Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Churches, Fordingbridge & Breamore on Trinity Sunday, 11th June 2017, Rachel Noël

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
Amen.

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on Easter 3, 30th April 2017, Rachel Noël

May the words that I speak and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

What a gift of a reading today. The road to Emmaus. There is so much in this story, it’s one of my favourite passages in the Bible, one that I come back to again and again. So my challenge today is to focus on just some of the amazing richness in this passage.

Each year Easter brings us the same questions… What does the Easter experience mean for us today? How do we comprehend it? It’s such a familiar story, and yet each year it is an incredible story. Jesus…. The Jesus that rode on a donkey into Jerusalem just a few short weeks ago… Jesus who was tried and then crucified… Jesus who was then buried in a tomb… is no longer in the tomb…
Each year we have to face the questions…

do we really believe that Jesus was raised from the dead then?…

and do we really believe that God is present with us now, in all the twists and turns that our lives may take (and trust me… I’m becoming more expert by the day at the scenic route to life!)

This whole chapter of Luke happens on just one day… both last week’s reading about Thomas and today’s reading of Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. It was an intense day.

We’re told that these two disciples were going to Emmaus… but we’re not told why. Were they just going home? Or were they trying to escape from the terrible things that had seen in Jerusalem?

Theologian Frederick Buechner interprets Emmaus as “the place we go in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is that we throw up our hands and say – Let the whole damned thing go hang… it makes no difference anyway…. Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes that you really want or reading a second-rate novel…. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred… that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die…..

Whatever our Emmaus… our escape…. The Risen Lord meets us in our ordinary places, in the reality, the experiences of our own lives…even in the places we retreat to when it all gets too much.
But this story warns us that Jesus may come in unfamiliar guises… when we least expect him.

It was only when Cleopas and his travelling companion stopped to share a meal together that they realised that it was Jesus with them. They hadn’t planned the perfect sacred moment with just the right music or incense or building or any of the other things that may seem important to us today… they hadn’t had time to prepare the perfect Masterchef meal… there were no Mary Berry cakes…

They just stopped to share bread with a stranger… It was in that act of sharing that they recognized Jesus…
The passage tells us that Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

He took bread… the ordinary, the normal, regular food. He did something that happens every day, everywhere… taking the regular, staple food….

And then he blessed it…. The ordinary suddenly becomes sacred through that act of blessing. Every week we bless the bread here and share it… at home we say grace, we pray and bless the food that we eat… the ordinary becoming extraordinary…

And then Jesus broke it… Gary will be doing the same later… breaking the bread, opening the ordinary, making it available to all..
And then he gave it to them, he shared it.

That ordinary, simple meal of bread… Jesus broke it and shared it… the basic act of hospitality, sharing what we have….welcoming the stranger
And then the story changes… the hidden suddenly becomes visible… their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus… and then he disappeared from their sight.

I wonder if that is echoed at all in your own experiences of God… Theologian Alan Culpepper suggests that God’s presence is often elusive, fleeting, dancing at the edge of our awareness and perception. If we are honest, we must confess that it is never constant, steady or predictable….(and getting a piece of plastic round your neck doesn’t change that either…)

The nuns in the Sound of Music sing – how can you catch a moonbeam in your hand, how do you hold a wave upon the sand? The mystery of God, of God’s presence is experienced in fleeting moments… in the middle of the ordinary… the extraordinary breaks through and then the mundane closes in again.

Often it is only in retrospect that we learn to treasure religious experiences. Followers of St Ignatius use the daily prayer of examen… reviewing the day with gratitude, focusing on the day’s gifts, noticing its joys and delights… paying attention to the small things… the food we eat, the sights we see, and other seemingly small pleasures…. God really is in the details, in the ordinary things of our lives. What is it like for you? Where do you notice God in your life?

For these disciples… they finally recognise Jesus and then he is gone…
In retrospect they notice “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Do you have any physical experiences that correspond to your spiritual encounters? A wise nun once suggested to me to notice how my body feels as I pray… it is in the ordinariness of being ourselves that we experience God… it may be a tingling in your body… it may be the warming of your heart… how can we attune ourselves to notice God in our own day to day lives.

I find the expression ‘our hearts burning within us’ to be fascinating. I was recently reading some research by a professor in Oxford, David Patterson, who has found that our hearts actually contain neurons too, similar to those in our brains… that our hearts and brains are closely connected… his research shows that these neurons in the heart are part of our decision making… and that this heart brain connection is at work when you experience feelings of compassion and empathy.

Somehow, in our hearts, our brains, our bodies we too can encounter God through bread blessed, broken and shared.

And it changes everything… these disciples return to Jerursalem, and encounter the eleven proclaiming “The Lord has risen indeed”…. And they have to share their experience, it comes bubbling out of them.

Easter isn’t over at the end of Easter Sunday… or even at the end of the 50 days of Easter that we’re in now….it stretches into the rest of our lives… these disciples may not meet Jesus on the road again… but that encounter changes everything. Whether we encounter God at the tomb, on a lonely road to our own Emmaus, or in hospitality with others… those encounters transform us… and our hearts too can be strangely warmed.

The Lord is risen indeed…and he continues to meet us on the road

We recognize him in the breaking of bread then, and in the breaking of bread today…

And we share our stories… our own ordinary stories, our own experiences…. Of the sacred and the ordinary, and together, let’s encourage each other as we gather to worship our Risen Jesus, to share bread and wine… and then as we go back out into the world with our stories to tell of our own encounters.

I will end with a poem by Ann Lewin:

Emmaus Walk
‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ we are
Told in childhood. It takes years
To grow through infant training.
Daring to trust comes with maturity,
Or perhaps is born of desperation.
The Emmaus two discovered
That the stranger unlocked
Understanding;
Shared food became a blessing.

Amen

(Thank you to The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Luke)

A do for the loo!

‘Spending a penny, swapping Smarties for coins and a tasty cake sale to fund Toilet Twinning’

St Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge are flushed with success after raising more than £300 for Toilet Twinning. They have twinned 6 of their loos with latrines overseas, in countries such as Uganda, Nepal and Bangladesh

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Their enthusiastic fundraising has just started this September and included a cake sale, collecting coins in Smarties tubes and spending a penny when you ‘spend a penny’! It will enable Toilet Twinning, a partnership between development agencies Cord and Tearfund, to help some of the 2.5 billion people worldwide who lack decent sanitation.

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During our launch service in September, everyone joined in heartily as we sang the toilet twinning song. We even had a loo in the service! We had filled our special toilet (it was new!) with Smarties tubes. Everyone at church has taken a tube home, to enjoy the chocolate, and refill the tube with coins to help raise further funds for Toilet Twinning.

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We are so excited by the initial launch, that we are sharing this opportunity with others across Fordingbridge. We hope to make Fordingbridge a Toilet Twinned Town! Every mdsc_0019inute a child dies from diseases linked to unclear water and poor sanitation; 60 per cent of all rural diseases worldwide are caused by poor hygiene and sanitation. We hope that by raising awareness and working together to raise funds, we can help to solve a serious problem around the world.

 

 

To find out more about Toilet Twinning or to twin your own loo, visit www.toilettwinning.org

PICNIC in the PARK – Fordingbridge Celebrates the Queen’s 90th birthday

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Join us on Sunday 12th June for our fantastic events to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.

10:30am – service to celebrate volunteering in the community at St Mary’s Church

11:20am – Street parade from St Mary’s Church to the Recreation Ground. Come wearing red, white and blue and join in the festive parade, lead by Hyde Band

12 – 2:30pm – Celebrations and community picnic at the park. Music lead by Hyde Band and local entertainer Mike Ireland, community stands and fun activities, teenage market. Come along and join in the fun.

Click for More information about Fordingbridge Queen’s 90th Celebrations