Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-5,10-14
Second Sunday of Lent
Rev Jeremy Bevan
Week three of our series on the liturgy, and this week we’re looking at the creed. When I’ve
finished speaking this morning, Tulo will ask us to stand (always a sign something important
is coming up), and will say “Let us affirm our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.” That’s our
invitation to declare what we believe in words from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi –
words proclaiming a truth (or series of truths) about Jesus that Christ-followers have said for
almost 2,000 years. But why do we say them? What do they mean? What do they do for us?
And just as importantly, what do they do in us?
Why we say a creed each week, or affirm our faith, is a good question. It might seem odd to
repeat the same or similar words week after week. But consider these words: [City till I die].
If you’re a Coventry City fan, that’s a creed, pretty much. Singing it week after week is likely
to be habit-forming, impacting how you spend your time, especially Saturday afternoons;
who you spend that time with; what you spend your cash on. And I wonder if we don’t all
live by creeds a bit like that: the truths, half-truths, even the out-and-out lies we habitually
tell ourselves and that shape our lives for good or ill? Using words like: “I’ll never be good
enough”, that shape a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with ourselves that is definitely not how
God sees us; “it is what it is”, moulding us as victims of blind fate or our circumstances; or
“I’m fine”, which perhaps allow no-one in to shape and influence us, maybe not even God.
Creeds then are far more than just words we recite mechanically each week. Here in church,
they proclaim deep truths about God, ourselves, and the shape of things to come. We don’t
use the verses X read from the letter to the Ephesians as a creed. But we easily could, since
they tell a story: a story of God’s purposes for us and our world as revealed by Christ and in
Christ; a story of how everything will be gathered up in Christ in the fullness of time. Such
stories have the power to shape our view of the world and how we treat it; how we see
ourselves and each other; and how we face the future. Let’s take each of those in turn now.
The creeds we say in church shape our view of the world. How? Take the words “I believe in
God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” They’re from the Apostles’ Creed, a
creed we used recently during Epiphany. Affirming God as creator has powerful implications
for the way we live and the choices we make. For a young person to affirm belief in the God
who gives pattern, order, purpose to the universe can validate studying science and careers
in science, for example. And give us an excellent reason to care responsibly for, and enjoy,
the natural world: not treating it as a disposable backdrop for the ‘spiritual’ stuff, as though
that were all that really mattered. Speaking of God as creator and almighty sustainer of the
world keeps our feet literally on solid ground.
Creeds can also shape how we see ourselves. To say of Jesus (as we will shortly) that he was
“born in human likeness”, or “was made flesh” as our Gospel reading put it, is to declare an
amazing truth about him. But it also declares something awesome about us. A great teacher
of the church centuries ago said “What is not assumed is not healed.” He meant that, if God
(in the person of Jesus) was bothered enough to become human flesh and blood in order to
show us the way back to relationship with God, human flesh and blood must matter hugely
to God. Our matter, the stuff we’re made of, mattered so much to God that God was willing
to become it. That validates who we are, and means that, even in tough times, whatever the
circumstances you face, Jesus knows what it’s like to be us: from the inside. His resurrection
and restoration to God’s right hand are God’s seal of approval on what he did as a creature
of flesh and blood to heal us, and to draw us back to God.
Creeds shape our view not just of our world and ourselves, but of where we’re heading, too.
Creeds of course define who we are, establish our identity: we are one with Christ-followers
across the centuries, and across the world. Today, hundreds of millions of those who follow
Jesus have said, are saying or will be saying the words we say, or very similar. We are joined,
too, by a great cloud of witnesses, people who have professed allegiance to Christ down the
centuries. Creeds point to where we and all those others, seen and unseen, are heading –
towards a hope that the whole world will come freely to profess loyalty to Jesus Christ, that
every knee will bow… In saying these words, don’t we also lay something of an obligation on
ourselves, too: to live lives that commend that faith, that hope that is in us, to others?
In the Apostles’ Creed, we say that future hope is the work of the Holy Spirit in the words: “I
believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life”. That’s the power of God at work in and
among us and all who follow Christ everywhere. The Spirit draws the lives of each of us on in
the sweep of God’s vision for history until together with the followers of Christ in every time
everywhere (what the creeds call ‘the communion of saints’) we find the fullest reality in life
beyond death in God’s presence.
Before I finish, a word of reassurance. Twenty years ago, I took a distance learning course on
the creeds with a church group. Our first task was to underline all those bits of the Apostles’
Creed we didn’t understand: I underlined about 60% of it. I’d be surprised if at least some of
us here aren’t like I was back then. Do not worry. The creeds are dense. They’re the fruit of a
great deal of discussion, debate and argument over many centuries. By the time we reached
the end of the course, I understood more than I did at the start. But not all of it. So I wonder
if what we need when we say the creed shortly (and every time we say it) is enough: enough
to shape our habits of thought, and action, for our life and circumstances right now? Enough
to shape our minds to engage with this world, God’s marvellously ordered creation; enough
to shape our hearts, and the way we treat ourselves and each other as creatures of the very
same flesh and blood stuff that God took on in becoming one of us; enough finally to shape
us, and lead our hands and feet on in loving, active response to where it’s all heading. In all
of that, may the Holy Spirit of the God in whom we believe and to whom, in our creed, we
pledge our loyalty, be our guide. Amen.