This summer we worked our way nearly through “The Brief Statement of Faith,” which is a creed, or confession, of the Presbyterian Church. You’ll see it on your bulletin insert today. We studied it a section at a time, and you may have been around for a handful of those weeks, or all of them, or none, depending on your particular summer schedules.
Next week, on World Communion Sunday, we’ll be having more of a conversation than a sermon per se. Our middle school and high school students will be staying with us for worship, and I’m going to invite anyone who wishes to, of any age, to share with the rest of us a line or phrase from this creed that particularly speaks to you. Because this statement of faith concludes by referring to “believers in every time and place.” So to remember those fellow believers – and to talk about the faith we share – seems particularly fitting for World Communion Sunday. Now fear not! I’ll offer a bit of review today before we attempt that kind of discussion next week.
But first, a story. A number of years ago, our Children’s Director in another congregation taught the kids a sort of simplified catechism based on this Brief Statement of Faith – simplified into the form we used as our Call to Worship this morning, actually. She taught it bit by bit, and each week she would build on what she’d taught the prior weeks. So the first Sunday, she taught the kids that when she asked them the question, “Who are you?” they could answer “I am a child of God.” And the next week, they repeated that part and then learned that when she asked “Who are we?” they could answer “We are children of God, the family of faith,” and so on. Every week they repeated the first question and answer – so that part they had down pat –and then they learned a number of other lines too, as they went along.
The Children’s Director was herself a mom, so a couple of the kids sitting there with her during those children’s messages at church were her own. And one day several weeks into these lessons her son – I think he was about 8 or 9 years old at the time – did something back at home that really frustrated her. He’d forgotten some important family rule, or otherwise gotten himself in trouble, and somehow she ended up blurting out in her frustration: “Who are you?!” Without missing a beat, he answered, “I am a child of God.”
Now I don’t believe he was rewarded for the sassiness of his answer. In fact there may have been a little conversation about living as a child of God. But hey, at least she knew he had been paying attention in church!
And really, in every circumstance of our lives – in our shining moments and in those we’re not so proud of – the words are equally true, aren’t they? Who are you? I am a child of God. On our most joyful days and our crabbiest ones too, we belong to God, who loves us and calls us his own. In life and even in death we belong to God. These are the kinds of things we want our kids to internalize. These are the kinds of things we all should be able to call to mind, at any time.
Creeds and confessions like this one we’ve been studying together this year, and like the two biblical statements of faith we read as our Scripture lessons this morning, help us to answer important questions of identity.
For who are we? Well first of all, we are not our own, we are God’s people.
Sharlene, would you read the first 6 lines of “The Brief Statement” for us?
In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God,
And the communion of the Holy Spirit,
We trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
Whom alone we worship and serve.
We belong to God. And there is no point in life or in death when we won’t belong to God, regardless of any action or inaction on our part. The invitation in these opening lines is to trust, worship, and serve the God who calls us his children.
I should say, by the way, please feel free to mark up your copy of the “Brief Statement of Faith” as we go along this morning and to take it home with you, if you like, between now and next Sunday. In our high school confirmation class back in the spring we all flagged lines that caught our attention, lines that were particularly meaningful to us. So please feel free to make notes this morning. It will only enhance our conversation next week.
The “Brief Statement” then goes on to introduce us to the person of Jesus, human and divine, and the life he lived on earth. Steve, would you read the next section for us, lines 7 - 18?
We trust in Jesus Christ,
Fully human, fully God.
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
Preaching good news to the poor
And release to the captives,
Teaching by word and deed
And blessing the children,
Healing the sick,
And binding up the brokenhearted,
Eating with outcasts,
And calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
And then after introducing us to his life, his work as preacher and teacher and healer, and the perhaps-surprising cast of characters with whom Jesus spent so much of his time, we come to the critical story of his death and resurrection.
Robin, would you read lines 19-26 for us?
Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
Jesus was crucified,
Suffering the depths of human pain
And giving his life for the sins of the world.
God raised this Jesus from the dead,
Vindicating his sinless life,
Breaking the power of sin and evil,
Delivering us from death to life eternal.
Like so many Christian creeds, “The Brief Statement of Faith” is Trinitarian in its format. In other words, there are sections that focus on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So having introduced us to Jesus, the Son of God, now we turn to God the Father.Jeff, would you please read lines 27-40?
We trust in God,
Whom Jesus called Abba, Father.
In sovereign love, God created the world good
And makes everyone equally in God’s image,
Male and female, of every race and people,
To live as one community.
But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.
Ignoring God’s commandments,
We violate the image of God in others and in ourselves,
Accept lies as truth,
Exploit neighbor and nature,
And threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
We deserve God’s condemnation.
Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.
Everyone made equally in God’s image, by our Creator. We often violate that image, we often sin and fall short, and don’t treat one another or this planet as we should, but thank God for God’s grace and mercy. Riki, would you please continue reading, with lines 41-51?
In everlasting love,
The God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people
To bless all families of the earth.
Hearing their cry,
God delivered the children of Israel from the house of bondage.
Loving us still,
God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.
Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
Like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
God is faithful still.
There are so many biblical metaphors for God, and I love that this particular creed invokes both mother language and father language here. I’ve mentioned before in this series that every single line of this creed is backed up by whole long lists of biblical references. And earlier this summer we read the Scripture passages that lie behind that language of the mother who will not forsake her nursing child, and the father who runs to welcome the prodigal home.
Let’s continue. Tina, would you please read lines 52 – 64?
We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
Everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
Sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
And binds us together with all believers
In the one body of Christ, the Church.
The same Spirit
Who inspired prophets and apostles
Rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
Engages us through the Word proclaimed,
Claims us in the waters of baptism,
Feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
And calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.
When we came to these lines in the creed last month we recalled great heroes of our faith, men and women either famously known in history or known personally to each one of us, who inspired us with their Christian courage. The creed reminds us it is the very same Spirit of God that rules, engages, claims, feeds, and calls each and every one of us. Jerry, will you continue, please, with lines 65-71?
In a broken and fearful world
The Spirit gives us courage
To pray without ceasing,
To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
To unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
To hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
And to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
In discussing this section of the creed, we said: that the world is a broken and fearful place is, unfortunately, pretty clear. But that’s not the whole story, for it is precisely in such a world that God’s Spirit gives us courage, and there are so very many ways to put that courage to good work.
Finally, over Labor Day weekend, we read lines about each one of us being invited to serve God in our own particular ways in our own particular tasks. Don, will you read lines 72-76?
In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
We strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
And to live holy and joyful lives,
Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
Praying “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Now if you’ve been following along on your bulletin insert, you’ll have seen there’s just one final section of the creed left, and that’s the part that will serve as our refrain next week as we take turns sharing meaningful lines: “With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That’s the “Brief Statement of Faith.” And it does answer important questions of identity for us as people of God. For who are we? We are God’s beloved children, who belong to God in life and in death. We are people who worship a God made known to us in the life and death and resurrection of Christ, the unconditional love of a Heavenly Parent, the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives us courage to serve boldly in God’s name. We are a people called together around these central truths. In them, we are united “with believers in every time and place.”
Again, next week, it will be your turn to share with us, if you like, how “The Brief Statement of Faith” helps you articulate an important element of your own faith. You can lift up for us a couple of lines that have stood out for you as we’ve made our way through the creed this summer, or even a single phrase that caught your attention today. I’ll send an email reminder midweek, and if you are someone who would prefer writing down your thoughts to sharing them out loud, that’s fine too. Just send your thoughts my way and I’ll be happy to share them on your behalf.
Most importantly, whether you share anything with us next week or not, I encourage you to add this document, this statement of faith, to your own personal toolbox of faith. Bring it home, read it and study it on your own. And we’ll find ways to continue including portions of it here in worship from time to time too.
Who are you? I am a child of God. Who are we? We are children of God, the family of faith. Our chief purpose is to glorify the God who made us, who redeemed us, who sustains us. So please stand, as you’re able, and we’ll sing together our song of response: “Glorify Thy Name.”