The fourth article of the creed is one of some discrepancy. Not so much insofar as its content goes, but rather if there is in fact a fourth article of the creed. Some would insist that the fourth article of the creed—that is, the article dealing with the church, the body of Christ in the world today—is inherently a convocation, or “calling together,” and dismissal, or “sending forth,” of the Holy Spirit. While the church most definitely is called together and sent forth by the Holy Spirit, the church is likewise the enfleshment of Christ’s own body in the world today, and an expression of the Father’s creative, ongoing power. The church is God’s presence, unified yet particular, as the Trinity itself, in the world. A single body, yet made of many, many members—of great diversity. The very nature of the church is one of action, one of mission. The church’s mission in the world is God’s very own mission—the mission of life, relationship, and love.
And so it is right to speak of a fourth article to the creed, for this article speaks to our own role within the nature of who God is, or perhaps, of what God does—and what we confess about that role, what it means for us, what difference it makes. To confess that we believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is not to mutter out some extra churchy jargon, but to make a bold confession that who God is and what God does have direct, personal, and communal meaning for us and for the whole creation. And so as we go forward today, as we go forward tomorrow, next week, and the months and years to come, let us keep asking ourselves, “What difference does it make that God incorporates me into himself and charges me to join him in his work?”
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Picture it. Washington, DC. January 20.
Political leaders from various governmental agencies, Supreme Court justices, Congressional leaders, and other dignitaries stream down the steps of the Unite States Capitol and take their assigned seats. Introductory remarks are given, followed by a lengthy prayer by a renowned civil rights leader. Once those in attendance pronounce their “amen,” trumpet fanfare prepares the country to welcome a masterful rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
So begins, in some form like this or another, the inaugural ceremonies of the President of the United States. At a presidential inauguration, the mood is one of celebration and joy, but speeches from various officials will make clear again and again that a presidential inauguration is not about the one who is to become president, or whose term is to be renewed, but it’s a celebration of American democracy—the fine ritual passage of power from the electorate to the elected, the very essence of a republican democracy.
Today we conclude our sermon series on the creed. There is a lot that we could’ve looked at when we examined each of the articles of the creed. But we had to make choices about what we could reasonably consider. After all, no one wants me to stand up here and talk for two hours, as much as I might enjoy that! Exploration of those various other aspects of the creed, each of the lines of the second article, just for example, could consume your entire life. In fact, for many, exploration about the one we call Lord and God, Jesus Christ, eternal God contained within a finite man—exploration about Jesus is a journey that will always offer new insights, and with each new insight, scores of new questions to explore.
And that’s a good thing. God wants us to ask questions—modelled by the very life of Jesus himself. In the gospels, Jesus is asked Jesus 307 questions and he answered three. It seems, one way of looking at a godly life, is to ask questions, and keep asking questions, oodles of questions, and be less concerned about the answers, to nailing it down once and for all.
Whatever the case, we considered the three articles of the creed. We considered God the Creator of all things, heaven and earth, and even you in particular. You are created in the image of God. In the image of God you are created. And God looked at you, and indeed, God saw that you are good—very good. We considered God the Redeemer, the one who is very life itself. God turns popular wisdom on its head and exposes the conventional, so-called truth of the world as destined for failure, disappointment, division, and death. Jesus on the cross shows us that God’s lovingkindess toward us doesn’t depend on us, but is given us purely, freely, and completely out love for us. Jesus on the cross shows us that God helps us because we can’t help ourselves. We considered the Holy Spirit, the Weird One, the one who sets apart the common, everyday, ordinary things of life and makes them means of God’s grace—by the action of the Holy Spirit. These things become set apart, holy, sacred, special—weird. And those whom the Holy Spirit has called are set apart, holy, sacred, special—weird. You’re set apart, holy, sacred, special—weird. You are the body of Christ, the church of God.
We considered all these things as we looked at what it means to confess the creed. We started this series by looking at the creed as our pledge of allegiance, a concise list of fundamental truths that undergird our convictions as subjects of God’s kingdom—as citizens of heaven, as St. Paul would put it. But the creed is more than merely a laundry list of beliefs. The creed is something that the faithful were willing to die for down through the ages. Why? Because the creed means something—it means everything, or rather, what the creed confesses means everything.
When we are baptized, we begin a new life in Christ. We take on intentional relationship with God. We are called by the Holy Spirit, inspired by her grace, and goaded to change. That God is our creator—that matters to us. That Jesus is our Redeemer—that matters to us. That the Holy Spirit sets us apart and gives us comfort and strength in the face of ventures to which we cannot see the ending—that matters to us. The creed is not some litany of empty words, but something that has real-world, concrete meaning for us. It matters because these convictions change the way we see ourselves in relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. When we are baptized, we confess these things. “The world has been crucified to me,” writes St. Paul, considering all the work God has done for him through Jesus on the cross, “and I to world.” He is completely, utterly, and totally changed—and so in baptism are we. In baptism, God inaugurates a new life within us—a new life lived in relationship with him for the sake of his mission, the mission of sharing his creative and redeeming love with the world.
God’s Work. Our Hands.
No small order, to be sure.
The creed is simultaneously our pledge of allegiance, and our oath of office. When we are baptized, we confess what we believe, and in that confession, we assume responsibilities, commitments, and obligations as members of a shared communion with one another. Our responsibilities, commitments, and obligations are not to God, at least not directly—they are to one another, to all God’s children, and to the whole of God’s creation.
In baptism, we promise to intentionally seek out opportunities to share life with other Christians. We promise to pray, to engage in conversation with God. We promise to put our confessed beliefs into practice, and to conduct our lives in a way that doesn’t bring reproach to other Christians or to God’s name. We promise to study God’s Word in Scripture, to participate as often as we are able in worship and to partake of communion with one another and with God in, with, and under Jesus’ body and blood—so that in all that we learn to trust God, to proclaim Christ through in action and with our words, to care for others and the world God made, and to work for justice and peace.
And when we make these promises, we seal our oath of office with “and I ask to God to help me.” For we know that it’s only by God’s help that we can keep such promises, but they are our promises, nonetheless. We ask God to help us lead lives that fulfill these promises.
Sometimes God helps us keep these promises through the reminders of our sisters and brothers in the family of faith, our sisters and brothers here at Emanuel, as to what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes God shows up in the midst of our own trouble and reminds us of his faithfulness and helps us keep our promise what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes God places us before others, in need of help that they can’t provide for themselves, so that we can keep our promise what it means to be a Christian. God provides us opportunity after opportunity to live out our relationship with him in relationship with one another and the world he has placed into our care. And God constantly beckons us to embrace those opportunities, to assume the vocation of a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, a confessing believer.
We who have been united with Jesus in death have also been united with him in newness of life. Our baptism is our inauguration to that new way of living. The creed we confess, with its fundamental tenets of belief, is our oath of office, an oath that we make to one another, to all God’s children, and to the whole creation. What we confess in the creed matters to us, and we confess that it matters to us by living out the newness of life that comes only through God. As we confess the creed, we assume the office of Christian, we take on the vocation of one charged not to be served, but to serve as we have already been served. What we confess in the creed changes the way we live our lives so fundamentally that we can’t help but live differently—so let us confess, so let us believe, so let us live—“so help me God.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.