Tag Archives: creeds

Why Creeds? Why the Trinity? First Saint Johns May 31, 2015

[click on the above link for the audio version of this sermon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, and all those who know One God, in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit said … AMEN!!

Today is “Trinity” Sunday, this caps off the Easter/Ascension/Pentecost part of the calendar, this is when we remember that there is One God, the Great Shema. The central prayer in the Jewish prayerbook, and we can say “Hear oh Israel the Lord is God, the Lord is One.” From the beginning there has been One God, but we know this as the “Godhead”, one God, made up of three person, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. As the Introduction in your bulletin this morning points out, the word Trinity, doesn’t appear in the Bible. Quite often when you get someone who wants to debate Christianity, they will throw that one up as some kind of a trump. This isn’t going to be terribly charitable, but if brains were dynamite that person wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose. Anyway, No! The word simply describes what we read in the Bible. Certainly we see the Trinity in the narrative of the Bible. We see God the Father, certainly as He is portrayed in our reading in Isaiah, high and lifted up. Many people like to play around with the idea that well, the Father was portrayed in the Old Testament, but not the Son or the Holy Spirit. We would make the case that there are many, what are called Christophanies throughout the OT, for example Wil Pounds describes in Joshua 5: 13-15 when a mysterious armed man shows up at the Israelites camp, who identifies Himself as the “captain of the host of the Lord”:  “Joshua immediately recognized the supernatural character of this visitor. Joshua was in the presence of God. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?'” (v. 14b).” As Pounds points out, this mysterious man removes any doubt of who He is, and we say this is a Christophany, because first “Joshua fell on his face and worshipped”.[1] We only “worship” God. Jesus in His incarnation often received worship from people. Remember when Thomas fell on his knees and said: “My Lord and my God!” (ESV) But the “captain of the host of the Lord”, also directed Joshua to; “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” What other episode in the Bible does that remind you of? … Yes, Yahweh telling Moses to do the same thing in Exodus 3:5. The “captain of the host of the Lord” is clearly telling Joshua that he is in the presence of God, the Incarnated Person of the Godhead and that would be … Jesus!

We see the Holy Spirit all through the Bible as well, Genesis 1:2, you can’t get much earlier in the Bible than that, says: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (ESV) There are two other references to the “Spirit of God” in Genesis. King David in Psalm 139:7 writes: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?”

Then we have writings that we can readily visualize, Jesus’ baptism, Mark 3:16-17 “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Much the same again at the Transfiguration, where Jesus clearly appears as divinity, with the Father affirming that “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The Holy Spirit becomes a very tangible presence, as the result of Jesus’ promise on the Day of Pentecost. Now that Jesus has died for our justification, now we are fit to be indwelt by God the Holy Spirit.

Another issue that is raised is about “creeds” in general. It has become trendy today to dismiss “creeds” and/or “confessions”, which is really the same thing except for some odd reason, people who should know better try to divide them. We are a “confessional body”, here, at First Saint Johns and in the LCMS as a whole. We confess the creeds, when you take your confirmation or membership vows, your vows are in the context of the Apostles Creed “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty” and it goes from there, you respond reciting the Apostle’s Creed. You promise to abide by the historical beliefs of the Christian Church. Many today, “oh we don’t need confessions and creeds” makes you wonder what the point is for them. Do they or do they not believe in God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord and in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Catholic/Christian church. You are promising to abide by the fundamental precepts of being a Christian. If you’re not doing that, then you really have to ask yourself whether you’re in a Christian Church, whether you take the entire concept of Christianity seriously and what you’re really doing here. Today we remember the Athanasian Creed. For obvious reasons we don’t recite this creed every week, but we do take time to remember it at least once a year. The church has had to deal with heretical teachings since the beginning, people who have tried to undermine Jesus’ teachings with human rationalization. The early church especially stepped up to answer those heresies and didn’t worry about taking the hits from the contemporary society. The church is not here to be dictated to by the world, the church is to point to the truth in Jesus Christ and that is what the early church did in the Apostles Creed dated to about 200 AD, Nicean Creed 325 AD and then the Athanasian Creed about 500. All to answer heresies then, and certainly to answer them in this day and age. As the insert in your bulletin reads: “The Athanasian Creed declares that its teachings concerning the Holy Trinity and our Lord’s incarnation are the “catholic faith”…what the true Church of all times and all places has confessed.”

We subscribe to Creeds and Confessions in order to stay true and faithful to the one true catholic church, that church that was established by Jesus. If we want to commune with Jesus, then certainly that communion has to be with His Body, which is the church. These Creeds and Confessions unite us with Christians all over the world who truly know Jesus and His teachings, His Lordship and salvation in His church. We are one with Jesus’ martyrs through history and those who are being martyred at this very minute. We are one through the Creeds and Confessions with His disciples, His Confessors, His Missionaries, His teachers, all those who are His now and through history. The Holy Spirit has given us these Creeds and Confessions to give us our faith that points us to Jesus Christ as Lord of our life and our Savior to life eternal. If we forget these Creeds we set ourselves up to be our own teachers and disciples, to make ourselves the object of worship to decide how we worship and who we worship. Please take this insert home, take out your journal, read through the Creed and write about how this keeps you pointed to the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom.

[1] http://www.abideinchrist.com/messages/jos5v13.html

For God so loved all peoples, all heritages John 3: 14-21 First St Johns Mar 15, 2015

[For the audio version of this sermon please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, and all those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus said … AMEN!!

You may have heard me refer to St Patricks as the “high holy day”, if you grew up where I grew up, it would be easy to come to that conclusion. I went to the St Patrick’s Day mass in Boston, once. It was conducted, by then, Cardinal Law. You wanna talk “high holy day”, that was it. The worship service, for what was during the week, was very ornate and well attended. This was at the Cardinal’s seat at Holy Cross Church in Boston. Say what you will about the Roman Catholic Church, but I left there very much feeling as if I had been in worship.

The story is told of Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston. Mayor Curley was quite the character, sort of a Robin Hood figure at the time, which was pretty much during the depression. He couldn’t make March 17 a holiday for a Christian Saint, he tried to find an historical event to commemorate. He hit upon the fact that March 17 is when the British evacuated Boston during the Revolutionary War. Well the fact that our Boston ancestors drove the mighty British out of Boston wasn’t something that not only the old Boston Yankees would happily commemorate, but also the Irish-American population would also buy into. Call it what you would, there was a holiday on March 17 and we all know what it’s really about. Evacuation Day is still a recognized holiday in Middlesex and Suffolk counties where Boston is located in. And it is duly celebrated.

Heritage is an important thing, it should be shared and celebrated. Right here we have at least four different groups in First St Johns Lutheran Church that are very serious in the living and celebrating of their heritage and there is nothing wrong with that. In a society that has become so splintered and so alienated, I submit that those people who remember their heritage, share that heritage with others of the same group, make sure that their children, grandchildren and other relatives remember that and don’t surrender to what has become an increasingly homogenized society. As much as diversity is promoted in today’s society, it really is putting away ethnic and religious heritages, to be bound together under an increasingly secular and humanist heritage. Many talk a good game about heritage, the lack of knowledge of American and ethnic history is getting to be scandalous. Too many young people can’t even think in historical terms, as if what came before them doesn’t matter and yet has very much made them what they are. This lack of anchoring in our society, to our Christian heritage and our family heritage has left us with a society that is increasingly detached and alienated.

When you were baptized, you became a new person. In Baptism you are “born again”, you are given real life, in Jesus Christ, you are that new man or woman. Because of that you are born into a new heritage. You may be of German ethnicity or Irish or Spanish, African-American, Italian, but as the song says “…in Christ alone…” We share a heritage that goes back to the beginning in Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Galatian brothers: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Because it is the “high holy day”, I bring this up because I do try to make St Patricks a little special. I know it’s the middle of Lent and should be somber. Sundays, though, even in Lent, are still festival days on the church calendar. It’s odd how it works out and if you would like me to explain it, I will, but I see St Patricks as a way to kind of stay in touch with the culture that I was brought up in and even as a Lutheran was included in. I have to admit, being of Irish/Yankee ethnicity, makes me an oddball in the Lutheran Church. Although it’s not the only thing that does, but I see St Patricks as a way to remember not just our ethnic identity, but so much more importantly our identity in Jesus.

One reason that I have felt it was so important to recite the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds with the word “catholic” is to emphasize that the Lutheran Church is very much a universal church. We should not concede that to any other church. We are universal and the Lutheran Church has members and churches in almost every country in the world. There are countries where Christianity is seriously repressed, so we really don’t know what church is or isn’t represented. The fastest growing Lutheran population in the world is not in the United States or Europe, it’s in …. Africa, by far. “…there are over 16 million Lutherans in Africa?  To put that in perspective, that’s more Lutherans than in all of North America. Unlike the Church in Europe and North America, Africa as well as Asia is seeing phenomenal growth in membership.” Put in perspective, from Dr Luther grew the churches of modern Protestantism. [1] Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, genuine Protestant Christian, excluding Anabaptist churches, churches are the result of what Martin Luther did 500 years ago. We are all truly brothers and sisters in Christ. Often more brothers and sisters than the people that we share physical parents with.

I may use St Patricks Day to add a little twist into worship, I try to do it better, but it never seems to come about. But we have a shared heritage that far transcends what countries our ancestors were born in, we have a heritage that matters for eternity. Jesus died for all of us equally, we are all equally saved in Jesus, whether you were baptized last week, or seventy years ago. I am no more saved because I’m of Irish descent than you are of German descent, or Spanish, African American. In the eternal resurrection our heritage is solely in He who died so that we could be saved. He who is the Lord of our life, in this life and in the life eternal. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” World, ko,smoj in Greek means “…the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human race”[2] We are all brothers and sisters in the Holy Catholic, universal Lutheran church of Jesus Christ.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

[1] See more at: http://www.messiahlacrescent.org/2010/09/lutherans-in-africa/#sthash.x7ApeFjD.dpuf

[2] BibleWorks

Christian creeds, what we really vow to truly believe before God

I did a post yesterday based on an article in Leadership Magazine about “Evangelcial Christian” churches who just dispense with Christian worship. They call it worship but is it? When you don’t even do the basics of Christian worship? Please feel free to check it out and let’s talk.

In the meantime, in my other reading I’m reading a book titled “The Catholicity of the Reformation”. That Dr Martin Luther really had no issue with Roman Catholic worship the liturgy, for the most part. What he had a problem with was the doctrine and traditions that had grown up in the church.

The book by Carl E Braaten and Robert W. Jenson discusses how much even liturgical churches have slid into American Evanglical Chritianity, as it were. It’s a regular issue in the Lutheran Church that some pastor is making worship too Catholic. I know what that means, but I don’t think the person(s) saying it really knows what it means. If worship is getting liturgical, that’s not a problem in the Lutheran church. Luther never proscribed the liturgy, he frankly encouraged it. But the American Lutheran Church has become so affected by American evangelicalism that it really has lost its identity. The liturgy in the Lutheran Church faithfully lifts up Scripture and true worship. It is what we should be doing and not getting into what was frontier/camp meeting “worship” led by, often, self- appointed “preachers”. Generally there were too many preachers that were uneducated, didn’t really understand the Bible, doctrine and the purpose of actual worship. They made a bunch of nice-sounding noises and played to the crowd, but did little real teaching and no one really knew to keep them accountable. Hence, today, we have all sorts of nice sounding stuff, that has little with actual Christian worship. Oh, I can hear it now,  “yada, yada, that’s your opinion, we can do what we want, yada, yada” which only illuminates the speakers lack of understanding of Christian worship.

One thing that particularly caused me agita (although I don’t think I can ever get over the idea that a “Christian” church doesn’t included the Lord’s prayer in worship!!!), was the lack of a creed, confession. In this day and age when all sorts of organizations, from Fortune 500 companies, huge government agencies, down to the smallest organizations, are told to develop mission statements and mottoes, to think that the Christian church shouldn’t be likewise focused is just stunning!

Braaten and Jensen write: ” The function of the creeds and confessions is to provide standards by which the church can judge and condemn false teaching contrary to the gospel.” (p 59) Would any knowledgeable Christian disagree with that? Really, how could you disagree? They go on to point out: ” …heresy has become virtually outmoded in the modern church…” Would any of the same people disagree with that? No! Yea, guess I’m going to be a little catty here, but when we join together as the Body of Christ and recite a creed (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) we are making a vow, before God, in terms of what we genuinely believe. So my catty comment is; Why don’t so many churches (many flat-line, uhmmm, I mean main-line) say the creeds? Because they know their teachings are false, and they’re at least smart enough to not offend God any further, by making false promises. Do I give them credit for at least a little integrity?

The writers go on to say: “…the enlightenment brought the age of tolerance in which the rules that set limits to heresy were overthrown. Orthodoxy was put on the defensive. Heresy become a matter of religious freedom and human rights. The threat of heresy to personal salvation that prevailed in the ancient church was annulled…Dissent was permitted so long as it did not break the unity of the church. Not heresy but schism became the more serious concern. To prevent heresy from leading to schism, the churches today, maintaining their organization unity at almost all costs, have taken to promoting inclusivity and diversity at the expense of revealed truth and biblical morality, pushing back the limits to heresy, to the point where people are ‘tossed to and fro and blown by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4:14)

I know, maybe another cheap shot, but certainly Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill comes to mind. But certainly so many other “Christian churches” who become much more  about other things. The Mormon Church is much more about big business. Churches that are all about their pastor, their building, their… You name it. But are just not about real Christian doctrine. Why don’t they want to get into creeds, because genuine Christian worship is just not what they’re about.

Yea, I’ve singled some out, but this is so widespread that the actual orthodox Christian churches are the ones that are perceived as odd-ball and the rest of the churches are seen as “real” Christian churches. The result of that is a cynical perception of the church by the general population. If the big churches really don’t teach Christianity, and they must be representative because they have all the money and people. Well then the church is actually just a feel-good-rah-rah operation. To most people that translates into phoney and I’m certainly not going to disagree. But for those churches that are genuinely Christian, who do lift up the creeds, who do the things in worship that do turn us to God, who do lift up Jesus as the atonement of our sins and the Lord of our salvation, solely because of His works, they are lumped in with the phoney. That is not a desirable result for any church, or believer.

Maybe those “churches” and all who claim to be true Christian churches might start getting on track and we might be able to all make a true witness to the rest of the world of genuine Christianity, to our Savior Jesus Christ, by making it regular practice to profess a genuine/historical creed (Apostles, Nicaean, Athanasian) Come on, really impress everyone and take time once per month to do the Athanasian Creed. Look it up.