Summary: The first phrase of the Creed, "I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth."
MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
Across this coming year, we are going to be talking a lot about charting our course. What that means is that, as a church, we are going somewhere and that somewhere is greater mission and ministry in our community and world. As we prepare to launch out on that journey, we are going to look at several things on Sunday mornings. We will train our sailing crew...that’s you...by going through how we actually become disciples and by discussing the fruit that such discipleship yields. We will talk about what mission is and isn’t and how the early church set about changing the world.
The very first thing we are doing, however, is to look at the map of our beliefs that we have inherited from the ancient church, the Apostles’ Creed, as a way of helping us examine both our own personal beliefs and our beliefs as United Methodists in New Hampshire. I spent some time last week on the history of the Creed, and you can pick that up either in the sermon box in the narthex or on the Church website. This week we are launching into the Creed itself and it’s opening phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
I have to say that I think they started in the right place. The very first thing we have to determine for ourselves is whether or not we believe in God. “I believe in God.” There are a bunch of people who never get that far. We have no scientific technique that can prove the existence of God...but neither do we have any foolproof method of determining that there is no God. Science simply cannot give you the answer to this question...it is outside their realm of expertise.
Is there a God is a question that every human being has to figure out for themselves, and I could spend the entire sermon going over the arguments from theology, philosophy, sociology, and just about every culture in all times and places. But I won’t. The point for today is that, as Christians, we have declared for 2,000 years that, whatever else others may think, we believe in God.
What isn’t obvious from that statement, however, is that when we recite those words, we are talking about more than intellectual assent. The Latin word Credo, which is translated here as “I believe,” involves more than our brain. A better translation is really “I put my trust in,” which is another level entirely. I can sit in my warm house and say “I believe that snow is good insulation.” That is an intellectual belief based on my somewhat spotty scientific knowledge. It is another thing entirely to be stranded in frigid temperatures and to dig a cave in a snowbank to try to keep me alive. The latter is true belief in the insulating power of snow, and is the only way to really find out if my belief and trust are misplaced.
The Hebrew word for “believe” is even better, and given that the earliest forms of the Creed were put together by Jewish Christians, it is a good reference point. In Hebrew the word is aman and it is the word for the relationship between a foster parent and child. The foster parent establishes security for a child and provides for the child’s needs. It is a relationship of trust and loving dependence.
That meaning moves us to and gives emphasis to the next part of the phrase...I believe in God the Father. This is one place where a lot of today’s Christians have issues, and where we have to remember that we are dealing with a Creed from antiquity. For many people, the image of God as Father is not helpful. In some cases their own fathers were such cold and cruel men that calling God “Father” creates a stumbling block that they just can’t get around. For others, the realization that the Church sometimes has used God’s title as Father to justify keeping women out of religious leadership and in a lower social place, makes the use of the term unbearable.
The challenge for many in reciting the Creed is to invest the words with our own meaning, whatever meaning they may have had at different times and places. For myself, I had a good earthly father, and since that wonderful earthly father left this earth over 20 years ago, thinking of God as my heavenly Father gives me comfort. I am uncomfortable, however, with anyone insisting that Father is the only acceptable image for God. The Bible has many others, and they each add dimensions to our understanding of God. For heaven’s sake, the Bible even has God as a chicken...a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.