Summary: It is important to have a creed...to determine what, in fact, you believe.
Now that our lighthouse is built and there is a light to shine on our way, I want to shift our point of reference from the lighthouse to a nearby ship. (Steve and George skit.) It is time for us to chart the course of our ship across the year. Separately as individuals and collectively as the Church we have stepped out into a new year, and unless we have some idea of where we are trying to go in that year, we will drift aimlessly on the sea.
As captain of this particular ship, I can tell you where we are headed. We are charting a course toward mission...toward greater outreach into our community...the Dover community locally and the human community across the globe. We have not been completely idle in this area. Many of you as individuals do a lot, and as a church we give away a lot of both money and items needed at local shelters and agencies.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The church as an institution does not exist to perpetuate itself. It does not exist to make its members comfortable. The Church isn’t even properly an institution at all. The Church is all of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus coming together to accomplish the mission that he gave to us...to go into all the world and to make disciples. Sending checks out into the world is a good first step, and sometimes that is all we can do. But there are many other times when our calling involves not only our financial resources, but all of our lives. We are called to get on board the ship and go out to where we are needed...to give up comfort and security to go where God leads. This last step is our destination this year.
I don’t know if you realize that the old cathedrals of Europe were very intentionally designed to mirror a ship. The center part of the cathedral is called the “nave,” from the same root word as our word navy. If you look up to the arched ceilings of those old churches and imagined them upside down, you would have a boat. Many Scandinavian Lutheran churches actually have boats hanging above the altar. The long pews were meant to be the place where the crew sat...on long benches to row the boat with the oar that went out the window at the end. I could go on and on...I did a paper on it once in college.
But the main point is to realize that the Church as an institution just sits there and does nothing without the people inside to row the boat. And the people rowing the boat can do more harm than good if there isn’t a clear direction and good navigational equipment at the helm. So throughout this year, we will be moving toward the day when we launch the ship and truly set out on our mission to bring the light of Jesus to the world in any and every way that we can.
As most of you know, however, there is some planning and preparation that need to happen before a big trip. You need whatever maps are available, contingency plans in case things go differently than expected, a trained crew, and reliable equipment. Those are things we will be looking at in the weeks and months to come.
Making disciples of Jesus has been the primary mission of the church since the day Jesus left the first of those disciples and ascended into heaven. That means that we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. There is plenty of wisdom and guidance in the traditions of the Church over time to help us along our way. We have maps of sorts that have been handed down to us across time, and in this first part of the year, I want to take us through one of the oldest disciple-making maps that we have.
It is called the Apostles’ Creed, coming from a legend that the 12 Apostles, on the day of Pentecost, composed the creed with each of the twelve contributing a portion. As historians have worked with document recovery they have found that it didn’t come about in exactly that way, but still, it is an ancient document, detailing what those Christians who trace their heritage to the church in Rome have believed is essential.
Churches have been arguing with each other about doctrine pretty much since the Church began and the very earliest split in the church was between the Eastern Christians, based in Constantinople, and the Western Christians, based in Rome. The Roman church became the Roman Catholic Church and then all the various Protestant denominations of the West, ours included, came out of that. In the East, the Church in Constantinople gave rise to all those churches with the name “orthodox” in their title: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and the like. You can hear the bitter split even in their names. The Roman church called itself “catholic.” Catholic means “universal,” and it was Rome’s way of saying “we are the true church...we are the universally accepted one.” Back in Constantinople, they adopted “Orthodox,” as their way of saying, “you may be universal, but we are right!” Some things never change.