Apostles Creed 3 – Jesus Christ

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
19th of May, 2019
The Apostles Creed: Jesus Christ

I have mentioned before that the ecumenical creeds were written to answer particular questions. Last week we looked at some of the questions that the first clause of the Apostles Creed answers: do Christians worship the same God as Jews?; is the Father of Jesus Christ also the Creator of the cosmos? (Just to remind you, the early church answered both those questions with ‘yes’.) Today we look at the longest section of the Apostles Creed, the clause that is answering the question: ‘who is Jesus Christ’? One of the accusations that the early Christians were responding to in their creeds was that they worshipped more than one god, despite claiming to be monotheists. The world in which they lived was a world of many gods. Greeks and Romans were happy to believe that there was one Supreme Being, but they thought that the Supreme Being did not concern itself with daily life. Instead, it delegated the day-to-day running of things to lesser gods, and the Roman Empire only survived because these lesser gods were kept happy. The first Christians were accused of being atheists because they refused to join in traditional cultic celebrations. Other peoples in the Roman Empire had long known of and respected the Jews as monotheists, worshippers of a single God, and Christians claimed to be the same, despite proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. As a pagan, Celsus, wrote of the early Christians:

If these men worshipped no other God but one, perhaps they would have a valid argument against the others. But in fact they worship to an extravagant degree this man who appeared recently, and yet think it not inconsistent with monotheism if they also worship his servant.[1]

It was partly to answer this accusation, that Christians worship two gods, that the clauses of the creeds to do with Jesus were written. Continue reading

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Apostles Creed 2 – God the Father

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
12th of May, 2019

The Apostles Creed: God the Father

I want to start this second reflection on the Apostles Creed with some wisdom from Davis McCaughey, the first President of the Uniting Church and one-time Governor of Victoria. Writing about the creeds in his commentary on the Basis of Union Davis says:

For centuries men and women have used these words not because they already understand them but because by their use they hope to understand them. There are some mysteries which we can only acknowledge fully in worship, and God himself in his threefold being is certainly the central mystery with which our lives are surrounded.[1]

So, do not expect that at the end of this short series on the Apostles Creed you are going to be able to understand the nature of the Trinity. That’s not what I’m aiming at, and I don’t think it’s what the early church wanted when creating the creeds. The creeds answer some questions about God, but the early church was always aware that God is beyond anything our words can describe.

The first clause of the Apostles Creed might seem to be the simplest one: ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.’ Nothing controversial there, surely; it’s only when we start talking about Jesus Christ as God’s Son, our Lord, someone conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary that things really start to get complicated, right? Well, no. There’s a reason that the Apostles Creed starts with the God the Father and creation. Continue reading

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Apostles Creed 1

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
5th of May, 2019

An introduction to the Apostles Creed

One word that might be used to describe the group of us gathered here today is ‘believers’. Have you ever thought about how strange that is; to describe the people who follow a particular religion not by what we do but by what we think? It would seem to make more sense to describe religious people as ‘doers’ rather than ‘believers,’ since what we do can be experienced by others at first hand but no one else can be certain about what it is that we truly believe. And yet religious people are described as ‘people of faith’ and ‘believers’ rather than ‘people of action’ and ‘doers’. Continue reading

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Sermon: Why I disagree with Israel Folau

Sermon for Williamstown
Easter Sunday, 21st of April, 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25
Acts 10:34-43
Luke 24:1-12

‘[T]hese words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.’

Today, Easter Sunday, we celebrate the ultimate unexpected twist in the tale. We remember what I like to describe as ‘the ultimate act of civil disobedience’ in which someone executed by the powerful Roman Empire just refused to stay dead. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, we rejoice that: ‘good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.’

Or is this all just an ‘idle tale’? Continue reading

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Palm Sunday Sermon for the combined service

Sermon for Holy Trinity Anglican and Electra St Uniting churches, Williamstown
Palm Sunday – 14th of April 2019

Luke 19:28-40

Today we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the Passover. Like pilgrims throughout time, Jesus’ disciples rejoice as they enter the holy city, praising God for God’s mighty deeds. It is a moment of triumph. Jesus enters on a colt that his disciples are able to take for him from its owners simply by saying that, ‘the Lord needs it’. As Jesus approaches people spread their cloaks on the road under the colt’s feet. At this point I have to make the mandatory remark that in Luke’s version of Jesus’ entrance into the city not only are there no palm branches, unlike in the gospels according to Matthew and Mark there are no branches of any sort. According to Luke today is ‘Cloak Sunday,’ not ‘Palm Sunday’ at all. But while there may be no palms, there is a monarch. Continue reading

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Sermon: On not being able to do the right thing

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
5th Sunday of Lent, 7th of April, 2019

John 12:1-8

Today, the fifth Sunday of Lent, we hear the story of Jesus’ anointing. It was obviously a vitally important story to the first Christians; told in each of the four gospels in three different versions. As I have mentioned before, the church has often collated the three into one version which has led to poor Mary of Bethany being labelled a notorious sinner when there’s absolutely no evidence of that. Each version of the story of Jesus being anointed by a woman tells us something slightly different, although at the very least they all tell us that Jesus was comfortable with women and happy to receive their ministry. Continue reading

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Sermon: When bad things happen

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Third Sunday of Lent, 24th of March, 2019

Luke 13:1-9

Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s such a common question. Why do some people seem to be targeted by fate, while others seem to float through life? Why do some live into their nineties, while others die by accident or violence or illness in their twenties? Why do some live in places of safety, while others see their loved ones swept away by floods? Why were fifty people in mosques in New Zealand killed by the Australian terrorist last week, while we worship here in absolute safety? Why is the world so demonstrably unfair? Continue reading

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