JESUS, CHRIST, LORD

A sermon preached this past Sunday, February 22nd – in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed. In the writing of this sermon I have made use of an essay by Richard Burridge in the book Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed.

 

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We come this morning to the second section of the Apostle’s Creed and to the heart of our Christian confession.

 

We confess: I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

 

As we consider the heart of the Apostles’ Creed this morning; as we consider this statement of our fundamental trust in God; I’d like us to focus on the particularity that lies at heart of our confession. I’d like us to look at the particularity that defines us as Christians.

           

But first, what do I mean by this notion, this idea of particularity?

 

Well to explain the notion of particularity, we could begin by acknowledging that in Canadian society today there is tremendous interest in spirituality. There is a growing search for the deeper meaning of life. Men and women want to go beyond the mundane, beyond the everyday – which often seems meaningless. They want to reach beyond the superficiality of so much of human life in order to get hold of some deeper level of substance and significance. And the language that our culture applies to this search, to this desire for deeper meaning and significance, is the language of spirituality.

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The Fatherhood of God

The second sermon in a series on the Apostles’ Creed. In the writing of this sermon I have benefitted from, and in some ways followed, a Father’s Day sermon that Karla Wubbenhorst (minister, Westminster, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Guelph) has offered on the Fatherhood of God. I have also followed reflections on the Creed’s identification of God as Father offered by Luke Timothy Johnson in his book on the Creed.

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I believe in God the Father…

As we explore these opening words of the Creed today, I’d actually like to begin by saying just a few words about my own father. I do this for the very simple reason that our discussion of God as father often begins, for better or worse, with the experiences we have had with our own fathers.

 

In describing my father, I would say he has always been in some sense old school and old country. He came to Canada as a young man, and there has certainly been firmness and a sense of discipline in his identity and role as father to me and my sisters – that’s what I mean by old school and old country. At the same time there has been in him a sense of fun and adventure – taking us places, teaching us new things. Above all I would say that he has loved us – not with a perfect love, not with a sappy love, but with a love that looks out for us and encourages us. He’s made mistakes with us (and no doubt I follow in his footsteps in that respect), but those mistakes don’t take away from his identity as a loving father.

 

But of course my experience in relation to my father is not the only experience out there. It is perhaps obvious to say that each of us has a unique experience in relation to our father. And the truth is that some of us have had strained or even difficult relationships with our fathers. Fathers, like everyone else (like mothers, like siblings, like friends), can fail, and sometimes do so spectacularly. Perhaps even among us there are some whose fathers were abusive, whose father’s caused them very real grief and pain.

 

With this in mind, some within the Church have argued that we should no longer refer to God as Father – for example the hymnbooks of a few denominations have eliminated all references to God as father. It is said that those who have had negative experiences with Fathers will be alienated by our identification of God as father. It is also argued that identifying God as a father will conjure up for them ideas about God that are not true to the identity of God.

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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

 

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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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