Apostle's Creed - I Believe in Jesus (Part I)
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 14 May 2017
“Apostle’s Creed - I Believe in Jesus (pt. 1)”
Philippians 2: 5-11
John 17: 20-23
A few years ago I went to South Africa as part of a school “Missions” trip. We landed in Johannesburg and, over ten days, made our way to Cape Town. It wasn’t the type of trip I expected, as we did not do much hands on mission work. We traveled to various communities and received tours through those communities by some of the residents. The tours revealed history, a very dark history in some cases, and allowed us to have a peek into the lives of some of the folks who lived in the villages. We ate with them and we listened to them.
Soweto was referred to as Kliptown during Apartheid and it is the area that Nelson Mandela is from, I think. But, to give you an idea of what Apartheid was like based upon the stories we were told, it was segregation based on nothing but color. It did not matter about your ethnicity or your race, just the color of your skin. So, as a result, areas that people were divided into based upon color were rich in ethnic diversity...light skinned Blacks, olive skinned Middle easterners, and similar colored skinned Indians shared the geographic areas. There were were various degrees of these multicultural communities. But, amongst their diversity, they shared a commonality...they were beyond poor. A single well in the communities provided water and a continuous flow of water from the well on the ground through shallow culverts provided an above ground sewage system for the inhabitants.
Two things stand out to me in my 10 days in Africa. First, as we made our way through the poorest area of Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg, I saw something that I think about quite often. As I walked through Soweto, watching my step as we walked beside the shallow running water, I took a turn. Staring at me through chicken wire were two children, one who was a young girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, the second was likely her brother, maybe 2 or 3 years old. She stood holding his hand watching our group as we walked up the street. The yard they stood in was completely concrete and their feet must have been burning as they stood, but quite possibly, it was cooler outside than it was inside the corrugated metal shanty that they stood outside of. The children stood motionless as we walked passed. I noticed a man sitting on the ground just feet from the chicken wire fence staring intently at the children, paying no mind to us. Were they his? I don’t think so.
Second, as we drove into Cape Town, my stomach dropped as I saw the number of metal shanties that comprised the poverty stricken area of the town. It went on for miles and miles along the highway and north of the ocean. We drove to a small settlement in the mountain area of Cape Town and met with some of the residents. My heart ached when we went to a young woman’s house and she opened her door to reveal over 20 children under the age of 3 sleeping on the concrete floor. The house was completely empty except for the children and the small blanket that each was given. She explained how the government had allotted each person a parcel to live on and that they are allowed to pick up certain supplies from the government every so often. (This is usually where they get their corrugated steel) But, over the course of time she noticed that the young children were being left alone in the village while the parents went in search for work. This woman gave up the parcel for her home to be a space to care for the community’s children. She slept, when she slept, in a metal lean-to beside the house.
I left Africa having realized many things. A couple of the most important were: First, I was not as good a Christian as I thought. Second, Jesus was revealing Himself constantly to me as we moved from place to place.
I Believe in Jesus
Today, we proclaim, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…” as part of the Apostle’s Creed. There is a lot to this section and we will unpack it more in terms of Christology next week. But today, let’s talk about the importance and the relevance of this statement of belief.
This brief sentence, these words, acknowledge your understanding, your belief that the God who is very powerful and creating everything around us, made the decision to become human. Not only did that God decide to become human, but understood that it was necessary to die through suffering and shame to restore peace between humans and God. The words of the statement of belief evoke an understanding of relationship between the man Jesus and the unbounded entity of God, but the two are really one in the same. Jesus is God in the flesh. The word we discussed last week, immanent; Jesus is the immanent form of God to a large extreme. You can look in his eyes, you can hold his hand, you can give him a hug, you can wipe away his tears, you can see his anger, and you can behold his compassion.
Jesus is the walking, breathing, living version of the God we raise our hands to in praise and worship. Jesus is not just a Rabbi, a teacher, a prophet, or a miracle worker; He is God. It is Jesus’ own statement that , “[He] is the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in [Him] shall not perish…” He also stipulates that “I am the way the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Without arguing about any of the semantics of Christology, we can all ascertain that the belief in Jesus allows us to recognize that the Glory of God was revealed and magnified by Jesus’ life and works on earth. Jesus’ purpose was to reveal how life on earth was supposed to be accomplished in accordance with a life that was perfectly obedient to God. Jesus revealed to us the “way”.
Sit on This
Next week we discuss the term Christology a little bit and take a look at the way Christians view Jesus in the lines of the statement of the Apostles Creed. There is a lot to unpack there, but it is all very important. But there is something I want you to consider this week as we simply make the statement to believe in Jesus. It means that we believe in Jesus’ methods. It means that we believe not just in who Jesus is, but also what He did while He was here. He was not shy to stand up for His understandings and He would much rather spend time with sinners than those who claimed to be righteous. He was not among the wealthy all too often, and relished his time with the poor. He was chased out of towns for stating His truth and holding to those convictions. He showed compassion to those that others did not care about and he demonstrated love in some way during every interaction, whether it be love of God or love of humanity through teaching us the way to live our lives in best connection with God. Jesus sought to restore us with our creator, even before we knew what he was doing. But, that is what our first reading from Paul tells us today we are one with Jesus, who is one with God, who is one with us. Jesus lived and died by putting God first and others second. Is that our motto?
As I saw those young children in Africa I wanted nothing more than to grab them right then and there and scream for their sanctuary in America. I wanted to provide a roof over their head and a comfortable bed for them to sleep in at night. Also, I wanted to establish a work team to build a second floor on the young woman’s house that took care of all of the children, so they would have more space to play and she would have a place to sleep. Things that seemed important to me.
But, I missed the point of the tours. While help for comfort was appreciated, there was a certain contentment in the lives that I witnessed in Africa. Amidst the oppression of Apartheid, the undercurrent of the culture developed. Through the definition of a person by a single trait, Jesus worked through the millions of other traits we each possess to bond and demonstrate love between cultures. It wasn’t perfect, as many - most - did not know Him. The various tribal nations still disagreed and racism was still prevalent, but slowly His presence grew.
We often want more, or we often need more, to feel happy or fulfilled. But, by having basic needs met and finding joy in those around them, the people I met were amazingly happy. When they spoke about Jesus, they spoke about him as if he was an old friend who they were excited to spend time with and were anxious for others to meet. Their eyes sparkled when they spoke about the Jesus who saved everyone and cared for those who had less. We served communion, my first time consecrating the elements, at our bus driver’s home and he was out in the street yelling for people to come over and share in the sacrament.
To believe in Jesus is to believe that we have been saved, not from the problems of this world and things we must face, but we have been saved from the eternal separation of God from us. We are no longer outsiders of the circle and we remain in unity with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals himself through those who truly understand that salvation and share that news with others bringing glory to God. When was the last time you thought about yelling in the streets for your friends and neighbors to discover Jesus in communion?