1 John 1:1-10
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
These words comprise what is often called the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, the subject of the series we’ll be exploring over the next four weeks. The word “creed” comes to us from the Latin verb “credo”, which means “to believe” or to “profess”, and has most often been used by the Church throughout the centuries to refer to one of the statements of faith which were drafted by church leaders and theologians in the early centuries of Christianity and which, since that time, continue to be accepted by a large number of Christians throughout the world. The Apostles’ Creed probably didn’t assume the form in which we have it today until sometime in the fifth or sixth century, but, as the name implies, it contains statements about God that we can trace back to the days of the Twelve who walked with Jesus and received the commission to go out to baptize and teach the nations.
The text before us today is from the First Letter of “John”. Most scholars today would disagree, but it has been a common – though certainly not universal – belief throughout the centuries that this letter and the two that follow it were written by the same John who was called to be a disciple of Jesus in the first century. Whether that belief is true or not, this passage has something in common with the Apostles’ Creed: it claims a link with the earliest days of the Church, the days in which it was still possible to receive firsthand the testimony of people who had seen and heard and touched the Lord. Like the Apostles’ Creed, 1 John reminds us that what we talk about when we talk about God is not some distant or abstract concept, but a real, living, breathing, active presence in our world and in our lives. This is an important point, because all too often the Creeds seem to be nothing more than relics of a bygone era, dusty old words that once held significance but are now spoken as a nod to our less enlightened past. In truth, the Apostles’ Creed, which we recite weekly for the vast majority of the year, is not a quaint symbol from the past, but a powerful and consequential connection to the story that gives us life and binds us up with the Church throughout time and space.
So what difference does it make to profess this faith, this trust, this allegiance to God “the Father”, the “creator of heaven and earth”? Martin Luther, our forerunner in the faith, pointed out that this article of the Creed states clearly the fundamental distinction between God and the rest of creation. As much as we human beings assert our dominance over the affairs of the world, in the end God is God and we are not. As Christians, we find in this confession of faith a profound truth about God’s care and concern for us and for everything that has been made. Luther said as much in his explanation of the First Article in the Small Catechism, a book he wrote to serve as a guide to on-going religious education in the home:
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
At the risk of pulling us too far off course, I’d like to take a moment to point out that a belief in God as our creator does not require us to dismiss the contributions of science to our understanding of the world. Scripture and faith deal with questions of ultimate significance, purpose and intention, questions that science is ill equipped to handle. As such, it is my conviction that science and faith can (and should!) work in tandem. A Christian who wants to take both seriously might look at it this way: “Who brought creation into being? God. How did God do that? Through the processes, the phenomena, the complex web of life that we can observe and study in nature. Why did God do it? God only knows!”
That might seem like an unnecessary side trip in our exploration of the Creed, but I think engaging with such issues is a key part of ensuring that the Creeds remain a robust part of the life of faith. If we believe that God has given us all that we have, including the gift of reason and the drive for exploration and discovery, then surely the pursuit of knowledge through scientific inquiry cannot and should not be foreign to us as people of faith. On the contrary, we are compelled to seek deeper understanding of God and the world God made, for our sake and for the sake of the creation.
Besides this declaration of our understanding that God is our creator, the other aspect of this confession, of course, is the identification of God as “the Father almighty”. This is a really important point, because it speaks to the fact that we have been invited into a more intimate relationship with God than the one between creator and creature. As 1 John puts it, the testimony of Scripture and of the Apostles is that in Christ we are welcomed into fellowship with God, and that God desires to be united with us through God’s Son. We know that fellowship especially by the “means of grace” that form the center of our life together: the proclamation of the “word of life”; the regular practice of confessing our sins and hearing God’s promise of forgiveness and renewal; the life-giving meal we receive in the sacrament of Holy Communion; the fellowship we share with one another that strengthens us for life in the world; and, of course, the sacrament of Holy Baptism, which we will be celebrating and witnessing [tomorrow morning] in just a couple of minutes. By water and the Word, Quintin Donald Campbell will be welcomed into the family of God the Father almighty, who will claim him as a beloved child and join him to the crucified and risen life of Jesus Christ. Through that same water and Word, Quintin will receive the gifts of forgiveness and grace, and he will find a welcome in this community of faith, gathered around these signs of God’s power and presence and united in the confession of faith that grew out of the experience of the first people to bear the name of Christ. In that very real sense, we will all be witnesses to the Word today, and we will all be strengthened by our fellowship with the one who is light and who invites us to walk in the light by grace through faith today and every day.
Brothers and sisters, let us rejoice this day in the testimony of the apostles which continues to be our heritage in an age of constant change. Let us give thanks for the gift of Holy Baptism, by which we are called and claimed and sent out to serve God and our neighbors. Let us bless God for welcoming us into his glorious light this day and always. Finally, let us pray that, through the words of this Creed, we might bear witness to your power and presence in our lives and in the life of the world. Thanks be to God! Amen.