“And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord…”

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For the next couple of weeks I am commenting on the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This is for my benefit as much as anything. My remarks are organized only because they are following the outline of the creed. So while they are not systematic, I hope they are not rambling either! I’m giving myself a refresher course and you’re invited to come along. And as you do I trust these few words may contribute something to your understanding of what it is to have faith in the God of Jesus.

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The confession of belief in God runs off in as many directions as there are those who make such a confession. Even to confess belief in a God of creation does not really say much. As Martin Luther observed, “God may be in the creation, but is He there for you?”  Who is this God that has created a natural world that is both benevolent and, at the same time, has a way of turning on us?  How does this God meet us in the precarious historical situation in which we find ourselves in this world, surrounded as we are by powers too great for us, especially death?

The Christian confession of the God of creation finds its’ center in Jesus, who we call the Christ, Messiah, Savior. In making this confession the Church is saying that the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth was the radically singular event in God’s self-revelation and the history of the world. Jesus words and actions were the words and actions of the self-expressing God who was “in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” To confess “… Jesus Christ, His only Son, …” is to say that God and Jesus may be mutually substituted for one another and that they really include one another. Therefore, Jesus is not an open question who points humanity to God. In Jesus God responds to the questions posed by our radically fallen existence fully and unconditionally.

In Jesus God reveals both His saving divine will and grace for the sake of a humanity that is derivative of this same Jesus, the Word made flesh. “All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.”  The confession of faith in this Jesus which calls Him “…our Lord”, is an acknowledgement of trust in the One who alone has the absolute right to judge our lives and demand the radical self-surrender of man and woman, in faith, to the Word of God. This self-surrender, however, is brought about by grace. Whoever is able to make this confession does so by grace (“No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit”).  But this grace is not a divine substance. Grace is God Himself, giving Himself in love.

To call Jesus lord is to confess, therefore, that in Him, the crucified and risen One, God has given Himself unconditionally for sinful humanity. And that through this faith I may look forward in hope to the fulfillment of the final possibility of God’s saving purpose as he brings forth a new creation in Christ.

 

Tomorrow: “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary…”

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“…Creator of heaven and earth.”

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For the next couple of weeks I am commenting on the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This is for my benefit as much as anything. My remarks are organized only because they are following the outline of the creed. So while they are not systematic, I hope they are not rambling either! I’m giving myself a refresher course and you’re invited to come along. And as you do I trust these few words may contribute something to your understanding of what it is to have faith in the God of Jesus.

 

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The subjective danger in the Christian confession of faith is that God’s Word has meaning only if it has meaning for me. Or, to put it another way, God’s goal in salvation has been reached when the human is fulfilled.

This article of the creed pushes the envelope of salvation, the desire that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, to include all things, including those beyond the capacity of natural reason. The work of salvation in Jesus Christ is for the sake of humanity. But it is not only for our sake. To confess the God who is Creator of heaven earth is to believe that salvation encompasses the whole of Creation and that reality the Word of God calls heaven, where we pray God’s will is done by other beings capable of doing God’s will. To confess God as “Creator of heaven and earth” is to say all things exist in an inescapable relationship to God.

This understanding lies behind those verses in the letter to the Philippians which speak of the human struggle against “principalities and powers.” The Almighty power of God is at work in this world and wherever His will is opposed. In this respect, this article of the creed prepares us for the next article, the confession of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and worlds unknown to us, in Whom “all things seen and unseen”, find their fulfillment and perfection.

 

Tomorrow: “And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord.”

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I believe in God the Father Almighty…”

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For the next couple of weeks I am commenting on the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This is for my benefit as much as anything. My remarks are organized only because they are following the outline of the creed. So while they are not systematic, I hope they are not rambling either! I’m giving myself a refresher course and you’re invited to come along. And as you do I trust these few words may contribute something to your understanding of what it is to have faith in the God of Jesus.

I believe in God the Father Almighty…”

To confess God as Father is to acknowledge that the creation, and that includes my solitary life have their source, and therefore their goal, in God. It is to confess that my first obligation is not to myself or those around me or to the creation but to God.

Furthermore, the very basis of the idea that the human being may be called a person rests in the belief that we were created in the image of God. The fact of God’s personhood is what makes us aware of our own. I can think of  myself as a person because I am held in the mysterious, definitive grip of God. This essential personhood, reflective of God’s image, and held accountable to God is what the commandments, for example, attempt to hold inviolable. 

To confess God as Father is to identify with the God of Jesus. Some today refuse to use the word ‘Father’ when speaking of God. They reject the word for reasons largely shaped by issues of gender inequality.  But can the word be dismissed so arbitrarily? We confess God as Father not because it is the best word but because it is the word Jesus used. It is the word of the Bible. In confessing God as Father we are led to see Jesus in the light of God’s saving activity. More of this in the days to come.

To confess God as Almighty is to say something about how God is encountered in history, in our lives. The pagan religions of the Old Testament saw the power of gods revealed in the finite; the sun, the moon, the stars, etc. The God of Israel, on the other hand, was perceived to be active in the midst of what we call historical events in surprising, unexpected ways. God’s activity could come as bondage or freedom, destruction or salvation. Israel’s faith emerged in this dynamic as what became most real to them were the recurring acts of God’s mercy in their restoration and salvation. For now, I must confess in faith this God Almighty who kills and makes alive in His mercy, since the final coming and revealing of His Almighty power lies in the future.

 

Tomorrow: “Creator of heaven and earth…”

 

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I believe…”

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I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.

He 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, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He 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.

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Many of the world’s Christians use the Apostle’s Creed as a vehicle for confessing the faith. Of course we live in an age when some question whether the ancient formulas of the creeds are able to adequately express contemporary belief. Is there value in this critique?

My answer to the question of whether the creeds have value for us is a resounding, ‘Yes.’  And here is why I believe this to be true.

First, the creeds remind us that the Church is far more than a group of like-minded individuals. The creeds point the Church to what God has done for the salvation of the world. They are not, first and foremost, expressions of personal piety. The creeds point us to events, to the mighty acts of God. In this respect the creeds are objective statements fit for every time and place.

Second, the ongoing confession of the creeds are like the links of chain which bind Christians to the historical continuity of the Church. The radical, sectarian elements in the Church who disavow the creeds and discount their connection with the wider Church, run the risk of losing the faith itself. The creeds bind us to one another in a common confession across the generations.

Third, the creeds are biblical. That is to say, they reflect the faith proclaimed in the Scriptures. In this respect, they are not man-made as some would claim. The language of the creeds is drawn from Holy Scripture and, therefore, that same language invites us to examine the Scriptures. The creeds send us to Scripture and, ultimately, to Jesus Christ.

Fourth, the creeds do provide the individual believer with language rooted deeply in the gospel, language which must be continually unfolded and re-examined so that our indiviual and corporate confession of faith may be made with an honesty and integrity rooted both in the Church’s long history and the demands of the present.

In a sermon from 1535 Martin Luther commented on the Apostle’s creed with these words. “Neither we nor the early fathers invented this confession of faith, but just as a bee collects honey from all kinds of beautiful flowers so is the Apostle’s Creed a finely constructed summary of the whole of Scripture, the writings of the beloved prophets and apostles, for the benefit of children and all Christians.”

For the next couple of weeks I will be commenting on each of the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. Come along. For these ancient words ring with new life. How could they not? They point us, after all, to the Living God and all He has done for us in Jesus Christ.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Ephesians 1:2-4

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“Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we might be holy and blameless before him.”

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During my rock n’ roll years as a teenager here in Southern Cal, I had the privilege of playing in a band managed by the well-known disc jockey, Casey Kasem. Casey is an Armenian Christian and that aspect of his life was apparent. He is famous for a statement he used at the end of his long running radio and TV programs. You might remember it. 

 “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

The world has a way of keeping our feet on the ground, our noses to any number of grindstones. Created for the heavens, we too often find ourselves choking on the dust, immersed in the tedium of the day. On the one hand, of course, we have no choice. We must live in this world.  But there is more.

St. Paul begins his letter to the Ephesian Christians by turning their sights from the earth to the stars. In these two verses from the beginning of his letter he describes a great mystery, a mystery of which we are a part as God’s people. We are thankful for the great opportunity of our lives, of course. At the same time it is our life in Christ Jesus, our life in God that draws from the Christian the greatest swell of thanks and praise. How can we fathom it? All the blessings of heaven Paul, declares, are already ours in Christ. Before the dawn of time, of creation, Paul tells us, God had already chosen us as His own through Christ. And right there, within the great mystery of predestination, emmanating from God’s eternal, steadfast love, the greatest mystery of all was present and waiting to be revealed.

And what is that most ineffable of mysteries? That on the earth-bound, bloody cross the dear, holy, blessed, heavenly Jesus became sin although He knew no sin so that our sinful selves would be overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of the eternal God, and  “that we might be holy and blameless before Him.”  

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Matthew 28:20

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“I am with you always.”

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During my seminary years we worshipped at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church located directly across the street from the campus. Other regular worshippers were Dr. Alvin Rogness, former president of the seminary, and his wife, Nora. We often sat together during the service and visited during the fellowship hour. 

Al and Nora lost a son to a tragic accident some years before. The young man was returning home from a year of study at Oxford. At the airport in Minneapolis, ten minutes from home, but accustomed to the flow of English traffic, he stepped off the curb and looked the wrong way. A truck ran over him.

One Sunday morning after worship Al and Nora spoke of those early days of grief and shock. People brought condolences but words did little. Al recalled looking out the window of their home one day shortly after their son died only to see a friend from Portland walking up the street. He had heard the news and come as soon as he could. Just seeing him, Al said, was the best comfort they could receive. What meant the most was people’s presence. Nothing needed to be said.

After many years of being with the grieving I know what Al and Nora observed is true. I have seen many mourners at funerals and gravesides who never spoke a word but expressed their love, sorrow and comfort with their tears, a touch on the hand or a warm embrace. There is simply no substitute for being there.

“I am with you always”, the Lord promised his disciples. It is the promise of presence in the midst of all forms of living and dying. For there are times when the Christian has no option but to sink into grief over the relentless sorrows of the confounding world. At such times we may find ourselves unable to hear even the words of our faith. At such times, as in all times, His presence brings that peace and comfort the world neither knows nor gives.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Timothy 2:15

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

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A pastor was showing a good friend around the sanctuary of his church. It was a beautiful, gothic style building constructed in the 19th century. When they came to the large round pulpit the visitor saw that access to the pulpit was through a locked doorway. The pastor commented that over the years the pastor of the congregation was the only one permitted to have a key. 

“The pulpit is for Christ and His gospel”, the pastor said. “The congregation does not want someone wasting their time by using the pulpit to give opinions or lectures or tips for living. No one preaches here unless they preach Christ.”

Today, some, perhaps many, would label him and that congregation intolerant, lacking an inclusive spirit. In a time of widespread confusion over the nature of the Christian message many in the churches prefer a sort of shotgun approach to truth. Just blast away with as many opinions as possible and somehow, somewhere, the truth just may hit something.

I can relate to this congregation and their concern. I learned my lesson the hard way. Years ago I permitted a visiting pastor from another denomination to preach in our congregation in northern Minnesota. He was a son of that congregation and was home on furlough from the mission field. I had met him before. He was a likable, amiable. But the Sunday he stepped into the pulpit, the mild-mannered fellow became a blowtorch of accusation and condemnation. Christ and His GospeI never made an appearance. I was cleaning up the mess, as much for my poor stewardship of the pulpit as for the comments of the preacher, for weeks afterward.

There was a time in our Lutheran tradition when laity paid scrupulous attention to the preached Word. They knew what to listen for as Gods’ Law and Gospel were proclaimed. They were not afraid to confront if the preacher veered off into opinions and speculations. Giving the pastor the key to the pulpit, after all, represents a careful management of God’s Word that is the responsibility of the whole congregation. We entrust our pastors with the task of regular preaching. At the same time, laity have an obligation to keep their pastors on point. Not as an expression of intolerance, but as an expression of their commitment to see to it, as the Lutheran Confessions declare, that “the Gospel is proclaimed in its’ purity.” The Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation that are in Jesus Christ depend upon it.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Deuteronomy 1:31

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“There you saw how the  Lord  your God carried your burden, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

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The picture above is of an area called the Rainbow Lakes, located just over one hundred miles from Billings, Montana high in the Rockies. The small, pristine lakes on this high plateau are strung together for several miles. The hiking is easy and the fishing is great. But it’s not easy to get there. The last leg of a long hike up to this area is a series of switchbacks which gain in elevation one thousand feet every mile.

My first encounter with this area was in the late 1970’s while serving as a youth pastor in Minnesota. The kids in the flat lands always want to go to the mountains! So we put a two week trek together and headed for Christikon Bible Camp in the Galatin range of Montana. Christikon is at the very end of the road, high in the mountains at the foot of the Rainbow Lakes. After a day to get ready, we set out with 20 teenagers to reach the lakes. Things didn’t go too badly until we reached the switchbacks. One by one the train of hikers stretched out as some fell farther behind. Stops became more frequent. Finally one of the kids, Kathy, dropped her pack, sat down and declared defeat. She could not go on. None of the hikes back in Minnesota had prepared her for this.

 

“Isn’t there some other way?”, she asked.

“No”, I replied. If your going to make it to the lakes, there is no other way.”

“But the pack is too heavy. I can’t carry it.”

At that point I could have sent her back to the bible camp where she could have spent the rest of the trip with the on -site campers. Instead I had her pack strapped on to mine and with the load taken from her she was able to make it the rest of the way as the other kids encouraged her on.

We arrived at the top of the beautiful plateau and found a shady spot to rest. After a few minutes I called everyone together. 

“What just happened?”, I asked.

“We almost died from exhaustion!”, one of the boys called out. Everyone laughed.

“That’s for sure!”, I said.

“I also want you to think about this. We just went through something that looks a lot like the life of faith. The way can be very hard. We may even want to quit. But when we come to that hard place, Christ Jesus is always there to take the burden from us. And because He is with us, leading us on, we can dare to push on and support and care for one another. And look around! When he finally brings us to the place of promise it will be awesome!”

 

Postscript: Before that day Kathy was the princess of the group, if you get my drift. After that day and for as long as I was her pastor, she became one of the most helpful and caring kids I have been blessed to know. Funny how that works!

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 118:24

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“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

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The bridge section in the photo above is all that remains of the Ponte Rotto, one of the most ancient bridges in Rome, and the first stone bridge erected there by the Roman engineers.  The shoreline on either side is inaccessible but from its’ top you get a great view of the moment.

As Linda and I  stood there pondering this antiquated rock pile the words of a song came to my mind. ‘The past is past and tomorrow is not here – only what we do for Jesus today will last.’ It’s not the best of lyrics but it does carry a point. Yesterday is gone and no retrieval of its’ opportunities is possible. Yesterday has been written and the ink is dry. Tomorrow is yet to be. I assume it will come but it may not. I may not lean forward to catch a glimpse, nor does a hint of tomorrow come like the first blush of sunrise, long before the rising.

God has designed our lives in such a way that we live in the present moment. Really, faith is not possible under any other circumstance. I am called to entrust my past to God, to believe that it has been carried up into His forgiveness. In a similar way I entrust tomorrow to God’s purpose and look forward in hope. Both directions are inaccessible to me as I live between the already and the not yet.

So here we are at the threshold of a new and untried day. Like someone peering out from the vantage point of that ancient bridge, we have one option, to breathe in the moment and take hold of this day. For people of faith today is enough.

On that October morning in Rome as we stood gazing at the day unfolding around us, another lyric came to mind, that of the Psalmist; “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John 3:16

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“For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son…”

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I make a habit of striking up conversations while standing in line at the grocery store. It helps to pass the time, provides opportunity to meet someone new and, perhaps, share the faith. Not long ago I was chatting with a woman who, upon learning I was a pastor, made the statement, “I’m very spiritual and religious but  I don’t go to church.” She went on to describe her spirituality. She spoke quite generally about some sort of god and spirit and feeling and nature. It was rather vague and subjective. I replied by saying that although a pastor, I was not very spiritual or religious. She was rather surpised at this. “Then what do you talk about?” , she asked.  “Jesus”, I answered. “Everything we are looking for in what we call religion and spirituality are found in Jesus.” Before she could respond it was time to check out. As she pushed her cart away she looked back at me with a slight smile and a somewhat puzzled expression. I considered it a good days work!

The essence of the Christian message is this; “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son…”. This ought to be good news to serious seekers after God. The fact that it is not calls into question just how serious all this talk about seeking God really is. Some sort of god on my terms perhaps, but the True God? I’m not so sure.

God has taken the guesswork out of religion and spirituality and has revealed Himself with pinpoint accuracy in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the human face of God. In Jesus and His gospel God seeks us. What Jesus says and does are the words and deeds of God. Read the gospels. See for yourself. Here is a man passionate about justice, set firmly against evil, eager to be with the outclassed and the outcast, available to all, full of grace, determined to make all things new, brimming over with truth, so much a part of God they are one, big enough to carry suffering, even death, so committed in love to the sinner that even death could not hold Him. What’s not to like?

So, you can have a vague spirituality cobbled together out of, well, whatever. Or you can have Jesus. Friend of sinners, Prince of Peace, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the One who seeks the lost. I could go on but you get the point. There is nothing vague about Jesus. The faith, hope, love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that are in Him are as real and refreshing as rain. And they are for you!

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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