The Creed - Week One: "I Believe..."
A couple of years ago I had to take my middle son Jackson with me when I attended a presbytery meeting. He was on summer break from school, and there was no one to watch him that day, so he had to tag along.
I should explain what a presbytery meeting is to those who are uninitiated in the ways of Presbyterianism. A presbytery is a gathering of representatives from a group of Presbyterian churches which are typically organized geographically. These representatives usually gather on a quarterly basis to debate and vote on denominational issues and such...
I literally almost fell asleep explaining that.
So Jackson went with me to this meeting, and it was preceded by a worship service.
To say that this worship was dry, lifeless and boring is an understatement. The prepared prayers were too long. The music was listless and dull. There were readings, statements of things and more assorted stand up/sit down kind of stuff than was necessary.
It was like the people organizing it gathered together ahead of time and said, "So... what are hoping to accomplish with this service? Send everyone into an induced coma? Perfect."
I have had more fun watching paint dry. It was the kind of boring where you find yourself wishing that desperately that you had Aladdin's lamp so you could summon a genie and then use all three wishes to wish yourself somewhere---anywhere else.
When it was over, Jackson turned to me with a weary and defeated gaze.
"Dad," he said, "THAT was the SINGLE WORST church experience of my life."
We've all been there, haven't we? When worship just goes through the motions---it feels like it's dead.
But most of us have probably wondered at some point in time or another, "Why do we do all of that stuff in worship? Why do we pray certain things sometimes? Why do we have certain things that we all sing?"
And some of you may have been in church services where a part of the service includes a statement of faith, or what is commonly known as a creed.
This kind of thing we do--singing, praying, reciting statements of faith--is commonly known as liturgy, and the word liturgy comes from a Latin word that means "the work of the people."
And liturgy is the way that we work together to remind one another of who we are and whose we are. We aren't just gathering here to socialize and hang out---we're here to worship, to learn, to remember and to above all internalize what we believe.
But here's what's happened to the Church...
Because of the lifeless, boring and uninspiring way that we have typically experienced liturgy... because of the countless times we've yawned our way through church services--we've lost our connection with some of the important aspects of our historic Christian faith.
And this is a problem.
Here's an important question: How can we articulate our faith to others if we haven't thought about it much ourselves?
That's what I am hoping to accomplish over the next six weeks as we explore together the essential tenets of the Christian faith as outlined by the oldest statement of faith we have: The Apostles Creed.
Before we read this together, I want to share a story with you.
A young pastor-in-training came to his mentor and teacher, an older pastor and asked him, "What do I do when I don't believe everything in the Apostles Creed?" The older pastor told him, "Keep reciting it." The young man kept at it, reciting the Creed each time he led worship. At last he came back to the older pastor and confessed that he still didn't know if he believed everything he was saying.
The old pastor told him this important truth, "It is not your creed... it is the creed of the Church. When you say it, you are declaring what the Church believes, and you are declaring yourself as part of the Church."
In other words, when we recite the Apostles Creed we are not only confessing the essential beliefs of the Church, we are acknowledging our part in something that is far bigger than our individual beliefs.
So, let's recite the Creed together:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Today we're going to spend what time we have left together focusing on the first few words of the Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth."
What I want us to hold on to when it comes to this very important first line of the Creed is simply this:
"When we say "I believe in God," what we are saying is that we trust God with all that we are."
And this is super important. Everyone listen. The reason you can say without any hesitation, "I believe in God..." is because the God described in this Creed is a loving parent, an engaged Creator... a God who believes that you---are beloved.
I think that far too many of us have developed some strange ideas about God. Some of us see God as angry, demanding, arbitrary, and altogether terrible. Others of us see God as distant, uninvolved...
And even those of us who would unequivocally say that God is a huge part of your life, that we love God and desire God... we struggle to trust that this God we say we love has us in the palm of his hand. And we all worry, fret, and keep trying to do everything on our own.
But we can trust this God---the one we say we believe in. We can trust this God with our lives.
There's a passage of Scripture from Matthew 3:13-17 that helps us get this.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
The intentions of the Father are made plain in this text. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God became one of us to save all of us. Because, you and I... are... loved and beloved...just like the Son.
So why is it that we so often miss this idea when we think of God. Because for so many of us our view of God has become distorted, disconnected from the other persons of the Trinity, and altogether messed up.
I think that just like the Church has dulled down the power of liturgy and the importance of creed, it has also dulled down the original meaning of this line. And it essentially comes down to the sinful way the Church has embraced patriarchy as an ideal.
Here are two Latin words I need you to commit to memory:
Paterfamilias & Pantokrator
Paterfamilias is the word that people in the second century Roman world would have used to describe our word for "Father."
In the Roman world, the father was the highest figure in the family. The father ruled over the family as a king would rule over a kingdom. In fact, that same sort of structure played itself out in all aspects of Roman culture.
Pantokrator is the Latin word for "Creator," but it's more than that. It's a word that speaks to authority---the kind of authority that is bestowed on someone by the gods.
These two words speak to power and authority in just about every context you would have spoken them in the ancient world. And let's be honest... it's hard to trust someone when your relationship with them is based on what they get from you because of their power and authority over you.
When you are in relationship with them because your loyalty and your love is coerced... that's not much of a relationship, and it's almost impossible to trust someone like that, right?
BUT... listen... the Creed took these words and subverted them.
The claim that early Christians were making was God is a parent higher than all other father figures, a parent that transcends all of those earthly constructs, and our feeble ways of describing God.
And further, this God created all things, and so loved all the things God created that God took on human form in order to draw all of Creation close to Godself, and went to the furthest extent that love could go in order to accomplish this.
This is huge for you and for me...
We don't have to hold on to some lopsided image of God. The God described in the Creed is authoritative and powerful. This God demands our attention. This God wants us to have abundant life free from sin and death.
But this God also loves us and calls us beloved. And we can trust this God with our lives.
I remember when this all began to change for me---it didn't happen overnight, but it changed with a moment when my earthly dad did something that made an incredible impact on me.
In my early twenties I had basically abandoned my faith in God. The God I imagined when I was a kid was always ticked off, and ready to blow at any moment. I had no desire to be in a relationship with that God, so I walked away from everything I'd been taught to believe.
My relationship with my dad wasn't great then. On the rare occasions when we saw each other, we would usually get into an argument. He disagreed with the way I was living my life, and I disagreed with just about everything he would say.
I was driving home at 2AM in the morning after a long night of socializing... and my car broke down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I remember searching through my car for a quarter so I could make one phone call at a pay phone outside a gas station that was a half a mile away.
I thought about who to call for just a second or two, but there was never any question, really. I called my dad. And he picked up the phone, probably terror-stricken, thinking the worst. I told him where I was and what happened. He told me he would come and get me.
When he got to my location about an hour later, he didn't lecture me... he didn't ask me what I was doing out so late... he just helped me get my car running and then followed me back to my parents house. My mom made us breakfast and we ate together as a family for the first time in months.
My dad had an early shift that day, so he got ready for work and went out the door. And then I fell asleep in my old room, feeling things I hadn't felt in a very long time.
I never forgot that day. It opened the door to my heart just a crack, which was all the Holy Spirit really needed.
I realized that day that my understanding of my father was incomplete. I'd seen him as two-dimensional, and never really knew him at all. I thought I did, but I didn't. I realized then that even though he often disapproved of my lifestyle, even though he wanted me to live with better standards... he loved me.
And I also realized that I had known it all along----because when the chips were down, his number was the one I called. I knew I could trust him to find me.
I don't know where you are right now in your relationship with God, but wherever you happen to be--I want to speak some truth into your life. You can trust this God you say you believe in. This God isn't angry. This God isn't far away. This God really and truly has your best interests at heart.
"When we say "I believe in God," what we are saying is that we trust God with all that we are."