Forgiving Others

A sermon in our continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed. The story about Father Chacour is taken from Jones’ book Embodying Forgiveness. I have followed Jones in some of what follows. Also, I have built upon insights taken from Paul Wadell’ book on friendship – one chapter of which is dedicated to the question of forgiveness.


I believe in the forgiveness of sins. 

You might have thought the forgiveness of sins would be included in the first section of the creed – after all, it is God who forgives our sin.

Or you might have thought the forgiveness of sins would be included in the second section of the creed – after all, it is through Jesus that our sins are forgiven.

But no – we only arrive at the forgiveness of sins in the third section of the creed. We confess our belief in the forgiveness of sins with the same breath that we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit – the one who forms us the church, who binds us together in one Body.

The fact that the forgiveness of sins is found in the third section reminds us that forgiveness is bound up with our identity as the church. Because God forgives, we as the church know forgiveness – we bear witness to God’s forgiving love. Even more, however, the church is a community in which we extend forgiveness to each other.  

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Forgiveness of sins

A sermon preached in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.


Well, once again this morning I find myself in an unenviable position – here I stand, with about fifteen to twenty minutes to explore the forgiveness of sins. That’s our topic for today. Of course, I’ve got no one to blame but myself. It was my choice to preach through the Apostles’ Creed and there’s no backing out now. 

You could say that I feel this morning like someone who has been asked to explain in a few words the music of Oscar Peterson, that great Montreal Jazz artist. How, in a few words, could anyone capture the musical ability, the keyboard dexterity, the emotional range of that great pianist and composer? How could words ever come close to capturing the essence of great music since by definition music belongs to a different realm than that of words? Ultimately, the great music of Oscar Peterson isn’t something to be explained or talked about, it is something to be listened to, experienced.

The same thing goes when it comes to forgiveness. Words about forgiveness, explanations of forgiveness, can only dance around the subject – words will never get us as close to forgiveness as we really need to get. The truth is that you can only understand forgiveness and know forgiveness from within the experience of forgiveness. Like the amazing music of Oscar Peterson, perhaps, forgiveness isn’t something that can ultimately be explained – forgiveness must be lived, must get a grip on our lives.

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He Ascended

A sermon in my continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.




Departure scenes almost always feel heavy and sad, don’t they? You can easily picture it in your mind. A man and woman embrace at the airport, one obviously flying to some far-flung place. There are tears. There is sorrow on each face. There is one long last look over the shoulder as the departing person passes through the security gate. Departure terminals aren’t the most joyful places to spend time. The one who is left behind often goes with hunched shoulders out the door and into – well, it almost has to be rain, doesn’t it.


As we continue our series on the Apostles’ Creed today, another departure scene is set before our eyes. It is the departure of Jesus from his disciples and, indeed, from our world. The New Testament tells us that Jesus stayed with his disciples forty days after his resurrection – and then came his ascension to glory. In a sense, of course, we are getting ahead of ourselves since the church year sets aside May 21st of 2009 for the celebration of the Ascension. But since we are making our way through the Apostles’ Creed, we arrive at the Ascension a little earlier than usual.


I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended to the dead. On the third rose again, he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.


He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.


He ascended.

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I Believe – I Trust

The first sermon in a series on the Apostles’ Creed.  Here, in part, I have taken up the question of trust as it is explored by Wolfhart Pannenberg in his The Apostles’ Creed: In the light of today’s questions.




This past week Tuesday saw the death of the America writer John Updike. It is perhaps fitting, then, that we begin this morning with a reading from part of one of his short stories – it is entitled Trust Me.


When Harold was three or four years old, his father and mother took him to a swimming pool. This was strange, for his family rarely went places, except to the movie house two blocks from their house. Harold had no memory of ever seeing his parents in bathing suits again, after this unhappy day. What he did remember was this:

            His father, nearly naked, was in the pool, treading water. Harold was standing shivering on the wet tile edge, suspended above the abysmal odor of chlorine, hypnotized by the bright, lapping agitation of this great volume of unnaturally blue-green water. His mother, in a black bathing suit that made her flesh appear very white, was off in a corner of his mind. His father was asking him to jump. “C’mon, Harold, jump,” he was saying, in his mild, encouraging voice. “It’ll be all right, Jump right into my hands.” The words echoed in the flat acoustics of the water and tile and sunlight, heightening Harold’s sense of exposure, his awareness of his own white skin. His father seemed eerily stable and calm in the water, and the child idly wondered, as he jumped, what the man was standing on.

            Then the blue-green water was all around him, dense and churning, and when he tried to take a breath a fist was shoved in his throat. He saw his own bubbles rising in front of his face, a multitude of them, rising as he sank; he sank it seemed for a very long time, until something located him in the darkening element and seized him by the arm.

            He was in the air again, on his father’s shoulder, still fighting for breath. They were out of the pool. His mother swiftly came up to the two of them and, with a deftness remarkable in one so angry, slapped his father on the face, loudly, next to Harold’s ear. The slap seemed to resonate all over the pool area, and to be heard by all the other bathers… His sense of public embarrassment amid sparkling nakedness…survived his recovery of breath. His mother’s anger seemed directed at him as much as at his father. His feet were on grass. Standing wrapped in a towel near his mother’s knees while the last burning fragments of water were coughed from his lungs, Harold felt eternally disgraced.

            He never knew what had happened; by the time he asked, so many years had passed that his father had forgotten. “Wasn’t that a crying shame,” the old man said, with his mild mixture of mournfulness and comedy. “Sink or swim, and you sank.” Perhaps Harold had leaped a moment before it was expected, or had proved unexpectedly heavy, and had thus slipped through his father’s grasp. Unaccountably, all through his growing up he continued to trust his father; it was his mother he distrusted, her swift sure-handed anger.

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Creed and Community

A sermon preached today in advance of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed – to begin next week.




It’s a word you can’t escape today, isn’t it, both in the church and in wider society.


Everywhere you turn – whether in the world of politics, in the media, in the educational system, in the church, on billboards, in documentaries – the word is everywhere.


There are community organizers. There is the Polish community, the Black community, the farming community. There are community centres. There are community organizations. There are gated communities. There are community newspapers.


Everywhere we turn, it seems, we are confronted with the idea of community – everywhere we turn we are confronted with the desire for community.


We don’t have the time for an in-depth exploration of this explosion of interest in community – this explosion of desire for the experience of community. There seems little doubt, however, that this interest in community is rooted partly in the realization that the individualism of our culture hasn’t lead to human fulfillment – to some degree we in the west have come to realize that our identity and fulfillment is found in networks of relations. Of course old ways of living and thinking die hard, but to some extent we have realized that we cannot fulfill ourselves, cannot care for the world, cannot fulfill the human, without building meaningful communities.


Another general comment as we begin. It seems to me that this emphasis on community – this desire for community – also reflects its absence from our lives. We talk about community a great deal, and we try to build communities, because we do not experience it. This isn’t to say that the reality and experience of community life is completely absent from our lives, but it seems that whenever a subject preoccupies us, and whenever we reach out for something, it’s usually because we don’t possess it in the way we would like.


This longing is not absent from those who belong to the Church. We, as much as anyone, understand that our personal identity and fulfillment is found only in communal relationships. We too reach out for a deeper experience of community life because there is something of an absence of community life in our day to day existence, and in the church.

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Sermon: Doubt and Dogma (2)

A sermon preached in anticipation of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed. A few themes from this sermon are borrowed from Timothy Keller’s book, The Reason for God. (Sermon date: January 18, 2009)


As we continue to prepare for a sermon series on the Apostles Creed, we turn from thinking about doubt last week to thinking about dogma this morning. And as we do so the first thing to notice is that our society’s perspective on doubt and dogma, are two side of the same coin.


       If, as we said last week, doubt is in fashion,            then dogma is very much out of                                                                                                   fashion.

       If doubt is considered sophisticated,                       then dogma is considered simplistic,                                                                                                       naive.

       If doubt is thought to be responsible                       then dogma is thought to be the height of irresponsibility.



In this vein we find Christopher Hitchens, the hyper-sceptic, the evangelical atheist, saying:

“To choose dogma over doubt is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”


For Christopher Hitchens, doubt is a nice bottle of California Pinot Noir,

                      while dogma is a juice pitcher full of 

                                           coloured sugar water.


Doubt and dogma are but two sides of the same coin. Our society’s doubtful attitude toward religion goes hand in hand with a refusal of religious dogma.


This week we take up the question of dogma for the same reason that we took up the question of doubt last week. We do so because the attitudes and perspectives of those who live around us have an impact on us. We don’t live in a bubble, sealed off from Canadian society. We are part of that society. We can’t expect ourselves to be immune from questions or criticism or different ways of thinking.


When it comes to the specific question of dogma, our society often sends the message that those who hold to religious dogma are out of fashion, are naive, or are even irresponsible. And in hearing this we very quickly begin to think that we are out of fashion, that we are naïve, that we are irresponsible. As we stand to speak the words of the Apostles’ Creed on a Sunday morning we may even feel that we are going contrary to what is acceptable.

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Sermon: Doubt and Dogma (1)

A sermon preached in anticipation of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed.

Sunday 11 January 2009




Today in Canada, as people think about the claims of religion,

Doubt is very much in fashion. 

Today in Canada, as people think about traditional Christian claims about Jesus,

Doubt is considered the sophisticated option.

Today in Canada, as people think about the beliefs handed down from generation to generation in the church,

Doubt is thought to be the most responsible position.


The fact is that we in western culture live with more than three hundred years of philosophical thought, of literary output, and of historical scholarship – much of which pushes toward doubt, which elevates doubt, which calls into question the things that Christians have confessed and believed for hundreds of years. Otherwise put, we live in a sceptical society – at least, a society that is sceptical about religious claims.


This doubt find expression in such books as those recently published by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – their titles are God is not great and The God Delusion. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, of course, are products of their time. They are products of these more than three hundred years in which doubt first gained credence and credibility and in which doubt finally leapt to the front of the class. Today in western societies, doubt about Christianity is fashionable. Doubt is thought to be sophisticated. Doubt is seen as the only logical option for modern people.


In view of this great tradition of doubt, and in view of this general scepticism about Christian belief, is there any surprise that many of us wrestle with doubts. Let’s face it – many of us struggle with doubts and questions as we think about our Christian faith. We are described as a people of faith, but we often live with the reality of doubt. No less a figure than Mother Theresa, it has recently been revealed, struggled with decades of doubt and darkness – for so long she was without any sense of God’s presence with and for her. And in some respects, at least, doubt is our experience.

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