John 15:9-17: Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
What may seem like an odd combination of things today, but they are what I experienced this week and I think together they bring an important message.
At the Wednesday midweek service, we talked about St. Athanasius and by extension the Creed that carries his name. On Friday, at a Diocesan Clergy Day, we heard from Canon Judy Paulsen from the Wycliffe College on the subject of Evangelism.
Athanasius was Bishop of Alexandria in the early 4th century, which was a watershed time in the development of the faith. Athanasius, who was sent into exile several times, was the strongest opponent of Aruis and a theology that came to be known as Arianism. It was quite prevalent in the early church and even when the Council of Nicea in 325 ruled it to be a heresy, it took the rest of Athanasius’ life in opposition to finally quell the influence of Arianism. So you may well be saying, “So what, it’s not really important to me!” Arianism suggested that Jesus was not divine, but rather was God’s highest creation. Athanasius argued for what we know today as Trinitarian Theology, One God in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
A couple of centuries later, someone, following the theology of Athanasius, wrote the Creed of St. Athanasius, which remains one of three accepted Creeds today in the Anglican Church, along with the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Unfortunately, the Creed of St. Anthanasius has fallen out of use over time, perhaps for two reasons: first it is rather long and second is by far the most pointed of the three Creeds.
What St. Athanasius reminds us is that it is important to know what we believe and stand for what we believe to be true. If Athanasius had not been so diligent in his struggle against Arius, at great personal cost, our faith today might look quite different. Arius had the support of many well placed and powerful people in the church. There was a time when the term “defender of the faith” was oft heard.
In a very stimulating discussion of Evangelism, Canon Paulsen suggested that one of the main reasons that people don’t talk about their faith is fear of being wrong, fear of not knowing the right answers, fear of not being able to explain why faith is important in a concise and meaningful way. The church (in general) has not done a very good job in recent years of teaching the faith. As was pointed out in a discussion earlier this week and again at the workshop on Friday, we can draw 250 people to church on Sunday, but study groups, educational sessions – not so much.
If the Christian Church is to have a long term, sustainable future, it will require us all to learn together. Evangelism is simply one person sharing their faith story with another, which allows the other to see God. But do we know our faith story. How many in hearing this homily today knew who Athanasius was, or Arius. I think we would all agree that Jesus is Divine and that God is the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But how do you answer when someone asks “Why?”
We are blessed with a tremendous Mission and Ministry Task force which will help chart a vision for this parish going forward. One of the early discussions in the group was evangelism, what is was and equally what it wasn’t. There were certain models that were uncomfortable, other methods that seemed better suited to our situation. There is no one way to do evangelism, but it must be done. I would want to suggest to you that while being part of Sunday worship, part of a church family, points us in the right direction: each of us needs to make it a priority to grow in our faith through a path of Christian Education. We all learn differently, understand differently, and express ourselves differently. There are countless opportunities for us to learn about faith and to share faith. But that only happens when we are convinced that we are all called to be apostles, to carry God’s story to God’s people.
The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery