I Believe in God
Listen: Click to listen
(to save a file simply right click the link and select 'Save Target As...' or 'Save Link As...')
Here is a story:
“On the eve of Easter Sunday, a group of believers has stayed up all night in a vigil of prayer, scriptural reading and instruction. The most important moment of their lives is fast approaching. For years they have been preparing for this day.
When the rooster crows at dawn, they are led out to a pool of flowing water. They remove their clothes. They renounce Satan and are anointed head to foot with oil. They are led naked into the water. Then they are asked a question: “Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty? They reply, “I believe!” And they are plunged into the water and raised up again.
They are asked a second question: “Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and Mary the virgin and was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was dead and buried and rose on the third day alive from the dead and ascended in the heavens and sits at the right hand of the Father and will come to judge the living and the dead?” Again they confess, “I believe!” And again they are immersed in the water.
Then a third question: “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy church and the resurrection of the flesh?” A third time they cry, “I believe!” And a third time they are immersed. When they emerge from the water they are again anointed with oil. They are clothed, blessed and led into the assembly of believers where they will share for the first time in the Eucharistic meal. Finally, they are sent out into the world to do good works and to grow in faith.
This is how baptism is described in an early third-century document known as the Apostolic Tradition.”
I begin with a story to illustrate a truth about the Apostle’s Creed. The Apostle’s Creed is about a story. When we are looking at the Apostle’s Creed, we are not merely talking about dogma (a principle or set of principles or beliefs). We are talking about a set of beliefs of course, but not in a wooden or impersonal way. The writer Dorothy Sayers wrote a piece entitled “The Dogma is the Drama” in which she stated the following – “It is the dogma that is the drama – not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death – but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death.” This is our story.
This is the Apostle’s Creed. Not written by the Apostle’s but a summary of Apostolic teaching. Not all-encompassing but a collection of assertions that hit the high points of the God’s story and signal our affirmation that we are caught up in God’s grand salvation story of creation and fall and redemption and consummation. These are the things that we’re going to be looking at over the next eight weeks. Baptists are famously (or at least traditionally known) as non-creedal people. I didn’t really become aware of the Apostle’s Creed before I started attending Knox Presbyterian downtown during my first year of undergrad at U. of T.
So why look at it at all? We like to start the year looking at something that is foundational to our faith. The nature of God. The nature of the church. The Lord’s Prayer. The Apostle’s Creed. A listing of beliefs that was put together by the early church in the first few centuries of its existence. An expansion on what was likely the earliest statement of faith – “Jesus Is Lord.” A summary of what it is that Christians believe. A summary of what we call orthodoxy. As someone has said, “All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostle’s Creed, but none can believe less.” We may believe it in different ways. We may disagree with timelines of creation or timelines of Christ’s return, but we all believe that God created and is creating and will create and we believe that Christ will return.
The Creed has been compared to a map. It acts as a guide to help us explore the lush landscape that is the Christian faith. A guide to help us explore what Paul called the “-…boundless riches of Christ… the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things…” (Eph 3:8-9). Because the riches of and in Christ are boundless doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explore them. It means that we never come to an end of understanding them no matter how long we’ve been following Christ. The Creed has been compared to a skeleton. I know that skeletons under certain conditions can be lifeless, much like the Creed. I know that people raise objections to things like the Apostle’s Creed saying they lose their meaning or they can become mere words that we say by rote. That is a distinct possibility but it’s by no means an inevitability. Someone has said that given life by the organs of adoration, prayer, and praise, the Creed becomes a skeleton that gives shape to and supports us. Given life by prayer, adoration and praise. And fellowship, and the breaking of bread. The apostle’s teaching. This is what we’re going to be looking at over the next two months. I’m excited.
These are words. I know that I often talk about the insufficiency of words. When words fail us. Of course the irony there is that for the preacher, very often all we have is words. While words may be insufficient they are not without their own importance. Think of words of good news. Those are not just words. Words that come to someone who has laboured to pay off a debt. “The debt is clear.” Words that come to someone who has been undergoing medical treatment. Someone who’s life was at risk. “You’ve been cured.” Words that come to someone who has waited for the right someone else for years. “I love you.”
I believe in God. These are not simply words. What do those words mean to you? What have they meant to you? I asked some people and this is what they answered.
I believe in God. We say “I” because this affirmation is personal. At the same time it’s communal. When we say it we’re joining our voices to followers of Christ who have been saying and living the same thing for over 2,000 years now. The communion of saints. Because remember that these lines we’re saying don’t work in isolation. We are adding our voices to the chorus of voices that say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
What are we saying when we say “I believe in God”? It’s more than saying we believe God exists. It’s more than saying there’s some sort of impersonal higher power or prime mover out there somewhere. It’s trust. I believe in you God! What does it mean when someone tells us or we tell someone I believe in you? I believe you can do it. I trust that you will do what you say what you do. I trust in your promises. I trust in your grace and your mercy and your love. We invite others into this trust. I invite you into this trust this morning if you’ve never trusted. “Come every soul by sin oppressed, there’s mercy with the Lord,” as the old hymn goes. “Only trust him!” It’s not something we can decide for others. It’s not something we can experience for others. It’s like a coat that you have to try on before you see that it fits. And it fits perfectly. It’s like the most wonderful dish you could imagine and I could try and describe it for you but you’re not going to know what it tastes like until you try it. O taste and see that the LORD is good, sings the Psalmist, happy are those who take refuge in him.
God as creator of heaven and earth. No matter how we view the timeline, this means that everyone we come across has been created by our loving God. Every tree. Every blade of grass. Every bird. God made our world and he loved it so that…. Which we’ll get into next week because all these things hold together.
God is almighty. All powerful. The universe is not just drifting along aimlessly or randomly. We don’t live in a “what you see is what you get” world or an “is that all there is?” world. We might be put off by notions of power because power has been misused and abused and is used so often so oppress and to subjugate. Someone has said “God’s power is not only above us but also alongside us, beneath us and within us. It is not a power of subjection and control but a power that frees and enables. Augustine described the divine power as ‘maternal love, expressing itself as weakness.”
Speaking of things maternal and paternal, the Creed describes God as our Father. Not to imply that God has a gender but it reflects the expression used by Christ to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son. God the Father as the source, the origin, of life. This is the relationship into which we are adopted sons and daughter in Christ. This is the family table around which we grow into this relationship. It points forward to the family table around which we’ll sit in the life everlasting. What joy, what peace, what hope, what love is ours. May the meaning of these ancient words transform us through the power of the Holy Spirit in the coming weeks. May this be true for all of us sisters and brothers.