Unpacking our theology
James is 5 years old and painting a picture. His paper is covered with spots, splashes and coloured- in bits of every colour. His teacher in Reception class asks him what he is painting. “God”, he says. “But no-one knows what God looks like, James.” “They do now”, he replies.
Like James, we can all of us try to picture God. At All Saints we believe this: no painting can define Him, no systematic theology can confine Him, no grave can hold Him, and no mind can fully grasp Him. But as one expression of the Church of England in Peckham, we are privileged to share the words of what is called ‘the Creed’ – or what we believe – with God’s Church worldwide. A Creed worked out at great cost by saints who have gone before us in history. Whose legacy is a foundation of trust and belief.
Following them, we believe and trust in God the Father… Picture a father, a dad, the best in the world. Then picture the dad in a story Jesus told. His younger son takes what dad has given him; goes away and wastes it all; comes back years later a ruined man. Dad comes running out to welcome him home. He’s been waiting for this day and has spent all those years scouring the horizon for sight of his child. Now all he wants is to throw a celebration party for the return of the prodigal. That’s a picture of what God is like. Ponder. Pray. Believe. Follow.
We believe and trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ … From what the bible says and unlike most depictions of him, Jesus didn’t have film-star looks. He didn’t have the right connections or the right followers, he didn’t own a home or anything else, he didn’t have a wife, or children, or status, he didn’t have what is called luck. Jesus did have the power and authority of God. We believe he still does. Because he is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation”, as St Paul writes in Colossians 1 verse 15. Left to make up our own mind about God, we are always likely to reflect personal preferences and prejudices. To opt for a Jesus with power and success and everything that feels good. Instead, he leaves us his body and blood, broken and shed on a cross. In the sign called holy communion which remembers this cosmic act of forgiveness for the sins of the world, we can take Jesus to heart. And ponder. Pray. Believe. Follow. In the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because we believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. As Jesus is God in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is God’s invisible presence at all times. He, the Holy Spirit, fills the hearts and minds and spirits of all who receive Jesus. A picture the bible gives of this is like opening the door of your home (Revelation 3:20). If we welcome into our life the presence of Jesus, we give room for the Holy Spirit to work. The power at work is the same that in Jesus turned water into wine, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, set prisoners of all kinds free, that raised the dead including Jesus himself. The power of the Holy Spirit convicts us of what is wrong in our lives and leads us into what is right. Jesus said to his disciples that athough he was leaving them in the flesh, he wasn’t leaving them alone like orphans. The Holy Spirit’s presence is in effect the same as Jesus’ presence in the flesh.
As the Anglican liturgy for holy communion says, ‘Great is the mystery of faith.’ Words like the Creed get us so far. We thank God for them. If all we had was mystery, we could all make up our own answers. If all we had was answers, God would be too small.
At All Saints we have five ways – we call them ‘values’ – in which we believe the not-too-small God wants us to grow. The first of them overarches all the others. It is that God’s Word and Holy Spirit are how we encounter God. We should be a changed people. The next four values describe how. Firstly, that as a church we grow more like God in our welcome to all regardless of who they are. Second, that we grow in supporting one another in our faith. Third, in discovering and using all our gifts. Fourth, in going out into Peckham and beyond to make Jesus known.
A 5th century saint called Augustine wrote this: “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” This is a temptation and a danger for all of us. Therefore, we aim to encourage one another to believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Rather than in ourselves.