Creed: Guest sermon
On Sunday May 26, Donna Stoess shared a reflection on the Creed. Since we don’t have audio, below is the text of the sermon.
I was visiting my friend, Karyn at a car show in Washtucna a few summers ago when she began listing off things she dislikes about our pastor’s Sunday worship service. For starters, she didn’t like those archaic canned prayers the congregation recites in unison. I said, “You mean the Lord’s Prayer?” What could she possibly have against saying the Lord’s Prayer as part of worship? After all, it’s biblical, right? “No, that’s not it,” she said. Well, we don’t use a lot of liturgy in our church, so that narrowed it down to the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. “Yes, she exclaimed! Those are the ones I dislike!” In her opinion, the creeds were boring, meaningless, and out-dated.
For most of my life, I didn’t have much of an appreciation for the creeds either. I recited them along with the congregation during worship not paying any attention to the words I was saying. But when I took a lay ministry class and learned the history of the creeds, they took on new meaning. So I was excited when Pastor Matt asked me to base today’s sermon on the topic, “How is the Apostles Creed relevant to us today?”
To set the scene for today’s message, let’s briefly consider what the creed is and why it came about. Over the first few centuries of Christianity the Apostles Creed evolved as a summary of the boundaries that mark a true Christian church. Based on scripture, the creed lists the essential tenants of the Christian faith. These tenants are unchangeable. Michael Bird says that the creeds are “a bullet-point summary of what Christians believe about God, Jesus, the church, and life to come.”
The Apostles Creed was developed in the early years of Christianity primarily as part of instruction and preparation for baptism. One account dated 381 AD says that those studying for baptism were required to memorize the creed and recite it individually in front of the bishop prior to acceptance for baptism.
The creed is relevant for instruction still today. It can be used as an outline or syllabus to instruct those who are considering baptism into the Christian faith, those new in the faith, and even seasoned saints. Each of the basic tenants can spur us to dive deeper into the Bible searching for more information about a particular key-point found in the creed.
Since the creed contains the key points of our Christian faith, it can also be used as a litmus test for Christian beliefs. For example, if I want to use a certain website for Christian study or devotion, or I’m considering attending a different church, the first thing I look into is their the belief statement. The “gold standard” I’m looking for is, “Does their belief statement contain all the basic elements of the creed?” In fact, the creed could be used like a check list.
Do they believe in Father God who sees his creation as good? Check! Do they believe in the virgin birth? Check! Do they believe in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What? They believe Jesus was just a good man and a great prophet? Red alert! Red alert! I won’t use a website for study or devotion, or attend a church that fails the creed test on any one key point.
For the fun of it while preparing today’s sermon, I googled local church websites to read their belief statements. I found everything from lengthy, modern theological dissertations to a church that posted “Come visit and find out what we believe!” Defiance Church, however, doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel by writing their own long or short belief statement but instead simply posts the Apostles and Nicene Creeds along with a short discussion. I didn’t have to get out my Apostles Creed checklist and go searching for each of the basic tenants to know that the Defiance Church passes the creed test.
Well you may ask, why not just find out if a church believes in the Bible? When the Christian Bible was compiled, one of the tests for each book was whether or not it conformed to the tenants of the creeds. In my Christian history class we read a number of books that didn’t make it into the Bible. Some writings were pretty good but in the end didn’t pass the test. Others were interesting but strange reading and there was no question why they didn’t make it into the canon.
Also, many religious organizations say they are bible based, but look at all the interpretations that come out of it. Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Mennonite, but also Mormon and Jehovah Witness. My youngest daughter and her husband change churches frequently typically following non-denominational church plants. I ask them how they know what the beliefs are of their new church? We can like the pastor, the worship service, the people, and the programs. But the first question should be, does this church conform to the tenants of the creed? Using the litmus test of the creed, not all “bible based” churches will fall within the boundaries of Christianity.
One of the scriptures Matt chose for today is Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which is known as “the Shema.” Matt shared with you in his first sermon in the Apostles Creed series that if Jesus had a creed, it was probably the Shema. Park, would you read the scripture again for us please?
The most essential tenant of the Jewish religion is that God is one. In OT times, that belief alone set the Jewish religion apart from the common pagan belief in many gods. The Shema also details how faith should be lived: Love God with all you’ve got, teach the faith to your children, recite it every morning and every night, and bind it as a symbol on your body. Faith in One God and all it entails is to be ever present in mind, heart, and soul.
The great fourth century theologian, Augustine wrote that like the Jewish custom of reciting the Shema daily, the Apostle’s creed can be used for daily Christian devotion. (Read Bird page 41). The Apostles Creed can be a constant reminder of the foundations of our faith. It is an easily memorized short story summarizing scripture that matters to Christians. We can carry it in our hearts and minds wherever we go.
Story is also a compelling aspect of the Hebrew bible. The most important and often repeated story is the Exodus. No one is ever to forget God’s miraculous rescue of the Israelites out of Egypt, so it is repeated again and again. In today’s world, if I repeat a story, my kids remind me that, “You already told me that, mom.” But in the past, stories were repeated so they would be remembered and repeated by the next generation. Many of our own family histories are lost and forgotten through lack of repetition. I love to watch the PBS program, “Finding our Roots.” Researchers track participants family history back as far as they can. Some find out their ancestors were slaves or slave owners. Others find out they are related to kings, queens, or notorious outlaws. How could amazing history like this be forgotten?
The telling of the Christian Story through repetition of the Apostles Creed ensures that we will not forget the story of our Christian family heritage. Through it we learn what parts of the story matter most. We begin with God the Father and his creative works, move on to Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and ascension. We are given the assurance that Jesus will return to complete his work on earth. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit is continuing to participate in the universal church, bringing the saints together as one. We are reassured that our sins are forgiven and that one day our dead bodies will return to life and we will live forever. It’s a story filled with the miraculous love of the triune God for his created human beings. It’s a story worth repeating, and repeating, and repeating daily as an individual or in corporate worship each Sunday.
You’ll notice in your bulletins that Matt included the recitation of the Apostles Creed just before communion. This places the creed after sharing the Word of God in the sermon but before the liturgy of the Lord’s supper. Reciting the creed after the word reminds us “that we weigh the truth of all teachings on scripture.” (Bird 38.) Michael Bird writes that “We recite a creed before the Lord’s Supper to remind us that we are united by one faith, one Lord, and one baptism as we come to break the one loaf and share in one cup.” (Bird 39.) As we recite the Apostles Creed together during worship, I like to think about all the other churches that are reciting the creed as part of their services today. It’s like we are joining hands with fellow Christians around the world as we remember the essential tenants of faith that bind us together as one, universal church.
As mentioned before, the Shema directs the devout follower to impress faith in the one true God on succeeding generations. The passage I chose for today’s reading, Psalm 78:1-7 speaks of this as well. Merle, would you read that passage again, please?
When I think about passing our faith throughout the generations, I picture a chain made up of Christians who have gone on before us. The chain stretches back to the early Christians and martyrs who gave up their lives to keep the faith going for future generations. It goes back to the Apostles who walked with Jesus and heard his very words. I feel like I can touch Jesus by connecting myself to the chain of believers.
This is the link in the chain where we are now. The chain only continues if we accept our responsibility to pass the faith on to our children, grandchildren, neighbors, and strangers we meet on the street.
Recently I was serving as the song team leader for a weekend retreat. One of the workers for the weekend listed “ukulele” as a special talent. I decided to be adventurous and asked Carolyn to serve on our team. When the team met for planning, I asked if anyone had a solo to offer the weekend. Carolyn responded with music and lyrics for two songs. When we were testing the sound system and practicing prior to the retreat, Carolyn sat in the balcony accompanied by her ukulele singing her chosen song. Some people might have heard a seventy-seven year-old woman singing an outdated song with an ordinary voice and written her off as a soloist. But I heard a grandma setting her grandchild in her lap passing on her faith in a song. It brought tears to my eyes. The song she sang is called, “One Pair of Hands” and was made popular by Elvis Presley.
One pair of hands formed the mountains,
One pair of hands formed the sea
And one pair of hands made the sun and the moon,
Every bird, every flower, every tree
One pair of hands formed the valleys,
The ocean, the rivers and the sand
Those hands are so strong, so when life goes wrong
Put your faith into one pair of hands
One pair of hands, healed the sick,
One pair of hands raised the dead
One pair of hands calmed the raging storm
And thousands of people were fed
One pair of hands said I love you
And those hands were nailed to a tree
Those hands are so strong, so when life goes wrong,
Put your faith into one pair of hands.
I saw Carolyn as a grandmother passing her faith on to her grandchild so that when grandma is gone from this world and can no longer put a bandage on the world’s hurts, the beloved grandchild will remember that there is someone she can trust who is much greater than grandma, who will always be there for her.
Carolyn’s song though beautiful is not perfect. I would not end the story with Jesus on the cross. I would also tell my grandchild not to wait for trials to come before seeking a relationship with God. The Apostles creed, however is a perfect legacy we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Committing it to memory serves as a constant reminder of our core Christian beliefs, directs them to scripture, gives them a story, and ultimately allows them to take their place in the chain of believers to carry faith to succeeding generations. (Add link.)
(Read Psalm 78:1-7 again.)
Primary Resource: Michael F. Bird, What Christians Ought to Believe: The Apostles Creed