Thursday, 26 March 2009

I believe, part 4

As we continue our Marathon trek through the Creed (well, it feels like a marathon to me!) here is the next part... I know that there are a few sentences that didn't quite make it to the standard of making sense that I would prefer, but unfortunately I am not awake enough to correct and want to post this before bed :-)

Lent 2009: The Apostle’s Creed
Session 4

I believe in Jesus part 2

I want to begin tonight’s thoughts by restating a couple of things which I perhaps didn’t make completely clear last week. I have spent some time thinking about the nature of these evenings and some of the discussions that have come both as part of the sessions and around after the event too!

At the beginning of these talks on the Creed I said that I wasn’t going engage in a purely academic exercise, nor was I going to take apart all the bits of the Creed and dismiss them – on the contrary I think I would restate that I wholeheartedly believe in all of the articles which make up our Creed and hope that these talks would assist you in feeling more confident in proclaiming these truths also. In particular, I want to say that when last week I said I wasn’t going to discuss the ‘Virgin Birth’ as I thought it was a red herring, I didn’t mean that I didn’t believe in it and didn’t want to talk about it, I wholeheartedly affirm it. My concern is that (like discussions over a six day creation) discussions about the mechanics of how this or that might have happened are often a distraction. My belief in the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, which is founded in Jesus taking flesh from the Virgin Mary and by the power of the Spirit is at the heart of my own understanding of the Incarnation.

What I am hoping to do is highlight both how some of these articles of faith ended up in the Creed, and to ask ourselves exactly what we mean, and what those who put together the Creed meant, when these things are and were recited over many hundreds of years. The Creed is not the end of faith, nor is it meant to be recited parrot fashion without addressing the serious, foundational beliefs of which it is comprised. It is easy to drift, or ‘freewheel’ through faith, accepting what might be the accepted interpretation of a particular minister, writer, or tradition within the Church, without grappling with the truths both behind our Creeds and within our Scriptures.

Some of the ideas and concepts which make up our Creeds are, frankly, immense – including this Evening’s theme – and we risk missing out on some of the riches of our tradition, of the depths of Scripture, and of a very personal faith, if we skirt over the issues and teachings contained in them. In the three weeks we have already spent on these Creeds I have only just scratched the surface of our Christian faith, tradition and interpretation, and I know that some of the things I have said have been surprising – but this is the faith of the Church, and together we claim to hold this faith, so lets get to grips with what we profess and proclaim.

This evening’s thoughts are based around this profound, disturbing and challenging part of the Apostle’s Creed – talking of Jesus we affirm that we believe he:
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

There are some phrases in this section I will tackle at greater, some at lesser, length. Much of this overlaps with what I said last week, and much of it overlaps with itself, it is difficult to disentangle much of the Creed from itself – to be honest – and I hope that what I say won’t be so much as telling you what you have to believe, though there are some essentials that I think are core to calling ourselves Christians, but offering you different interpretations of what Christian thinkers and teachers have said over many years with regards to these core understandings of Christian faith.

But I must take a moment to say something very personal here. If last week was the reason I was inspired to lead this series of talk, this week is probably the hardest of all the sections for me to talk on, mainly because I can’t claim to have all of this sorted out for myself, and I am very much in the midst of my own journey of faith, my own struggles with Scripture and Reason and Tradition and Experience in my own life in Christ. It would be easier perhaps if I could say ‘this is what the Bible teaches’ or even ‘this is what the Church says’ but our Creeds bind us with the essentials of faith – the interpretation is something we all must struggle with for ourselves.

The first part of the Creed considered today is easy in theological terms, but hard in personal terms! We talk of Christ who ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried’. This suffering is real – and I think it is important to say this. The agony that Jesus went through in the lead up and over his crucifixion cannot be underestimated – nor can we explain it away by saying ‘It’s OK, he was God’ or that he knew he would be resurrected. As I said last week, and as has been very much the point of Christian scholarship for two thousand years, Jesus was human, not God in a human suit. When it came to the scourging, the agony of his passion, and to being nailed to the cross and dying this was real, all too real, and painful beyond endurance. The sense of desolation and agony was enough for him to cry out ‘My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?’

And without going over all the ground we covered last week, its worth reminding ourselves that at heart the death that Jesus suffered isn’t a theory, or a theology, or a statement of belief – it is God’s ultimate identification with us. If God in trinity feels through eternity what Jesus felt on the cross, God knows what suffering is, and knows what it is to die. In Christ, God truly is one of us and the Creed writers wanted to make that clear by saying that he suffered, not that he seemed to suffer or appeared to suffer, but suffered. At the same time they wanted to locate that in a real, physical, tangible time and place in order that it didn’t become just a theory or doctrine but that Jesus ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’ – it was real, it happened.

Then we have what for many is the key issue in this part of the Creed.
Was crucified, died and was buried.

Again, a desire to keep the reality of these events at the heart of faith. Jesus actually died, and because of that he was buried. No tricks, no body snatching, but the everyday reality of death. And behind it the pain and the loss that his friends, family and disciples suffered – as we will hear in the passion stories in the coming weeks.

Interestingly there is no mention of ‘what happened’ on the cross. In this key document of the Church it doesn’t say he died for our sins, or that his death took our sins away, or that he was a sacrifice for our sin. These are interpretations of the death of Christ that come from Scripture and from the theologians of the Church over the past twenty centuries. The Creed just wants to make it clear that he died, and leaves us to – with the help of our Bibles and the tradition and teaching of the Church – make sense of this.

And this is where I have been struggling over this past week, or indeed over the past few decades of my Christian life. It’s also something that I think many of us don’t think about perhaps as much as we should – what happened on the cross and why did Jesus have to die.
I think that this is a good spot to stop for a breather and to talk to one another. I am aware that this week is very much more about me talking – but there is a lot to get through – but I realise you need a break from that! So I want you to talk to each other about what your own response to that question ‘why did Jesus have to die?’ might be – and I don’t want you to feel concerned that I am going to correct your belief, I am going to lay out some of what the Church has said, and hopefully reflect that through Scripture – but it would be presumptuous of me to claim I have sorted this out and have all the answers for you. It would also be wrong. So share what you feel, please.
It is easy, or perhaps more accurately ‘an oversimplification’ just to say that Jesus ‘died for our sins’. Though I believe that to be true, and many of us would describe his death in that way, there are many ways in which that simple statement could be construed. I think it is important to open this out a bit, though I can’t really do justice to it in the time we have here or perhaps even in a lifetime, because what we believe happened on the Cross also affects our view of God and of the salvation we as Christians believe Jesus somehow won through his death.

The word that we use to sum up this teaching is ‘Atonement’ – commonly taken to mean ‘making up for something’ – that Jesus somehow made up for the sins of the world in dying for us. I prefer to consider ‘Atonement’ by dividing up the word ‘At-one-ment’. Somehow through his death Jesus broke down the barriers or bridged the Gap between God and human beings. A barrier or a divide caused by sin, which brings death into the world. But how might this have happened, what did Jesus dying actually achieve?

I looked up a number of sources to try and offer some definition of the various theologies which surround the death of Jesus – and must acknowledge that I used a particular website – not one I was completely impressed by but one which had a broad approach to these issues – called ‘’ to get hold of some definitions, they say that, on the whole the current accepted theories can be grouped into certain definitions:

First, Ransom Theory, mainly held by Eastern Orthodox Churches and what is known as the Protestant Word-faith Movement. This is perhaps the oldest theory of the Atonement, and if arguments about theology and belief were settled just by how old they are this would be the winner!

Ransom theory says that sin brought a debt into the world, which was payable by death. This debt was a result of Adam & Eve’s disobedience and meant that Satan aquired formal dominion over, and ownership of , all of humanity and the rest of the world. So that all might be freed from this ownership God offers his only Son Jesus as a ransom to ‘buy back’ humanity and Satan agrees believing that he would then ‘own’ the Son of God, Jesus. God pulls a fast one, though, and having thought he had won, Satan is defeated as Jesus is brought back from death and raised to eternal life with the Father. Therefore, says Origen, one of the early Church theologians, if humans trust Jesus as their saviour, they too share in this new life.

Next is a theory which is broadly held by the Roman Catholic Church (though not officially accepted as 'dogma') and is called Satisfaction Theory. This finds its roots in ancient and mediaeval thinking about serfdom. A serf or slave owned by a master is the cause of dishonour to that master if s/he disobeys them. In this way sin dishonours God and a price must be paid to satisfy honour. In this atonement theory Jesus, through his offering of himself, his torture and his death satisfies the requirement and, effectively, through a human sacrifice he appeases God’s sense of honour which has been offended by sin. It is similar to the ransom theory, only that the price is paid to God rather than Satan.

The theory suggests that God's honour would only be satisfied by a ritual sacrifice of a god-man -- his own son. Michael Martin writes: "Only the God-Man is able, by his divinity, to offer something that is worthy of God and, by his humanity, to represent mankind."
Now we move onto a theory that many of us will recognise, and perhaps adhere to, as it is the theology often held by those who would refer to themselves as ‘Reformed’, and by fundamentalist groups, and some main stream protestant denominations it is known as Penal Substitution Theory and is a variation on Satisfaction Theory

Again I will quote the religious tolerance website
In the Penal Theory, the effect of human sin is not seen as dishonouring God. Rather it is perceived as incurring a debt to God which requires repayment. "...a debt is incurred and punishment is deserved." God is viewed as holy and perfect. He established an impossibly high standard of holiness and perfection for humanity. When we fail to live up to that standard, a sin debt to God is created. Such sin inevitably happens; all have fallen short.

The punishment for sin must involve the shedding of blood. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), this was the ritual sacrifice of animals; in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) it involves the ritual sacrifice of a human -- Jesus. God is apparently unwilling or incapable of forgiving sin in any other way.

Anselm of Canterbury, a great Christian Scholar from the 11th and early 12th Century wrote:
"...without satisfaction, that is, without voluntary payment of the debt, God can neither pass by the sin unpunished, nor can the sinner attain that happiness”

Another theory, held by many more Liberal Christians is known as Moral Theory. This theory suggests that Jesus Christ's life and death is primarily a moral example to humanity. It can inspire us to lift ourselves out of sin and grow towards union with God.

Rejecting any sense of ‘payment’ to Satan or God – either because of a need to punish sin, buy back humanity or satisfy honour, the moral theory teaches that atonement is achieved by Jesus example of self-giving love and sacrifice. This provides for us an example and inspiration to seek wholeness and to leave our sin behind. The focus of the Atonement is not Satan or God instead it is the individual Christian believer seeking wholeness.

Finally, there is what is often called the Christus Victor Theory or a recent variation which I found recently called the ‘narrative Christus Victor theory’. The Essay which I recently read on this subject is very good and can be found online at – discussing all of the theories of Atonement I have just looked through and answering them with an alternative. In this understanding Jesus voluntarily allowed himself to be executed not to satisfy a God who demanded it or to fool the devil, but because his death defeated the power of evil and released humanity from its sin. The death of Jesus is the result of evil forces, as epitomised by the religious leaders and occupying forces of Jesus day, and shows the response of evil to the purity of purpose and action which Christ had. In this understanding Jesus actively defeats evil by his non resistance when confronted by evil men (and women perhaps) and by offering his own life. God rewards this offering by raising Jesus to new life, and Jesus becomes the one through which all can share in this new way of being – the Kingdom, or more accurately, the reign of God.
Second discussion – do any of these help you? Are there any that you particularly react to – either positively or negatively?
Having thrown these various theological theories at you, all of which have currency within the Church today and departure from which can cause someone to be cast out of some Church circles! For instance, just a few years back the Baptist minister and broadcaster Steve Chalke mentioned in a very good book he wrote called ‘The Lost Message of Jesus’ that penal substitution might not be the only way we could look at the death of Jesus and was vilified within many of the groups he used to represent and relate to. It was as if Scripture had put the one way of understanding Jesus death nice and clearly and Chalke was completely heretical to even consider there might be an alternative.

But the Bible doesn’t give us any simple answers to this. It presents a variety of views all mixed up together and makes us come to terms with them ourselves.

I know that some of you will want to have an idea of my own take on this issue, which I why I began by saying that I don’t have it all sewn up. I do have my own personal understanding, but it is not set in stone – as my own reading of Scripture, my growth in knowledge and experience and use of reason lead me to new understandings I may well say something different in a few years, or even days!

I do believe that sin has an effect on God’s creation – a vast, cosmic effect. And that it damages men and women - Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.". The result of sin is, ultimately, death.

I believe that Jesus took upon himself that death which is the result of sin. In this sense he ‘paid the price’ – I don’t, though, subscribe to the idea that God punished Jesus on our behalf. For me the defining statement about God is found in the first letter of John 4.16 ‘Those who do not love do not know God, for God is love.’
It’s not ‘God is loving’ but God is Love. If that is the ultimate statement about the nature of God, which I believe it to be then I find this inconsistent with a punitive or vengeful God. Therefore I believe that Jesus took the consequence of Sin, and indeed the consenquence of a Godly life live in the face of evil, and his death on the cross removed from us the ultimate consequence of sin.

But this idea, like me generally, is a work in progress.

Now I am conscious of the fact that we have gone back to the idea of talking about one or two words in our Creed and there is much more to take in and to consider in the few lines we have this week. And I would like to attempt to look at these too. I spent so long on the doctrine of Atonement because I think it informs for each of us the way that we perceive God – if we take one view or another then we are likely to see God as forgiving, or wrathful, or pure, or angry or whatever. In common with much of our faith I think the healthy belief is the one which can encompass more than one idea and hold it together, sometimes in tension and is willing to continue to wrestle with the issues involved in a ‘true and lively faith’.

And I will acknowledge that my wrestling hasn’t really come to terms with this phrase ‘he descended to the dead’ – for some it is just a fanciful way to say he died, but I think it is there for a reason and some talk of the harrowing of hell – that Jesus preached salvation to those who were imprisoned in hell because they had not heard of him and offered them his new life. I am not sure about that, but it is important to acknowledge that even back in the fourth century, indeed at the beginning of the Church’s life, Christians were struggling with the question ‘if faith comes from hearing, what about those who have never heard?’ I leave that one with you for now….

So we continue through these lines with this amazing and rather mind-blowing concept of resurrection. Of Christ being brought from the dead, of Christ being alive even today! Present with us through his Spirit and ascended to the right hand of God where he lives and reigns for eternity.

One of the things I find rather difficult about the Alpha course is that (like me this evening) it tends to focus very much on the death of Jesus and what he did on the cross. It wants the hearer to have a conviction of sin and to recognise the price paid – though it may have something more of a penal substitution theology than I would hold to!

We do need to remember, though, that in essence it is not the cross that defines us as Christians but the empty cross! It is the empty tomb that brings about our shout of alleluia! (not that I am meant to say that in Lent). I can’t remember where it comes from but I love the quote that defines Christians thus
“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song”
In the new life God gives to Christ we see the acceptance of Christ’s offering of himself, and the triumph of love over judgement, of grace and mercy over death and hell.

The resurrection tells us that death is not the end. It shows God’s embrace of the work of Jesus and his blessing on all people.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have a hope of new life, of life forever in the presence of God – not just a life beyond death, Jesus’ new life can bring about a fullness of life that he mentions in John 10v10 – it show’s that God has accepted the life Jesus led as well as the death Jesus died.
The resurrection is the moment that defines a new order in the cosmos – of the defeat of our ultimate enemy, sin and the death it brings. This has changed the very being and nature of creation and we now live in a time which contains all the promise and potential that Christ’s fullness of life offers.

I haven’t gone into details about how the resurrection happened, or at least theological debates about the resurrection, in the same way that I didn’t want to venture into the discussions about the Virgin Birth or a six day creation – we can quickly become bogged down in the mechanics of it. I do think it is important, though, and the Biblical record is clear that Jesus came back in some way bodily, not as a ghost, he was able to eat with his friends, to touch them – yet at the same time was seen to appear and disappear in a way no one could comprehend. I believe Jesus rose bodily, but that he had a resurrection body, St Paul seems to say that Jesus is the prototype resurrection body that one day we will all share. How God might do that is beyond me, and beyond most comprehension, but I believe that he will.

And at the end of forty days, says the account in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus ascended, taken into heaven to be with the Father, to take his place in the trinity. I will be preaching on this in about fifty five days at our Communion Service for Ascension day at Shute on May 14th – so I won’t say too much now, but I do believe it is important not to take this too literally in a sense, as those who related this story and wrote it down would have had a view of God up there in heaven, of earth here and of sheol below. We know the earth is a sphere, that above is an atmosphereless void filled with stars, planets and more than we can ever imagine. We no longer believe God lives above the clouds but that he lives over and beyond this world in which we live, beyond time and space. What is important, though, is that Jesus goes to be with God, taking his place as ruler of all and within the dynamic of the Holy Trinity (about which there will be more next week).

This leads on to the issue of Jesus’ return, which again I don’t think I can do justice to in the few moments we have left. I will say that this anticipation of perfection, of Jesus coming back one day, should not divert us from fulfilling our calling to be a part of God’s kingdom coming here on earth. We are called to make real the life of Christ in this world and not to be distracted by being ‘so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly use’. Our Christian faith is in a living active Christ who is with us now, who by his Spirit changes and transforms us that we may share his life and light in the world. One day he will come, we don’t know when, but until then we work for the transformation of the world through our words, prayers and deeds.

And on a final note I want to mention judgement.

There is a common idea that the judgement of God will involve us all being lined up and the book of our life will be opened and we will get a ticking off for all the bad things we have done before we get into heaven.
This is tied up, I think, with a very Roman and Western way of considering judgement, just as Pilate took his place at the judgement seat to condemn Jesus. In the Old Testament a judge proclaimed God’s will, and the values of God’s way of doing things. A judge wasn’t someone who weighed up the evidence and pronounced for or against, but who spoke up for, who was an advocate, who sought truth, restoration, a new state of being. It was a model of judgement that was concerned with reconciliation and restitution rather than punishment.

I believe Christ is our judge, who judges for us, who seeks to bring out the best in us, restores wholeness from our brokenness, and opens up the possibility for reconciliation with God for all eternity.
And on that note I will leave it. may God continue to find us eager to serve and open to the touch of his love that we may be more like Christ, day by day. Amen.

Friday, 20 March 2009

I Believe, part 3

Part Three comes with another confession, as well as the opener! I wrote much of the substance of this talk for Greenbelt Arts Festival a few years back, then adapted it for a previous series of Creed talks in the Papworth Team Ministry and for an evensong at Emmanuel College Cambridge (MP3 of that talk here). So, this talk is based on previously published talks, though it has been amended for this set of talks (which took a few hours in itself :-) )

Lent 2009: The Apostle’s Creed
Session 3

I believe in Jesus part 1

I have to begin with a confession – that this evening is probably the reason I wanted to do this series of talks on the Creed in the first place. Tonight’s thoughts come under the general theme of ‘Incarnational Theology’ – and it is Incarnational Theology that made me truly fall in love with Theology in the first place! It was in studying the early Creeds and particularly why the Church said what it did about Jesus, that I really began to grasp the depth and the meaning of that sometimes glibly bandied about phrase ‘I believe in Jesus’. I should warn you though that this might mean that tonight I might do even more speaking than last week, as I have so very much to say!

Bearing in mind my thoughts in the first week of our series, I don’t want tonight’s presentation to be an academic exercise – it is important to ask whenever we find ourselves in theogical debate or discussion ‘what difference does this make to my own walk of faith, and what does it say about the faith we share?’ The things I am going to say, and that will hopefully be a part of your discussions, have changed my own perspective on faith, and have (I feel) enhance my faith and bound me more to the life and witness of the Church I serve. There are some ‘big’ theological ideas in tonight’s subject and I will try not to get lost in my own enthusiasm for the subject and start disappearing off into a theological world of my own.

So what is our subject for this evening? Well again I have taken just a few lines from the Creed and want to look into these. In fact I have just taken the one concept for tonight (next week’s will have much more to range around) and I do want to focus on this strange, peculiar, uniquely Christian belief we have in ‘The Incarnation’

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son,
our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary…,

It would be easy with the part of the Creed that I am covering this evening to be distracted and talk about whether the Virgin birth really happened. In the same way that last week it would have been easy to simply recite the arguments for and against a literal interpretation of a six-day creation story. Now whilst it is a fascinating argument, I am not sure that going off into such realms will really advance us on our journey of faith here this evening.

Though the assumption of human form, enfleshed through the human nature of Mary and enlivened by the Holy Spirit of God is an important part of the theology of Jesus being both God and Human, it is an explanation, rather than part of the core theological concerns of the Creed. I don’t want to disappear into talking about what some do and do not believe, but in the spirit of the Creed to talk about what we as Christians are claiming when me make these statements in the Creed and to talk about what we do believe. And again, following on from my thoughts of the past two weeks, there is something about the impact that knowing Jesus as both God and human that I want to draw out, to think in terms of ‘what difference does this make to me? To the Church? To the world?

If we, as Christians, claim to know Jesus, how much of that knowledge is (to be frank) ‘made up’ – by ourselves, by the Churches we are a part of, by a lack of understanding of what the Church believes. IF we want to know Jesus better, then I think we need to know what we believe about him….

By many people’s standards Jesus was a failed teacher with a disastrously short ministry and a life ending with a fiasco. Yet those who had shared Jesus life for three or so years had no problem at all expressing both the human and divine side of him. There was something more that they had to express, and their talk of ‘resurrection’ added something beyond normal comprehension to their message.

Sometimes these early Christians struggled with the words they had, sometimes they took over words being used for something else and sometimes they made up new ones. As this understanding was passed on the most important thing that was passed on what that Jesus was absolutely and completely human, and at the same time utterly and completely divine. He was God made flesh. Hence St Paul in Philippians talking of Jesus writes down a hymn that had probably been in circulation for a while
“who being in very nature God
he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped
but made himself nothing
taking the very nature of a servant
and being found in human form
humbled himself and became obedient to death
even death on a cross’.

And so we’re off. This becomes the first problem. The educated Romans, Greeks and Jews who heard this message could not believe that a God would really go through this. So the logic dictated that Jesus wasn’t really human. Or that he was much more divine than human. So Jesus only seemed to be human.

St Paul himself encountered this 1 Cor 1:23 explains that ‘Christ crucified’ is ‘a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles’. Many thinkers in the Jewish world thought Jesus could not have been divine because he suffered and Gentiles whose thought was based on Greek philosophy said that Jesus could not have suffered because he was divine.

For those who like to read up on heretics one of the most strident on this was Clement of Alexandria. His Christ had no physical passions, neither digested nor excreted, had no need to eat (sustained by Divine power). The only reason he did seem to eat was (says Clement) to confound those who might have thought we wasn’t human. (Clement obviously knew otherwise….)

In order to think a bit about what we do believe, perhaps it would help to think about what we don’t believe. After all, the finely honed truths to which we hold were hammered out upon the Anvil of heresy! So lets consider a few heresies – and if nothing else this may prove an interesting diversion…
Marcion: who believed that God of the Old Testament and the New were different, opposing Gods. His was an anti-Jewish Christianity which dismissed any kind of continuity with the Jewish faith. It is partly due to his influence that the idea of a canon of scripture appeared – so that Christians could not pick and choose as they wished!
Which point brings me somewhere which offers a springboard into our own thoughts and a chance to talk to each other for a minute. As we managed last week to arrange ourselves very quickly into small groups here rather than wandering off to find other rooms I would like you, in groups of five or six, to think about this…

What is your favourite bit of the Bible…? Simple enough, but lets also lead into whether there any bits of Scripture you find difficult, or would prefer to do without?
I asked you to talk about that because I think it is important to remember that when it comes to Scripture we can’t pick and choose what we like, or rather we shouldn’t! There are bits of the Bible that make my hair curl with the violence and bloodthirstiness of it, or the blatant sexism, or the lack of understanding. These parts have something to teach us, and should cause us to ask whether all of Scripture is ‘right’ – eg is it good to smash the heads of our enemies children against rocks as Psalm 137v9 says – or whether we have as much to learn from the parts of scripture that are obviously the author trying to find God in the midst of pain, anger, desolation and lonliness… Do we learn, with God’s grace, as much through what is wrong in scripture, as much as what is right! And by right and wrong I mean in terms of a certain type of morality, or cultural expression rather than making a value judgement about what is ‘true’ or ‘false’… That is a discussion for another time!

I think this question about Scripture is an important one too as it begs questions about how we approach our faith – and whether we cherry pick the bits we like, or whether we – to a certain point – submit ourselves to the discipline of faith, and particularly to the discipline of the Creed – as was the original intent in adopting Credal statements in the Church.

But moving on, and going back – to continue with our roll of shame – the list of heretics against which our Creeds were formed. Having mentioned Marcion and his dismissal of anything Old Testament, there were some others the Church felt it necessary to exclude as heretics!

Montanus: who believed that the Holy Spirit was the only bit to be concerned about. He considered himself to be a spirit filled prophet, and some considered him to be the Spirit incarnate. He was rapidly kicked out – an early example of getting rid of the extremists.

Gnostics: These were perhaps the most insidious heretics in and around the early Church. claiming that matter was inherently evil. There was no one Gnostic philosophy, but broadly speaking they had a philosophy that separated spirit and matter, claiming that matter was evil. Matter only came into being as some kind of fall from perfection. Human beings were alienated from their true being as Spirit by the material world. But only some humans were potentially able to be freed from this, those who were superior (the pneumatics) – naturally this group was made up of Gnostics. It was these who were able to attain salvation through growth in knowledge, particularly arcane knowledge known only to a few. Those of you who are keen sect-watchers may recognise certain tendencies there which are shared by groups such as the Knights Templar of the 14th Century… the foundation of most of the twaddle around the DaVinci code. This kind of Gnostic knowledge seems also be the foundation of Scientology, though instead of being Pneumatics we, or at least some of us, are actually sort of re-incarnated Aliens… But enough of that, moving on…

Arians: Not big blond people who thought they should lead the world. Again there is no one movement of ‘arianism’ but it’s a title that brings together a number of schools of thought. Nominally led by Bishop Arius they believed that the logos was a creation of the Father, who was not ‘Father son and spirit’ but God who created a unique human being with a logos ‘just for the job’ of coming to earth. Arius was quite firmly trodden on by the Church, as he seemed to distract from the eternal nature of the word as offered in St John’s Gospel.

Appollinarius: He claimed that Jesus was different to the rest of us, with a different type of humanity. The flesh and soul of Jesus are separate, the soul, the controlling agent of Christ, is the logos, distinct and separate from the body which is Jesus. In this way the body just becomes a vessel to carry around the world.

In the most extreme kind of thinking the logos (the word of God) which is Christ, takes on human form like a costume (for the sci-fi fanatics like me there are no end the possibilities for parallels here, an Edgar suit for those who’ve seen Men In Black’ or the Aliens in Dr Who who wear outers suits but underneath are rather ugly flatulent creatures) and fails to become fully human. The man Jesus thereby serves as a front for the deity but is not God made man.

But why is it so important for God to be Incarnate? To be made flesh. To be conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary? And why such a crucial part of this creed?!
Now that’s your next question. In conversation with someone yesterday I was asked ‘well I believe this to be true, that Jesus was God and human – surely that’s a given’. This is true, but have we really thought about what that means, and more so (and I know I am repeating myself but this is worth it). WHY is it important for God to be Incarnate? Not just theoretically, but in the life of the Church, and in my own life?
The early Church was convinced that Jesus was (and is) a unique person – exactly what God would look like if he became human. This revealed something about God’s absolute commitment to humanity and also made it possible for us to become God-like. The death of the real, physical Jesus was also the means through which God healed the rift between God and humanity, and if he was only pretending to be God then surely our salvation is only a pretence. Gregory Nazienzan (end of 4th Century) said ‘…what has not been assumed, has not been healed.’ It was only through the reality of God becoming human in Jesus that the reality of salvation was made possible.

For the early Christians this was the crunch issue. In some way God had completely taken human form and thereby had changed reality, making it possible for humanity to share life with God at a deeper level than ever before.

Now, you may have seen the adverts on TV for shampoo or cosmetics where someone looks at the camera in a kind of knowing way and says ‘this si the science bit’. Well, this is the theology bit!

The first Christians wanted to make these things clear:

That God is eternal and unchanging. Always of the same nature and substance.

That the Word (Logos) exists within this eternal unchanging God and remains God at all times.

YET They wanted to maintain that

Jesus was God Incarnate Not just taking the appearance of flesh, but becoming human.
This meant that they wanted to stress the uniqueness of human nature alongside the
uniqueness of the Divine nature.

So Jesus was described as being two hypostaseis – two substances or two Ousia, two natures. This is often summed up in the term ‘the hypostatic union’. These natures are so perfectly fused that there is one prosopon/persona, one concrete reality that is Jesus.

Lets put it another way, there are two major ways of looking at this whole subject – Christology from above and from below (no fancy names for these)

From above (also called ‘descending’ or ‘salvation’ Christology) Christ is stressed as the incarnate word, God in human form. Through God assuming, not absorbing, human form humanity is raised to a new level of dignity, a new fuller humanity is made possible. Hence Jesus is not something ‘more than human’ (as docetics, Gnostics and a few others might maintain) but he is ‘more human’. Hence, perhaps his preferred title for himself ‘Son of Man’ or ‘human one’. In this way human beings become fully human as they are restored to a relationship to God.

The second form is ‘From below’ – ascending Christologies. Christ is seen as a human being in history who made real the kingdom of God and worked towards its coming in fullness. This kind of understanding is tied up with the Quest for the Historical Jesus I mentioned just now. Jesus example is that of living and teaching the kingdom, and thereby his life draws us up to Abba the father and makes real the fullness of God. The primary focus, though, is his earthly life leading to a greater understanding of the divine life (hence ascending).

Well, for me neither of these seem adequate and we need to take both of them on to have a full approach. And this strikes me as so much of the method of Christianity. In Christology especially there is so much to grasp that we must take on board the historical development, the Scriptural basis and our own faith in order to come to a fuller knowledge of who Christ is and what he has achieved.

And this is what the earliest fighting was about in the Church. Various individuals popped up with their own concerns and disagreements. These heresies and more all offered a challenge to a Christian faith, which was inclusive, that claimed God was one God, always the same, that this God had, in Christ, become human and thereby had identified with the material world and embraced it, and had made it possible for all people to know and be more like God. Many of our greatest thinkers in the Church, the Early Church Fathers and others set about refuting those things which were contrary to the understanding passed on by the first Christians, the work of such theologians culminates in our creedal statements, both the Apostle’s (as it is traditionally known) and Nicene creed. Of course the particular part we want to consider is this:
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,

Why is all this important I ask again? Well it so often impacts on the Church of today, we have forgotten our roots and so often forget who it is we follow and why he is unique and special. If we fail to grasp exactly what it is that the Church spent so many centuries coming to grips with then we perhaps fail to grasp exactly what our faith can be about.

Orthodox Christian Faith has always maintained that Jesus is exactly as we are, but without sin. He felt as we do, he suffered, he laughed, he ate and drank, he got tired, he made mistakes, he learnt, he got angry etc etc. He suffered and he died. Yet at the same time there was something about him, and this was made clear after and due to the resurrection, that he was God. Not just like God, not just inspired by, but actually God. It is this God who understands exactly what it is to be human and this human being that is an expression of God to us.

If Christ is fully human, then he really does understand exactly what its like to be us, not in a detached and clinical sense, but in a true, earthy and real sense.
If he is fully divine Jesus offers us the hope of eternity straight from God. He offers us the chance for an intimate relationship with a God who is truly involved in and engaged with the world.

We are called to be Christ-like, and through God’s spirit we can be so. We strive for perfection, therefore, not thinking that we are bound to fail but that if we are called by God we know it is possible for us to be perfect like Christ. FOR HE WAS EXACTLY LIKE US – YET WITHOUT SIN. I think that so many Christians start by saying I can’t be like Jesus because he was special. Yes he was, but only in the same way that we can be special, say the teaching of the early Christians, those who knew Jesus, and those who knew them..
Last natter spot! Have you ever consider the possibility of being perfect? Instead of believing that we are too sinful to succeed, would it not be more appropriate, and indeed world changing to see ourselves as too redeemed to fail?
In conclusion, I believe that if we are constantly pushing Jesus' divinity then we will miss out on what he achieved as a human being, if we just see him as a human being (albeit divinely inspired) we will lose out on all that he achieved for us through being God made flesh. It is only in taking the issues the early church spent so much time on seriously that we can understand just how much God can make of us, as brothers and sisters of Christ, fellow heirs. And then we can get to grips with being, in Christ, who God really wants us to be – fully human.

So I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,

But that’s not the end of the story, and we will hear more next week. Amen

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A Sermon for Lent 3

This week's sermon - and yes, some of you will have read some of this before as it is a rewrite from a few years back! No point in letting my old jokes go to waste...

Lent 3 (2009) Year B RCL Principal
Angry Christians

I have an excuse this morning to tell my favourite nun joke, the excuse being the readings for today, I hope you will make the connection, otherwise this is just a blatant excuse to tell a joke at the start of the sermon….
Two nuns are driving through Transylvania when a vampire jumps on the car. The nun whose driving turns to her companion and says ‘what do I do?’ the second nun says ‘show him your cross, sister’ so she hops out of the car and shouts at the vampire ‘get off my bonnet you stupid idiot’…

Now, at the risk of delving too deeply into my deeply odd sense of humour, one of the reasons I think I find this funny is because, in common with most people, I don’t think of nuns as angry people, in fact I guess most people think that nuns, monks and even (so I’m told) Clergy don’t get angry because they are ‘holy people’ and Christian’s – holy people- don’t get angry. Or aren’t meant to get angry!

But if we think about that for even just a moment we will realise how daft such a statement is. Of course we get angry – it’s a part of human nature. We are not religious robots who don’t feel what everyone else feels, we go through all the things that everybody else goes through – loss, hurt, happiness, heartbreak. Surely we feel what everyone else does.

There is an impression that people have of the Church being something to do with ‘unreality’ – that it is slightly detached from the day to day, divorced from the normal stuff of life, somehow unaffected by the world. Of course this is not true. Unfortunately we as Christians seem to have perpetuated this myth – there is a certain brand of ‘bloodless Christianity’ which seems to divorce our faith from the world we share. How often do we get angry for the gospel? Or weep for a world that is without God? Or laugh with the joy that God feels when he sees the beauty of his creation?

Anger seems a part, a sometimes regrettable but integral part, of human nature. And it often comes as a shock to see that even Jesus was involved in conflict, he could succumb to violent behaviour –as in our Gospel story for today.

Jesus today breaks from the inadequate ‘gentle, meek and mild’ mould that we have forced him into and challenges us to both look at who he is again and to look at our own expressions of faith.

At first sight, the Bible message seems to be very clear: at all costs, resolve your conflicts by peaceful means. "Blessed are the peace-makers," said Jesus in the sermon on the mount. And the idea of peace is at the heart of Christianity. "The peace of the Lord be always with you," we say in this communion service, and we exchange a sign of the peace. And many services end with: "The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…" It seems peace, and especially God's peace is extremely important to us. So surely we who are made in his image should strive to emulate his ways in our lives, and seek above all else for peace with each other.

In Luke's version of today's gospel reading of the cleansing of the temple, we hear that when Jesus came in sight of Jerusalem, he wept over it and said: "If only you had known….the way that leads to peace!"
But his very next act, according to St. Luke, is one of considerable anger and even violence. Jesus went into the temple and began driving out the traders. He overturned the tables of the merchants, and according to today's reading from John's gospel, made a whip for the very purpose of driving out the money-changers. Considerable violence. No wonder they hated him and sought to crucify him. And this act, according to John – the version we heard today, took place at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, although all the other gospel writers place this incident much later, as the events which sparked off the first Easter.

So on the one hand we have a picture of Jesus, and a message in the gospels which seem to speak of peace. On the other hand we have an example of Jesus’ anger at the misuse of the temple and profiteering from faith in God.

How are we supposed to handle this contradiction?

Perhaps the answer is something to do with striving after peace whenever possible, but not peace at any cost. Integrity seems to be very important. There are occasions when we need to confront evil, even if it means being violent. Many people believe the policy of appeasement just prior to the second world war was wrong. And in the end, it seems violence was necessary to stop the terrible evil which occurred.

Perhaps as Christians we've become afraid of conflict because it's so difficult to handle. We've become "awfully nice" people, but maybe the price, to some extent, has been our integrity. The world speaks with a smooth tongue. And perhaps we in the Church have persuaded ourselves that polite niceness is Christianity.

But throughout history, God's prophets have been rarely smooth or comfortable. Like God himself, they've often been angry, and sometimes even violent in their confrontation of evil. Again, although Jesus is the Prince of Peace, he also said: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matt. 10:34)

Faith and love are not ‘soft’ concepts. They are hard edged, powerful, dangerous. Christian faith is a faith that speaks out against injustice, against poverty, against oppression. It is a faith that often sides with the powerless against the powerful, a faith that demands action. And the love which we as Christians are called to exhibit and live by is not a soppy, romantic vision of love, but of a love which is bound up in God’s power, God’s absolute loathing of sin, God’s fierce gentleness. There are times when that love and that faith will cause us to resist wrongdoing, to act with strength and conviction, to follow the strong Christian Tradition which speaks of God’s refusal to stand by when injustice is perpetrated.

The Christian life is not easy, and should not be wishy-washy or mediocre, it is a life to be lived with energy, passion and an unwillingness to compromise, a life filled with the Holy Spirit who is described on the day of Pentecost as like tongues of fire and a rushing wind.

We are called to a passionate faith, one that doesn’t allow the evil of sin to flourish but combats it. A faith that is tied up with all it means to be human, anger, hope, fear, love, all the messy emotions of life. Jesus himself felt these things, from weeping at the fate of Jerusalem to the joy of friendship and of sharing God’s kingdom.

We too, like Christ, are called to live lives filled with passion and with the zeal for God which made him dangerous, and world changing.

Friday, 13 March 2009

I Believe, part 2

As promised, the text of last night's talk...

There are a couple of spots where the grammar might not be all that it should, so if there is anything hard to understand it's likely to be my writing rather than your reading that is at fault, apologies, I hope it makes sense overall....

Lent 2009: The Apostle’s Creed
Session 2

I believe in God

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I hope those of you who were here have recovered from last week’s excursion as we grappled with some major philosophical concepts and theological idea in our short time together. I realise that a lot of last week’s session involved me talking to you and leaving you with lots of ideas and questions which there wasn’t a huge amount of space to discuss, so I will encourage you to interact a little more this week – make the most of it though, it may not happen again….

I was intrigued whilst doing some research for this evening’s talk to read a reformed theologian’s reflections on the same themes as I have covered so far, and have discovered we don’t share a similar viewpoint. For this reformed theologian, belief is all about each individual and his relationship with God, and the point of a creed is so that we make intellectual assent to the propositions of faith. I am not sure this chap has read much about the early Church or the formation of the creeds, though I suspect he might be in grave doubt of my own ‘soundness’ were he to encounter my reflections anyway!

So we move on, and in an effort to break you all in gently lets do a little word association. Actually I only want you to associate with one word…. God…

What is your response, what is your immediate reaction to the word ‘God’.

The one thing

Whatever answers, whatever associations we have with the word, the concept of ‘God’ we realise that all language is inadequate in describing the Divine. All of our words and philosophies and theologies are nothing but provisional. They are what we have to work with until fuller knowledge comes along.

In fact the only definitive thing we can say about God is that God is wholly other. That God is beyond our words, our conception, our understanding, our wisdom (such as it is), our selves. God is beyond all definition.

And yet… In the Creeds of the Church, in our Scriptures, in our prayers, our liturgy, our books, our everyday talk, even (every now and then) in sermons we boldly profess who and what we believe God to be. The opening statement of the Apostle’s Creed, which we have said together this evening doesn’t just say I believe in God, but something about who he is, and the relationship he has with us.

Actually I want to pause for a moment and say that I, in common with most of us, use masculine pronouns when talking about God. I’m not actually terribly happy with that, but its what we have to work with. I’m not happy because, as I said last week, I think the words we use have power, they sink into us, they form our understandings and opinions. I think that due to the English language and traditional expression of God as ‘him’ we do often have a skewed understanding of God. Whatever we say about God we cannot say that God is defined by gender as human beings are. Within God there may be some traits which we might consider as relating to gender because Genesis says that human beings are in the image of God as male and female. I find that referring to God as male often causes an unconscious perception of God as male, this combined with our regular use of images such as Father (more on that in a moment), king, warrior etc means that we often limit our own understanding of God by defining God in this way.

I could talk even more on this, but will leave you to do some more discussion on that in a moment. First of all I want to make my first real point

We have no right to define God. Our words are inadequate, our language cannot begin to express an accurate concept of God. Yet we do. Why?

Because, as Christians we believe that God has in some way revealed him/herself to us. Sorry I am going to revert to him again as it is clumsy to do otherwise…I hope I made my point just now!

John of Damascus wrote in the eighth century:
“Neither men nor the celestial powers nor the cherubim and seraphin can know God, other than in his revelations. By nature he is above being and therefore above knowledge.”

And yet God has chosen to reveal himself to us. God allows us to speak of his nature and attributes using clumsy human language. God has shown something of his nature to us, in scripture, in the revelation through the created world, in human interaction and love, and especially through Jesus Christ – but more on that next week. God has made himself known to us.

The first break….!
This may well be a good time to take a momentary break and get you to talk amongst yourselves. Just for a moment I want you to think not about lots of questions, as I gave last week, but you have about three minutes each on how you feel God reveals himself to you, or times you have felt the knowledge or presence of God. When, where, or why have you known God?

Anyone want to share?

I used to know a Parishioner, a one time churchwarden of mine in Cambridgeshire. He was one of the last Lancaster pilots surviving until his death at the end of last year. A fascinating man, with a breadth of experience and a deep faith he often said to me that he had a profound sense of God when he was flying. There was something about being up there in the clouds that gave him a glimpse of God, a feeling of God being with him. I am sure that many of us have such feelings, moments, instants even, when things seem to all fit together and God, for a second seems very real. Students of Religion call these ‘numinous experiences’. I like to think of them as glimpses of God.

The Creed itself!

As Christians we do believe that God has made himself known. Not just in a sort of conceptual or abstract manner, not just as a sort of floaty, ethereal ‘thing’ but that through action in history and revelation to human beings we have some apprehension of God. In some way, God has made himself known in ways we can understand.

It is important to note that the Creed doesn’t make airy-fairy statements or ‘might’ statements. There’s no ‘we believe there might be a God, and he might be a bit like this or that’. The Creed is bold enough to pronounce ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth’

This isn’t just ‘ I believe in a God, but that this relationship with God has some definition. Belief not so much as a statement of fact but a statement of meaning, of being given meaning by our relationship with this God.

What do you mean vicar? I hear you think!? In making this opening statement we are declaring something about ourselves in relationship to God. I believe, and whether we go with last week’s theory about belief meaning holding close, trusting, rather than just intellectual theorising we are placing ourselves against, or next to, or under God.

The Father

Oh dear, you may be thinking, last week we only got through two words. This week we seem to have added only two more. When do we actually get into talking about the content of the Creed itself. Well here we are….

Obviously, one of the most striking statements in these opening words is that God is referred to as Father. Now we are used to that idea, but for many ancient philosophers, and even plenty of modern ones, the whole idea that humanity could be in a relationship to the Divine that mirrors the relationship between a parent and a child is simply beyond comprehension. Yet this is how scripture reveals God to us, indeed when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray he says to go into their rooms and say ‘father’. And he refers to our and your heavenly father on a number of occasions. This idea of a relationship to God wasn’t unique to Jesus, in the contemporary Judaism of the time there were rabbis whose writings remain and references to whose writings we still have records of who were encouraging faithful Jews to relate to God in such bold terms.


Something perhaps that might assist us in understanding the importance of this concept of ‘Father’ is to think in terms not of the ‘Pater Familias’ of the roman household where Father was responsible for running the household, and his word was law but of the more intimate model of near Eastern parenting. This is, at least stereotypically, a passionate, involved model, where mother is in partnership and the household is a shared responsibility. In Jesus expression of God’s fatherhood, and particularly on the occasions where he says ‘Abba’ – there is a closeness to the relationship of God to humanity.

We use ‘father’ in the creed as a kind of shorthand, it expresses a relationship with God that is one of dependence, trust, love, support. Even more so, to look at the wider documents of Christian and Jewish scripture God is referred to in many intimate ways, a mother hen, a shepherd who cares for his sheep, even a lover. If we take the expression of God’s fatherhood in the Creed as part of this rich tradition of analogy and familial imagery from scripture then in proclaiming God as Father we are again stating our love for and closeness to him. To go back to an earlier theme, it is entirely appropriate, as Biblical writers and Christian thinkers, mystics and poets have through hundreds of years, to use Mother and even Lover as expressions of our devotion to God and indeed God’s devotion to us… The danger of over-stressing ‘Father’ as our primary expression of our relationship to God is that again we confine ourselves to gender specific terms, and terms which may have positive and negative connotations for us. The expression of God’s fatherhood is much more about an expression of ideal fatherhood, or parenthood – giving, sacrificial, loving and intimate. I believe we should be bold in exploring other, biblical, models of relating to God, and remember that ‘Father’ carries within it other layers of meaning beyond stating that God is either male or constrained by cultural models of fatherhood.

Another break

Time for a little discussion, what good and bad feelings might the image of father, or indeed other expressions of God’s nature, have for you.


It is easy, though, to get stuck on the image of God as Father, and stressing the intimacy of our relationship to God is an important redressing of the balance, or imbalance, of much Christian teaching over the past couple of centuries, and beyond maybe. But it is not the whole picture, and the Creed contains within itself a kind of internal balancing mechanism. Again, it is just one word….Almighty. Yet in the Greek text it comes attached to the proclamation of God as father Πιστεύω εἰς ΘΕΟΝ ΠΑΤΕΡΑ, παντοκράτορα or for you Latin scholars Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem. The two words are linked with the proclamation of God as – Patera pantakratora and Patrem omnipotentem.

Alongside the intimacy of our relationship with God as Father, we are called to remember the God that we believe in, the God to whom we hold close, is also a God of power, might, majesty and splendour. He is God Almighty.

I think that often we lose sight in the Church of the need to hold these ideas in tension. God loves us and embraces us – that is the message of many contemporary reflections in poetry and song. Yet at the same time God is awesome, powerful beyond our imagining, frightening, disturbing, life changing and earth shaking. We must hold both these understandings together – of, technically speaking, God’s immanence and God’s transcendence – of God being alongside us and God being beyond us. This should in fact be a creative tension – as so many parts of faith have the potential to be, not a good thing for those of us who prefer a more systematic theological world, but my experience is that life doesn’t often conform to our own constructed reality! Or our preferences.

A quick break
I just want to give you a minute to chat to the person next to you – about what your experience of this tension is, or about your inclinations with regards to how you address/think of God.

The home stretch

We come now to what I think some might think is the crunch, and in my original notes for this session was the focus of my talk for tonight. We are really going for it now as I want to reflect for a few minutes on ‘Creator of Heaven and Earth’

A lot of ink has been spilled and a lot of hot air has been expelled over the whole creation and evolution argument. And I don’t want to contribute to the debate – though I am happy to do so in another place. For tonight I just want to reflect on what this Creed says is important, that we acknowledge God to be creator.

For those with faith I think that it’s not a great leap to say that we believe God is the creator. I suspect that even the most scientific minded Christian would feel able to say that God was involved in the creation. It seems that most of the arguments that go on are about the mechanism of creation – and the fear that to say that perhaps the world wasn’t created in six days, to deny the literal truth of the story of creation is somehow to start on the slippery slope of liberalism and loss of true faith.


A quick look at Genesis chapters 1 & 2 will soon reveal that there are two differing accounts of the creation, two seemingly contradictory accounts, with the familiar six day plus day off order in Chapter 1v1 to Chapter 2v3, then an unspecified timescale for an order that begins with a garden and people and gradually fills up from there.

It doesn’t deny the authenticity of scripture or it’s inspired nature to say that it may not be trying to give a literal account of something. My faith does not hang on the fact of the literal truth of scripture, but on the deeper truth of God’s inspiration through scripture.

Now that’s a whole evening in itself right there and I don’t want to go into it too much.

I will say though that the structure of the opening chapters of Genesis, and the way in which the first creation account contains a repeated refrain ‘evening and morning came and God saw that it was good’ suggests a poetic or hymnal contruction with the desire to inspire devotion rather than a concern to lay down the fact exactly as they occurred. People are welcome to disagree with that later, but I don’t really think it would help to go in to that here and now…

What is important, though, is that this statement of believing in God as author of creation, as the prime mover, the uncreated one who created from nothing (however that was done, big bangs, six days, whatever) is making a statement again about the power of God and of the fact that we should be in awe of God, and also making a statement about our relationship to the created order.

In saying ‘I believe in, trust and live in a relationship to the creator of heaven and earth’ we are saying that we have a part within that created order, that we are integrated into the plans and purposes of that God. This has, I believe, implications for our care and stewardship of this world, for our attitude to others within the world, for our own feeling of place and purpose for our lives. These implications are not for me to spell out word for word here this evening, but to say that in reconsidering our relationship to the created order we should reconsider the way in which we live our lives.

Closing Thoughts
So we’ve actually got around to considering some of the content of the creed this week! I hope that, as I said last week, some of the things I have said, and that you have discussed, have inspired some thoughts about how we live our lives as God’s people, as those who declare our shared faith in a God who reveals himself to the world and calls us to live in a way which makes real our common desire to know and love God and to serve him in one another.