SERMON: TWO PAIRS OF SHOES

INTRODUCTION:  TWO PAIRS OF SHOES

I read a sermon by Dr. Randall Bush[1]  delivered at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church during the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly meeting in Pittsburgh, July of 2012.   This message was in the inspiration behind a sermon I delivered at the Warren Avenue Saginaw Presbyterian Church in October of that same year.  This is that sermon.  In my daily devotions, I continue to return to this image of wearing TWO PAIRS OF SHOES.  This is still something I contemplate each and every day when I put on my socks and shoes.

SERMON:  TWO PAIRS OF SHOES

OCTOBER 7, 2012  

Micah 6: 6-8

WHAT GOD REQUIRES?        

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

 

John 14: 27

Peace I leave with you….my peace I give to you…..not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid….

Ephesians 6: 10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these,* take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,* 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

 MEDITATION

We talk about peace.  We pray for peace.  We strategize ways to bring peace into our lives and this community.  I commend M.T. Thompson Jr. and the “Anti-Violence Summit” yesterday that starts a community-wide process, particularly in our schools, of fighting a war against violence on our streets.  I believe M.T. Thompson is an avid supporter of the play “Speak Up, Speak Out”.  

What can I give you in just a few minutes?  In light of all that Tiffanny Goodman and her cast and team are doing to promote peace, what can we do – specifically?

I close my eyes and imagine children dancing and singing and playing throughout the streets of Saginaw….children waking up in the morning with smiles, laughter – looking forward to what each day will bring.

I close my eyes and imagine care-free youngsters walking too and from school and play yards without the fear of gangs or a stranger.

I close my eyes and imagine a community that is free from drugs and guns and bullying and intimidation that rule how our youth will behave on the streets.

I close my eyes and imagine opening doors and windows of our homes to listen for the sounds of birds singing and dogs barking ….without the shouting of fighting neighbors ….sirens blaring …. where children from north and south and east and west can dance, and smile and laugh and play – without fear.

For not everyone has the opportunity to escape the violence in our community.   This is our home…..and we want (we need) our children to be safe!

II.

 In using your imaginations, one simple thing I would like to suggest today:  Keep this image in your mind: 

 Putting on and wearing:  “Two Pairs of Shoes”  Yes!   Two Pairs of Shoes!

Try this idea out:  When you get up in the morning and put on your shoes, contemplate in your mind and in your heart putting on a second, specific, imaginary pair of shoes!  Put on this imaginary second pair of shoes every day.  Imagine walking not only in your shoes but the shoes of someone else.    

When you put on your shoes, imagine putting on the shoes of the mother whose son has been murdered – the shoes of Tiffanny Goodman.  Imagine walking through the day as she has to walk through each day sense the murder of her son.  Imagine putting on the shoes of Stèvon Martel Goodman, the shoes of a young man whose life was taken from the world prematurely.  Imagine where he would be in his life had he not been shot.  Imagine the shoes of all the children who have been murdered on the streets of our city…..shoes that will never again walk and dance and plan – and grow into the young adults we hope all our children to become.

 When you put on your shoes, something we all do each and every day, imagine putting on the shoes of a small child walking to and from school….always looking for the stranger, the danger that lurks around almost every corner.  What is the day going to be like for this child in his or her shoes?  And what can we be doing to make things safer for this child?  The parents of this child?  The community around this child? 

Imagine different types of shoes.  The shoes of the grandmother who grieves over the death of a grandchild or nephew or niece?  The shoes of a father struggling with his issues in handling anger.  Imagine the shoes of the parent who finds a gun in their son’s dresser drawer?  Drugs in their daughter’s backpack? 

More and more shoes.  Imagine the  shoes of a teacher?   What do they look like?  What does it feel like to be a teacher these days?

Anybody’s shoes.  Just put on in your mind a second pair of shoes…..each and every day.  Who is wearing the shoes.  What is he or she going through?  Be sensitized to where others are walking?  Pray for the people whose shoes you are wearing?  What can you do to support this person?  At the very least, how can we empathize with this person?   Put on in your mind….the shoes of somebody you will hold in your prayers throughout the day.

Why this first step?  Two pairs of shoes?  We often pray in generalities and for ourselves and those who are closest to us as family and friends.  As peacemakers and advocates for non-violence in our community – as a church — the first step is for each of us in our lives, our hearts, our minds….to walk in the shoes of others as we try to find ways to feel and see and taste and touch all they experience throughout the day.

That’s my sermon for this morning.  Let me know how things are going.  Try this out….if only for a few days.

Perhaps with some practice in putting on the imaginary shoes of others we can then go further with our prayers in walking humbly with God…..Micah tells us what God requires of us…..

 

8He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

My friends in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord:  We must find ways to walk, humbly in the shoes of our neighbors—and in so doing we are also walking with God. 

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord:  We must walk humbly with neighbors and with God in search for God’s peace….not only the peace of this world as the world gives … but the peace that surpasses understanding…the peace of almighty God – known through Jesus our Lord….Jesus who walks with us in our shoes each and every day.

Amen.


[1]   “O Church, What Does the Lord Require of you?”  Sermon by Rev. Randy Bush, July 1, 2012 at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA, during the meeting of the General assembly of the PCUSA.  http://covnetpres.org/2012/07/o-church-what-does-the-lord-require-of-you/

 

 

WALTER WINK

THANKS to Sojourners and Bill Wylie-Kellerman for sharing his reflections on the life and legacy of Walter Wink:  Remembrance and Reflection.  Written on May 12, 2012, this tribute can be found at  

http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/05/16/walter-wink-remembrance-and-reflection

“Walter Wink, 76, a world-class biblical scholar and non-violent practitioner, crossed over to God on May 10 at his home in Western Massachusetts.”

A reading list of his writings prepared by Claire Lorentzen (December 2010 Sojourners) can be found  at this link:  

http://sojo.net/magazine/2010/12/walter-wink-reading-list

I will cherish having many of these books in my personal library.  I refused to part with these books when I downsized my collecdtion upon retirement 🙂     

 

 

Minisry Tool Box: Time Management and Evaluations (Prophet, Priest, King)

Ministry Tool Box:   Time Management and Evaluations

Prophet, Priest and King Model

 I invested almost a quarter century serving the church modeling my life as a pastor based on Calvin’s three offices of Christ, Prophet, Priest and King.  I not only used this as a time-management tool, but also a way centering my life and activities on those things of first importance – serving the church with “Energy, Intelligence, Imagination and Love[1].

DEFINITION OF ROLES:

 Morphing from this “Prophet, Priest and King” model, I have defined and organized my work based on these categories:

 1.  Prophet–Preaching/Teaching:  This is the professional hat I wear as a “Teaching Elder” or “Minister of Word and Sacrament”.  This is time invested in bible study, research, sermon preparation and actual preaching/teaching.  This also involves spending time in prayer in asking what God is calling me to teach/preach.  In the broadest terms, this is time invested outside the pulpit with members of the congregation in study and worship; retreats and teaching confirmation classes and in leading conferences.  This prophetic hat is also worn in opening church meetings with devotions and prayer.  

 2.  Priest–Pastoral Work:  fter working through the ‘hierarchical” implications that come to mind in the use of this term, I view the priestly function as time invested as a pastor in talking with others on the phone, pastoral visits, staff meetings, hospital calls, weddings and funerals and counseling with congregants.  I wear this hat in the larger community by serving on committees and boards.  For me this role of “Priest” is in mutually sharing God’s love connectionally and relationally.  Caution:  This is never placing myself above others as a leader.  For me this is walking hand-in-hand in sharing God’s love with others.

 3.  King—Administrative Work of a leader:  While this term may be obsolete in a contemporary context in ministry, I see within this term the need to be a leader, a head of staff, a session moderator, an officer of the church.  I have to work with church leaders in decision-making processes.  The King in the Presbyterian tradition does not rule from above but in collaboration with those elected by the congregation and ordained to serve the flock.  Being the “King” in modern terms encompasses all that is involved in being Moderator of the session and Head of staff. 

                                                     A TIME MANAGEMENT TOOL

       These are not rigid hours and blocks of time.  I use this worksheet in order to maintain “balance” between various pastoral functions.

 

Rating

Priority

Ministry Functions

Hours*

Units:  ½ day blocks

Prophet

1

Worship, Preaching, Teaching, Study, Prayer  

20-24hrs

5-6 blocks of time (2-4 hours per block)

Priest

2

Pastoral Care, calls, visits, weddings and funerals

12-16 hours

3-4 blocks of time

King

3

Administration, office work, Meetings

12-16 hours

3-4 blocks of time

 

 

 

44-56

11-14

 These are not rigid hours or blocks of time.  I use this worksheet in order maintain “balance” between various functions.  Fitting these hours or units into a five day work-week has always been a challenge. 

 AN EVALUATION TOOL

 Self Evaluation:  For a period of four to six weeks I would keep track of my actual hours (blocks of time) to see how I was doing.   I could then make adjustments in my weekly priorities as to how I would invest my time.

  1. Officer Evaluation of my Performance:  I would ask church officers and team leaders to rate my performance in each  of the above areas using this scale:

 

5 = Far Exceeds Expectations

4 = Exceeds Expectations

3 = Meets Expectations

2 = Needs Improvement

1 = Does not meet Expectations

 Sources:

 1.  From the Westminster Shorter Catechism: 

Q. 23: What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?

Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

Q. 24: How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?

Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.

Q. 25: How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?

Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.

Q.26: How doth Christ execute the office of a king?

Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

  2.  The Heidelberg Catechism interprets the title “Christ” in terms of the threefold office, in Lord’s Day 12, Question and Answer 31:

Q. Why is he called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?

A. Because he has been ordained by God the Father

and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be

our chief prophet and teacher

who perfectly reveals to us

the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance;

our only high priest

who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body,

and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;

and our eternal king

who governs us by his Word and Spirit,

and who guards us and keeps us

in the freedom he has won for us.

 

All this being said in recording the way I would manage my time as a pastor while actively serving a church, I now must figure out how to manage my time in retirement!  I am sure to be writing more on this subject.


[1]  Constitutional Questions, Book of Order, Directory for Worship, W-4.4003

Wading in Waters of Change

“Wading in Waters of Change”

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”**

October 13, 2013

  

Exodus 17: 1-7

WATER FROM A ROCK

17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah* and Meribah,* because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

John 7: 37-39

RIVERS OF LIVING WATER

37On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As* the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart* shall flow rivers of living water.” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,* because Jesus was not yet glorified.

I.

 “Wading in Waters of Change”.  Perhaps a better sermon title given all the turmoil the world seems to be going through:

 Paddling like Crazy through Perilous Floods, Government shutdowns, Shootings, Terrorism, Unemployment, Hunger, and — ”   (You  fill in the blank.) 

 As a metaphor for life, the world is constantly changing.  The church is changing.  Change can be as normal as a gentle flowing stream or as powerful as a mighty river.  While we may sometimes wish for life to stand still so we can savor special moments, the world doesn’t work that way.  We are constantly wading throughout life in the fast and slow or often turbulent waters of change

 This being said, we must take some time, in the presence of God, to listen to tone of the words of the Psalmist who asks from us today:  “Be Still…Be Still….Be Still and Know that I am God.  I am with you.  Listen!  Hear.  Be Still and know that I am God!”

                                                                      II.  Change

 Change.   There is nothing we can do about the passing of time, the flowing of waters of life, and often dramatic / traumatic / tragic change that has taken place in our lives and in this world.  For example:    

 Where were you on December 7th 1941?  A few of you were around when Pearl Harbor was attacked. 

 What about September 11, 2001?  Most of us can recount exactly what we were doing between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the WorldTradeCenter twin towers and Pentagon.

 Millions will never forget hurricane Katrina or the “Super Storm Sandy”; or the floods and fires and unexpected tragedies that have touched members of our families and friends.  There is nothing worse for any of us than a late night phone call to learn that a close friend or family member has befallen some kind of tragedy.

 I must mention the storm taking place in Washington with the debit-ceiling crisis and congressional leaders who would appear to place politics over the welfare of millions of people.  The decisions (or lack of constructive decision making) has pulled our country toward another economic crisis.  I join with the Senate Chaplain Barry Black who on Friday October 4th 2013, prayed: 

 “Remove from them (the congress) that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism,” he said. “Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”[1] 

 Yes, we sometimes as God’s humanity create the storms and destructive flood waters we must then navigate in life….personally, and in the context of the community and also in the church.  

 1.   “Wading through Waters of Change in the Church”?

 

From this point on I want to talk about our “Wading in the Waters of Change” as a church.  With my announced leaving the end of November, this church has now entered into a period of discernment.   Many changes are on the horizon!  What does God have planned for this church?

 There is only so much I can say because I am leaving and not participating in discussions about the future.  While I have no idea what decisions may be made, I can reflect theologically on where we have been and where I believe, in general terms, God leads.        

 Metaphorically and for well over 146 years this church has been “Wading in Waters of Change”!  Truly, I pray for leadership is this church to open heart and mind to where God leads given all the cultural changes we are experiencing in the world today.  The world isn’t what it used to be.  Is the church adapting?

 Like Moses, we’ve been led by our Lord through perilous, dry parching winds in the wilderness of many storms. 

 Imagine walking for days, without basic resources, a parched dessert….and what would you long for more than anything else?  Water! 

 This assurance from scripture:  God, through Jesus our Lord, always provides for us from the “Wellspring of Living Water”!       

 In the year 1896 the Rev. Joseph R. Tewell led this church through some major renovations.  The city of Saginaw was seeing tremendous growth at that time.  Beautiful homes were popping up throughout this neighborhood.  Life was good.  Then on the Sunday the church was scheduled to reopen, January 2, 1898, this church was destroyed by fire.  Through the resilience of pastor and congregation, this edifice was replaced and reopened in a remarkable ten months.  This “house of God” was re-dedicated in November of 1898. 

 Through the years, the community around this church thrived.  The peak in membership came in the late1950’s early 1960’s– @ 1400 members.    Several additions and remodeling projects took place in adding the gym and a professional kitchen and Sunday school rooms. 

 Then the proverbial ‘waters of change’ started to flow with a mass exodus of he most affluent – urban flight – people moving to the comfort and security of the suburbs.  Storm after storm after storm hit this city!  Racial and economic distress – violent storms that threatened to destroyed urban centers throughout the country.  Devastating flood of drugs on the streets;  thundering guns taking innocent lives;  gangs and poverty taking over the streets in this once  ‘thriving and affluent’ neighborhood.

 After the storms in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s many of our church members moved away from the “troubled waters” of urban blight—but YOU didn’t all leave the church.  From our mission statement re-affirmed on many occasions:  This church, with historical determination, made the heroic decision not to move or stop doing God’s work in this city! 

 I recall preaching in one of my first sermons some twenty years ago, “Cities don’t just go disappear!  Cities don’t just go away.  Neither does Christ or Christ’s church!”    There has always been work to do in this neighborhood.  Simply, the flood waters of change couldn’t drive this church away. Most of you have been around to help write the rest of this story bringing us to this time and place. 

 And to be perfectly candid – the question of whether this church has the resources to continue is on the table for discussion once again!  

 I came to this church in 1985.  The operative word from my very first interview:  CHALLENGE!   It was made clear to me this wasn’t a church with problems.  We are a church with challenges God has put before us to do Christ’s work.  This has been my calling.  While this has always been a wonderful and exciting place to do ministry, we have always had more than our fair share of challenges.  For example:  how do we use this wonderful real estate—this magnificent building to help address the challenges people face in this community?  We’ve been a church richly blessed with this building and financial resources and a PASSION TO BE DOING CHRIST’S WORK IN THE CITY. 

 I will never forget that afternoon meeting in the Gym with community development leaders from Northwestern University  (Asset Based Community Development folk) and St. Mary’s Hospital and neighborhood representatives who stated clearly:  “This church is an anchor in this community!”  It was at that time we brought the East Side Soup Kitchen and the Naseau Clinic onto our campus.  Tens of thousands of dollars were invested by St. Mary’s Hospital in renovating the Gym so we could get local and state licenses to open the youth center.  Now that many more years have passed, it’s appropriate once again to re-evaluate where we are as Christ’s church in the context of doing Christ’s work in this neighborhood

 Turning again in thinking about Moses and the Exodus:  the starving and thirsty leaders in exile gathered and asked Moses: What shall we do now?  Moses told the elders to –   

 “go ahead…in searching for the rock at Horeb. With the staff, strike the rock and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.”  This is from where the living waters come!

 

Our lord, like Moses, is asking the officers of this church to go ahead with wisdom and God’s spirit of discernment to strike the rock at Horeb so that this church might be able to drink from the waters of the living Christ…..we still have an abundance of resources to share with the people of this community!

 

And honestly, while the church might not find the wellspring of resources we used to have or that may be required to continue doing ministry in this place – IN OUR HEARTS, AND PERSONALLY, THE WELLSPRING OF GOD’S SPIRIT WILL NEVER DRIES UP OR GOES AWAY!   Call be an eternal optimist, but I truly believe this church continues to have plenty to share with others….maybe not in traditional ways.  Thinking outside the box, are there new and creative ways to use this building to help the people of this community?   

 

IV. Three Very Short Points

 

With confidence, three short points emerging from our scripture preach today: 

 1.  Moses asks:  “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Regardless where the spirit of God leads this church in the future, God does not abandon us—each of us.  While I can no longer be your pastor or have a direct hand in making plans for the future, I give YOU today the words of the prophet Jeremiah who said after 70 years of exile—one of my favorite texts, Jeremiah 29:11: 

 

“For surely I know the plans I have for YOU, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm,  to give you a future with hope.”

 

Our hope is in God and God is always going to be in our hearts.   Storms in this often harsh world in which we live will come and they will go.  But God has plans—and God has for each of you a future filled with hope.   

 2.  Second, if God taught Moses anything – if Jesus life and sacrifice for us has taught us anything:  We are resilient people.  This is a resilient church doing Christ’s work in the context of this community.   If this church were a boat I would want to name it “RESILIENT” for all the storms and perilous waters we have traveled together.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, it is the same resilience that will hold things together for each of you in the important work that is before this church as important decisions are made.

 3.  Third and finally, you have each other.  (1) God is with you.  (2) Christ gives you resilience, and (3) you/we will always have each other!  Even in my leaving, you will be in my heart and I pray, my heart in yours.  We will always be friends in Christ, God’s Children!

 Through all the years of change this congregation has been through – laughing and crying and praying and growing – and growing old together J  – may we always remember that —

 

 “OUT OF THE BELIEVER’S HEART SHALL FLOW RIVERS OF LIVING WATER.”

GOD WITH US, CHRIST WITH US, GOD’S SPIRIT IN AND AROUND US!**

 Remember always:  We are One in the Spirit and One in the Lord!  Grounded in faith in Jesus Christ, we now have some work to do……

 Amen                          


[1]   Article on Chaplain Black, New York Times,  Jeremy Peters, October 6, 2013

Creed of the Apostles: Introduction

Having closed one blog I am transferring some of my sermons to this new location. I have preached sermons on the Apostles Creed on several occasions. This is aqn introduction to this Creed of the Apostles delivered in August of 2013.

“THE CREED OF THE APOSTLES–INRODUCTION”
The Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church
August 4, 2013

GENESIS 5: 1-5
Adam’s Descendants to Noah and His Sons. This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind,* he made them* in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them ‘Humankind’* when they were created.

When Adam had lived for one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.

II CORINTHIANS 5: 16-21
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I. WHAT IS A CREED?

We open the worship bulletin. We walk through the liturgies and prayers. We sing the hymns. There are very few surprises when it comes to what we expect to come next in the flow of worship.

I am sure that if we were to forget to sing the “Gloria” following the Assurance of Forgiveness or forget to pray the Lord’s prayer, someone would soon bring these oversights to my attention!

Truly, we are set in our ways. And I fear that even the most seasoned of us, the most mature among us may get so wrapped in the process of worship that we may forget or lose touch with why we say what we say; or why we do certain things in various ways; or why we gather to worship in the first place.
This morning we will look at the Apostle’s Creed as an example. We recite this creed every eight to ten weeks. We really don’t want this creed and what it says to become so regular or frequent a tedious exercise that we forget what this creed says to us. There’s a lot of content to think about in this short creed. I memorized the ecumenical version of the Apostle’s Creed when a teenager. Many of you have memorized the traditional version. Personally, I find it helpful to actually read the creed so that we visualize the words and contemplate the meaning so it doesn’t just become a task of reciting what we memorized at a young age. In any case, do we really think about what we are saying when reading or reciting this creed?

The question sometimes gets asked: Why do we recite or read this ancient creed? What purpose do creeds serve? Is the Apostle’s Creed something we recite simply because we’ve always done so? Why is it so important as Presbyterians to have creeds when our brothers and sisters down the street in different churches don’t use the creeds at all? These are all good questions!

So this morning the questions: What is a creed?
Why is this ancient creed, the “Apostle’s Creed”, so important?
What does it say? What does it mean? {I can at least try to reflect with you on some of these questions.}

In general terms and in a secular context, a creed is a code of belief or an authoritative statement of key principles of belief. In the context of our being a Presbyterian church the “Apostles Creed” is an ancient and authoritative and historical codification of the basic things we believe as Christians. In order to enter into a deeper understanding of the meaning of this creed, we must first turn to the most important book ever written that is the backbone of the creed: THE BIBLE.

II. THE APOSTLES CREED GROUNDED IN SCRIPTURE

First point: The Apostle’s creed emerges from and is grounded in scripture. Now another question is sometimes asked: Where can I find the APOSTLE’S CREED in the Bible? The fact is this creed in the format we know it is not in the bible. At the same time everything we say in this creed comes from scripture.

We start with our basic belief in our church that the words of scripture were inspired by God and written down over a rather long period of time by those who truly believed God was speaking to them and through them. It is also our belief as Presbyterians that God speaks to us through our reading scripture keeping a connection alive between the original authors and who we are living in the context of this world today.

The problem is this: The Bible is big and complex and often hard to understand. There are 39 books in the Old Testament covering thousands of years of human history prior to the birth of Jesus. There are 27 more books in the New Testament covering the birth of Jesus through his resurrection and establishment of the early church. And the Apostle’s creed is just 113 words!

Generally speaking, the Bible contains thousands of pages from different authors writing from different historical perspectives in different cultural contexts and periods of history. They all believed they were inspired by God to be writing what is now translated and recorded in this holy book. And this fact: with this many authors writing from different perspectives, there are bound to be inconsistencies.

So how do we interpret scripture with confidence that we what are reading is truly the “Word of God”? An important question for me in reading scripture: What are the key themes or concepts that can be found in all the writings of the Old and New Testaments – consistent themes and theology – that can be applied to our daily lives?
III. THE FORMATION OF CREEDS

So why all this discussion on the BIBLE in a sermon on the APOSTLE’S CREED? Simply, the early church leaders felt the need to “codify” the key principles or themes or concepts found in these thousands of pages. In other words, like writing a book report an abstract: how do we summarize these thousands of pages into 113 words in addressing our current issues and concerns?

Back in the first century, as bible stories were first formulated and written down, there was a need to organize or ‘codify’ what we know and believe about Jesus. In other words, we take the four gospels and ask? Can we summarize what these four books written by different authors have to say? The end result: The Apostles Creed that evolved to become around the 8th century what we have now. And by the way, the other longer creed we recite from time to time, the Nicene Creed, is actually older than the Apostle’s Creed and serves the same purpose, codifying in abstract form what is found in all the gospels.

Of course Presbyterians always make things more complicated. We have found that we cannot contain all the things we believe to find in scripture to just 113 words! In the Presbyterian church, in placing scripture next to very real human issues as we experience them in our world, has brought about the writing and approved over the years of a total of nine different “Creeds” or “Statements of Faith” or “Declarations of Faith” that help us interpret, in the context of the world in which we live, holy Scripture. In the Presbyterian Church we believe these “CREEDS” or “Confessions” to be so important that they have become part of the “Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA)”. They have become so important we call ourselves a “Confessional Church”. Even when ordained, officers of the church—many of you—have been asked and answered this question:

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

The confessions are “reliable expositions of what scripture leads us to believe and do.” In our tool box of resources in living our lives we have the Bible. We also have reliable, codified statements to help us interpret scripture – the Apostle’s Creed and this Book of Confessions.

Several weeks ago I preached on the authority of scripture. It is through the creeds we discover, with confidence, what we believe to be acceptable and true. As a Presbyterian pastor, I have a lot of confidence in what scripture says because the church has adopted these creeds and confessions. Much of the hard work has already been done in searching for the “truth” to be found in scripture.

IV. A FEW FACTS ABOUT THE APOSTLE’S CREED?

A few facts about the Apostle’s Creed: The original apostles or followers of Jesus did not write this creed. Rather, I can imagine Peter saying verbally to his friends over and over again: “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth,” and Andrew saying, “And don’t forget Jesus Christ is God’s only Son our Lord.” Then James jumping in to add something else….until, verbally, the creed is born. Then after years of verbal tradition, these “kernels of truth” from the perspective of a number of people were written down….giving us what we have today known as the Apostle’s Creed.

Though this is an imaginary scenario in how this creed was actually written, it does point to the truth that this creed does indeed express, in all probability, the essential components of faith held by the earliest of followers of Jesus—his apostles–key spiritual leaders and faithful followers of Jesus Christ. And they reached the point of wanting to confess / codify if you will, their fundamental beliefs at the time in which they live. There are now in the modern world some questions we ask about certain aspects of the creed, like the Virgin Birth—what was that all about? That’s a sermon for another day! The creed, like scripture, is not infallible. It is up to each of us as believers who read the scripture to determine: WHAT IS THE TRUTH?

Something that’s very important in reading the confessions and creeds of the church: a common outline is in a TRINITARIAN FORMAT – God is known to us in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Again, this is not a formula we find in scripture. Early church leaders developed this doctrine of the TRINITY based on their comprehensive understanding of how God is revealed to us in our humanity – in human terms – God in three persons.

How do we know God? Through God as Father/Parent/Creator; God as Jesus Christ the Son of God; and God as the wind blowing in our midst as Holy Spirit. This doctrine of the trinity has become so important that it has permeated everything we do in the modern church.

V. Conclusion

Finally, I hope two things will come to mind when we read or recite the Apostle’s creed in applying these words to our day-to-day lives:

1. The Apostles Creed is an important way for us to interpret scripture. In its simplest form: What are the most important beliefs that come from the Bible? Look to the Apostle’s Creed for an answer.

2. Second: Remember we know God in three ways and in three persons in the Godhead: As FATHER and SON and HOLY SPIRIT.

Let’s always remember that God is known to us through Jesus who walks with us as the Living Christ present in all aspects of life….ending this message with the same words used in our worship Introit:

“We give You glory, Lord, Your majesty adore, You Father, Son and Holy Ghost, we bless forever more.” (I Love thy Kingdom, Lord, No. 441)
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I invite you now to share in the Ancient Creed of the Apostles written in a liturgical way….as found in your bulletin: THE APOSTLE’S CREED.

AMEN

PHEWA: Presbyterian Health Education Welfare Association

 

I was surprised and somewhat disappointed when attending a recent meeting of presbytery that very few commissioners knew about PHEWA-Presbyterian Health Education Welfare Association.  Under the umbrella of the Presbyterian General Assembly Mission Agency, PHEWA is a voluntary membership organization involved in social welfare and justice ministries.  I have found PHEWA, throughout my ministry, to be a wonderful way to NETWORK with those who have a shared concern for the welfare people.     

 

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. will be meeting in Detroit June 14-21. As in the past, the Covenant Network will provide some excellent resources as one issue, same gender marriage, comes to the floor for discussion. As more and more states allow for “same gender marriage”, more and more clergy are found in a difficult position of not being able to officiate these marriages. This is an excellent network with resources for those interested in this issue.

I bring to your attention the article found through this link written by Tricia Dykers Koenig–a preview of the 221st General Assembly.

Covenant Network of Presbyterians

 

The mission of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians is to strengthen the church of Jesus   Christ, with the help of God’s grace.  We are called to achieve this goal by furthering the inclusion of LGBTQ persons, and by working for the unity of the PC(USA).

SCUPE: Congress on Urban Ministry

 

I have found these SCUPE (Seminary Consortium Urban Pastor Education) events to be the most valuable of all continuing education events attended throughout my ministry.  Opportunities to worship and hear world-renowned leaders (James Forbes is one of my favorites); great networking opportunities and resources.  Wonderful if you can attend with a friend or colleague!