I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church; the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Holy Week, 2016

Monday An Introduction to the Apostles’ Creed (Pastor Paul and Martin Luther)

This week and next week, for Holy Week and Easter Week, we will be reflecting together on the Apostles’ Creed. Over the past seven months as we have studied the Book of Acts, we have focused these devotionals around the four priorities of the early disciples, who devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. The Apostles’ Creed is one of the earliest summaries of the “apostles’ teaching” to which the earliest Christians “devoted themselves.” It has stood for 20 centuries as the Confession of Faith that unites Christians of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox denominations. Many churches proclaim this creed each Sunday as part of their worship service.

The Creed is Trinitarian in form (outlining belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), but the heart of the Creed is its confession concerning Jesus Christ (outlining the events of his conception, birth, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and coming judgment). We will be reflecting this first week on the first two sections of the Creed concerning the Father and the Son, and next week our focus will be on the third section of the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit.

The Creed begins with the words, “I believe…” As we make our way through Holy Week and Easter, the question for each of us to reflect on for ourselves is: Do I believe these statements of faith? Am I devoted to the teaching of the apostles? And what difference does it make in my life?

So today let’s begin with the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, and let’s ask ourselves: what does it mean? Listen to what Martin Luther wrote 500 years ago. He shares in a rich and personal way what this first article meant to him, and he urged fathers in his day to teach their family the creed by sharing the meaning in this simple way.

The First Article: Of Creation

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

Luther writes:

“I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.” (Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism)

Do you believe this is most certainly true? Can you take a moment now to thank and praise your heavenly Father for all He has given you? And can you give yourself back to Him in love today, to serve and obey Him?

Prayer: O God, my Father, the Almighty! You are the Maker of heaven and earth. You are also my Maker. I am Yours. I belong to You. I give You thanks and praise today for all Your goodness and loving-kindness to me. Help me to love and serve and obey You today with gladness, knowing that You are my Father, and that Your goodness and mercy are with me always. Amen.

Tuesday The Creed: Our Pledge of Allegiance (Pastor Paul and Martin Luther) “It’s old and it’s bold,” writes one commentator. “Bolder than we often give it credit for. In fact, the

audaciousness of its historic claims easily gets obscured by our familiarity with the ancient lines.”

And isn’t that true? I grew up in a Presbyterian church where we recited the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday in worship. I knew every word, but I would yawn while reciting them. The creed didn’t seem “old and bold,” it just seemed old. But as Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, recently said in kicking off a sermon series on the Creed, “When the early church recited the Apostles’ Creed, it was simultaneously their greatest act of rebellion and their greatest act of allegiance.”

Maybe you never thought of the Creed that way before, but it is the Christians’ “Pledge of Allegiance.” When we proclaim it, we are proclaiming our primary allegiance to the Kingdom of God, and to Jesus, the King of the Kingdom of God. At the same time we are declaring that all other allegiances to this world are secondary. So let’s look at the second section of the Creed today, and at the “audaciousness of its historic claims” about Jesus. Then listen again to Martin Luther’s simple way of understanding what we believe about our redemption.

The Second Article: Of Redemption

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Luther writes:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and delivered me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be wholly His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

Do you believe this is most certainly true? Which phrase or phrases in the Creed or in Luther’s “simple explanation” seem the most “audacious” to you? Which seem the most sure and comforting to you? As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, can you say, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief?”

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, it is indeed an audacious thing to proclaim that God became a man, born of a virgin, and then suffered and died. It is equally audacious to proclaim that this man was raised from the dead and then ascended bodily into heaven. But this is the reality that for 20 centuries has turned the world upside down. It is the reality that has turned the lives of countless women and men around. It is the heart of the Christian Faith, and what Holy Week and Easter are all about. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Amen.

Wednesday “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” (Brad Edgerly)

About a year ago, I printed the words of the Apostles’ Creed on a small piece of card stock. I keep it in the pocket of the jacket I wear to work. As I went from place to place, moment by moment, I read it over & over until the words entered into me more deeply than ever before. Once so, I found myself returning, again & again, to that first assertion, and in particular, the part that names God as “Father.” That is the kind of God we believe in, the kind of creator He is and the kind of power He exerts: a “Fatherly” one. Fathers have children and families… to whom they are devoted.

The ancient Hebrews believed in God as their Father. The prophets Isaiah (63:16 & 64:8), Malachi (2:10) and Moses (Deuteronomy 32:6) testified to it. But when it comes to relating to God as Father, it is in Jesus’ words, teaching & ministry that the intimacy of relationship shines through. Compare these two beautiful & heartfelt prayers, one from the Old Testament and the other from the New:

Hannah’s Prayer (1 Samuel 2):

6 “The LORD brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.

7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.

8 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’S; upon them he has set the world.

9 He will guard the feet of his saints,
but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.

Jesus’ Prayer (John 17):

“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Hannah is filled with gratitude for the fulfillment of her life-long prayer: Samuel, a son. Yet, her words speak about the Lord Almighty from a distance. Jesus, on the other hand, speaks intimately with his Father as a loving Son . The thought of doing so is both terrifying and enticing to me; to approach the Almighty Creator like that. Too often, in this life, I am a distant spectator, no matter how much I try to engage, even in the spiritual life. Jesus’ offer to me (and all believers) to enter into communion with Him & His Father, as a brother and son, removes the fear and replaces it with hope and peace. I’m not so much looking for a “country” to be part of but a family to belong to…

A Christian theologian, J. I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, has expressed this hope better than I:

“You sum up the whole of the New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator… you sum up the whole of the New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s Holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God.”

Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer, beginning with, “Our Father…”

Maundy Thursday Evening of the Last Supper (Susan Matos)

As I think about the Apostle’s Creed what keeps coming to mind is Communion. Almost every other Sunday we at the Forestdale Community Church share in a communion service together. During the moments when I’m holding the bread or the cup, I’m struck by how God’s love and mercy were shown by sending his Son, and also by Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life for me (and you).

God our Creator knows exactly how we are made, and set in motion his plan to reveal himself to us in human form. Jesus came to be that revelation for me (and you). He was tried and accused, even though he had done nothing wrong. He then suffered under Pontius Pilate for me (and you). He accepted the will of the Father, and was crucified for me (and you). His death and resurrection were to prove he was the Savior, as well as to provide hope of a resurrected body and eternal life for me (and you).

It is the working of the Holy Spirit that brings all of this to mind as I hold a little piece of cracker and a small cupful of grape juice. He reminds me that I am not alone, but part of a great community of believers. He reminds me that I’m forgiven, not by my own merit, but by grace. He reminds me that I can have a hope beyond this life.

Good Friday Visualizing the Creed and the Cross (Barbara Coyman)

As a child I attended Parochial School, where we were taught to memorize Christian Prayers. The Apostles’ Creed was one of the “prayers” that I memorized when I was a girl. Now that I am an adult, I realize that I really did not understand what I was memorizing.

One day, at our Adult Sunday School class, Brad Edgerly shared a story about how he had made a decision to print out and read the Apostles’ Creed every day. This, he said, was so that he could understand what he believed. I thought this was an excellent idea! I got a copy and started to read the Apostles’ Creed every day myself.

As I read each section, I try to visualize what I am reading. For example in the second part, I think of the Holy Spirit appearing to Mary, and then I think of the baby Jesus in the stable. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” I see Jesus, standing in front of Pontius Pilate tortured, clothes torn, face bruised, and body wounded. Then, I see Him on the cross crucified. These images make the Creed come alive for me. And personally, the Creed gives me great comfort, knowing that when I leave this earth, I will be with my Father in paradise.

Shortly after this time, I was admitted to the hospital for foot surgery. While I was being transported to rehabilitation, I met a young man who was the transport person. He was the one who was with me in the back of the transport ambulance. As I lay there, we started talking about God and what we believe in. He had so many doubts. During the 20 minute drive to Chelsea, I shared the Apostles’ Creed with him. I went through each section explaining the visual image that comes to mind. This was very helpful to him. He was able to start to understand what the words of the creed meant. He became interested in what I had to say.

Later when I reflected on this time, I realized why God had put it on my heart to understand the Apostles’ Creed. God knew I would have the opportunity to share it with that young man. I look forward to new opportunities to share what I know about the Apostles’ Creed with many others.