“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”
This is the first line of the Apostles’ Creed. The word “creed” comes from the Latin, “Credo,” which means, “I believe.”
First, a little history. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a confessional church, which means, we have creeds to guide us… confessions of faith that express our beliefs. But, that word “belief” can trip us up, so let’s just look at that for a moment. Part of the problem is the understanding of “belief” that came from the Enlightenment. It has come to mean: the opinion that something is true. This includes ideas such as: the earth is a sphere, which revolves around the sun, along with other planets and heavenly bodies. We are individuals, separate from others and also connected to them. We cannot fly, except with the help of some kind of aircraft or jet pack. To use this word, belief, in connection to religious faith, however, becomes complicated. We can’t evaluate God in the same way we evaluate science, or even our own experience. In ancient thought, there were two separate ways of understanding the concept of belief. One understanding was the one we’ve been talking about: the opinion that something is true. The other was: Trust. Confidence. The ancient people who composed the Apostles’ Creed used the word that means trust. They wrote:
“I trust in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
Our Book of Confessions contains twelve statements of faith. They are listed in the order in which they were written, which is helpful, because it helps us to see, in a sense, how our faith has developed over the centuries. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but our understanding of God changes. It evolves. Believe it or not, the Apostles’ Creed is not the oldest entry in the Book of Confessions, on a kind of technicality. The oldest is the Nicene Creed, which reached its final form in 381 CE. The Apostles’ Creed was composed before that, but reached its final form in the fifth century. (Next week I’ll tell you what was the very last phrase to be added.)
This creed is meant to reflect the earliest understanding of the Christian faith, according to the very first followers of Jesus. It’s written in a Trinitarian format—a section each for God the Maker, God the Christ, and God the Spirit. The section for God the Maker is the shortest of the three—not because there isn’t a lot to say about God, but because so much is packed into that relatively short phrase.
And this really important. Every statement of faith you will find in our Book of Confessions was written to provide the church’s best answer to a question that was being asked at the time. That’s a nice way to say: the church was then, as it is now, involved in disputes. Disagreements. You might even say, fights. The Apostles’ Creed seeks to answer one of the burning questions of the second century of Christianity: Is the God of the Old Testament the same God as the God of Jesus Christ?
It all started with a Roman Christian named Marcion. He believed the God of the Old Testament was an angry, vengeful God, who gave us a flawed creation. By way of contrast, he believed the God of the New Testament showed us a different God, one of love and mercy. Marcion wanted to throw out the entire Old Testament, as well most of the New Testament, except for most of Luke’s gospel and the letters of Paul that he believed to be the most anti-Jewish.
The Apostles’ Creed was written, in part, to settle this dispute once and for all. Is the God of the Old Testament the same God as the God of Jesus?
“I believe, I trust in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”
The first words in the Apostles’ Creed issue a statement of trust in the God who made everything that is. Today’s two passages from scripture highlight some facets of what we mean when we say, God is the Maker. The Genesis passage starts with very familiar words, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” But the point of the whole sentence is what comes next. When God began to create the heavens and the earth, we are told, “the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases it for us: “Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.”
But then, we witness the moment of creation, and it comes with a Word.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
And this is one big difference between the God of scripture—the God of Jews, and Christians, and Muslims—and the other gods of the ancient world: The God of scripture creates everything out of nothing. The gods of the ancient world might be creators, but they always had some stuff to start with… A Sky-god battled a Sea-god for dominance over the other gods, and creation resulted from the battle. Not so in scripture: God speaks, and creation blossoms forth from God’s Word alone. And what’s more: God considers the light that God has just created, and proclaims it “good.” God’s creation is the product of God’s loving goodness.
I saw a clip from a documentary recently, about how big companies are collecting all this information on us through our use of the Internet. In the little clip I saw, a teacher is asking a class, “How many of you have seen an ad online that convinced you, your phone is listening to you?” Every single person raised their hand. I raised mine, and I was home watching Netflix.
I had that experience this week. I’ve been thinking about God the Maker, God the Creator, I’ve been talking and researching the topic… and sure enough, I was sent an ad for a poster that reads:
How cool is it, that the same God that created oceans and mountains and galaxies, looked at you, and thought the world needed one of you, too.
And beneath that, was a link for me to click on, named “Shop God Created You.”
God created us. When we rise to proclaim the creed together, we say that we trust in the God who made the heavens and the earth. But at the heart of that is the awe-inspiring, slightly unsettling notion that God also made us, and made us on purpose. That is the full meaning of the very first line of the Apostles’ Creed. According to the PC(USA) Study Catechism, this first statement of the creed also settles that question that burned among the theologians of the early church:
Question: What do you believe when you confess your faith in "God the Father Almighty"?
Answer: That God is a God of love, and that God's love is powerful beyond measure.
We see that love in creation. There is no difference between the God of the Hebrew Bible and the God of the Christian New Testament. The Apostles’ Creed “affirms that the God of creation is the Father of Jesus Christ.” It affirms that the very same God is present in the creation of heavens and the earth, and in Jesus Christ, the New Creation.
Jesus emphasizes the loving goodness of God in our passage from Matthew’s gospel. He asks his followers a rhetorical question:
… if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you—you of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:30
God has created everything, and that includes the poppies and daisies and lilies of the field, as well as you and me and him and her and them. And God creates each of us in love, and with the intention of caring for us, providing for us, loving us. This love saturates the Old Testament, including the beautiful verse from Lamentations:
The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy never cease,
fresh as the morning, and sure as the sunrise. ~ Lam. 3:22-23 (ELCA Psalter)
In the end, we have to wonder: why do we have creeds, anyway? Minneapolis pastor Karl Jacobson suggests that creeds are conversation starters. He writes:
… as we engage in Scripture reading around the articles of faith concerning Father, Son, and Spirit, we may do so in mutual conversation starting with the Bible, engaging the traditional creedal expressions of our churches, and with our own ideas, questions, and commitments with and about this God whom we seek to know better.
Creeds are just one facet of our lifelong project as people of faith: they help us to get to know God better, so that we can respond to God’s love for us more deeply and authentically. I know we tend to focus on the things we think creeds bind us to. We say these words, and interrogate ourselves: Do I mean this? Do I really believe it? But then, we remind ourselves of the communal nature of saying the words of a creed along with other people. I have always been grateful for the words of one Episcopal priest, who said something very much like this: “When, on a Sunday morning, I can't bring myself to say certain words of a creed, I'm grateful to be surrounded by others who can say them, until I’m able to again.” Creeds are conversation starters. They can also be experiences of community: of our connection with one another, and one way we support one another in our lives of faith.
“I trust in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
The God of creation is a God of love. I invite you, this week, to ponder the God who created you, and me, and him, and her, and them, as well as the mountains, the oceans, and the galaxies. I invite you to let the creed start a conversation within yourself—rather than stopping one. I invite you to see how and whether it helps you to know God better, and to respond to the God who loved you into being, a love that is powerful beyond measure.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Eugene Peterson, The Message, Genesis 1:1-2, Copyright 1993, 2018.
Introduction, “The Apostles’ Creed,” The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part I: The Book of Confessions, 6.
Barbara Brown Taylor.