Basics: Confessing an Identity
Topic: As A Body of Christ
I think I had shared before that one of my favorite TV shows from years ago was LOST. Some of you probably watched it. Show of hands, how many have seen the show LOST? Ok, I started getting into LOST when I was in college and mostly because most of my friends were watching it. We’d gather in one of the dorm lounges to watch it each week together. I was drawn in. I love stories, and I love drama, and that is mostly all LOST was. The central premise was that a flight crashed on a mysterious island and all of the survivors had to band together and eventually face a whole host of bizarre and almost spiritual events. Each episode would include a dive into the backstory of a major character, and you would quickly learn that none of the people on the island are who they appeared to be. And so every week you’d be immersed in the mysterious events of the island and the complicated and often tragic stories of each of these people. For the record, I was a big fan of Hurley. And the real clincher for this show was that everyone on the island, regardless of past issues or problems, had to come together to form a tight-knit and committed community. The whole show was this collection of seemingly random strangers finding an identity that was large enough and reaching enough to both define them individually and propel them forward as a community.
This morning we’re going to talk about a similar sort of identity. We’re wrapping up our message series on the Apostles’ Creed called Basics. We’ve already explored the first two sections of this ancient confession, the parts about the triune nature of God and the work of Jesus Christ. We’ve already talked about what it means to confess the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit and what it means to confess a hero. This morning we are going to look at the last section of this creed to learn about Confessing an Identity. More specifically, our identity as the Church. So let’s look at that last part of the Apostles’ Creed before we keep going.
*** I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen. ***
Ok, so we start with the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. Now, in truth, we’ve already covered this in the creed. When we talk about the Trinity or the three Persons of God, the Holy Spirit is included. But it is so vital for us to make sure we give attention to this divine person because, honestly, the Holy Spirit doesn’t generally get to spend a lot of time as the center of the conversation. Let me ask you to do something. Think for a moment about when you pray. By yourself or maybe with your family. When you pray, what word or title do you begin with? I’m guessing that for many of you the answer is a mixture of the common ones like God, maybe with an adjective in front of it like Holy God, and you might even use the term, Father God. I have a friend who almost always starts her prayers with Abba, reflecting the words of Jesus when He prayed in the garden before His crucifixion. Maybe there are several of you who address Jesus before you pray. But I’m willing to bet there is virtually no one who consistently and daily begins their prayers addressing the Holy Spirit as the One who is hearing your prayer.
Francis Chan, a passionate and moving pastor and speaker, wrote a book called “Forgotten God” that focused on this very dilemma of the church and the consequences that ensue. When it comes to the Apostles’ Creed, it is intentional that the confession of the Holy Spirit is then followed by the description of the Church. Everything we do as Christians are founded and fueled by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus described the Holy Spirit to His disciples, He described the Spirit as the Comforter or Counselor. The Holy Spirit is the sustainer of our faith as well as the one who directs and encourages us. It’s funny, but I can’t help but think of how Obi-Wan Kenobi first described the Force to Luke Skywalker. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Now, don’t get me wrong here. The analogy isn’t perfect. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a mystical energy source or anything like that. But the Spirit has appeared in the form of flames and also a dove. The divinity and the personhood of the Holy Ghost are critical for us as believers if we want to be God’s people in this world. Because without the Holy Spirit, we have no inspiration or motivation or binding community. And speaking of community, let’s look at the rest of this part of the creed.
The next line is one that gets a lot of attention. I said last week that the “descended into hell” line is the most controversial one. Well, this might be the second. “The holy Catholic Church.” This might be the most critical and timely line of our creed when it comes to Confessing an Identity, but first, we have to make sure we remember the importance of capital and lower-case letters. Often folks will see the word “catholic” and they immediately jump to the Roman Catholic Church. For some reason, this prickles some people. For the record, the Roman Catholic Church is as much a part of the genuine and orthodox expression of Christianity as we are or as the Baptists are across the street or the Methodists or the nondenominational churches like East View and Vale. To think otherwise, in my opinion, is to misunderstand the Roman Catholic Church and to unnecessarily divide us from brothers and sisters of faith.
But the Apostles’ Creed is not talking about the Roman Catholic Church. If you read it, you see that the only word that gets capitalized is the word “Church” not catholic. Catholic, in the lower case, comes directly from the Greek word καθολικός which means “whole” or “universal” and it has nothing to do with denominations or kinds of churches. It is only used when we talk about the Church with a capital “C” meaning the whole church or the universal church. It is a term focused on and endowed with the meaning of unity, not division. The next line about “the communion of saints” takes this even a step further and helps us remember that our connection to and community with the people of God is not bound by life and death but includes those faithful saints who have already returned to their heavenly home. The holy catholic church and the communion of saints is a declaration of our unity and our connection to our God and each other and, boy oh boy, do we need that, especially right now.
It’s probably true of virtually any period of Christian history, but it pains me to see just how much division there is among followers of Jesus. We draw lines and make declarations when we’re called to do the opposite. There is always justification given by those who want division, but the end result is always the same. We have to stop thinking that every difference between us has to end up being a division; this includes theological differences as well as political differences. How in the world are our neighbors supposed to hear a message of unconditional love and purpose from us when we bad mouth other churches in our conversations or on Facebook? What I said about the Roman Catholic Church is an example of this. But I’ve seen it shown in other ways too. I’m guilty of this also. When we talk about our 11am contemporary service often you’ll hear someone, even myself from time to time, say something like, “I don’t want us to be like this church or that megachurch.” Look, there is nothing wrong with having a preference when it comes to worship style but when you frame and lump together a particular church in a way that paints them as an enemy or as this poor, misguided person, then you are damaging all of God’s church. We need unity. That means looking at other brothers and sisters in Christ and using the word “us” instead of using the word “them."
The unity described in the Apostles’ Creed is crucial for us when it comes to Confessing an Identity because it directly impacts the work of that identity. Namely, the next line of the creed: “the forgiveness of sins.” Now, this line absolutely speaks to and declares the sweeping and unimaginably beautiful love of God that frees us from our sins. The work of the cross leaves us washed clean and found within our identity as the children of God, the disciples of Christ, and the people of the Holy Spirit. But it not only declares our situation, but it also declares our function! We are called to be proponents and agents of forgiveness. As far back as the people of Israel, God has declared who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do: Micah 6:8, “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
This is the identity we confess and that we are supposed to embody. We are supposed to do the work of justice. We are supposed to speak for those who do not have a voice. We are supposed to fight for the rights of those who have had them taken away. We are supposed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and love the stranger. There’s no asterisk or parenthesis here. It doesn’t matter what side of a border they come, what letter they circle on an application, whether they can speak for themselves, or race, or whether they look like they deserve our time or not. What matters is that we become the physical, breathing, personal embodiment of justice in this world.
Mercy and kindness are our tools. They are the chisel we use to chip away at the muck and iciness of an unfair system. They are the microphone we use to speak the love and heart of God. Mercy and kindness are the armor we wear and the gift we give freely. And God is our guide, our leader, our Lord. God is the one we follow, no matter where that path leads. Walking humbly with God doesn’t mean smiling through it all and being nice to others. It means submitting ourselves to the calling and the direction of our Creator and going where we are told to go even if we don’t want to. Even if it would offend someone we know. Even if it goes against a political platform or a social circle, humility, in this case, is a willingness to obey and go. All of this is what it means when we talk about Confessing an Identity. An identity that leads us to the promise of everlasting life.
In other words, this identity that we confess, that is given to us through Christ’s work on the cross and sustained through the presence of the Spirit, is an identity that surpasses and goes beyond the life we see right now. It goes past this world and all of its limitations and blessings. We look to the promise of being with our Creator for all of eternity. We are given the profound peace and the monumental hope that our life is not defined merely by the days we live here. We know there is more. More to who we are, more than what we see, more than God has prepared for us. That, my friends, is what we proclaim in Confessing an Identity.