see, up on the hills of the Peak District, one of England’s finest stately homes, Chatsworth House, from which the hymn’s tune takes its name. Brian says, ‘The melody includes some big ‘jumps’ or ‘octave leaps’, which are symbolic of the huge fountain in the historic house’s grounds.
Both the words and the music of “Born in Song!” were written in a couple of hours on the train.
Music is a powerful way expressing of our faith, of drawing others into the journey of faith, and of strengthening ourselves to go out into the world in faith.
It’s great to worship together this morning – but where will it lead us ‘As we go to proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’?
It’s great to sing together, but will our singing equip us better to live the faith in our daily lives that we proclaim in our worship on Sundays?
It’s great to break bread and share wine together, but will that lead to service in the world, to love of our neighbour, to care for those in distress, to reaching out together to serve our local community and wider world?
Questions we all need to take seriously if we are to be God’s people in the world.
The hymn, ‘Born in Song’, will finish with the triumphant words:
Then the end!
Christ Jesus shall reign in his glory.
Then the end of all earthly days.
Yet above the song will continue;
All his people still shall sing his praise [V. 6].
Let it be so. AMEN.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit… Amen
So today is Trinity Sunday, one of the principal feast days in the Anglican Church, and it’s why we’ve gone white & gold today. We have several feasts in the church calendar, most of them are marking events in Jesus’ life, or other historical events.
I think today is really interesting, as it’s the only feast day in the church year that is purely about doctrine…so it’s a feast day about what we believe – and in particular it’s about our doctrine of the Trinity. Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost has been celebrated since the tenth century… and in most church calendars, we count the rest of the weeks of the church year as the number of Sundays after today.
Trinity Sunday is also a well known Sunday for heresy… because as soon as we start trying to put into words exactly what it is that we think and believe about our God… it gets really difficult… and we can quickly end up in a muddle.
Now, don’t start yawning yet, or switching off. I think it’s really important… the Trinity is very short hand for what we are saying about who our God is. And it matters…
who we believe our God is matters greatly…
our God is who we are here to worship today,
our God is who we are praying to and with
Who we believe our God is affects how we think of ourselves, and how we think of ourselves in relation to God and to each other.
To see how much it matters, we only have to turn on our television sets and watch the news… what people believe about their God affects their actions. Distorted views of who God is can lead people to carry out horrendous acts.
So… the Trinity…
To find out what we believe about the Trinity, I decided that today we would think about our creeds. The word creed comes from the Latin meaning credo… ‘to believe’… so the creeds are our statements about what we believe.
Now we’re Anglican… so of course, we don’t just have one creed… there are three authorised creeds… and to understand where they come from we need to understand a bit of history.
We know Christianity came out of Judaism, as Jesus himself was a Jew. The temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70, and after this time Christianity really found its feet as a new faith outside of Judaism. And as a new faith, it needed to work out what it is that it believed, ….
and so the arguments started about how to worship, how to pray, what the sacred documents are, and who or what we think God is.
There were many different ideas circulating about how to do things… and not everyone could agree…. some things don’t change!
Nowadays, we’re used to the Bible… and what books are contained in it… however, that all had to be negotiated.
In 144 AD, the first set of Christian books was circulated in Rome, by Marcion… except he’d used his scissors to chop out the bits he didn’t like…. and his books had the Christian God of love in violent war with the Jewish God of the Old Testament… This is different to what we have today, where we accept that Christianity has come from Judaism, and that we worship the same God.
But these things take a while to sort out, and it wasn’t until 367AD, another 200 years later for the list of books that we now know as the Bible, to first appear – put together by Athanasius who was bishop of Alexandria in Egypt.
But reading all the Bible, is quite long and complicated… so people needed, and still need a short hand… a summary of what it is that we actually believe.
And that’s where the creeds start to come in.
The first creed appears around AD 110, written by Ignatius of Antioch…
In the Second century the Roman creed started to circulate, which eventually became the Apostles Creed – although it took until 700 AD for the words to be finally agreed… because every phrase, every word is very carefully constructed, to be clear about what it is that we do and don’t believe…. That’s 600 years of deciding exactly on the words! The creed kept being refined to argue against other teachings that developed.
And so the Roman creed became the Apostles creed… which is one of our 3 Anglican creeds… I’m sure you’re familiar with it…. I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth… and so on…
These creeds were used to prepare people for baptism, to be accepted into the Christian faith – and the promises that we make at baptism and confirmation today are still based on these creeds – Do you believe in God, the Father almighty? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?
So these creeds were and still are a way to teach about our faith, about the God that we believe in. By saying the creed every week within our worship, the teaching sinks into our consciousness, our understanding.
And because the creeds are so important, many people were involved in discussions over many centuries about what it is that the creeds say. Think PCC, but on a much larger scale, and even greater focus on the detail of specific words!
There were several significant councils of the worldwide churches that met to try and sort out what it is that Christians believe. The first one was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine, In May 325 AD, and so 230 bishops gathered at Nicaea in Turkey.
They met to discuss the matter of Jesus divinity, and to try and set the matter straight…
Was Jesus just a person, a bit lower than God,
or was Jesus totally God, and not properly human…
You might think this is a rather dull council, debating the technicalities…. but it really matters…
if you think Jesus was completely God and not really human… then what do we think happens at Christmas? at his crucifixion?…. if you’re not really human, how can you be born, how can you die?
On the other hand, if Jesus is just a person, and not divine… then what does his death have to do with the ongoing salvation of the world?
This council of Nicaea in 325 set the definition of Christ as being both fully human and fully God… this is still the belief of the churches across the world, to this day. And we had a new creed – the Nicene creed.
Arius, working in Alexandria disagreed. he felt that Jesus must have been created, he must have been made by God like everything else in creation… and therefore Arius says that Jesus couldn’t be fully God. As a creature, a created being, Jesus must therefore be subordinate to his Father.
This is something that the Jehovah’s Witnesses still believe, for them Jesus is not God, he is special as God’s son, but he is not divine himself.
Athanasius, who eventually became bishop of Alexandria, strongly opposed Arius… he said that ‘If Christ were not truly God, then he could not bestow life upon the repentant and free them from sin and death. Yet this work of salvation is at the heart of the biblical picture of Christ.’
It really does matter what we believe…. it’s like the questions the pharisees ask… does Jesus have the power to forgive sins? Is Jesus really divine and part of the salvation of the world? Does he really have the power to forgive?
And so the Nicene Creed sets out to be very clear about it… I’m sure you’re familiar with this creed too.
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made….”
The Creed is setting out very clearly that we do not accept the version of Christianity that Arius was proclaiming…
The third of the authorised Anglican creeds is the Athanasian creed – and this is the one that you have received this morning, and probably the one that you are least familiar with. Click here for BCP Athanasian Creed
This creed started floating round in about the sixth century. It’s the latest of the creeds to be developed. (maybe that’s why it’s the longest!)
And this is the first creed to be absolutely explicit about the equality of the three persons of the Trinity. In fact the whole of the first page – lines 1-28, are about the Trinity… and the second page follows with what we believe about Christ.
This creed spells out the three persons of the Trinity, making sure that we understand that each of the three parts of God are divine. each of them is uncreated… so God the Father didn’t create the other two, they are each limitless… or as the book of common prayer describes them – incomprehensible, (and incomprehensible it may seem as it tries to define exactly what we believe) each one is eternal, and each one is almighty.
But it also spells out the unity of the three as well.
The Book of Common Prayer tells us that this creed should be used instead of the Apostles Creed at 13 different feast days throughout the year, as well as on Trinity Sunday.
Given the length of it, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to realise that this has largely fallen out of fashion. It’s also the only creed that spells out concepts of eternal damnation
I’m being kind though… and giving you a diagram too… on the back of your handout you have a diagram with words in it.
This diagram summarises what the creed is saying, and thus summarises what it is that the church says it believes about God.
The whole diagram is God… it’s telling us that there is one God – not three separate Gods.
That our one God is both Father, Son and Spirit at the same time…. but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father. They are both different and yet one.
I realise that’s a lot of words today, to try and help us think about who God is…
But however many words we use, to try and describe God, to try and understand…. eventually we run out of words…
However much we may want to capture, to contain, to specify God… he / she is beyond our wildest dreams.
Eventually we learn to live with the paradox that is God
We accept the mystery that is God, the wonderful, beautiful, incredible mystery, that is our amazing God,
We have to accept that at the heart of our faith, is loving relationship, the loving relationship that is God,…
and the invitation that is always there, for us to accept that love, and to enter into loving relationship with our God, three in one,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit