Sunday, January 3, 2021

Selected verses from our second reading, Paul’s opening to his wonderful letter to the church in
Ephesus, will serve as the launching point for this morning’s message: Blessed be the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ...
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good
pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth... In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the
gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy
Spirit. Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

A case could be made for stating that this opening to Paul’s letter summarizes pretty much
everything we need to know from the Biblical story line. And that makes some sense as Paul’s
letters to the earliest Christians were intended to lay the foundation for faith. Here Paul refers
to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and the God’s plan of salvation from
the very beginning.

In a sense, these summaries of the Christian faith were a type of creed in the early church. The
term creed comes from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” Some have pointed out that the
earliest of Christian creeds was very short: “Jesus is Lord.” As time went on, the content of the
Church’s creed expanded. The statement of faith we are most familiar with—the Apostles’
Creed—was developed over the first three centuries after Jesus and was seen as being a summary
of the core teachings of the Apostles.

The Church’s purpose for having formal creeds was two-fold: they were utilized as teaching
tools to help newcomers to the faith learn the core teachings of Christianity, and they were also
developed in response to attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity (Apostles’) and the divinity of
Jesus, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit (Nicene). As time passed, these two creeds
became part of the weekly liturgy of the church, with youth and new converts being expected to
memorize and recite them as they became part of catechetical instruction.

The reason I am spending time on this is that—like many things we do and say repeatedly—our
weekly speaking of the creeds in worship can become nothing more than meaningless, ritual. If
you are like me, the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the various parts of our weekly liturgy can be
done without any real thought being given. And one would be wise to question the value of that
kind of mindless tradition… which is why very few churches use the creeds anymore.

On the other hand, there are reasons why we Lutherans are careful to not throw the baby out
with the baptismal water! Liturgy and recited prayers and creeds all express deep and profound
truth and meaning. They can give us a unique language which Christians over the generations
have found to meaningful as part of daily devotional time, and especially during seasons of
struggle and heartbreak. For example, our good friends spoke the Lord’s Prayer and the 23 rd
Psalm to their son right before his recent passing, and I have done the same many times in
similar settings over the years.

So, I thought I would spend a few weeks focusing on the content of the two main Creeds,
focusing not only on what they state, but also what they don’t say.

For example, what we call the “First Article” is the shortest of the three: “I believe in God the
Father Almighty, Maker/Creator of the heavens and the earth.” My favorite Bible scholar and
teacher, Harry Wendt, suggested that at least two more words perhaps ought to be added: “I
believe in God the Father almighty, Creator and owner of the heavens and the earth.” After
all, we do not believe or teach that God Created everything and then handed it over for people
to own for themselves and use and abuse however they might desire. God tasked humans with
being caretakers and stewards of what He would forever continue to own.

This truly is important enough to be worthy of inclusion in our creeds as it is foundational to
our understanding of the role we play as children of God. Not only does this underscore the
importance of Christians leading the way when it comes to the caring for the environment, but
also reveals how we are to understand and practice Christian stewardship. The has certainly
become foundational for how I preach and teach about what some people mistakenly refer to as
“Christian Giving.”

As many of you know, I don’t believe there is any such thing as “giving.” For us to be able to
give something we have to own it. But we own nothing… because God is the “Creator and
Owner” of everything, as the Psalmist wrote: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the
world, and those who live in it… Understanding God is the Owner of all things, we come to see
ourselves as managers of what belongs to Him.

This is why I do not speak often of “tithing”, and Old Testament concept mentioned only once
by Jesus, and not necessarily in a positive light. For many, tithing is understood as giving God
(i.e. our church?) 10% of what we think we own, keeping 90% for ourselves. However, as we
come to an understanding of God as Owner and ourselves as managers, we see ourselves as
called to manage the time, talent, treasure God entrusts to us in a way that reflects our gratitude
and our desire to live in the way of Jesus… the way of radical compassion and generosity.

For generations, church leaders have praised—and too often coddled—those wealthy members
whose tithing means some very large contributions to the church budget. But if someone who
wealthy tithes a large gift, they still have a whole lot of money left with which to luxuriously
live. Is that really what God intended? Jesus praised the widow who gave a measly few cents
because it was all she had to live on. According to Acts this was practiced in the first churches
as members held “everything in common.” You see, it’s not about percentage giving, but about
generous managing.

Finally, we believe that God, the Abba/Father, is not only the almighty Creator/Owner of the
heavens and the earth, but also a God of profound love, mercy, and grace. While we believe
God is infinite, and therefore far beyond our finite ability to fully comprehend, we have been
led to understand that God has sought to reveal Himself to us in ways we can relate to… such as
a Father, our Abba/Daddy, who blesses us graciously. We live to express our gratitude! Amen.

 
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