Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2018
The Faith of the Church
in an age of Personal Faith
At a recent forum, the following question was put to a panel of priests in the Anglican Church, ‘What is your faith?’ What struck me as odd, and which disturbs me all the more, the more I think of it is this, that no one seemed to think it an odd question to put. Indeed it may be that we don’t think it an odd question to put to a priest, indeed anyone baptised into the Church . . . after all, we all have our own personal faith. Some things we choose to believe and some we choose not to, and that is ‘my faith’
We live in an age dominated by the idea that we can choose. To be free to choose is the ‘supreme good’ which we have been trained to worship. The Supermarket with its array of over 150 types of cereals, represents the Cosmos to us, it is our Temple – it places Me the shopper at the very Centre of my own personal Universe of choice, wherein we cry Glory!
Choosing tells us who we are – ‘I choose therefore I am’, and this choosing reaches even unto the most personal matters of my life, indeed of my faith. We not only shop for cereal, we even shop for churches. Is the music to my taste? What of the style of the building? Comfortable chairs or ‘traditional pews’? Is the Vicar nice? Modern emotionally moving songs with a band and a good drummer, or meaningful hymns with a robed choir and aesthetic sensibilities. The choice is yours and as to what you believe . . . If of course your Personal faith includes church going. It may be that in your faith that isn’t necessary. And who is to argue with that! Faith is after all ‘just my opinion’ – Faith on the terms you set.
We live in the Age where ‘The Consumer is King’ failing to recognise that we think this precisely because we have been trained to think that way, that we are at the centre of things with power to choose . . . Yet, Life is not something we choose – it is a Gift, not least manifested in the fact that the very thing that makes us most truly who we are, our parentage, place time of birth . . . these are things we have no choice over – yet they truly make us who we are – something we had no choice over whatsoever. Life is a Gift We are Born into it – and that is the truth of Our Faith
The Israelites cried out in their slavery and oppression in Egypt – and their cry was heard by this strange God who came and rescued them and determined that they would be his people, they would be his children, He trained and taught them his ways . . . and so we must hear the words of Jesus ‘You did not choose me, I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear lasting fruit’ . . . Our Faith – Our Life is spoken to us by Jesus.
Nicodemus came to Jesus in the Dark. In the Dark about Jesus. He was if you like in the womb of Faith – He thought it was all about his understanding Jesus, about his capacity to grasp what Jesus was on about, but Jesus doesn’t clarify things for Nicodemus, rather he seems to confuse him . . .
it is hardly surprising that often coming upon the Church of Jesus Christ, people are confused . . . for it is not about us grasping faith, it is about Faith grasping us!
You Must be born again! Unless a man be born again he cannot See the Kingdom of God! And Nicodemus at least gets the point that this is something outside his control – ‘but how can a man be born after growing old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’
Jesus points him to the New Birth – the Work of God in Saving you from your own personal Egypt – , ‘you must be born from above, born of The Spirit’ The Wind blows wherever IT chooses . . . So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit, they didn’t choose . . . It isn’t down to you . . . The Wond blew towards YOU, and you were caught up in this Life, this Faith – – – and this is deeply troubling to us who are children of the age of choice and being at the Centre of things . . .
. . . and how much more troubling that none of the priests who were asked the question ‘What is your faith?’ answered ‘the faith into which I was baptised, the Faith to which I assented at my ordination, the Faith of the Church which confesses The One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit as he has made himself known to the Church, which is the Spirit breathed Body of His Son, Jesus Christ, and as set forth in the ecumenical creeds of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church in which by Grace and through no dessert of my own, I have been included’
A faith which displaces us from the centre, the faith in the God who reveals himself to Isaiah in the Temple – a revealed faith, given to us. A Sacred deposit – not to be tampered with according to our tastes or our moods and whims, according to the Spirit of the Age, but rather a faith which we are called upon to declare afresh to every generation, Faith in the One God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
This is the faith of the Church – it is the Faith into which each one of us was baptised – it is what makes us The Church, that community not ‘stuck in the past’ as some would have it, or ‘chasing to keep up with the modern world’, but Like a Tree Rooted, by a Stream, not the stream of history, but the Living Water of Eternity. We are a people Rooted in the Eternal God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. This God is our Life. We exist through Him and for Him. We worship only Him. This is Our Faith, flowing down from the Apostles and prophets
The Faith of the Church – Yet still a Personal faith – just not how we think of personal – and a Personal God – just not how we think of Personal . . .
I remember when God finally got hold of me and that faith into which I had been baptised suddenly sprang to life, through no doing of my own . . . what I noticed was how unbidden the cry of my heart instantly became ‘Father!’ It was to be several years before I noticed what St Paul had written ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’
Since then that cry arising within me from where I do not know, has been at times a reminder of whose child I am, and at times when I have to my everlasting shame strayed from Him, its absence has been a sharp reminder of my true identity and my loss of direction. I remember once, stumbling terribly, the memory haunts me, and realising that that cry had fallen silent, yet in response to its absence, I cried with my own voice, but it wasn’t the same until finally being found once more and taken hold of by the Father
You see it is Personal, Deeply personal – it is an encounter with the Divine Three Personed God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be baptised into the Faith is to be baptised into the very Life of God, and it is no light thing, and nothing we would choose! See! Behold the response of Isaiah in the Temp
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
Who in their right minds would choose that!!
This is no carefully and comfortably, made to measure faith – we don’t get to make God up, which is to some a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Why can’t I choose the god whom I serve? Why can’t I make up a creed which suits me? And of course the answer is that nothing is stopping you, and you may have a ready answer to that question, what is your faith? But this is not The One who makes himself known to us in and through Jesus, and His body, The Church
Our Creeds set out this three personned God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every time we recite them we are reminding ourselves of The Personal Faith of The Church as carefully handed down form generation to Generation, the faith of the apostles and prophets, the Spirit breathed, Christ embodied Faith in God . . .
We all indeed may have difficulties with this faith – we are the people of God, and we are notorious for chafing at his gentle yoke, for grumbling that He doesn’t fit what we would look for in a god catalogue, but He is not a god amongst many, He is not the god of the cereal aisles – He is the One whose voice breaks the cedars;
even the cedars of Lebanon.
making Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
flashing forth flames of fire.
shaking the wilderness;
even the wilderness of Kadesh.
causing the oaks to whirl,
and stripping the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’ And all fall on their faces and worship
Our Faith, that is The Faith of the Church SHOULD disturb, for it is not about us. From time to time, perhaps even on a daily basis we will find one person or another of the Trinity troublesome to our prideful discrimination, failing to live up to what we look for in ‘a Modern god’. (conveniently forgetting that what is today Modern is tomorrow passé and out of date.)
As I have reflected on this myself, surprisingly I found that it was the Son, Jesus himself whom I find most difficult . . . I remember a priest once complaining that the words of Jesus ‘doesn’t sound like my Jesus’ and perhaps that is true of us all, that when God faces us in Jesus he doesn’t fit our agendas. That Jesus the social revolutionary, whose attitude towards women overturned so much, still ‘blind to the Patriarchy’ called us to baptise in the name of The Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . Jesus troubles me still – many of his words I’d rather not hear .’loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you’
We can’t let Jesus be who he is, and still have our own faith – that is why they killed him, they wanted a faith of their own making – happy to carve yet another golden calf . . .
but The God raised him up and so still He disturbs us – even now we have to stand before him as did Nicodemus in our Bewilderment, and either flee and decide on a faith of our own which will perish with us, or fall before Him as The Son whom the Father has sent into the World, not to condemn the World, but that the World might be saved through Him, freely giving the Spirit to raise us to all who call upon the Name of the Lord.