Sermon – 14 June – Margaret Arnall

CREED – Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Barbara Mosse, a retired Anglican priest tells the story of a church she once attended where an elderly lady refused to receive the chalice from another younger woman, a lay assistant in the parish. The reasons for the older woman’s taking offence were almost lost in the mists of time, but apparently had something to do with a misunderstanding over the baking of cakes for a church function. The younger woman was unaware of what exactly she was supposed to have done wrong, but had made repeated attempts to heal the breach. She was rebuffed every time.
The rift was causing upset in the wider congregation and the minister was urged to sit down with the two women and try to help them towards reconciliation. He refused to do so, afraid that the older woman would stop coming to services if confronted, so her hostility and her visibly broken relationship with the younger woman continued to undermine the sacrament and spread like a cancer through the fellowship.

I shall return to this later.

We believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church we sing the hymn ‘the church’s one foundation’ but we are not talking about the buildings we are talking about the body of Christ, you and me.

At the heart of the oneness we profess is, of course, God himself. The source of the Church’s unity is the unity found in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Church teaches us that there are visible bonds or signs of communion which makes the Church, the body of Christ, one.

The profession of faith as received from the Apostles
The common celebration of the sacraments
The Apostolic succession of Holy Orders’ Bishops’ Priests, Deacons.

It is all too easy however for the church today, fragmented into a multitude of different denominations, to lose sight of its essential unity in Jesus Christ.

The church, the Body of Jesus Christ, can very easily ‘take its eye off the ball’ as it were and become bogged down in the politics and minutiae of its institutional life.

Paul’s inspirational description of the church as a perfectly working body may cause us to smile at times when we recall some of the aspects of institutional life.

Importantly Paul offers a timely reminder that we are not Christians in isolation. Anything that happens to one member of the body inevitably affects all others, whether for good or ill.

Just like it did in the body of Christ in that story I mentioned earlier and, as we heard, it began to destroy not just the two people involved but the whole community.

So we are members of one body, we partake of one Holy Food, whether it is known as the Holy Communion, the Mass, the Agape, the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, the community’s sharing of the bread and wine is a commemoration of or a participation in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and has become the expression of our membership of Christ’s body, the Church. The Priest at the Eucharist breaks the wafer with the words, ‘we break this bread to share in the body of Christ and we respond Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share one bread.

Not just one bread shared in St Laurence’s, St Mark’s or another building in the world, but as part of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I was heartened to read that the new Bishop appointed to look after those who in conscience cannot accept the ministry of women bishops, has made it clear that he is there not to create two churches but to do all he can to facilitate working together as one body.

The church’s oneness derives from the unity of the Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is called to stand in history as a sign and agent of this unity-in-love.
The Church is holy.  (Set apart for something special)
The Church is not holy by itself; the church is made Holy by Jesus Christ. The visible embodiment of the church’s holiness is its sacramental life so whether we are Roman Catholics, Anglicans, or Orthodox we go on believing the church is holy and it is this Holiness that the Church is called to share with all people.

Catholic derives from the Greek adjective katholikos, meaning all inclusive

The church, the body of Christ, is catholic because it is one church and it has been sent out by Jesus with a universal mission to all humanity.
To this end the church must be an open rather than a closed society.
One commentator has said that to proclaim belief in the church’s catholicity we must hold the authentic, universal faith, a faith embodied in the catholic creeds.

A faith Peter expressed when Jesus asked the question of the disciples, ‘who do you say that I am?’ Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ the Son of the living God’.

That is what holds us all together. It is a question we all have to face, not just those disciples.

If we say we believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church what do we say to the question Jesus asks.

We also believe the church is Apostolic.
Apostolic: built on the foundation of the Apostles, those witnesses chosen by Jesus to continue his work, the work of the Father. (John 20-21) ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’

In its apostolic character, the Church participates in the outgoing scope of God’s love in Christ. To be an apostle is to be sent out as the bearer of good tidings, of this love that God has for all people.
From the beginning the apostolic church continued the teaching and practice of the Apostles and faithfulness to the Apostles’ instructions appears to be the mark of the NT church as we read in Acts 2:42, they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching.

In confessing the apostolic movement of the church, the creed celebrates our continuity with the founding witnesses of the past. Because they witnessed in their lives, and often in their deaths, to the truth of Jesus Christ, we, you and me, rejoice in the gospel today and face our apostolic responsibilities in the present.

If we own this one holy catholic and apostolic faith, we celebrate the universality of Jesus Christ’s mission; and we share in the patience of God who has time for all until the prayer ‘That they may be one’, is answered’.

Where does that leave you and me?
We cannot say:
We believe, without first asking ourselves what it is we believe in.

Without answering the question Jesus asked of the disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’

Although we may be members of St Mark’s, St Laurence’s, St Luke’s and the village churches as part of the NSGM we are members of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church and as Paul urges the Corinthians in his first letter, ‘we should be united in the same mind and the same purpose’.

What is that purpose?

To work for unity not to be divisive.

To be apostles sent out by Jesus to spread the good news.

To be people who will speak out against injustice, and persecution.

To be people who will care for God’s body, the Church but not in a way that it becomes an exclusive club but a Church a body that works together for the good of all.

To share God’s love with all people whatever their race, colour or Churchmanship.

What kind of Church can we claim to be as we continue to make the same profession of faith, Sunday by Sunday?

J John, “The snowflake is one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together”.

Individual Churches may feel fragile on their own but we need to recognise the impact we can have when we work together as one.