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This We Believe–Brief Statement of Faith, part 6

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With believers in every time and place,
we rejoice that nothing in life or in death
can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And so we come to the end of the Brief Statement of Faith…

…with a reminder that the Church Catholic (ie Universal) is not just about us, not just about denominations, not just about our context, not about us, but about the whole body of Christ, the whole cloud of witnesses, every time and every place. The statement has been written as words of faith for our time and our place, but it brings us back to our place in the larger story–there are people of faith around the world, there have been people of faith long before us and there will continue to be people of faith long after we are gone…and our central affirmation is from the end of Romans chapter 8: nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen indeed.

We, along with Paul, really do mean nothing–nothing on earth, nothing in heaven, nothing we do, nothing we say, nothing we think…nothing at all–not powers or principalities, not action or word, not even right or wrong belief–can separate us from the love God has made known to us in Christ. When Jesus said that God so loved the world, he meant it. Just as we cannot earn God’s love, we cannot lose it either. That’s good news.

We close with the Gloria Patri–words that have been said and sung in worship since the beginning of the church. We rarely sing the “traditional” gloria patri at RCLPC–but we often sing a jazz version, which you may recognize:

Glory to God, whose goodness shines on me,
and to the Son, whose grace has pardoned me,
and to the Spirit, whose love has set me free,
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Amen!

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This We Believe–Brief Statement of Faith, part 5

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In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
praying, Come, Lord Jesus!
Now that we’ve said what we believe, whom we trust, and what God has done, it’s time to offer a response. The Christian faith is primarily a response–a lived faith, practiced and experienced, not just something we think. Just as we have said “we trust” rather than “we believe,” now we are putting that trust, that faith, into action. We’re taking what God has done and moving it off the page, out of the brain, and into the streets.

Our response is, of course, empowered by the Spirit–faith is a gift given by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 for other gifts of the Spirit). Because the Spirit moves, we can live our faith in the world.

The reason we call it a “response” is because God works first–God loves, God creates, God calls, God saves, God sustains, God moves–and we respond in gratitude. We give thanks for all God has done, and our thank-you note is our lives (to use the cliche).

This response includes:

Striving to serve Christ in our daily tasks–not just on Sunday morning for 45-60 minutes, not just in Sunday School or church choir or WEAVE or the food pantry, but in every task of every day. This is where we have to get into a couple of habits: noticing God’s presence in even the most mundane of tasks, and seeing our work and lives as missionary work. God is here–there is nowhere we can go where God is not. And we are the body of Christ, in every moment of every day. So whatever work we do, whatever words we say, whatever compassion we show…that’s all mission. We serve Christ in our every task.

Living holy and joyful lives. Not just good, not just nice, not just happy, but holy and joyful. These are much deeper, and much more demanding, than being nice and happy.

Watch for God’s new heaven and new earth. God is doing a new thing, and it is coming, and we are a part of it. When we catch a glimpse, it can sustain us for a long time. We are to be on the lookout, noticing God’s kingdom in the here and now, as well as trying to be a part of its coming.

Pray. Never neglect the opportunity to talk to God, and to call on God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Calling God into a situation changes the way you see things, and can change your (and others) actions, and can be a part of the kingdom of God coming on earth.

Do you see faith as a response, a way of living? How do you live your faith? What do you think about this business of serving Christ in daily tasks? How do you live a life that is holy and joyful rather than simply nice and happy? 

Where have you seen God at work today?

This We Believe–Brief Statement of Faith part 4

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We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
and binds us together with all believers
in the one body of Christ, the church.
The same Spirit
who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the church.
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

The Holy Spirit is often the left-out member of the Trinity, the third wheel no one understands and no one wants around. Poor Spirit, always ephemeral and moving and hard to pin down…and so left to flutter around undiscussed and uncared for. Mainline Protestants are particularly susceptible to this problem, because God the Creator and God the Son are so easy to grasp (relatively speaking!) and God the Spirit is mysterious and vague…she defies categorization and definition and boxing in, so instead we choose to leave her out altogether.

Before we go too far–we often talk about the Holy Spirit as “she.” This is because the Hebrew word for Spirit, ruach, is a feminine noun (and it also means “breath” or “wind”), so the matching pronoun is also feminine. In addition, the Spirit is often conflated with Wisdom (from Proverbs 8), who is anthropomorphized as a woman. So to talk about the Spirit as “she” is drawing on the oldest parts of our tradition, the Hebrew Bible.

So: who is this Spirit, and what does she do?

In Scripture, the Spirit is present at Creation, hovering over the waters, present as the breath breathed into the first humans, is the wind and breath that comes from the four corners of the earth in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), descends on Jesus at his baptism, blows through the disciples’ upper room on Pentecost bringing tongues of fire and many spiritual gifts that draw the community together…in other words, she’s all over the place, moving in and among and through God’s people.

The Brief Statement reflects this movement, this animation, by calling the Spirit “The giver and renewer of life.” Since Spirit and Breath are the same word, some theologians have talked about the Spirit literally as God’s Breath, the animating life force of all creation–if God had not breathed life into creation, it would be just dry and lifeless.

The Spirit we see in Scripture–the one bringing life out of death, communication where there was only confusion, lighting the way–this same Spirit is the one we believe moves when we read the word. The Spirit is what brings the word to life, allowing us to encounter the Living Word through the scriptures. This is one reason many churches will pray before reading the Bible–a prayer for illumination asks the Spirit to move that we might hear God’s word afresh for our time and place. It is the Spirit who inSPIRes (get it?) preaching and prayer and singing and sacraments. In other words, if our life as a congregation is not infused with the Holy Spirit, we’re missing something!

The end of this section is my favorite: the Spirit gives us courage to…do all kinds of things. We do not do these things on our own, we don’t employ our own willpower and get things done, we can’t save the world by ourselves. The Spirit gives us courage. The list of gifts given by the Holy Spirit (which you can find by combining the first half of 1 Corinthians 12 with Romans 12) doesn’t explicitly include courage, though it does include faith–that’s right, faith is a gift given by the Spirit!–as well as teaching, preaching, encouragement, administration, etc. I like the idea that our courage to pray without ceasing, our courage to stand up and challenge the status quo, our courage to lift up voices of the oppressed…all of that courage comes from the Holy Spirit. That tells me that courage is a gift for which we can pray. We don’t have to pray for “someone to do something,” instead we pray for the courage to do something. We don’t pray only for God to bring justice, freedom, and peace, we pray for the courage to make justice, freedom, and peace a reality in our world, that our world may begin to look more like the kingdom of God.

Most importantly, understanding a little bit about the Holy Spirit helps us realize that we are never alone. God the Spirit is as close to us as our breath–literally flowing in and out, bringing life in every moment. No wonder we are able to be an answer to God’s prayers–we aren’t just made in the image of God, God lives in us, and in every living thing–the animating life force of all of creation. And just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, she inspires us too. May we follow in their footsteps.

What do you believe about the Holy Spirit? Does she ever just leave you confused, wondering why we have 3-in-1 anyway? Have you ever experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life? 

This We Believe–Brief Statement of Faith part 3

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We trust in God,
whom Jesus called Abba, Father.
In sovereign love God created the world good
and makes everyone equally in God’s image
male and female, of every race and people,
to live as one community.
But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.
Ignoring God’s commandments,
we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,
accept lies as truth,
exploit neighbor and nature,
and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
We deserve God’s condemnation.
Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.
In everlasting love,
the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people
to bless all families of the earth.
Hearing their cry,
God delivered the children of Israel
from the house of bondage.
Loving us still,
God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.
Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
God is faithful still.

This part of the Brief Statement is also in 4 sections–or 3 sections, one of which has an a and b section. 🙂

We begin by affirming again not only that we intellectually believe, but that we trust–a much more visceral, whole-body-whole-life kind of faith than only believing with our minds. Just as we trusted in Jesus Christ, we now affirm that we trust in God the creator, Divine Eternal Parent as some of our prayers say, the one Jesus called Father.

Who is this God? The One who created the world and called it good, the One who is Love, the One who made humans in the image of God, the One who speaks, the One who calls. We are called by this God to live as divine images in the world, in one community of love throughout the whole wide earth (as the old hymn says).

In the second section, we have a prayer of confession. We trust in this God, yet we act in ways contrary to God and what God created us for. Remember the story of Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden? This statement/prayer suggests that we do the same all the time, like them seeming to believe that we can put off God’s discovery of our disobedience. And what kind of disobedience is this? Adam and Eve’s was not exactly straightforward–it could be considered an act of unfaithful eating, of listening to another voice above God’s, of willfully challenging God’s rule, of choosing to see the gift of the garden as a thing to be used rather than a gift to be taken care of, etc. There are lots of ways to interpret that story…but they all come down to one thing, ultimately: trust. Or lack thereof. The same could be said for the list of ways we rebel: we violate the image of God in others, we threaten death to the planet God gifted us and asked us to care for, we accept lies (other voices) as truth (god), etc. In all of these, we negate the very first line–that we trust in God. We do all, as humans, do these things. We may not think of them in this way exactly, but we do them. We choose not to see God in certain people. We treat the earth as if it belongs to us and can be used for our own gain. We shut out God’s voice in favor of others that better serve our greed/self-interest. As the call to confession says: “if we say we have no sin, we deceive only ourselves.” We cannot hide from God, who will always call us out from behind the trees and ask us what we’ve been up to.

But now to section 3a: God acts with justice and with mercy to redeem. In this a) section we have the historical evidence that God is faithful and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God has made a covenant, called us to be covenant people, and even when we do not live up to our side, God will always uphold God’s side. This is what makes a covenant different than a contract–not that there are no consequences for breaking covenant, but that the consequences never include nullifying the covenant the way they do in a contract. Abraham and Sarah’s family was to bless all the families of the earth, and that is still true, regardless of the ways we have not managed that blessing. God has delivered the people from bondage of one kind or another throughout history, and there is no reason to think God would not do so again.

And in section 3b, the contemporary, in-the-now way God continues to act with justice and mercy to redeem: God is still love, whatever we may have done to try to test that. God is still the Divine Eternal Parent, perfect in love. The images are from Isaiah and psalms (the nursing mother who will not forsake her child) and Luke 15 (the prodigal story…is the prodigal the son, the other son…or the father, whose love defies all reason?). This is the God in whom we trust, whom alone we worship, and whom only we must serve: the God whose faithfulness surpasses anything we can imagine, anything that makes sense, anything we can replicate. This is what we are called to be when Jesus tells us to be holy (or perfect, depending on your translation) as our heavenly father is holy/perfect.

This We Believe–Brief Statement of Faith part 2

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We trust in Jesus Christ,
Fully human, fully God.
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
preaching good news to the poor
and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed
and blessing the children,
healing the sick
and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts,
forgiving sinners,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
Jesus was crucified,
suffering the depths of human pain
and giving his life for the sins of the world.
God raised Jesus from the dead,
vindicating his sinless life,
breaking the power of sin and evil,
delivering us from death to life eternal.

This paragraph of the statement is really four sections–each sentence conveys a whole set of theological ideas in itself. We have who Jesus is: fully human, fully God. We have what he did: proclaimed, preached, taught, healed, ate, forgave, called. We have what happened to him: unjustly condemned, crucified, suffering, giving his life. We have what God did next: raised, vindicated, broke, delivered.

Phew–that’s a lot to cover in such a small number of words!

So where did we get all this stuff?

Fully human, fully God: this doctrine arose in the 5th century, and was codified in the Nicene Creed in response to a group of people insisting that Jesus had to be one or the other, either human but very close to God, or God pretending to be human. The issue seems to have been two-fold. 1. God can’t suffer and die. 2. God can’t pollute God’s self by getting mixed up with flesh. The response to the idea that Jesus was just a great teacher who had a close relationship with God, and that he could teach us the secrets to having that kind of relationship ourselves, became known as gnosticism, a theology founded on secret knowledge. The idea that God can’t suffer and so Jesus must be just a house, a costume, for the divine spark, which vacated his corrupt body at the first hint of pain, was also unacceptable. Ultimately this group became known as monophysite–one nature–because they could not accept the Nicene creed’s statement that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.

How this mystery of incarnation works, we have no idea. What we do know is that the second person of the Trinity became enfleshed (the meaning of “incarnate”–carna being Latin for flesh) and lived among us. The human and the divine were completely together and one in Jesus…but at the same time, we say they were not “mingled” or mixed up, nor is he half human, half divine (as with the other god-men of the ancient world). Somehow, much like the Trinity is Three in One, Jesus is Two in One.

Proclaimed, Preached, Taught, Healed, Ate, Forgave, Called.

Yep, that pretty well sums up what we might read in the gospels! Jesus himself proclaims his mission in Luke chapter 4, using words from Isaiah 61. He uses the same words again when the disciples of John come to ask him if he is the Messiah. We know he told stories, he healed people, he restored them to community, he ate with people both desirable and undesirable in terms of their social status, he called followers (and continues to call followers today!), he forgave even when that’s not what people thought they asked for, he proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is here among us. He also prayed, for the world, for his disciples, for his people.

One of the things we proclaim as Christians is that in Jesus we can most clearly see God. Another way I like to say it is that we can see what a life lived fully with God looks like when we look at the life of Jesus in the gospels. When we think about the things Jesus did and said, we can see and hear what God most cares about, and what kind of relationship God desires with us, and how we are to live.

unjustly condemned, crucified, suffering, giving his life

I love the way this statement of faith puts it: Jesus was unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition. Notice he wasn’t crucified by the religious authorities, he was put to death by the civil authorities, by the state of Rome. He was accused of putting himself in the place of the emperor (who was considered a god, and whose titles included “Lord of Lords” and “prince of peace”). He was accused of subverting the system of the empire by doing things like healing people, welcoming those who were outcast, feeding people who would normally have been dependent on Rome’s bread dole system, and gathering crowds to teach about what life could be like if they chose a different empire. He told subversive stories. He was dangerous, in part because these ideas are difficult to quell, and in part because Rome is a jealous mistress. The state condemned him and the sentence was the death penalty–and not just any old death, but the most embarrassing death possible, the one reserved for the worst criminals that we wanted wiped from public record and from memory. People did not talk about friends or relatives who had been crucified–it was too shameful. Most people crucified took days to die (the ultimate cause of death is suffocation), and their bodies were left there to be eaten by birds and dogs–they weren’t buried, they weren’t remembered. They were wiped out. This is the kind of painful horror Jesus (and his disciples and family) went through. This is the depths of human suffering–not just physical pain, but emotional trauma and spiritual desolation. God has been there–whatever we go through, God has been there, experiencing pain and loss and tears and desperation and complete aloneness. (this is about the only good news to be found in this horrible story of pain and suffering and death.) Jesus didn’t just give his physical life, he gave everything. The only reason we have a record of Jesus’ death is because of what happened next.

raised, vindicated, broke, delivered

Suffering, death, horror, shame, desolation are NOT the end of God’s story. God has plenty more chapters to go. And the first chapter when we turn the page is one that is almost unbelievable, it’s so good. God raised Jesus from the dead–Jesus didn’t just walk out of the tomb alone, remember he’s the incarnation of one person of the Trinity, so he’s got the two other persons (Creator and Spirit) there too. That may mean (some people say) that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, was in fact dead for those three days, and the other two persons of the Trinity were grieving just like the family and friends of Jesus were–in those days, God experienced loss and grief. But on the third day: raised! This is where the story gets good, because when that tomb broke open, the power of sin and death was smashed as well. The power the empire held over people, the fear of doing the wrong thing and offending God, the shame of death…all that was broken. The power reigning in the world is not fear but love, not hate but goodness, not darkness but light. Because of that, we have the privilege of living an eternal life–which does not mean just a life after death, but a life that begins now in a completely new world. Eternal Life is about living Jesus’ way, with God forever.

Trust

This is the Jesus in whom we put our trust. Trust is a synonym for faith, another aspect of faith besides “belief.” In our culture, “belief” has come to mean an intellectual understanding and assent. That is not what faith is–faith is much more visceral than that, much more incarnate than that. This is one reason the statement does not say “we believe in Jesus” but instead “we TRUST in Jesus.” That may be a big leap for some of us, but is a key to living our faith rather than just thinking about it.

What do you think? How do you trust in Jesus? What questions do you have about this section? How do you see this trust lived out?