Genesis 31:45-50; 2 Corinthians 5:16-20
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
Reconciliation restitches the unraveled, reverses the rebellion, rekindles the cold passion. Reconciliation touches the shoulder of the wayward and woos him homeward.
Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails, 64
Confession of 1967 9.07, 9.31
In Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. Jesus Christ is God with man. He is the eternal Son of the Father, who became man and lived among us to fulfill the work of reconciliation. He is present in the church by the power of the Holy Spirit to continue and complete his mission. This work of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the foundation of all confessional statements about God, man and the world. Therefore, the church calls men to be reconciled to God and to one another.
To be reconciled to God is to be sent into the world as his reconciling community. This community, the church universal, is entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation and shares his labor of healing the enmities which separate men from God and from each other. Christ has called the church to this mission and given it the gift of the Holy Spirit. The church maintains continuity with the apostles and with Israel by faithful obedience to his call.
Confession of 1967 – Reconciliation
It took Phil months to begin to get over his anger. He had sent Nessie, one of his best servants, on an errand. He was to go to a neighboring town and pick up a valuable package and bring it back. It was a long walk to the other town, so he expected Nessie to be gone three days. By the fourth day Phil started getting worried because Nessie hadn’t come back. On the fifth day he contacted the authorities. About a week later he learned that Nessie had picked up the package, and had kept on going, away from home. Phil was livid. Not only had he lost the package that was valuable, he had lost what he thought was a trusted and valuable servant.
Phil had become a Christian several years earlier and he was growing in his faith. He knew that possessions were not the center of life and he had more than enough to live, but he was not happy with losing a significant amount of money. He also knew that we are supposed to forgive those who hurt us, but he had been betrayed and just couldn’t let go of his anger. Eventually he started to calm down and his anger didn’t eat at him quite as much. Part of that was remembering that he had himself been forgiven many sins, but part of it was that Nessie wasn’t around. Out of sight, out of mind.
Then Nessie showed up at his door. He had a letter that he gave to Phil. It was from the man who had first told Phil about Jesus.
Every time I think about you I give thanks to God. I keep hearing about your love and the faith that you have in Jesus, faith and love that overflow into the lives of those around you. People can see Christ in your life. You have no idea how good that makes me feel.
And now, I have a request to make of you. I have continued to tell people about Jesus and even though I’m in jail, people are giving their lives to Jesus. That includes Onesimus – Nessie – who stands before you right now.
I know what he did to you – how he stole your possessions and ran away. I’m sending him back to you, hoping that you will welcome him, not so much as a servant but as a brother in Christ. Whatever he owes you, feel free to charge to my account – and don’t forget that you own me your life and your faith.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
In case you haven’t figured it out, that is a paraphrase of Philemon – Phil – the shortest and most personal of all Paul’s letters. I tell you that story, and had Joan read the story about Jacob and Laban, because they point to the theme that is at the center of our confession for this week, The Confession of 1967. The theme is reconciliation.
Let me give you a little background for this confession. In 1956 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church was asked to work on a revision of the Westminster Confession. At that point it was the only confession we had as Presbyterians, but it was 300 years old – a bit outdated. The committee that worked on the revision came back in 1958 with the suggestion that a new confession should be written. A new committee worked for seven years on the new confession. In 1965 a draft was sent out to the local churches and presbyteries for comments and suggestions. After the comments came back the committee revised the confession. In 1966 the General Assembly approved the new confession and sent it out to the presbyteries to vote on it. It needed 2/3 of the presbyteries to approve it but about 90% approved it. In 1967 it was officially adopted as one of the Presbyterian Confessions, with the creative name, The Confession of 1967.
The Confession of 1967 is built around our passage in 2 Corinthians. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It’s all about reconciliation. There are three sections in the Confession. The first one is called “God’s Work of Reconciliation.” It talks about how God, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, has reconciled us to himself. The second section is titled “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” Those of us who have been reconciled to God belong to the Church and are sent out into the world to proclaim God’s work in Christ and to work for reconciliation, between people and God and between different people. The third section is titled “The Fulfillment of Reconciliation.” This section affirms our hope that in the end God ultimately wins. At the end of time the Kingdom of God will become a reality and we will be reconciled to God and to each other.
The banner for the Confession of 1967 is probably my favorite one. The stars and the planets on the blue background suggest the Space-Age setting. Our perspective of the creation is very different from the people who wrote the Westminster Confession, much less the Nicene Creed. The hand at the top that is reaching down, is a symbol for God reaching down to the world. It is the same hand that was in the banner for the Nicene Creed. The crown at the top of the cross is repeated from two banners, the Nicene Creed and the Westminster Confession. The crown points to the victory of Jesus. In the end he will rule over all the earth. The circle underneath the cross represents the earth and the four hands of different colors, pointing to the two hands that are clasped, suggest the reconciliation that God works through Christ. People of all colors, black, yellow, white, and red, will come together at the foot of the cross. The cross and the nail-scarred hand remind us of Jesus, who brings about our reconciliation with God and with each other.
Think for a moment about what was going on in the world during the time when this was written – the 1960s. The Cold War, with the threat of nuclear devastation, was very real. Racial division was exploding. The conflict over race in our country was at least as bad as it is now, if not worse. Women’s liberation was becoming an issue, pointing to the divide between men and women. The generational divide was starting to pull our country apart. The need for reconciliation was very real.
I doubt that I need to spend much time trying to convince you that the need for reconciliation is just as real today – just turn on the news or read about the Presidential election. We need reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats; racial reconciliation in our cities; reconciliation between the rich and the poor, between the third world and developed countries; reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The list could go on and on. The truth is that we don’t need to look out “there,” at the world, to find the need for reconciliation. We all probably have broken relationships, people with whom we need to work on reconciliation. And because we all continue to sin, we all continue to need reconciliation with God. We need Jesus as much today as we did the day he died on the cross and the day we first believed.
There are at least three different ways that the message of reconciliation can connect with our lives. First, we all need to be reconciled to God. We all turn away from God. And so, whether it is for the first time in your life or for the tenth time this weekend, turn your hearts and minds to Jesus. For through him we are reconciled to God.
The second way this message connects with us is that you may know someone who needs to be reconciled to God. That is part of what it means to be reconciled to God, telling others the good news of Jesus. Our job is to tell people, to remind them, that in Christ our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God.
The third way reconciliation connects with us is that we all probably have people with whom we need to be reconciled. We’ve been hurt, or we’ve hurt someone else, and a relationship has been broken. This is about forgiving and being forgiven, which is hard. And if it seems too hard, then I invite you to remember that you have been forgiven. Remember that Jesus died for your sins and he died for the sins of the one you can’t forgive. We are called to work for reconciliation with other people.
Let me close by telling you a story of reconciliation. Hubert Humphrey, the senator from Minnesota and Vice President under Lyndon Johnson, won the Democratic nomination for President in 1968. He narrowly lost to Richard Nixon. Humphrey was a liberal Democrat and was known as a peacemaker, not only in politics but in his relationships.
Near the end of his life he was talking with a friend who was a pastor. They were reflecting on his life, remembering the good times and the difficult times. Humphrey said that the lowest point in his life was right after he lost to Nixon.
His friend asked him when the last time was that he had been in Washington DC. Humphrey thought for a moment and said, “I guess I ought to go back one last time.” His wife, Muriel, said “That’s great. I’ll call the president right now.” The next day President Carter flew to Minneapolis in Air Force One and picked Humphrey up to take him back to D.C.
Several weeks later Humphrey called up his pastor friend to thank him. As they talked his friend said, “Hubert, I doubt there is any American more applauded than you… The irony is that there is another man in our country who lives in almost total exile. His name is Richard Nixon. Because of the Watergate scandal he is isolated and all alone. Should he be forgiven? Could there be healing and reconciliation?” Humphrey thought for a bit and realized that probably better than anyone else he could help Nixon come back into the public eye with some sense of dignity. He said that he would contact Nixon and invite him to come to his funeral.
Several months later Humphrey died and at his funeral Richard Nixon sat next to Muriel Humphrey. Someone asked, “How could they invite Nixon to Humphrey’s funeral?” Someone sitting close by answered, “If you knew Hubert Humphrey you wouldn’t have asked that question.”
May we be people who are reconciled to God and are known to be working for reconciliation in our world.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Ephesians 4:1-6
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Without the way, there is no going; without the truth, there is no knowing; without the life, there is no living. I am the way, which thou ought to follow; the truth, which thou ought to trust; the life, which thou ought to hope for. Thomas A Kempis, “The Imitation of Christ,”
Theological Declaration of Barmen
Dr. Graham Scroggie preached at the Keswick Convention in England. His theme was the Lordship of Christ. After the sermon he saw a young woman sitting all by herself. He went up to her and asked if he could help. “Oh, Dr. Scroggie,” she blurted out, “your message was so compelling, but I am afraid to truly make Christ Lord, afraid of what he will ask of me!” Dr. Scroggie opened his Bible to the book of Acts, the story of Peter at Joppa. This is the story in which God told Peter that the good news of Jesus was for all people, including Gentiles. Peter was on the roof praying and had a vision of a sheet coming out of heaven with unclean animals on it. A voice told Peter to take one of the animals and eat it. Peter objected, “No, Lord. It’s unclean. I can’t eat that.” God responded by saying “If I have called something clean you shouldn’t call it unclean.”
Dr. Scroggie said to this young girl, “You know, it is possible to say ‘No,’ and it is possible to say ‘Lord.’ But it is not possible to say ‘No, Lord.’ I’m going to leave my Bible here and I want you to cross out either the word ‘No,’ or the word ‘Lord.’” He left his Bible with her and went into another room to pray. After a while came back and saw that the word ‘No’ was crossed out. With tears streaming down her cheeks she said, “Jesus is my Lord.”
That is the main message of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. Jesus alone is Lord. Barmen was a city in western Germany and The Barmen Declaration was written in May, 1934, which might give you an idea of what it is about. Let me remind you what was happening in Germany at this time.
Before WWI, the church in Germany was closely connected to the government. It was that way in most of Europe. Whatever the religion of the King was, that was the religion of the country and the king would appoint the leaders of the church. People were beginning to recognize the problems with that and moving toward separation of church and state. In 1931 a group of the different churches formed the German Christian Church. They wanted to go back to the old ways of church and state working together. Most of them were Nazi supporters and anti-Semitic. In 1933 Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and continued getting power over Germany, including over the church.
In response to Hitler and the German Christian Church another group of pastors formed the Confessing Church. They were from several denominations, including Lutheran and Reformed. They were primarily opposed to the government trying to control the church. As Hitler gained more power and life degenerated in Germany the Confessing Church grew in its opposition to the immorality and antisemitism of the government and the German Church. In May, 1934, the Confessing Church met in Barmen and wrote the Declaration. It rejected the government control of the church and claimed that Jesus alone is the Lord of the Church.
The Theological Declaration of Barmen is different from the other confessions that we have looked at. The first two, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, are short and give the basics of the Christian faith – the Trinity and the Incarnation. The next four were written during the reformation era – The Scots Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Second Helvetic Confession and The Westminster Confession of Faith. They are much longer and comprehensive in describing what we believe. They lay out doctrines that Reformed, Presbyterian, Christians believe – the sovereignty of God, election, and the authority of Scripture, salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
The Barmen Declaration is shorter. It’s only four pages long, and part of that is the historical background. It doesn’t try to describe everything Christians believe. It focuses on one issue – who is Lord of the Church and of the people of God? Listen to one of the lines from the introduction:
We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (Book of Confessions, 8.06).
Here is the first statement from the actual declaration:
Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death (Book of Confessions, 8.11).
In other words, the church is called to give its primary allegiance to Jesus, and obey him before all other authorities.
One other thing is unique about the Barmen Declaration. It makes six statements about the situation that was happening in Germany, six statements about the Church. I just read the first one. After each of these six positive statements about who we are and what we believe, the Declaration adds a negative statement, rejecting six false doctrines of the German Church. After the first, positive statement, it adds this:
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
In other words, Jesus is our only Lord. We will not follow other authorities. Jesus alone is the authority for our lives and the One we must listen to above all others.
The first Christians proclaimed their faith in Jesus by calling him “Lord.” That was the earliest confession of faith, “Jesus is Lord.” William Barclay says that in the Bible there are at least six different meanings to the word “Lord.” Lord means owner. The Lord of a vineyard is the owner of the vineyard. Lord means master. The one who owns a slave is the lord of the slave. Lord is a title of respect. In English we might say “Sir.” Lord is the title of the Roman Emperor, the one who rules over everyone else. Lord is the word that was used as a prefix to the names of gods. “My Lord Zeus.” Finally, Lord is the word that is used to translate the name of the Hebrew God, Yahweh. To call Jesus our Lord is to acknowledge all of those ideas. We are to give to Jesus our ultimate allegiance.
The German Church was so closely connected with the government that as the government started to propose ideas and actions that were contrary to the gospel, the church went right along with them. That should be a warning to all of us. We are in the midst of an election that is incredibly divisive. The majority of Americans don’t like either of the two main presidential candidates. It seems to me that there are Christians on both sides of the issues who seem to blindly support their candidates, suggesting that voting for the other side is voting against God.
Let me remind us that our ultimate allegiance must not be to a political party or to a candidate, or to an issue. It is okay to be involved with these issues and candidates, but if they ever call us to do something that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ then we must reject them. As Christians, Jesus alone is our Lord.
The banner for the Theological Declaration of Barmen is probably the easiest to identify. If you know what a swastika is and know that Barmen was written as a rejection of Hitler and the Nazi beliefs, it’s easy to pick out this banner. The swastika actually used to be a positive symbol. It has been around for at least 5000 years and was an Indian symbol of peace. The word swastika comes from a Sanskrit word that means fortunate, or good luck. Then it became the symbol of Nazi Germany and lost all of its positive meaning. Notice that on the banner the swastika is crossed out. This is a blatant rejection of Hitler’s ideology. Our ultimate allegiance is not to Hitler, or to any other issue, or person. Jesus is our Lord.
At the bottom of the banner there is a cross that is rising out of the fire. That is what the jagged edges with the red behind it is supposed to symbolize. The fire is a symbol of the suffering and death which often comes with following Jesus. Certainly it did for some of those who wrote the Barmen Declaration. Some of them were killed during the Holocaust. But the cross survives, rising out of the flames. Death is never the final answer, because Jesus overcame death. Therefore Jesus is our Lord.
Confession of Faith: The Theological Declaration of Barmen
Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords – areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9; 2 Timothy 3:14-17
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word…
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? T.S. Eliot
Westminster Confession – Scripture
There was a farmer who lived in the middle of Kansas. He had two sons, both of whom joined the navy. The farmer’s brother was a psychologist. He came for a visit and the farmer asked him, “How is it that a farmer in the middle of Kansas raised two boys who love being sailors?” The psychologist said, “That’s a good question. Let me think about it.”
That night the psychologist slept in the boy’s room. The next morning he went downstairs and said that he thought he knew why the boys joined the navy. He took his brother up to the boy’s bedroom. As they walked into the room, above the beds, there was a beautiful picture of a clipper ship sailing on the ocean. He had the farmer lay down on the bed and asked him what he saw. “I see the picture of the ship.” The psychologist asked his brother how long the picture had been there. The farmer said that he had bought it when the boys were very young. The psychologist said, “The first thing you see as you walk into this room is the picture of this ship sailing on the sea. The last thing you see at night is the ship. If you think about a picture like this long enough you just might become a sailor.”
If we read, study, and meditate on God’s Word long enough, we just might become the people God created us to be.
We have been looking at the Confessions of the Presbyterian Church and their banners. Today we are looking at the sixth confession, The Westminster Confession of Faith.
I want to start this morning by talking about the banner. Notice that the banner has three long panels and a triangle. Both of these point to the Trinity which is one of the central doctrines of our faith. The three crosses might also point to the Trinity.
The eye in the center of the triangle is a symbol of God’s providence and sovereignty. This is one of the dominant themes in the Westminster Confession, and all Reformed theology. God is in control of all life and history. The crown at the top of the central panel also points to God’s rule over the world.
At the bottom of the right and left panels are the Greek letters alpha and omega, the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus is the alpha and the omega and central to our faith.
Behind the eye is a piece of white material. I didn’t know what that was until I looked at the notes about the banners. That is intended to portray an open Bible. This confession starts with a chapter on the authority of the Scriptures. The Bible is the primary way that God speaks to us and is central to our life and faith.
The Westminster Confession was written in 1646 at Westminster Abbey, in London, England. It was written during the English Civil War. I don’t know if we have any English history fans here. I am not an expert on it, but I’d like to share with you a little bit of what was happening. I haven’t focused on the political events that were going on when the confessions were written, but they were significant, especially with the Westminster Confession.
The English Civil War lasted from about 1640 – 1660. In 1641 Ireland rebelled against England. Charles I was the king of England, but he argued with the British Parliament over who would control the army. There was a Royalist group who supported the King and a Parliamentarian group who sided with the parliament. There were three wars during this time and about 200,000 people died. Eventually the Parliamentarians won, led by Oliver Cromwell. They killed the king and got rid of the monarchy.
The Irish were Roman Catholics. The Royalists were Anglicans. Their government and theology were very similar to the Catholics, other than not accepting the Pope. The Parliamentarians were Calvinists, or Presbyterians.
In 1643 the Parliament wanted a statement of faith that expressed the theology, the government, and the liturgy of the church. They gathered 151 men, mostly pastors, who met 1,163 times over a period of about 5 years. Presbyterians inherit our love of meetings. They averaged 200-250 meetings a year. In those meetings they wrote the Westminster Confession, along with the two catechisms, the Shorter and the Larger Catechism, a “Form of Presbyterian Government,” and a “Directory for Worship.” Many of the early settlers in the USA were English Puritans and Scottish immigrants. They brought with them the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was accepted as the official statement of faith for the Presbyterian Church in 1729 and until 1967 was our only confession.
The Westminster Confession was written about 80 years after the other Reformation era confessions. It has a different feel to it. It is sometimes described as Protestant Scholasticism. It attempts to be scientific in its approach to theology. It tries to be very exact, logical, and comprehensive in talking about the mysteries of faith. It uses precise language to describe who God is and what God has done, to the point that it sometimes seems to forget that God is beyond our ability to understand.
As I mentioned earlier, the opening chapter of the Westminster Confession deals with Holy Scripture. There are ten sections in this chapter and when we confess our faith in a few minutes we will read two of them.
The first section tells us that God speaks to us in a variety of ways. God speaks to us in the creation and through our conscience. God speaks through our dreams and desires, through the circumstances of life. “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable” (Book of Confessions, 6.001). We can’t use ignorance as an excuse for not knowing what God wants. However, the primary way God speaks to us is through the Bible. We need the God’s Word.
God chooses to reveal Himself through the Word. In Genesis 1 God creates by speaking the creation into being. “God said ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” The first chapter of John’s gospel echoes that idea. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus is God’s Word who became flesh. To say that in a different way, all of the other ways that God can and does speak to us must be compared with what God says to us in the Bible, the Word of God.
The next section that we will recite is probably the most important part of this chapter. “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Book of Confessions, 6.006). Everything you need to know about God, everything you need to know for salvation and for living as God’s people, is found in the Bible. If that is true, and I believe it is, it would seem to me that reading the Bible, studying the Bible, and meditating on God’s Word, need to be a priority in our lives.
I have intentionally used three different terms to describe how we approach the Bible. First, we read it, we become familiar with what is in the Bible. We learn the stories. We learn the poems and the laws. I went to seminary and have read the Bible numerous times and there are still times today when I will read a passage and find myself thinking “I don’t remember this.” There is a lot here, so we need to keep reading it.
We also need to study the Bible. Some parts of the Bible are not easy and it isn’t always clear what it means, so we need to study. Whether it is in Sunday school classes or reading commentaries, we need to learn not only what is in the Bible but what it means. To be honest with you, the best way to learn what the Bible means is to try to teach it to someone else, either teaching our kids or teaching an adult class. Yes, this is a blatant request to have more people involved in teaching.
Meditating on the Word is the third step. This involves taking a short passage of Scripture, maybe only a word or a phrase, or a couple of verses, and thinking about them, pondering them, ruminating on them. What is God saying in these words, to me? Why do they seem important for me? Meditating allows God to speak his word not only into our heads, but into our hearts.
Eugene Peterson wrote a book called Eat This Book. That title in itself is a wonderful image of taking in God’s Word and letting it nourish our lives. In the book Peterson tells a parable about a warehouse. I want to read it to you. “Eat This Book, p6-7.”
All of us want Sharon Church to become the place that God wants it to be. We want Sharon to become a vibrant, growing, community of faith. Let me suggest that the transformation that needs to happen will not occur because of our hard work. The transformation is not something you can put on the new pastor when s/he gets here. God is the only one who can bring the transformation that is needed. The primary way God speaks to us, the primary way God will transform this church, is through the Word of God. If we want Sharon to become the church we want it to be, the church God wants it to be, then the members and friends of Sharon church must read, study, and meditate on God’s Word.
Westminster Confession of Faith
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in diverse manners, to reveal himself, and to declare his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.
1 Corinthians 3:9-17; Colossians 1:15-20
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
The Church is the primary place where we encounter Jesus and grow in grace.
Thought for Meditation:
There is no other way to enter into life unless this mother (church) conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. John Calvin, Institutes IV.1.4
Second Helvetic Confession
We are in our fifth week of looking at the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the banners that go with each Confession. We’ve looked at the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Scots Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Today we are looking at the Second Helvetic Confession, which raises two questions, “What happened to the First?” and “What does Helvetic mean?”
I actually had to look that up. Helvetic is the Latin name for Switzerland, which was the center of the Reformed, or Presbyterian, tradition. As I said last week, Luther was up in Germany. John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli were the two leading Reformed theologians. Both lived in Switzerland. The Lutheran and Reformed beliefs came together in Southern Germany, in an area called the Palatinate. Heidelberg, which we talked about last week, was one of the leading cities. Frederick III, who ruled that area, wanted to find a common faith that both Lutherans and Presbyterians could agree on. The First Helvetic Confession, written in 1536, was one of the early attempts to resolve their differences. The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, was one of the later attempts.
I won’t go into all the details but trying to satisfy the Lutherans and the Presbyterians didn’t work. They still disagreed and fought with each other. Frederick gradually became more Reformed in his beliefs. He wanted a confession that expressed his Reformed theology. In 1566 he asked Heinrich Bullinger, the pastor of the church in Zurich, to write an exposition of the Reformed faith. Bullinger had actually written one for himself about four years earlier. He sent his own statement of faith to Frederick and to the rest of the Swiss churches. With a few modifications, Frederick and the Swiss church, accepted what is now known as the Second Helvetic Confession.
Let’s take a look at the banner. The cross divides the banner into four sections. The Confession talks about the salvation that is ours through Jesus’ death on the cross.
In the top-left quadrant there is a hand holding a burning heart. This is the symbol that John Calvin used for his life and faith and ministry. Usually people think of Luther as the heart of the Reformation and Calvin as the brains. But Calvin’s goal was not to help people think correctly, but to help people have a heart on fire for Christ. The hand is God’s hand. Our heart, our life, is in God’s hand.
The lamp in the top right quadrant stands for knowledge and discipline, two themes that stand out in the Second Helvetic Confession. To live the Christian life we need to know what we believe and we need to be disciplined in what we do.
The bottom left quadrant has the shepherd’s Crook and a pasture. This is a symbol of living within the church, as sheep in the flock, with Jesus as our shepherd.
In the bottom right corner we have the chalice and the waves. These point to the two sacraments, Holy Communion and Baptism.
The Second Helvetic Confession is thirty chapters long. It is the longest of our confessions. The seventeenth chapter is about the Church. During the Reformation there were many disagreements about the nature of the church. Roman Catholics, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians had different ideas of what the Church is and how we are to live our faith within the church.
That shouldn’t surprise us. The apostle Paul used many different images to talk about the church is. In the passage from 1 Corinthians he used the image of a building, a temple, to talk about the church. The foundation is Jesus. He is the one who holds us up and keeps the church from collapsing. Then there are a variety of stones and other materials that are used to build the structure on top of that foundation. In Colossians Paul used the body to talk about the church. There are different parts to the body and Jesus is the head.
In the section of the Second Helvetic Confession that we will recite at the end of the sermon, Heinrich Bullinger used a variety of other images that are drawn from the Bible. The church is an assembly of people who gather to worship. We are citizens of a city and people who have relationships with each other. The church is “a virgin and the Bride of Christ.” The church is a flock of sheep with Jesus as the shepherd. In the Bible, and in the Confessions, no single image is adequate to describe the church.
There is no way in one sermon I could say everything there is to say about the church. What I want to do is share with you one sentence about the church, and then unpack the meaning of that sentence.
The church is the primary place where we encounter Jesus and grow in grace.
The Christian life starts with an encounter with Jesus. For some people it is a dramatic encounter – like Paul’s Damascus Road conversion. For those of us who were brought up in the church it may not have been a dramatic encounter. We grew up learning the stories and knowing about Jesus. However, at some point in time everyone needs to have an encounter of some sort. Everyone needs to decide that the faith of the church, the faith of his or her parents, is their own faith. It may be dramatic or quiet, but everyone needs to meet Jesus. He breaks in to our lives, breaks in to our consciousness, and we proclaim not that Jesus is the Lord. We proclaim that Jesus is my Lord and my Savior.
However, that moment when we encounter Jesus and confess our faith, is just the beginning . We need to grow in grace. We grow in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian and to follow Christ. We learn the Bible. We learn how to pray. We grow in our relationship with Christ and in our relationships with other Christians. This process of growing in grace lasts as long as we are alive.
The church is the primary place where we encounter Jesus and grow in grace. In saying that the church is the primary place I’m suggesting that it isn’t the only place. God can come to us anywhere and anytime. God can and does break into our lives in unexpected places, in ways that we never imagined. You can meet God hiking in the mountains, filled with awe at the majestic beauty of God’s creation. You can meet God walking along the beach, filled with wonder at the relentless power of the waves and rejoicing in a beautiful sunrise. God can come to us on a golf course, at the grocery store or driving in our car.
However, the place where we are most likely to meet God is in the church. As John Calvin said, “The whole world is a theater for the display of the goodness, wisdom, justice, and power of God, but the church is the orchestra – the most conspicuous part of it.” To put it in more contemporary terms – you can eat a Big Mac at Taco Bell, but it is more likely to happen at McDonald’s. Jesus promises that whenever two or three gather together in his name, he is there. The primary place we meet Jesus, the most likely place, is in the church. That is why being part of a church, participating in its life and ministry, is essential for the Christian life.
In the last 10-15 years there has been a growing group of people that describe themselves as SBNR. Does anyone know what that acronym stands for? Spiritual But Not Religious. People who fit into this group describe themselves as spiritual. They are interested in God. They are open to the transcendent, to the mystery beyond us. They may pray and meditate. They claim to believe in God, or in some sort of divine being, even if their understanding of God is different than ours.
However, SBNR’s also claim that they are not religious. They don’t reject God but they reject the church. Or, at least they have no interest in participating in “organized religion.” (Whoever coined that phrase has no idea how chaotic most churches really are!)
In 2012 20% of Americans said that they were not religious. 7% of our population described themselves as Spiritual But Not Religious. My guess is that today it is an even higher percentage, 10-15%. One of the reasons that many people have rejected religion is the individualism of our culture. People want to define their faith on their own. It’s much easier and safer to invent our own god, who doesn’t make any demands on us or challenge us to change.
But if we are honest, part of the reason that so many people have turned away from religion is that the church has not been what God created it to be. All too often the church has been a place that has not encouraged people to explore their faith. The church has had scandals and conflicts that have turned people away.
Those of you who have been part of the Sharon Church for more than a couple of years know that all too well. I’ve also experienced that in my life. The church I was born into went through a conflict. I was too young to know what was going on, but my parents left that church and it broke their hearts. The church we joined, which was the church I was confirmed in, had a conflict between two pastors. It divided the congregation. Eventually they were both asked to leave.
In my first church I was an associate pastor. There had been a major fight in the church several years before we got there. It had mostly healed but there were still a few people who carried some anger and hurt. After a couple of years the senior pastor left and the interim who came caused all sorts of conflict. In my second church I was a solo pastor. We had some conflict. We worked through it and had eight wonderful years there, but it was not easy. I moved to Ohio next as a head of staff at a church. There were major problems there and I resigned before I had another call. At that point I thought my career as a pastor was over. After eight months without a job I accepted the position of associate pastor at Beulah Presbyterian Church, in the eastern suburbs. I had nine and a half wonderful years there, but there was conflict. Thankfully I wasn’t part of it but there were shouting matches between other staff members. There were members who cursed each other at meetings, and an interim who was terrible. When I was interviewing for my first interim job I told them that I didn’t have any experience as an interim. Then I changed that and said that I knew how not to do interim work.
I tell you all of this to let you know that I have seen the church at its worst. I know how much pain the church can cause. I know how hard it is to be the church. Yet there is nowhere else I would rather be. The church is the primary place where we meet Jesus and the primary place where we grow in grace.
Let me close by telling you a story that Anne Lamott told. There was a seven year-old girl who got lost in her city. She was out playing and wandered into an area that she didn’t know. She started walking down streets looking for something familiar. Then she ran up and down streets but couldn’t find a landmark that she recognized. Nothing looked familiar. She started to panic until a policeman saw her and stopped to help. He put her in his car and drove around, looking for something that she recognized. Finally, she saw her church and said to the policeman, “You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.”
The church helps us find our home. The church, even with all its imperfections and struggles, is the primary place we meet Jesus and grow in grace.
Confession of Faith: Second Helvetic Confession: 5.135, 130, 131 (insert)
The Church is an assembly of the faithful, called or gathered out of the world; a communion, I say, of all saints, namely, of those who truly know and rightly worship and serve the true God in Christ the Savior, by the Word and Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers of all benefits which are freely offered through Christ. They are all citizens of the one city, living under the same Lord, under the same laws, and in the same fellowship of all good things.
This holy Church of God is called the temple of the living God, built of living and spiritual stones and founded upon a firm rock, upon a foundation which no other can lay. It is called “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” This Church is also called a virgin and the Bride of Christ, and even the only Beloved. The Church is called a flock of sheep under the one shepherd, Christ. The Church is also called the body of Christ because the faithful are living members of Christ under Christ the Head.
Christ is the sole head of the church. It is the head which has the preeminence in the body, and from it the whole body receives life; by its spirit the body is governed in all things; from it, also, the body receives increase, that it may grow up. Also, there is one head of the body, and it is suited to the body. Therefore the Church cannot have any other head besides Christ. For as the Church is a spiritual body, so it must also have a spiritual head in harmony with itself. Neither can it be governed by any other spirit than by the Spirit of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Romans 7:24-25a
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.
Today is World Communion Sunday. Christians all over the world will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We have a variety of types of bread today, from different parts of the world, to remind us that Christians in Seattle, Bangkok, Jerusalem, Nairobi, and Boston are joining with Christians in Moon Township to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Worldwide Communion was first celebrated in 1933, at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, in Pittsburgh. It is an attempt to demonstrate to the world our unity as followers of Jesus Christ.
There is a certain amount of irony in that because this meal has been the cause of more fights than probably any other issue in the church. Different churches have different beliefs about the Lord’s Supper.
This morning we are looking at the fourth of our confessions in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions – The Heidelberg Catechism. I chose this for today because this catechism was an attempt to bring together at least two different denominations. The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1562 in the town of Heidelberg. It’s a city in southern Germany. Lutheran theology from the northern part of Germany moved south and Presbyterian theology moved north from Switzerland, meeting in Heidelberg. They had different beliefs, primarily about the Lord’s Supper. Frederick III, who was the governor of that area, commissioned two theologians to write a statement of faith that would satisfy both the Lutherans and the Reformed Christians – the Heidelberg Catechism.
Compared to other Reformation documents, the tone of the Catechism is much gentler. Last week we heard how the Scots Confession “condemns the Anabaptists.” There is none of that in the Catechism. It is polite. It is also personal. A catechism is a series of questions and answers that are intended to teach the basics of the Christian faith. These questions are not just esoteric theological discussions. Many of them ask what these doctrines mean “for you.” There are 129 questions, and they are divided into 52 weeks. The idea was that every week the pastor would preach at the evening service on several of the questions. It was their form of Sunday school.
The first question is an introduction and is one of my favorites. “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” The answer is, my comfort is “That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” The comfort and encouragement that we need are found in the good news that Jesus loves us. Our hope is not based on what we do, but on the person of Jesus Christ.
The rest of the Catechism corresponds to the passage from Romans that I read a few moments ago. There are three sentences: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25a). The first section of the Catechism deals with being wretched people, because of our guilt and sin. It’s titled “Of Man’s Misery” (They didn’t use inclusive language back then.) The second section deals with the way God in Christ rescues us from our sin – “Of Man’s Redemption.” It is in this section that the Catechism talks about the Lord’s Supper. The third section describes how we are to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s called “Of Man’s Thankfulness.”
Before we look at the Lord’s Supper let’s look at the banner for the Heidelberg Catechism. The red and gold are the colors of Frederick III, who ordered the writing of the catechism.
On the top half of the banner there are three symbols. Each one corresponds to a different section of the catechism. The Crown of Thorns points to the misery that is our because of our sin. The Cross is a symbol of the redemption that is ours through Jesus’ death. The Tablet stands for the Ten Commandments. This section has a number of questions that talk about the meaning of the Ten Commandments. In other words, we show our thankfulness through our obedience to God.
On the bottom half of the banner there are three more symbols. They point to the Trinity, which is affirmed in the Catechism. On the left is the Hebrew name for God, YHWH. To the right of that is the symbol for Jesus, with the letters I H S. I know that looks like a C rather than an S, but these are the Greek letters which make up the first three letters of Jesus’ name; iota, eta, sigma. The bottom symbol is the flame which stands for the Holy Spirit.
So, here is the question I want us to think about today: What does the Lord’s Supper mean for us? Tony Campolo is one of the great preachers of the past fifty years. He’s unusual in that he is an evangelical Baptist, who talks about social justice issues. He often talks about St. Francis of Assisi, who was very involved in ministry to the poor. St. Francis believed that the poor were sacramental.
When Campolo talks about being sacramental the Catholics in his audiences get excited. The Roman Catholic Church is very sacramental. They believe that in holy communion the bread literally becomes the body of Jesus and the wine is transubstantiated into Jesus’ blood. As a Baptist, Campolo has a different understanding of the Lord’s Supper. In communion the bread stays bread and the wine turns into grape juice.
As Presbyterians, our theology is between the two extremes of the Roman Catholics and the Baptists. The bread stays bread and the juice stays juice, but we also believe that Jesus is really present in this meal. I will stand behind the table, say the words and hand out the bread and the juice, but Jesus is the host. It is his table. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper Jesus is present.
Even more, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are spiritually fed. I did a Google search on the word “diet.” In less than ½ a second I had 445 million different results. I’m sure we could go around the room and name at least 20-30 different diets – low carb, low fat, South Beach, Atkins, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers. My parents tried the grapefruit diet when I was a kid. I don’t know if they lost any weight but I learned to love grapefruit! Here is the point. We put lots of time, energy and money into caring for our bodies, making sure we get the proper nutrition. That is good. Should we not put just as much effort into the nourishment we get for our spiritual lives?
We are nurtured in a variety of ways. Some of them we do by ourselves; pray, read the Bible. Some we do with other people: Sunday school, small groups or worship. At least we hope that in worship the sermon will feed us. One pastor was normally a bit long-winded. One Sunday he was extra inspired and spoke extra-long. After worship he stood at the door, shaking hands with people as they came out. One couple came up and the husband said, “Your sermon was wonderful, Pastor – so inspiring and refreshing.” The pastor thanked him and started to feel a little bit of pride, until the wife said, “Yeah, it gave him a chance for a longer nap!”
I hope you are nourished through the sermon, but I know that some sermons are better than others. Even if a sermon is good it may not speak to where you are at this point in time. The good news is that at the Lord’s Table we are spiritually nourished. Just as bread and juice nourish our bodies, this bread and this juice nourish our faith.
At the end of the sermon we will recite a portion of the Heidelberg Catechism. The answer to question 75 says this. “He has promised that he himself as certainly feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life with his crucified body and shed blood as I receive from the hand of the minister and actually taste the bread and the cup of the Lord which are given to me as sure signs of the body and blood of Christ.” At this table we are fed.
One more thought. At this table not only are we spiritually nourished, we are united with Christ. God created us and is the source of our life. We were made to be in perfect union with God. However, our sin breaks that union. We turn our backs on God. Yet God created within us an emptiness, a longing, a desire to be one with Christ.
I have a sense that many of us are afraid of our desires. We think that they are wrong and sinful, so we deny them or ignore them. The problem is not the desire itself, but what we look to as a way to fulfill that desire. We look to our families or our careers. We look to accomplishments, or things, or experiences. If only I had that house or that car, if only I could get that new job, if only I had enough money and time to travel, then this longing inside would be satisfied. The things we look to as a way to fill our emptiness may or may not be good, but they will never satisfy us. The deepest desire inside us is to be one with Christ.
At this table we are united with Christ. We take in the bread and the juice. They become part of us, part of our bodies. Because Christ is present in this meal, when we eat the bread and drink from the cup we take in Christ and become one with him. That doesn’t necessarily last because we continue living and sinning. But at least for a moment, we are one with Christ. As the Catechism says, when we eat the bread and drink the cup we are “united more and more to his blessed body by the Holy Spirit dwelling both in Christ and in us that, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are nevertheless flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.”
Because God is God and we are not, we never fully understand how God works in our lives. We never fully understand the sacraments. They are sacred, they are holy, they are beyond our understanding. Yet we are invited to participate in the sacraments, and receive by faith the gifts that they bring.
In the Lord’s Supper we believe that Jesus is present in the bread and the cup. We believe that through the Lord’s Supper we are spiritually nourished and united to Christ.
I invite you now to stand and affirm your faith, using two of the questions from the Heidelberg Catechism, found on the insert in your bulletin and on the screens.
Q. 75. How are you reminded and assured in the Holy Supper that you participate in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross and in all his benefits?
A. In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread, and to drink of this cup in remembrance of him. He has thereby promised that his body was offered and broken on the cross for me, and his blood was shed for me, as surely as I see with my eyes that the bread of the Lord is broken for me, and that the cup is shared with me. Also, he has promised that he himself as certainly feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life with his crucified body and shed blood as I receive from the hand of the minister and actually taste the bread and the cup of the Lord which are given to me as sure signs of the body and blood of Christ.
Q. 76. What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his shed blood?
A. It is not only to embrace with a trusting heart the whole passion and death of Christ, and by it to receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In addition, it is to be so united more and more to his blessed body by the Holy Spirit dwelling both in Christ and in us that, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are nevertheless flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, always living and being governed by one Spirit, as the members of our bodies are governed by one soul.