by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
When we pray we do not rise above the common places of the material, but embrace them, and in embracing them find intimacy with the one who made them.
Eugene Peterson, Answering God, p76
The Apostles’ Creed – God as Creator
Grandma remarked..."Isn’t this beautiful. It looks like an artist painted a picture. Did you know God painted this just for you?"
Bobby said, "I know, and God painted it with just his left hand."
Grandma wasn’t sure what he meant by that so she asked him. “What do you mean that God painted it with his left hand?”
Bobby answered, "Well last week in Sunday school we learned that Jesus sits on the right hand of God!"
Bobby’s Sunday school class was studying the Apostles’ Creed, the topic of today’s sermon. As with last week, when we looked at the Nicene Creed, I’d like to share with you a bit of the history behind the creed and then talk about the banner that represents it. Then we will look at how this creed connects with our lives.
The development of the Apostles’ Creed is not as clear as the Nicene Creed. The tradition is that just after Pentecost the apostles met to talk about their plan to spread the gospel to the world. They recognized the need for a common faith that they would preach. The Spirit came upon them and each one was given a statement that was part of the Creed. Peter said, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The other eleven apostles each received a phrase and they put them together. That is the tradition, but scholars don’t believe it happened that way. The Creed can find its roots in statements from the Bible, including the Apostles, but it was probably not written by the Apostles. If they had written a statement of faith it would probably have been included in the book of Acts.
Exactly how the Creed developed isn’t clear. However, there are two ideas that are known. First, the Apostles’ Creed traces its roots to Rome. As the church spread throughout the world there were differences between the western part of the church, centered in Rome, and the eastern part of the church, in Greece, Turkey, Syria and Egypt. The Apostles’ Creed comes out of the west, which is why we tend to know the Apostles’ Creed. Most of the eastern church uses the Nicene Creed. I’m not sure if they even accept the Apostles’ Creed as an authoritative statement of faith.
There are other written creeds that come out of Rome that were probably precursors to the Apostles’ Creed, very similar but not quite the same. The earliest ones were written as early as 150 AD. I’m not going to go into details about those, but I want to share with you the name of one of them – The Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus. I’m not sure what it said but it’s fun to say. The first written record of the Apostles’ Creed as we know it today is from about 700 AD. It’s from the southwestern part of France and was probably written under the orders of Charlemagne for the Holy Roman Empire.
The other idea worth mentioning is that the Apostles’ Creed, and its precursors, were used primarily for instruction. It was a baptismal creed. Before people were baptized they would have to memorize and understand the creed. That is probably why the Apostles’ Creed says “I believe in God, the Father…” and the Nicene Creed says “We believe…”
The arches point to the caves and catacombs, where the early Christians met in secret. They also are similar in shape to the windows in many sanctuaries, including our own. Inside the arches there are four symbols.
The anchor cross in the top left corner was a common symbol in the early church. The cross reminds us of Jesus, who died for our sins. The anchor points to the safety we have in Christ. In him our salvation is secure. It also points to the apostles, many of whom were fishermen.
The fish in the top right corner is one of the oldest symbols of the Christian faith. The Greek word for fish is ichthus. The letters are an acronym - Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. The fish was used by early Christians to identify themselves as followers of Christ. If two strangers met one would draw part of the fish. If the other person was also a Christian s/he would draw the other side and they would recognize each other as Christians.
The chalice in the bottom left is a symbol of the Lord’s Supper, which is a sign of the fellowship we have with each other and with Christ.
The upside-down cross stands for Peter, who was the leader of the apostles. Tradition suggests that Peter was crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy of dying in the same way as Jesus.
From the Apostles’ Creed we could look at a variety of topics. Each phrase has a message for us. This morning I am going to focus on the second phrase. “I believe in God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.” Let me share with you four thoughts about the creation and God as the Creator.
First, the Apostles’ Creed is a message that the creation is good. This idea is also found in the passage Melissa read, Genesis 1. That passage is a poem about God as the Creator. In the poem there is a refrain that is repeated seven times. “It is good. It is good. It is good. It is good. It is good. It is good. It is very good.”
Now, I admit, there are some parts of creation that make me question that statement. Are mosquitoes really good? Or poison ivy? Or the virus that causes a cold? Would the creation be any worse if they didn’t exist? The reality is that they are part of creation so I have to accept by faith that they are good for something.
The statement that the creation is good probably doesn’t sound profound. We live in a world that appreciates creation, at least in theory. However, for the early church this was a radical statement. The primary religion that competed with Christianity for the first several centuries was Gnosticism. One of the basic ideas of Gnosticism was that the creation was evil. Salvation meant escaping the world, because it isn’t good. God couldn’t be the creator because God wouldn’t make something evil.
The early Christian church, following our Jewish heritage, rejected that idea. They claimed that God created the world. And because God created it, the creation is good. It is good in its abundance. It is good in its beauty. It is good in its variety, its vastness and its complexity. The creation is good.
There is a second message. God not only created the world. God loves the creation. God cherishes it. Tony Campolo tells the story of how God made daisies. He talks about his grandson, Roman. Campolo loved playing with Roman. He would throw him up in the air, catch him and then put him down. Roman would laugh and shout, “Do it again, Pop-pop.” Tony would pick him up and throw him again. Each time Roman’s joy and enthusiasm got bigger. “Do it again! Do it again! Do it again!” Tony got tired of the game long before Roman ever did.
Then Tony asks the question. How did God create the daisies? Did God just say “Daisies be!” and all of them bloomed? Or, did God create one daisy and then look at it with delight, and cry out “Do it again! Do it again!” And after 50 billion daisies God still was jumping up and down with joy. “Do it again!” God did that with daisies, and columbine, asters and every other plant and flower. God did that for the mountains and rivers and valleys, and for very animal, including you and me. “This is great! Do it again!” God cherishes the creation.
Third, God is the creator, which means that God is separate from creation. If Gnosticism was the primary religion that competed with early Christianity, today one of the religions that competes with Christianity is an idea called pantheism. Gnosticism claimed that the creation is evil. Pantheism claims that the creation is good, so good, in fact, that it is divine. There is a divine nature inside every part of creation, rocks and trees, eagles and whales and in you and me. Salvation, then, becomes realizing your divine nature and living out of that divinity.
The Bible and the Apostles’ Creed reject that idea. God is the creator who is separate from the creation. We can experience God in the creation. God sometimes reveals himself in a beautiful sunset, or in a majestic, snow-covered mountain, or in the vastness and complexity of the oceans or the stars. But the creation is not divine.
Our passage in Romans tells us that the creation has fallen. Because of sin the creation is broken and waits for its renewal and salvation just like we do. If the creation is broken, and I believe it is, then creation is not divine, because God can’t be broken. Our salvation and our hope are not found through our efforts in realizing our divinity and living out of that divineness. Our salvation is found in God, who is outside of creation, choosing to enter the creation in the person of Jesus Christ.
And finally, as human beings we are part of the creation, but we have a special role in the creation. We are called to be stewards of the creation, to care for the creation following God’s desire. This is essentially a call to be environmentalists.
I’m going to make a generalization, but I think it is fairly accurate. As a whole the environmental movement has tended to be the focus of liberal activists. Conservatives, including conservative Christians, have not focused much time or energy on the issue. But if conservative Christians are going to claim to be guided by the Scriptures, we must be involved in caring for the creation. As Genesis says, God has given us dominion over the creation. We are responsible for taking care of the creation, following God’s desires. We need to be environmentalists.
Having said that, I’m not going to get into specifics of what that might look like. Part of the reason for that is that I don’t understand the issues well enough. I’m not smart enough to understand all the questions, much less have the answers. I would think that being an environmentalist would include recycling as much as we can, not throwing trash out your car window and trying to conserve the resources that we use. How we actually live it out is a topic we may disagree on, but claiming that God is the creator and that we have the task of caring for this creation, means that we are called to be environmentalists.
Morris West is one of my favorite authors. In his book, “The Shoes of the Fisherman” he has a line that I want to use to close this sermon. “If Creation and Redemption mean anything at all, they mean an affair of love between the Creator and His creatures.”
Let us stand and affirm our faith in God as Creator, using the Apostles’ Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
And 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, dead and buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. 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.