THE PARISH OF

PORTHKERRY

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Sermons Blog

Welcome to our "Sermon" blog

 

You need never miss another sermon again, as every week they will be uploaded on to this Blog page.

 

And even if you do not regularly attend either of our Churches; in St Peter's Rhoose, or St Curig's Porthkerry, on this page you will find out what we learn each week: About the meaning of our bible readings, how we can better understand them, and how we can live our lives closer to God.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 25 2020 08:56PM

Happy New year, and a happy back to the 39 Articles! Though in the church's year we're still in the Christmas season, (with Epiphany tomorrow), here in St Peter's/Curig's we're going to get back into some of the meaty issues of life as a Christian. We will still celebrate the Epiphany, but you've got to come to Penmark this evening for that. Since we began our series in the autumn, we've thought deeply about who God is and what he's done, with topics such as the Trinity and the Resurrection. We've thought about how we can know him through his word in scripture, and we've begun to delve into the reality of humanity and what we're truly like. Most weeks we've seen that our Anglican Articles of Religion, though written way back in the 16th century, answer questions which people are asking today. Today's is no exception. Now, we all know people who, though they aren't Christians, do wonderful things for others. Perhaps they are tireless charity workers, or people who are always on hand to help a neighbour or who always think and speak good about others. And we ask the question "Surely even though they don't believe in Jesus, God will take their goodness into account and give them eternal life anyway." Is this the case? We need to check out what the Bible says. Let's look at our readings for today.


Our Old Testament reading is from Isaiah 64 (p752). It's part of a section where the prophet is taking a long, hard look at God's people. He says some striking words v6 "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." He's not saying that no one does anything good, in fact the people are capable of righteous acts and are even doing them, yet before God, he says, those acts are worthless; even worse than that, the imagery conveys disgust, uncleanness. The filthy rags are menstrual cloths, dirty and smelly. Why is that the case? Why are the righteous acts anything but in God's sight? The clue is in the previous verse as the prophet addresses God v5 "You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways." So the doing of right in God's eyes is inextricably linked with remembering his ways. This is a conscious thing, something which involves the mind as well as the body. In the Bible the concept of remembering always links the two: calling to mind and then acting on it. So someone who doesn't know God and his ways can't be doing good in God's eyes, says Isaiah. And he continues by saying "But when we continued to sin against them [God's ways] you were angry. How then can we be saved?" It is a very pertinent question. If without God we can't please him, how can we be saved?


Paul, in our reading from Romans 8 (p1134), contrasts the person who lives by the Spirit (someone who through faith in Jesus has received the Holy Spirit into their life) and the person who lives in accordance with the flesh (so doesn't have God in their lives). He says v7 "The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God." It's quite clear, isn't it? Unless we have come to God, even our kindest acts don't please him. And yet, we can still think 'this person is so good, or God is so kind that perhaps this rule doesn't apply to everyone.' Last time we were looking at the Articles of Religion, we were on Article 9 which sums up the teaching of scripture in these words "Original sin . . . is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man". Every man (woman and child). There are no exceptions. And Article 10 continues: "The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will."


So we have our answer then. We can't please God by ourselves. We need God working in us. Yet we are sinners. Where's the hope in all of this? Jesus says, in our gospel reading today (John 6:44) "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day". God takes the initiative. He chooses to draw us to Jesus. He says 'these people can't please me, so I am going to take them to Jesus who does, so that through him they can please me too.'. It's a complete reversal of the way the world thinks about goodness and God, and it's a complete reversal of the way we, even as Christians, often think about goodness and God. God doesn't come to us and love us and give us eternal life because we've pleased him in some way, because we've been good. He comes to us because we can't do good and we can't help ourselves. By his grace he intervenes. And the result is mindblowing. Romans 8:1 "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." and in the words of Jesus, John 6:47 "Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life." These are clear promises of scripture. So, rather than being a negative doctrine, Article 10 teaches us something to give joy and peace to our souls, as it gives us hope, humility and gratitude.


It gives us hope, because if you're honest with yourself, you know that most of the time your heart is far away from the ways of God, yet Jesus has given you eternal life as a gift. We don't have to be afraid, thinking 'Have I done enough for God?' because he has gifted us everything by his grace. The confidence in our future can be sure, because it's not based on how good we are but in the all sufficient goodness of Jesus.


It gives us humility, because we know we haven't added to our salvation in any way. Left to our own devices we'd either despair at ever being good enough for God, seeing each failure as further evidence we're not the right sort of person for heaven, or we'd get over confident, thinking that we're a cut above everyone else because our sins are less obvious. We'd start to take pride in our attendance at church, our volunteering with the children's work, our regular hoovering of the church or whatever it might be. But knowing that it is only by God's grace we can do these things means we can't turn everything around on ourselves to despair or to boast. Instead it's all about Jesus and we give the glory where it is deserved, to him.


Finally, it gives us gratitude. So many people live their lives in bitterness: "God should do this and that for me because I've been going to church or reading my Bible, or helping out", or whatever it might be, and if he doesn't do it, they get confused, or angry or bitter. They feel that God owes them something. But when you realise that he doesn't, yet he has given you everything anyway, there is a wonderful sense of love and freedom. "Wow, Jesus did that for me, even though I don't deserve it." It frees you up to enjoy God, to look for his hand even in the dark times, and to serve him with faithfulness. Ephesians 2:8-9 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."


So, Article 10 clears up an often confused issue. It tells us what the Bible teaches, that while good acts might be good things in themselves, if they're done without faith in Jesus then they don't make us right with God. In fact to him, they are like filthy rags. Yet it also teaches that God in his grace comes down to ordinary sinful people like you and I and does what you and I could never do alone, he brings us back to himself through Jesus, and then by the power of the Holy Spirit he equips us and helps us to do all the good works he wants us to do. We don't have a God who waits to be appeased by our attempts at goodness, we have a God loves us dearly, so much so that he even creates the good things for us to do. We have an amazing God, let's give him the glory.



By porthkerryandrhoose, Nov 28 2019 04:53PM

On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the least serious and 10 the most serious, how would you rate these wrongdoings?

1. Having an angry argument with someone

2. Shoplifting

3. Being jealous of someone else

4. Shooting someone

5. Lying about something

6. Planning and carrying out mass murder

7. Not going to church – obviously that’s the most serious of all and deserves an 11!

We all have different views on the severity of these wrongdoings. The Bible refers to acts such as those we’ve mentioned as transgressions or sins and when God’s law was passed down to the people of Israel through Moses, actions which went against that law were classed as sins. However, we also see references in the Bible to sin in the singular rather than the plural, as in our reading from Romans. This suggests that rather than a series of actions, sin is a state of being. Sin encompasses everything we say and do that disobeys God. When viewed as a state of being, then sin is all things that stand as a barrier between us and God, that mar our relationship with him.


Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the first 8 Articles of the Anglican faith. These have set out the foundations of our faith, helping us to see who God is and to have a right understanding of him. The next articles show us God’s work of salvation. This is the core of our faith – that we have a God who saves. However, we need to know why our salvation is necessary and that is why we have Article 9. This article shows us the depths of human sin, the extent to which our relationship with God is spoiled. The Article says:

Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And the infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

So, using our Bible passages to help us, this morning we’ll explore the source of Original Sin, the consequences of it, and the persistent nature of Original sin.


Let’s look first at the source of Original sin. Many of us are familiar with the narrative of Genesis 3, when Eve is tempted by the serpent to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She does so and also persuades Adam to do the same. Then, as v7 says, ‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.’ They then proceeded to try and hide from God. They had done the one thing that God had told them they could not do. From that point, humanity – which God had created in his own image and declared ‘very good’ (ch1 v31) – had an inherent fault. Human nature became corrupted. However, by the 5th century, some (including British monk Pelagius) were claiming that Adam and Eve’s fall into sin was not absolute, that human nature had retained some capacity for recovering ‘goodness’. Bishop Augustine corrected Pelagius on this point, drawing him back to the scriptures which showed that, while Adam and Eve chose freely to disobey God, all humans since have done so have done so as a consequence of their choice – because it is part of our nature. Augustine drew upon passages such as Psalm 51, which as we read this morning, shows that David was aware that he was born with the capacity to sin, as he wrote in vv5-6: ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.’ David recognised that every human is born with the inclination to sin – to disobey God – and that this was far below God’s expectations of us of faithfulness and wisdom. As Augustine appealed to Scripture to demonstrate right and wrong, so we too need to test our thoughts, words and actions against God’s word; to counter our natural inclination with teaching from Scripture.


Knowing that Original sin is a state of being, part of human nature, let’s now look at the consequences of Original sin. Let’s look at the consequences for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3: God placed a curse on them, that life will become more difficult for them as a consequence of their choice to disobey God. He also banished them from the garden so that they couldn’t eat from the tree of life and live forever. But disobeying God also puts us under God’s judgement. Our reading from Romans shows us what the consequence of sin is. The consequence is so great that Paul mentions it three time in this passage. In v16 he talks of being ‘slaves to sin, which leads to death’; in v21 he mentions the things we are ashamed of, which ‘result in death’; and in v23 he states that ‘the wages of sin is death’. We can understand this as God’s ultimate judgement and punishment. However, Paul also reminds us of God’s solution: if we read to the end of v23, we see that though God’s judgement and punishment is what we deserve, ‘the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ In v15 he describes us (we who have faith in Jesus) as ‘not under the law but under grace’. Jesus died in our place, taking the punishment that we deserved himself. And so all of humanity needs to acknowledge Jesus as its Lord and Saviour, so that we can be covered by the grace Jesus offers on the day of judgement. We need to keep this eternal perspective in mind and let our concern for the eternal state of our fellow humans drive our need and our desire to share the good news of Jesus with them. Another thing that we can see in our reading from Romans is that our salvation does not make us immune to sin. Paul shows us that we have to make a choice between being slaves to sin or to obedience.


And this brings us to our final consideration of the persistence of sin. Whilst coming to faith in Jesus removes the punishment of sin from us and receiving God the Holy Spirit, gives us new life, or regenerates us in the words of the 9th Article, our sinful nature remains. We are still, by nature, capable of disobeying God and still fall short of his expectations on a daily basis. Our desires to do what we want and not what God wants for us are always present. The Holy Spirit, present in us, can help us discern what God wants for us, as well as using God’s word in Scripture as our guide, as we saw earlier. We need to be realistic about our sinful human nature, recognising the limitations of our desire to please God and our inability to succeed in doing so. We need to continually ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen our will to obey God, to keep our hearts pure, as David prayed in Psalm 51:10 ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’ For it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can ever hope to live lives pleasing to God. As Paul said, we need to choose to become slaves to obedience – obedience to God’s word and the prompting of his Spirit.


Article 9 helps us to remember our sinful nature – that it is impossible for us to stop sinning – and that while our faith frees us from God’s condemnation because Jesus stood in our place, our desire to do things our own way is always with us. As we have heard in our exploration of some of the earlier articles, there are some in the church who will tell us that we will not face God’s judgement. Article 9 shows us that this is not true. However, Article 9 is also the stepping stone to the articles that follow, that speak more deeply of our salvation through Jesus. So let us always be mindful of our wrongdoings and remember to turn back to God and seek his forgiveness.


By porthkerryandrhoose, Nov 26 2019 11:19AM

Sometimes we have so much information swimming around in our heads that we need some way of categorising it and remembering it. One way we do that is through mnemonics: phrases or rhymes which represent lists of information. For example, one we all learned at school was 'Every Good Boy Deserves Football' which is? [notes on the lines using a treble clef]. Or how about this rhyme - say it with me '30 days hath September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31 except February alone which has 28 and 29 every leap year'. I came across some others. Anyone know what No Plan Like Yours to Study History Wisely represents? (British royal houses - Normandy, Plantagenet, Lancaster, York, Tudor, Stuart, Hannover, Windsor). Or My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas? (The planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto). We need ways to remember things. The key points of our faith is no exception. A fortnight ago, when we were looking at Articles 6 & 7 we discovered that "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary for salvation." That is vital. The only trouble is, there are 66 books in the Bible and sometimes we need to know the key parts of what we believe in a shorter, more memorable way.


God has always provided ways to help his people remember. In our Old Testament reading from Exodus 13 we saw how each family was to give back the firstborn male to God. It wasn't because God was particularly needing them, but as a way of remembering how the firstborn sons had been saved, when those of the Egyptians had died. It was done to keep the memory alive. We could just as easily have chosen the whole Passover celebration which God instituted so people could remember that he had rescued them (which Jesus took, of course, and gave it an even fuller meaning). Our New Testament reading contains words which might have been an early statement people used to help them remember the heart of Christianity: (1 Cor 15:3-7) "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve" and so on. That's what we believe, isn't it? Jesus died for our sins, he was buried and he was raised on the third day. There is nothing more precious in the whole world than knowing that. Take away those facts and what's left isn't worth having.


Yet, the Bible teaches us so much more as well and we need to remember it. So over time, the creeds as we now call them, began to develop. I've printed out the three creeds which the Anglican church holds to, along with the text of Article 8.

"The Three creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture"

Let's look at these creeds. Each of them came about for slightly different reasons. The Apostles' Creed was, by tradition, written by the Apostles to teach the new believers. We don't really have any evidence that this was the case, but we do know that a version very close to the one we have today was in use by the year 200. The Nicene creed is longer and contains more information. It came about because heresies and conflicts of doctrine were arising in the church, and the church leaders needed to get together and ensure that what the church was teaching and endorsing was actually in keeping with what the Bible says. They knew it was crucial to the life of the church to stick closely to the Bible (just as it still is today). One particular heresy is known as the 'Arian controversy' and it taught that Jesus hadn't always been with God, but was created by him at a later date. It was this was a heresy the first council of Nicea in 325 tackled head on. The evidence of John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God" along with Jesus' own statement "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) were convincing, and so the words were written into the Nicene Creed, the final version of which was confirmed in 381 at the 1st Council of Constantinople. It reads:

" one Lord Jesus Christ,

the Only Begotten Son of God,

begotten of his Father before all worlds,

God of God, Light of Light,

very God of very God,

begotten, not made,

being of one substance with the Father; "

It's lovely and clear about who Jesus is and it has stood the test of time.

But the Arian heresy hadn't quite been put to bed, and it kept reappearing in different forms, attacking the nature of the Trinity. And so in the 6th Century the Athanasian Creed was agreed upon, which spells out exactly how the Trinity works. You might remember that we used it on Trinity Sunday this year, and the response we got was one of the deciding factors in doing this series. So many people had never heard of it that I realised I had been letting you all down by not teaching some of the doctrine which underpins our church. It is vital we know this stuff! Or at least know it's there and how to access it.


So, those are the three creeds which were taken again and upheld by the Anglican Church as it formed during the Reformation, the connection to Scripture being the deciding factor in keeping them.


Well, what about today? Do we still need creeds? What are their purpose? They can be long and boring to recite and we sometimes replace them with shorter versions (as we do here) or even with a hymn. Do we need them? I would say that they are more important today than they have been in centuries.


We live in a world today where there are many voices. Everyone who picks up a mobile phone and logs into social media can express their opinion. We have bloggers and vloggers and influencers. We have pressure groups and lobby groups and international governments all trying to make us listen to them and agree with them. We have a culture where the view of the individual is held as the supreme authority, and this attitude inevitably spills over into the church. So we hear people saying "I like to think of God as . . . ". While everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion, we need a way of checking out if these views match with what God has said about himself. The creeds provide us with a neat checklist of what the Bible teaches.


Heresy or false teachings about God aren't just locked away in history, something left behind in the early centuries of the church. They are alive and well today and are all around us in the church and the wider world. We need to be able to quickly discern what is true and what is not. The creeds are a great resource. Let's look at some of the things we might hear people saying, and see if the creeds give us an answer.


"Jesus was just a good man". What do the creeds say? Apostles' Creed 'His only Son, our Lord', Nicene Creed 'very God of very God' etc, Athanasian Creed 'The Son is God'. So you can hold that Jesus was just a good man, but you can't claim to be a Christian, because that's not a Christian view. Jesus is God, as well as being fully human, which the Athanasian creed unpacks for us a little more.


Another one you might hear is that Jesus couldn't take our punishment on the cross because it would make God a cruel father to punish his son like that. How do the creeds help here? The Athanasian Creed is the one to go to because it tells us that all 3 persons of the Trinity are one, are equal. What one wills, the others will. And even though Jesus is both God and man, it doesn't make him an inferior to be bossed around. He still remains equal. This is backed up as we read John's Gospel or as we think about the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus willingly, albeit painfully, submits to all that will happen. So we can't set the persons of the Trinity against one another. Jesus died in our place on the cross, taking the punishment of God that we should have had, and he did it willingly, as the plan of the whole Godhead. God himself taking the punishment we should have had. It's a mindblowing but wonderful truth. And the creed helps us work it out.


What about the idea that the Holy Spirit is just a force, like in Star Wars? Again, the Athanasian creed is the most helpful. It reminds us that the Holy Spirit (or Ghost) is a Person, just as the Father and Son are. The Nicene Creed tells us he is the 'Lord, the giver of life . . . who spoke by the prophets'. No, not a force, but a person. So we refer to him as him, not 'it'.


The last two are easy. What about the thought that when we die it's just our souls that go floating around? There's something in each of the creeds to help: Apostles 'the resurrection of the body', the Nicene 'I look for the resurrection of the dead' and the Athanasian which is the most descriptive 'all men will rise again with their bodies'.

Will God judge? People sometimes say today 'I don't think God will judge anyone'. Apostles 'he will come to judge the living and the dead', Nicene 'he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead', Athanasian 'from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead'. It's all there and easy to find. And if we want to know any more detail, then we can delve into the Bible to find out what God has said in more depth.


So, do we still need the creeds? Yes, we do. They remind us of the key points of the faith and give us a helpful checklist of what the whole of the Bible teaches. They can keep us on track when the voices around us are teaching a different message. And if we commit them to memory, we are never without the truth and reality of God. I was very moved on Wednesday as I listened to a North Korean woman speaking in the Open Doors event in Bridgend. She had learned the faith from her father in secret, after finding the copy of their Bible which he kept hidden under their fire pit. He made her memorise key scriptures so she would always have God's word with her. And alongside that, she was to memorise the Apostles Creed so she would know what her faith was. When you hear a story like that, it really puts things in context doesn't it? Let's not be lazy Christians, let's use the tools God has given us to inform our faith and keep it strong.




By porthkerryandrhoose, Nov 14 2019 03:51PM

Down through the centuries people have put their lives on the line to ensure the Bible is available in a language people can read. There have always been people in power who have wanted to keep it secret from the ordinary people. In the Medieval church it was the Roman Catholic authorities who would only allow the Bible in Latin, causing the great Bible translator Tyndale to cry out in response to a clergyman "who allegedly asserted: "We had better be without God's laws than the Pope's." ""I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!"


Tyndale had realised the importance of each person being able to read the Bible for themselves, not just the scholars. In more recent times it was the Communist authorities who banned the Bible, causing people like Brother Andrew to smuggle Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, at great risk to themselves. Today Bibles are banned in North Korea, Somalia, the Maldives, Libya and Uzbekistan, with other countries like Saudia Arabia and Morocco restricting their use to particular groups, or languages. People still risk their lives today smuggling Bibles or transmitting Biblical radio broadcasts. In our country, you'd be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is all about. The Bibles owned by many Christians are left gathering dust on a shelf, and the number of churches where you can't even find a Bible is shockingly high. So why is the Bible so important? Article 6 tells us clearly: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation". If we want to know how to be saved, if we want to know God and be with him forever, then the place we find out is the Bible.


If we believe that God is a God of relationship, a God who wants his people to know him and love him, it stands to reason that he would provide a clear way to make himself known. And he has. His chosen means is through his word, the Bible, the holy Scriptures. (And of course that's where we learn about Jesus, the Word made flesh). Paul was keen to remind young Timothy of this vital fact when he was taking on the mantle of church leadership. As we heard in our reading from 2 Timothy "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." So the Bible is the place to go to find out about salvation, AND about how to live as a Christian. If we want to know what God thinks about something, we go to the Bible, if we want to grow in our Christian lives, we go to the Bible. If we want to understand God better, we go to the Bible. It sounds obvious, but for many people, even Christians, it is the last place to go. And then we wonder why things don't make sense. The Bible is vital for our life, growth and perseverance in the faith.


It's also vital as a way of checking if the things we are asked to do in church are necessary. The next bit of our article reads "so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." This was particularly pertinent during the Reformation as the church was trying to work out what parts of Christian practice were good to keep and which should be done away with. But it's also pertinent today, because it keeps us in check. There are many things which can divide Christians: views on baptism, views on hymns sung and clothes worn by the leaders, views on prayer books used. But if scripture doesn't speak clearly into them, then we can agree to disagree. So we have a broad church where some people wear lots of fancy robes and others choose not to. Some have worship bands, others prefer the organ. Some baptise only adults, others any age and so on. We're allowed flexibility. But if scripture does speak clearly about something then we must listen and obey, and encourage the church to do so as well.


Now it might be that you go to another church, which does have Bibles in the pews, and you notice that the Bibles are different. They might be a different translation, or they might have some extra books in them. What's going on? The first thing to remember is that the Bible wasn't originally written in English (or Welsh). The Old Testament is mostly Hebrew with some Aramaic and the New Testament is in Greek, so every Bible is a translation. As with any form of translation, there are nuances in a foreign language that are hard to express in our own, so different translations try to capture the meaning better and express it most fluently. So there are loads of translations out there. Sometimes it can be helpful to read a passage of the Bible in more than one to catch the full understanding of what has been written.


So what about the extra books? There's a slightly longer explanation of what has gone on there. The number of books in the New Testament has never really been in doubt. Most were acknowledged by early writers such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius at the end of the first and beginning of the second centuries, and it was all formally agreed by the 3rd Council of Carthage in 397. But the Old Testament is a bit more complicated. Orthodox Judaism has the same books as our regular Old Testament today, though often expressed as 24 books rather than 39 as some are grouped together. But in the second and third centuries BC, the Old Testament was translated into Greek, so that the Greek speaking Jews around the world could understand it. It included some extra books: Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus, which believers, particularly in Africa, were using. So when the canon of scripture was agreed at Carthage in 397, these were also included. As time passed, the church fathers took different views. Augustine thought that the extra books were God breathed, because of the manner of their translation into Greek, while Jerome said that they were not, as Judaism had not received them as inspired scripture. The Medieval church was divided as the Roman Catholic Council of Trent affirmed they were scripture, while Martin Luther maintained they weren't. It was confusing, and so when our Anglican Articles were written, it was decided to give an official position, and that was the one of Jerome. Only the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 of the New were to be classed as inspired Scripture as their 'authority was never [in] any doubt in the church'. The apocrypha (the name given to those extra books) is not to be discarded though. It can be read as 'an example of life and instruction of manners' but not to establish doctrine. And that's why the Bibles we have in church here do not contain it.


So we have our 66 books of the Bible. But how do we apply them today, especially the Old Testament? Here, again, our articles are very helpful. Article 7 tells us

"The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man."


The Old Testament points us to Jesus. In fact without the Old Testament we can never really understand who Jesus is and why he came. Vital areas of doctrine are missed out completely. We see this today when God's prefect creation and our being made in his image is understood without the Fall, which changed everything. Our world is broken, we are broken and we need a saviour. It's all there in the Old Testament. And if we read it with our eyes open, we reach the end longing for Jesus. Don't disregard the Old Testament.


Nevertheless, some of it can be perplexing. How many of you have read the lists of laws and wondered 'Are we expected to keep these? How many are relevant? And how do we decide?' Article 7 continues:

" Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."

It's saying that the ceremonial laws about priesthood and sacrifices and so on do not apply to us today. The reason isn't that they are outdated, but that Jesus has fulfilled them all. When he died on the cross, it was as the one complete and sufficient sacrifice. No more would ever be needed. And so the Old Testament system with its priests and sacrifices isn't needed anymore. They were only ever a 'shadow of the good things to come' (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 10:1). Why return to the shadow when we've got Jesus? Likewise, "the civil laws were only intended for the Old Testament nation of Israel which had a specific purpose in God's salvation plan. Under the new covenant, Christian nations are free to develop their own constitutions and legal frameworks." (Gatiss p60).


But we can't wriggle out of the moral laws. Jesus himself tightened them up, rather than abolishing them. Matthew 5:17 & 18:

" ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

We are bound to uphold the moral laws in the Old Testament. If we say they are outdated and we don't need to apply them, we are placing our own judgement above that of Jesus', and that is a dangerous place to be.


So, there's lots more we could say about the Scriptures. But let me encourage you to pick up your Bible each day and read it. In the words of the collect for Bible Sunday: Blessed Lord, who called all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our saviour Jesus Christ.


Article VI: Of the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation


Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books

Genesis

Exodus

Leviticus

Numbers

Deuteronomy

Joshua

Judges

Ruth

The First Book of Samuel

The Second Book of Samuel

The First Book of Kings

The Second Book of Kings The First Book of Chronicles

The Second Book of Chronicles

The First Book of Esdras

The Second Book of Esdras

The Book of Esther

The Book of Job

The Psalms

The Proverbs

Ecclesiastes or Preacher

Cantica, or Songs of Solomon

Four Prophets the greater

Twelve Prophets the less

And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:

The Third Book of Esdras

The Fourth Book of Esdras

The Book of Tobias

The Book of Judith

The rest of the Book of Esther

The Book of Wisdom

Jesus the Son of Sirach Baruch the Prophet

The Song of the Three Children

The Story of Susanna

Of Bel and the Dragon

The Prayer of Manasses

The First Book of Maccabees

The Second Book of Maccabees

All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.


Article VII: Of the Old Testament


The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore there are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.



By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 30 2019 12:26PM

** This sermon series on the 39 Articles gratefully acknowledges Foundations of Faith edited by Lee Gatiss and The Faith We Confess by Gerald Bray for their exposition and reflection of the Anglican Faith.


Who is the Holy Spirit? What do you know about the third person of the Trinity? The Holy Spirit is often side-lined and sometimes overlooked in the church. He forms part of the opening of our service liturgy; we dutifully recite that we believe in him in our creed; and he forms part of the words with which a priest blesses us. But generally speaking, many of us are likely to have a better understanding of God the Father and God the Son than God the Holy Spirit.


Indeed, this may be one of the reasons that we have an Article of Religion specifically about the Holy Spirit. It was added in 1563 to the original Articles of 1553, probably because it was felt that something needed to be said about the Holy Spirit in order to reflect the Trinitarian pattern of the creeds more exactly. The 5th Article states that ‘The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.’ There are a few things to explore about our belief in the Holy Spirit, which we’ll do, making reference to our readings from Scripture. Firstly, we’ll address the controversy that has arisen over the belief that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Then we’ll explore how the Spirit is both divine and personal. Finally, we’ll address our need for the Holy Spirit both in our lives and in our churches.


Let’s examine the controversy that has arisen over the belief that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is the belief of the Anglican church that this is so, as it is mentioned in Article 5 and in both the Athanasian Creed and the Nicene Creed printed in the Book of Common Prayer. It is Eastern Orthodox churches that do not accept that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father. The Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Trinity is that the Father is the ‘fount of deity’ and that the Son and Spirit derive their divinity from him. Western doctrine on the Trinity from Augustine teaches that God is a Trinity of love. The Father loves, the Son is the Beloved and the Spirit is the bond of love which unites them. This love is perfect and equal – else the Father’s love for the Son would be unrequited. So the Spirit who proceeds from the Father as his love for the Son must also proceed from the Son in his responsive love for the Father. As our readings from John’s gospel and Galatians show us, the Holy Spirit is also an outpouring of God the Father and God the Son’s love for us. Jesus said in v16 of John’s gospel ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.’ In v26 he goes on to say that the Father will send the Spirit ‘in my name’. And Paul tells the Galatians that ‘because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father.”’


These passages indicate the common belief, adopted in the Council of Florence in 1439 that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. Any doctrine that suggests that access to the Father directly through the Spirit with no reference to the Son must be resisted because it removes the atoning work of Christ on the cross from the central experience of the believer. We need only look back to our readings today to know that God sent his Holy Spirit after we were redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Galatians 4: 4-5 reminds us that ‘when the time had fully come, God sent his Son … to redeem those under the law, that we might have adoption to sonship.’ And as we may remember from our recent study of John’s gospel, Jesus’s words to his disciples in the passage we have read today are part of his reassurance to them that they will not be left alone when he returns to the Father. As he says in v18 ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’ Without the saving work of Jesus, we could not have the Holy Spirit with us and in us – our sinful nature would prevent this intimacy with God.


For that is indeed the nature of the Holy Spirit. He is fully divine and fully God. As the second part of the Article declares, the Holy Spirit is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God. Sadly, this is not always recognised by our churches. Some of the things that have been said about the Holy Spirit include that he is the candle lighter that the Father and Son use in the world, or that he’s like a currency that the Father gives his children to use in the world. We should resist this kind of thinking. As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is truly and wholly God. In God’s words to Ezekiel in our passage this morning, he says in v27 ‘And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ This is not some third-party power but God himself. God doesn’t say ‘I will put my Spirit in you and he will move you’. No, his words are one continuous action. It is God who both puts his Spirit in us and moves us to follow his decrees because the Spirit is God.


Moreover, the Spirit is not merely a powerful force. He is a person and we can be in relationship with him, as we can with the Father and the Son. Jesus gives him a personal title: he is the Advocate. Elsewhere, he is referred to as the Comforter. He intercedes for us, as Paul explains in Romans 8:26-27: ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.’ The Holy Spirit speaks to us and sets people apart for ministry. Acts 13: 2 records: ‘While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’’ And v4 records that the Holy Spirit sent them out. Having the Holy Spirit living with us and in us is a very real relationship. He is our Guide and our Enabler. He spurs us into action for God.


This brings us to our final point. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches. Taking words from our Ezekiel reading, it is the Holy Spirit who keeps our heart as flesh. God’s words through Ezekiel show us what we are like without him. As he says in v26: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ Without God, we are uncaring and selfish; with God we have hearts of love, like his. We speak often of spiritual gifts – particular strengths the Holy Spirit has given us to use in God’s service – and these should of course be cherished. But we should not forget to seek out the Spirit as he is and for what he is – truly God, equal in majesty and glory – rather than simply for what he offers us. Through the Spirit we can encounter Jesus. As Jesus told us in v26 of John’s gospel: ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ The Holy Spirit always points us to Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross and he gives us his gifts so that we can proclaim Jesus to the world.


So, let us not be guilty of sidelining the Holy Spirit. Let’s not give him the minimal responses and worship. Let us embrace the relationship he offers us and let us ensure we never lose sight of the glory, the majesty and the divinity of the person of the Holy Spirit.



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