I Believe… (July 14, 2019)
Matthew 28: 18-20
I invite you to turn to page 882 in the hymnal as we begin our sermon today. What you will find on page 882 is one of the versions of the Apostles’ Creed that is in our hymnal. The Creed is something that maybe some of you remember saying each and every worship service. This is something that United Methodists, as well as many other denominations, used to do every single worship service: they would say the Apostles’ Creed the way that we might say the Lord’s Prayer today. And they would say it all together. This was the statement of what we believed. Many of you may have it memorized, although I would still encourage you to turn to the page to get the exact wording that I’m wanting to look at for the next few weeks. But this is what we say we believe. And I want to say it together now. And we are going to say “catholic church” when we get to that line, and I’ll explain why when we get to that point in the series. Here we go.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit
The holy catholic church
The communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins
The resurrection of the body
And the life everlasting. Amen.
Many of you, like I said, probably have a version of the creed memorized and are probably able to say it. But I wonder how many of you actually know what you’re saying. One of the Bible Studies we had last year was on the Lord’s Prayer, where we went line by line and we kind of talked about how we say the prayer, we know the prayer, but we don’t really say it; we don’t know what we’re saying as we say the prayer. For the next few weeks are going to go through the Apostles’ Creed, and we’re going to look at what is it that we as Christians actually believe, at least as Christians in the Western tradition that use this creed. And we’ll begin looking at that by looking no further than these first two words: “I believe.”
The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo which means “I believe.” Every creed begins with the words “I believe” (or we believe) because it begins with the word credo in Latin. Latin was the language that the priests were using at the time that these were all created, as they began to try and figure out what was it that we believe. And using the word believe is a little bit misleading in English, because in English the word believe has been expanded to mean more things. We say the word “believe” with varying levels of aggressiveness. We might say “I believe the Royals will win tonight,” and that statement is more of “I hope that the Royals win tonight.” It is not a statement of fact for sure, because it’s not fact that the Royals win tonight until they have. It’s probably not even a statement that is based upon good solid ideas and evidence, because the Royals are terrible and it is far more likely that they will not win tonight then that they will win tonight. But I say I believe because I have faith, I have hope, that the Royals will pull it out tonight. We use that word “believe,” but when truth be told if you were to come up to me and say “Pastor Michael, have you looked at the starting pitchers tonight? There is no way that we’re going to win.” I’m not going to argue with you; I’m not going to fight with you over this belief, because it’s not that big of a deal to me. I don’t hold the belief that strongly.
But there are, of course, things that we believe a little bit more strongly. These are opinions that we have that are based on a little bit more on fact, that we could come up with an argument for, but for which were not going to go to fisticuffs. We’re not going to die and we’re not going to suffer as a result of these. We’re going to back down and say “let’s agree to disagree” far more easily. These are the opinions which we hold which we still use the word “believe.” So for instance “I believe Chevy is better than Ford.” Now some of you might be like “no way! I can understand believing in the Royals, but that’s crazy talk!” And I can understand that. But most of us are not going to really have a fight, or really care about whether or not Chevys or Fords are better. I know some farmers who can get there, but not a whole lot of other people. This is an opinion.
But then there are opinions that we hold very, very strongly; or another word for these might be convictions. We say these with the word believe as well. Such as “I believe in small government” or “I believe government should help the people.” A lot of our political opinions fall into this category of a much stronger belief, of a conviction, of something that we will fight for. I think of the revolutionary war and leadership, the founding fathers of this country; they held convictions that they did fight for, that they did bleed for, and they outlined them in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. Those were convictions, and they said “I believe” and “we believe” with them too; using that same word.
I think a lot if not all of us desire that our religious beliefs fall into the category of conviction and not opinions or hopes. I do wonder how many of us actually do get there, but we do hope that our religious believes fall under conviction. And the only way to test that is to see what happens when someone challenges them. If you were to come up here and you were to tell me “Pastor Michael, I don’t agree with you about this God stuff. I don’t believe that God exists, or that God is good, or that God is whatever,” I’m going to push back. I’m not going to go to fisticuffs over it, but I’m going to push back on this. I’m going to challenge you to enter into a discussion because this is a deeply held conviction for me. What happens if someone pushes back on what you believe in a religious sense?
The Creeds were designed to be a statement of our convictions. In the church world, we will call this a statement of our dogma or the unconditional truths. Everything else are our teachings, or the things that we believe are true, that we have opinion on, but on which we will engage in discussion. The creeds were meant to be the things that were foundational, that you had to believe in order to be one of us. Creeds were a collective statement of a common belief that defined the group. And actually when the creeds were formed what would happen is that a group of church leaders would get together, and they were having a disagreement over something about what they believed, usually related to Jesus which is why Jesus’ part is the longest part of the creed. And they would have these discussions, and then they would take a vote; and whoever won got in the creed, and whoever lost had to submit to that as the will of God or be excommunicated.
Because the idea was that if you didn’t believe this then you could not be part of us. And we still actually adhere to that in some sense. The United Methodist Church does not accept the baptism of people from the Mormon church for instance because we think they do not believe in this creed. They have a different understanding of Jesus Christ and his essence; and because of that we say that when they are baptizing the name of the “Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit;” they’re baptizing the name of a different son and therefore it is a different baptism.
We still use the creed to differentiate between who we are in communion with and we are not in communion with. This is the statement of the essentials you must agree to. This it’s not everything we believe by far, take a look at the Book of Discipline and you can discover this is not everything we believe; but what we’re saying is that this is the baseline, this is the line in the sand that we are drawing. You must believe this to be one of us.
Which is why the Apostles’ Creed is used at our baptismal and confirmation and transferring of membership services. We will ask “do you believe in God?” and you have to respond with this; “do you believe in Jesus Christ?” and you have to respond with the second paragraph; “do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” and you have to respond with the third paragraph. And we actually ask the entire congregation to say it, not just the one being brought into membership, because this is our communal statement of faith. This is what we believe. This is who we are.
And that is important because your deeply held convictions shape who you are as much as you shape them. Because often times, even outside of church, we will associate with those with similar deeply held convictions. Look no further than our political sphere right now. We don’t watch the news that favors the people with the other deeply held convictions; we don’t associate with them in political discussions; we usually just agree to disagree and will move on to some other topic. The result that the only people we see are those that think like us. What that means is that the opportunities you receive are going to be different to the opportunities of the other group because you’re in a different sphere. The experiences you have are going to be different than experiences on the other side. Your convictions shape who you are through your experiences and opportunities. They morph your life as much as your life morphs them. What convictions you hold matters.
And ultimately our convictions are our choice. It is a choice that at some point we each made, where we sat here and we said “yes this, is something I believe.” But it also is a choice that gets made every morning. That’s why people can change their convictions over time: there might come a morning where we sit here and we say “you know, I no longer believe that.” This is a choice that we make. And as Christians this is the choice that we have made: we believe this document, this creed. We have decided that these are our deepest held convictions. This is what it means to be Christian, or what it means to be United Methodist. We say this. But do we know what it means? Do we know what we’re saying? Do we know what we believe, and what that implies about how we are to live our life? Join me the next few weeks as we explore this and learn what we believe. In Jesus’ name, Amen.