MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
TEXT: Isaiah 43:9-13; Romans 1:18-23
Across this coming year, we are going to be talking a lot about charting our course. What that means is that, as a church, we are going somewhere and that somewhere is greater mission and ministry in our community and world. As we prepare to launch out on that journey, we are going to look at several things on Sunday mornings. We will train our sailing crew...that’s you...by going through how we actually become disciples and by discussing the fruit that such discipleship yields. We will talk about what mission is and isn’t and how the early church set about changing the world.
The very first thing we are doing, however, is to look at the map of our beliefs that we have inherited from the ancient church, the Apostles’ Creed, as a way of helping us examine both our own personal beliefs and our beliefs as United Methodists in New Hampshire. I spent some time last week on the history of the Creed, and you can pick that up either in the sermon box in the narthex or on the Church website. This week we are launching into the Creed itself and it’s opening phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
I have to say that I think they started in the right place. The very first thing we have to determine for ourselves is whether or not we believe in God. “I believe in God.” There are a bunch of people who never get that far. We have no scientific technique that can prove the existence of God...but neither do we have any foolproof method of determining that there is no God. Science simply cannot give you the answer to this question...it is outside their realm of expertise.
Is there a God is a question that every human being has to figure out for themselves, and I could spend the entire sermon going over the arguments from theology, philosophy, sociology, and just about every culture in all times and places. But I won’t. The point for today is that, as Christians, we have declared for 2,000 years that, whatever else others may think, we believe in God.
What isn’t obvious from that statement, however, is that when we recite those words, we are talking about more than intellectual assent. The Latin word Credo, which is translated here as “I believe,” involves more than our brain. A better translation is really “I put my trust in,” which is another level entirely. I can sit in my warm house and say “I believe that snow is good insulation.” That is an intellectual belief based on my somewhat spotty scientific knowledge. It is another thing entirely to be stranded in frigid temperatures and to dig a cave in a snowbank to try to keep me alive. The latter is true belief in the insulating power of snow, and is the only way to really find out if my belief and trust are misplaced.
The Hebrew word for “believe” is even better, and given that the earliest forms of the Creed were put together by Jewish Christians, it is a good reference point. In Hebrew the word is aman and it is the word for the relationship between a foster parent and child. The foster parent establishes security for a child and provides for the child’s needs. It is a relationship of trust and loving dependence.
That meaning moves us to and gives emphasis to the next part of the phrase...I believe in God the Father. This is one place where a lot of today’s Christians have issues, and where we have to remember that we are dealing with a Creed from antiquity. For many people, the image of God as Father is not helpful. In some cases their own fathers were such cold and cruel men that calling God “Father” creates a stumbling block that they just can’t get around. For others, the realization that the Church sometimes has used God’s title as Father to justify keeping women out of religious leadership and in a lower social place, makes the use of the term unbearable.
The challenge for many in reciting the Creed is to invest the words with our own meaning, whatever meaning they may have had at different times and places. For myself, I had a good earthly father, and since that wonderful earthly father left this earth over 20 years ago, thinking of God as my heavenly Father gives me comfort. I am uncomfortable, however, with anyone insisting that Father is the only acceptable image for God. The Bible has many others, and they each add dimensions to our understanding of God. For heaven’s sake, the Bible even has God as a chicken...a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.
But here in the Creed, I think Father is meant to build on the word “believe” and to make the point that the God in whom we place our trust is a personal God. This is not some objective force in the universe. God has personality and relates to us in the ways that the fathers of antiquity related to their children...they received their shelter and food and clothing as gifts from their father who worked on their behalf; they were carefully trained in the father’s trade and given greater responsibility and freedom as they grew; they were expected to maintain the standards and reputation of the family as set by the father; and, eventually, they would receive the inheritance of all that the father had. “I believe in God the Father.”
Then comes the word “Almighty.” With each word or phrase, the Creed is getting more specific about this very particular God in whom Christians trust. Some came from homes of poor or even enslaved fathers. They weren’t given much and they inherited less. This God is not just any father, but an almighty father. This is a father of prominence and importance.
I’ve told this story before, I think, but I will never forget one day on the bus coming home from Kindergarten. My school was in another town, and so the bus dropped me off where my father worked, which happened to be the local high school, where he was the Vice Principal. On this particular day, some boys on the bus were giving me a hard time and like any self-respecting young girl I responded with “I’m going to tell my daddy!” They didn’t seem to think that my daddy would amount to much, and so I told them that my daddy was the Vice Principal of the high school. They didn’t believe me, however, and decided to get off the bus with me to call my bluff. I walked up to the high school doors and rang the bell, as I always did in those after-school hours. My father answered the door as the boys gathered round. “Aren’t you my daddy?” I asked. “Yes, I am” he said, and those boys took off like someone had lit a fire in their shoes. I believed in my father almighty.
When we talk of God abstractly as “the Almighty,” philosophical types like to raise questions like, “If God can do anything, can God make a rock that God can’t lift?” “Can God make a four-sided triangle?” and other nonsense. To me, the term “almighty” is not a technical description so much as it is an expression of confidence and respect. Certainly God can technically do more than we can even imagine, but if you start getting into creating rocks God can’t move, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. “I believe in God the Father Almighty” is my way of saying “My dad is tops, and if you don’t believe it, just come to the door with me and see.”
As proof of that, God turns out to be not just a high school Vice Principal but the maker of heaven and earth. We have come to a point where we can place our trust in God because the God we proclaim is the one who made the earth and the heavens and everything that is in them, including us. “Maker of heaven and earth” is a very general phrase, but when you think about what it implies about the nature of God, it will blow you away. Our greatest minds are still working on simply discovering the nature of what has been created. We are still working on how the body functions, how the stars and planets operate, and how ecosystems work.
To affirm that God made the heavens and the earth is to say, “God is smart...genius smart and then some.” God is the greatest engineer, architect, and molecular biologist ever. God makes the winners of the Nobel prize in physics look like school children. God does the most complicated astronomical calculations while barely paying attention and has made everything so that the environment is perfectly cared for and maintained.
Not only is God the consummate scientist, mathematician, and environmentalist; God is also the greatest artist the world has ever seen. God defines art. Because of that “almighty” piece, God could have created a world with maybe two or three trees, a flower or two, uniform grass, and a couple of sheep to keep it mowed. Look around. God is deeply interested in beauty and variety. We have not even catalogued all the species on this earth and many became extinct before we even knew they existed. If you think heaven is going to be all clouds and harps, open your eyes. God would clearly be bored silly. I am here to tell you that the God who made the duck-billed platypus is not going to settle for dull. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
There is a lot in that first phrase, but perhaps the most important assumption in it, is that when we talk about the “maker of heaven and earth,” we are talking about our maker. This part of the Creed brings us into the picture and describes our amazing relationship to God. We are part of the Creation God has made, which makes us different from God, and yet God created us as a father creates a child, which also means we share God’s DNA. Genesis puts it that we are made in the image of God, and later Biblical passages say that we are sons and daughters of God.
When we recite the Creed, we are joining with Christians across time and space. But the Creed is not worded “We believe.” The pronoun used throughout is “I.” Credo in Deum. I believe in God. I think this is the saving grace of the Apostles’ Creed. It united us with other Christians, but it gives us permission to state our own beliefs, and to fill our statements with the images and metaphors and circumstances that bring our beliefs to life for us.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. I really do. Amen.
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Copyright by Anne Robertson, 2004