Saturday, May 07, 2005

"I Believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth"

“I Believe in God the Father Almighty; Creator of Heaven and Earth”
Sermon: 1
A Sermon Series on the Apostle’s Creed

Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-8

Seems kind of strange to look in your bulletin and see a sermon titled, “God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth” doesn’t it? I will be the first to confess to you that I don’t enjoy preaching messages pointed to either Mothers or Fathers. My reasons for this are that many who enter the sanctuary on these days are not Mothers or Fathers, some have less than fond memories of their Mothers or Fathers, some have had Mothers or Fathers who were abusive, and then some are struggling with the emotions that accompany a deep desire to be parents but for one reason or another have not been able to do so.

As I began to prepare for this Sunday I realized that I had a “golden opportunity” before me to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and didn’t know where to put it.

There are certain things that we do congregationally each week without fail. We recite the Apostle’s Creed, we say the Lord’s Prayer, and we sing the Doxology. I have for quite some time been a believer that when we do things in such a rigid, regularity that there is the ever present danger that these things lose their original meaning, vitality, and purpose. They become nothing more than repetition and tradition to us and we become almost robotic in nature when we do them. I love going through the toy section at Wal-Mart and pressing all the little buttons that are labeled, “Try me.” We are in danger of becoming almost like those toys; press a button and I’ll recite, say, or sing.

With that said, we come to the first of a series of sermons on the Apostle’s Creed which will be followed by a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, and concluded with a sermon on the Doxology.

As we approach the Apostle’s Creed it would be good for us to have some history. Did you know that the Apostle’s Creed was not written by the Apostles?

As the Christian church spread throughout the Roman world in the first century, and as the first leaders died out, there was a practical need for local churches to have a basic statement of beliefs. As false teachers began to bring in strange ideas, Christians needed to know "Just what is it that we believe?"

Some of these churches had a few books of the New Testament, perhaps some of Paul's letters or one of the Gospels. But none of the churches had all the New Testament. They needed a standard to judge whether a teaching was truth, or heresy.

The early Christians also realized that new people didn't have to know everything before they could be baptized and accepted as believers. How much should they know and accept before being admitted into the church? This was another reason that early churches wanted a brief statement of what they believed to be most essential.

Churches in different cities and regions made their own lists, which had many points in common, since all the churches had traditions tracing back to the apostles in one way or another. The small differences were eventually eliminated as church leaders discussed these things with one another. They shared not only the scriptures they had, but also their statements of faith.

When Christianity became a legal religion in the fourth century, this process became easier. Churches throughout the empire agreed on which books should form the New Testament, and they agreed on several basic statements of faith.

One of the doctrinal lists commonly used in the Western empire was called the Apostles' Creed. The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, meaning "I believe." It was called "Apostles" not because the apostles themselves wrote it (although some people may have thought this), but because the Creed was believed to be an accurate summary of what the apostles taught.

The Creed was useful in several ways:

• The Creed was a public statement of faith, a standardized way in which new people could confess their faith in Jesus Christ.
• The Creed anchored Christian faith to a tradition, to make it difficult for people or churches to be led astray by strange doctrines.
• The Creed was a preaching and teaching tool, giving an outline for further discipleship.
• The Creed was memorized through frequent repetition, which helped the many believers who could not read.
• The Creed provided a doctrinal basis for different churches to accept one another, and to reject those who did not accept the basic truths.

The Bible itself contains brief creed-like statements (1 Cor. 8:6; 15:3-4; 1 Tim. 3:16).

The early church leaders also wrote short creeds, perhaps as baptism ceremonies. These eventually were recited by congregations in their worship services.
Writing in Greek somewhere around the year 200, Irenaeus describes a creed that has some similarities to the Apostles' Creed, and may have been a precursor. He presented his creed not as something new, but as something the church had been using for a long time. He lived in what is now France, but had grown up in Asia Minor, where he had been taught by Polycarp, a student of John.

An early Latin version of the Creed is in the writings of Tertullian, from North Africa, about the year 220. About a century later, Marcellus, from Asia Minor, shared a similar creed. In A.D. 390, after study in Rome, Egypt and Palestine, Rufinus had a similar creed in northern Italy.

Augustine, bishop in North Africa in 400, had a nearly identical creed, and it was apparently standard in Gaul in 650, even before Charlemagne. The text accepted today is identical to what was written in 750 by Pirminius, who lived in what is now Switzerland.

This history shows that churches in many different regions were involved in the development of the Apostles' Creed. As churches in one part of the empire communicated with others, their short list of doctrines became standardized. (http://www.wcg.org/lit/church/history/apostles.htm Accessed 5/6/2005)

Keeping that history in mind, turn with me to page 881 in your United Methodist Hymnal and let’s look at the Apostle’s Creed together, and for our purposes this morning only the first doctrinal statement. Let’s say it together:

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.”

For the next few minutes we are going to exegete the statement; or dissect it. First we begin my saying “I believe,” which if you were listening you learned is earlier is the English translation for the Latin word, “credo.” So we begin in essence stating that “What I am about to recite I believe to be true.” If we don’t believe it, and we say we believe it, then we are guilty of hypocrisy. I am a firm believer in saying what we believe and believing what we say. That’s the way I was raised, that’s the way I’ve tried to live, that’s what I try to instill in my children, and that’s what I want people to say about the way I lived after I’m gone.

We say very plainly, “I believe in God!” Each Sunday when we recite the Apostle’s Creed we plainly say, “I am not atheistic; I believe in God!” But we don’t stop there we say, “I believe in God the Father.” We have to be very careful when we refer to God as “Father” that we communicate to others that God is very much unlike any other Father who has ever lived or ever will live. First of all he is God who knows no beginning and no end; he always has been and always will be. Secondly, God never had nor will he ever abuse or abandon us. God is not an abuser! God is not neglectful in providing care to us, his children. Thirdly, there is absolutely nothing you or I can ever do to separate us from God’s love. We have that promise given to us in Romans chapter 8.

While earthly parents are imperfect parents at our best, God is always perfect in all he does. Perhaps that is why the word immediately following “Father” is “Almighty.” The word “almighty” means “having absolute power.” When we recite the Apostle’s Creed we affirm our belief in the omnipotence of God. While there are people in this world who doubt the power of God, I can firmly attest to my own personal belief that in my opinion there is nothing beyond the power of God that he cannot do! I believe that God has more power in the tip of his little finger than all the nuclear warheads or artillery in the world combined! When I stood on the courthouse steps on Thursday and prayed for our federal leaders, military, and chaplains I truly believed and do today that I was praying to the only living God who has the power to empower our leaders if they will open themselves to his power and follow his leadership. I believe that God is powerful enough to do great things not only in our lives, but in our country and our world.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, “Creator of Heaven and Earth.”

Finally this morning, when we recite the Apostle’s Creed, we acknowledge that it is God who created the universe. Now we could get into theological and scientific debates that would be perpetual in nature about creation and how it all came to be, but this is neither the time, nor the place. Perhaps we all have different beliefs about how it all happened. One person believes the story located in Genesis, another believes Darwin, another believes in the “Big Bang Theory,” and the list goes on. Let me oversimplify if I may by saying I won’t get into a toe-to-toe debate with anyone over how it all came into being; I have my beliefs, others have their own belief and to sit around arguing over it all to me is a waste of time and energy that could be put to better use doing other things – like winning someone to Jesus. My usual response to those who want to debate creationism against some other theory is this; I don’t care how it happened, it happened, and no matter what conclusion is drawn I always respond, “God did it.” I don’t necessarily care how he did it, I just know that he did it!

I know that how? Because of my faith in him as Creator, of it all; everything in the heavens, and everything on the earth and I reaffirm my faith each and every time I recite the Apostle’s Creed. That also means that we believe he created each and every one of us. Do you understand how special that makes us? We are not only God’s children, but we are his creation!

Now I don’t know how it is for you when you stand each week and recite the Apostle’s Creed, but I truly hope that you mean the words you say. I truly hope that you believe in God this morning. If you don’t you need to. I truly hope that you understand that as your Heavenly Father how much he loves you and that there is nothing you can do to cause him to stop loving you; that he will never abandon you or abuse you. And that God wonderfully created you and that you are his child!

Would you pray with me this morning?

Father God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, we pause just for a moment to say we love you. Thank you for being all that you are. For being our Heavenly Father, for being omnipotent, for being our Creator. Remind us each and every day of our lives of your great love and your great power, in Jesus name, Amen.