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Sermon preached by Canon Andy Williams

Farewell Sermon. Trinity Sunday. We live what we believe. 15.6.14

When I trained for the ordained Ministry, over 33 years ago I was given some advice about preaching. If you can’t sum up your aim in 1 sentence, then you don’t know what it is and nor will others!

So the title of this sermon is: ‘We live what we believe’.

What is truly important to us will determine our priorities. So I’ve reflected on what my priorities have been during my time with you. So this is like a manifesto in reverse.

And now I'm leaving I need to come clean. I have a secret to confess and it would not have been helpful to confess it before now. In fact, it may not be helpful now! But I'm sure the Dean and Sam can correct this after I've gone. And the worse than can happen now is that I'm dismissed. So here comes the confession. Ready? I have a problem with saying the Creed. There, it's out! But which creed, you may ask? The Apostles Creed which we say at Evensong or the Nicene Creed which we say at the Eucharist? Both! You see, for 8 years I have been a phoney.

I have been saying the creed with you and feeling uncomfortable. Worse than that, I have been subversive. When it was my turn to lead Evening prayer during the week, I would jump from the Nunc Dimittis to the responses, missing out the creed. I rather hoped that my colleagues wouldn't notice. But of course they did. And so we discussed it. Then sometimes THEY would miss out the creed too! Now this is a shocking confession on Trinity Sunday. Faithful Christians in the past shed blood and tears to get the creed established. Especially the longest part – about the second person of the Trinity. The Church spend 300 years working out how Jesus could be both fully God and fully human. Constantine called the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD to unite the church. Some groups (notably the Arians) were emphasising the humanity of Jesus to the cost of his divinity. So the Creed stresses that Jesus was eternally begotten of the Father; true God from true God, begotten not made. That deals with his divine nature. But other groups (such as the Docetists) made the opposite error. They seemed to deny that Jesus had come in the flesh, so we have ‘he came down from heaven, was incarnate (enfleshed) from the HS and the Virgin Mary and was made man. So most of the Creed deals with Jesus. There was also disagreement over the HS. Did he proceed from the Father (early versions) or from the Father and the Son (later versions and the one we use now), except if you’re the Archbishop of York and inaugurating a new diocese.The Creed was revised in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople.

So have you had a Residentiary Canon who doesn't believe that? No! Every new priest is asked when they are put in to a new post if they believe in the historic formularies set out in the Creed. And I do. The problem I have is with worship and it’s 3-fold:

Firstly, it doesn't feel as though it fits into worship. We move from a liturgy which addresses God: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace...” to speaking about God: “I believe in God the Father Almighty...” It's a little bit like me talking to Jennie, telling her I still love her after 38 years together and then turning to the wall and saying “I believe in marriage and that marriage is a commitment of two people, etc etc...” If I did that it would confirm to Jennie that I really was losing it! When I'm with her, I want to speak TO her, not about her. It's the same in worship; I'm here to tell God I love Him and hear Him tell me he loves me.

Secondly, I'm uncomfortable with the Creed being part of public worship because it assumes every person present believes what the Church teaches. What about newcomers? Yes, we want to encourage others to believe it too. But they may not do yet, so is it fair to require them to recite it? (Of course they can keep quiet during the Creed). Worship needs to be as inclusive as possible.

Thirdly, I'm not sure who it is that we are saying the Creed for. Presumably God knows what I believe without me saying it? So maybe it's for me, to affirm within ME that God is known as the Creator, The Redeemer and the Sustainer. And maybe it helps to express that alongside others who also believe that and know it to be part of their experience. So maybe the Creed can be a way of uniting us when we come to worship.

But I remain uncomfortable. In the end actions do speak louder than words. We live what we believe. So if I say with my lips to my wife: “I love you and care for” but my actions say something different, I know which one really counts. What made the teaching of Jesus so powerful was that he WAS what he taught. He acted out of what he was. Jesus was The Word. He used words but he was the Word.

My first sermon here, at my installation, was about nakedness. The text was the garden in Genesis. It was about being open before God and others. I have not always achieved that. But what I believe in I have tried to live out. So here is my creed:

I believe in the Creator whose very essence means that He/she brought into being a complex, beautiful world. This Creator is Love therefore acts out of love, giving out from his/her essence, so that what comes into being expresses the beauty and complexity and mystery that is within him/her.  I believe that when I receive any part of that creation I am receiving love.

So I want to treasure what I receive, not abuse or misuse it. If I claim to love God but am casual about what God gives me, then I am false. (So not the naked canon; if I'm remembered as the Green canon, that'll do).

I believe in The Word made flesh. That love burst onto the scene because it could not hold back. I believe that love has to be incarnated, that is enfleshed. God did it that way and now asks me to do so. Love as I have loved you. Love must be embodied. If there is not love in the Body of Christ then it is NOT the body of Christ. So I have tried to make people my priority. Often I have failed; sometime I have hurt people, so for those failures and for the damage I have done, I ask forgiveness.

By definition, love must be outward looking. In this service, we offer to pray for healing and peace for anyone who asks.

Being involved with Street Angels and with asylum seekers has been important.  And so has being available to seekers of comfort and hope. Like Paul, who came into the Cathedral asking to talk with a priest. He was just out of prison; he was lost, and asked me, not for money, but to pray for him. 4 years later, he came back to see me. He had a job, a steady relationship and a child. He returned to tell me that and to thank me for praying.

And that brings me to the third person of the Trinity.

I believe that God is living and active in our world. His life is within us, his professed people. Sometimes I can stifle that life because God does not override my will. But the HS is also at work in our world; and we need to go out and spot where that is happening and work with what God is already doing.

So as we leave, I wish you well in living out of your belief. There is harmony in the Godhead, a flow of Love in the Trinity. If we are Trinity people, our aim must be that we reflect the image and likeness of this God. ‘We believe it and we live it.’ There must be harmony in the Body that names Christ as Lord. Of course, because we are not divine, this needs working at. It is not enough to be polite, smiling people. We need to work at genuine love, loving ourselves first and then at seeing the image of God in one another. As St Paul puts it at the end of his letter to the church in Corinth: ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. And may the grace of the LJC, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.’ Amen.


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