1 John 3:16-24

Psalm 25:1-2, 5-6
April 26, 2015

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Believing as Be-loving
The Apostle’s Creed is a litany recited in many Protestant and Catholic churches, that begins “I believe in the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…” Does it sound familiar? The whole text is found on page 14 in our hymnal if you’re not familiar with it and want to read it.
(It’s also found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles’_Creed )
How many of you grew up going to a church in which you recited the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed? How many of you recited that creed while having serious doubts about some of the things you were espousing? That’s not surprising! As scholar Luke Timothy Johnson says, “There is something in the creed to offend virtually every contemporary sensibility.” And if the words of the creed are not controversial, he goes on to say, you’re not paying attention to the lines that you’re reciting!
This controversy can be a good thing, forming a starting place for theological thought and discussion, a place that “stands in creative tension and living conversation with the other elements of Christian identity and tradition.” The word “creed” comes from the latin credo, which means “I believe.” Struggling with saying the parts of the creed that we don’t believe can help us to think about what it is we do believe and hold to be true. This cognitive dissonance can help us formulate our faith into words, naming that which we hold to be of utmost truth and importance. As we grow and mature, our own personal creed may grow and mature as well.

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters, Image Doubleday, 2003, p. 7.

[2] Johnson, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters, p. 5.

In her memoir, Still, Lauren Winner recounts the story of her friend
Julian. When Julian was just twelve years old and preparing to be
confirmed, she told her father – the pastor of the church – she wasn’t
sure she could go through with it. She wasn’t sure she believed everything
she was supposed to believe, at least not enough to make a promise
before God and her congregation to believe these things forever.

Her father told her, “What you promise when you are confirmed is
not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you
are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

We don’t recite the Apostle’s Creed at Christ Church, although it’s not uncommon to do so in a UCC church – it’s even printed in the UCC book of worship. Christ Church is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches and I imagine our reluctance to use a creed comes from our Baptist heritage. Growing up at Glendale Baptist Church, in Nashville, TN, I never said any creed. I always heard that we Baptists were “anti-creedal,” presumably because we were leery of creeds being used as a litmus test to determine who was really Christian, and who was not.
Baptists have a long history of being persecuted as heretics for their beliefs. As a matter of fact, my great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Sallie Craig, was the sister of the Rev. Lewis Craig. Lewis Craig was a Baptist preacher in Virginia in the late 18th century, who was thrown into jail numerous times for preaching without proper authorization from the Anglican Church. In 1781, fed up with not being able to practice religion freely, he led his family and about 600 pilgrims known as “The Traveling Church,” on foot across the mountains into Kentucky to be able to worship God as they pleased.

[3] Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, Nelson Books, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2015, p. 194.

One of the basic tenets of Baptist identity is the principle of soul freedom, defined as “the historic Baptist affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of any creed, the interference of clergy or the intervention of civil government.” Baptists are fiercely independent people, and the idea of a creed recited by many people – even members of the same congregation – espousing to believe the same things in the same way, is an anathema. But the idea of each person having her own creed is not such a bad one. It’s a good exercise to think about what you do believe, what you do hold to be of utmost truth. It’s important to have a set of beliefs that you claim as your own. And yet, at the same time, it’s not enough to simply know what you believe.
Frederick Buechner makes a distinction between believing in God and believing God:
Believing in God is an intellectual position. It need have no more effect on your life than believing in Freud’s method of interpreting dreams or the theory that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Romeo and Juliet.
Believing God is something else again. It is less a position than a journey, less a realization than a relationship. It doesn’t leave you cold like believing the world is round. It stirs your blood like believing the world is a miracle. It affects who you are and what you do with your life like believing your house is on fire or somebody loves you.

[4] Walter B. Shurden, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 1993, p. 23.

We believe in God when for some reason or another we choose to do so. We believe God when somehow we run into God in a way that by and large leaves us no choice but to do otherwise.

In The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg tells a story about meeting a woman on a plane who told him that she was more interested in Buddhism and Sufism than Christianity, because Christianity was focused on believing, but the other religions were more about following a path. Borg understood what she meant, even though he silently disagreed with part of what she was saying. For many Christians and non-Christians alike, faith has been defined by a set of doctrines or creeds outlining what we believe to be true. And yet Jesus spoke many times of faith as following a path or way. That metaphor is also used throughout the Old Testament – we heard it in the first scripture reading today: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.” The idea of the spiritual life as a path is also a part of the symbolism understood when walking a labyrinth, like the one in our atrium, which differs from a maze in that there are no dead ends.

“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey,” writes Rachel Held Evans,
… and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people
who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God.
This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-
what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive. I don’t know if the
path’s all drawn out ahead of time, or if it corkscrews with each step
like in Alice’s Wonderland, or if, as some like to say, we make the
road by walking, but I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze.

 

[5] Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary, HarperCollins, 1993, p. 22.

[6] Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco, 2003, “Faith the Way of the Heart,” p. 25.

[7] Psalm 25:4

No step in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.
Faith is so much more than belief. There are, in fact, four different word for faith in the history of Christianity, with four distinct meanings. The first is Assensus, a Latin term linked to the English word assent, and it comes closest to the idea of faith as an intellectual pursuit or “matter of the head.” This notion of faith as belief is a very widespread understanding of faith in the Western world, but it’s a relatively recent idea, having its roots in the Protestant reformation, when Protestants distinguished themselves from other Protestants and from Catholics by writing doctrines about what they believed. Many dictionaries define “belief” as “having an opinion or conviction,” implying that it goes against what reasonable people know. Belief is contrasted with knowledge, and it’s opposite is doubt or disbelief. There are problems with this understanding of faith: if we believe that God wants this kind of faith from us, then having doubts or disbelief is thought to be sinful. More importantly, as Marcus Borg writes, when faith is located in the head, “You can believe all the right things and still be relatively unchanged. Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transforming power.”

 

[8] Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, p. 180.

[9] Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 28.

[10] Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 29-31.

Borg argues that true faith is more a matter of the heart, and offers three other meanings for the word that are all closely related: The first is Fiducia, meaning radical trust in God – like floating on water, this kind of faith requires a letting go and sinking into God’s love, a trusting in the buoyancy of God. Fidelitas is linked to the English word fidelity, and means faithfulness, or being committed to a deeper relationship with God, trusting that God is also in relationship with us. Visio, the third type of faith, is connected to the word Vision. It is faith as a way of seeing the whole, a way of viewing reality as gracious and generous. This way of seeing reality leads to a radical trust, that as in the words of Julian of Norwich, made famous by T. S. Eliot, “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Visio is not a naive view of life – it doesn’t shy away from the realities of evil, disaster, sorrow, death and grief – but it understands that these things do not have the last word.
Understanding faith as a way of the heart, encompassing Fiducia, Fidelitas and Visio, allows us to live our lives and to face the mystery of death in a whole new way. As Borg writes, “In this life, a radical centering in God leads us to a deepening trust that transforms the way we see and live our lives… And in our deaths, dying means trusting in the buoyancy of God, that the one who has carried us in this life is the one into whom we die.”

[11] Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 31.

[12] Borg, The Heart of Christianity, pp. 32-35

[13] Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 37.

Marcus Borg died of cancer last year, but before his death he was a prominent and popular lecturer around the country, and one of the questions he received the most was, “What do we do with the creeds?” He explained that credo doesn’t mean belief as in the modern understanding of “I assent to”, but rather, “I give my heart to,” similar to fiducia or fidelitas. And if we understand credo in this way, the creeds then become a litany of to whom we are entrusting our hearts. If we understand belief to mean faithfulness, allegiance, loyalty, commitment and trust, then believing means beloving. Faith is the way that we live our lives out of love, not just adhering to a set of beliefs.
Faith is about beloving God and all that God beloves. Faith is a way of the heart, a way of living out of love for God and all of God’s creation. Jesus said that all of the commandments could be summed up like this: “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love, let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know that we’re living truly, living in God’s reality… As we keep [Christ’s] commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.”
AMEN