Monday, July 14, 2008

Statement of Faith

Recently I was asked by a church member if I plan to give a sermon about my faith journey. It's a fair question; certainly a congregation likes to know something about the faith and life story of its pastor. Still, I don't particularly view my journey as preaching material. So, in lieu of a sermon, here is one glimpse (an excerpt of my ordination paper) into my theological perspective as it has been shaped by life and Life:

i believe in God
the Creator
the Giver
the One beyond my imagining

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God

i believe in Jesus
the Lover
the Example
the inexplicable Son of God and of Man

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God

i believe in the Holy Spirit
the Sustainer
the Mover
the Joy that overflows my soul

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God[1]


THEOLOGY[2]

We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit,
God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify:
You call the worlds into being, create persons in your own image, and set before each one the ways of life and death.
You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets
and apostles
.[3]


I believe in God: the Creator who calls us by name; the Father of rainbows and unbroken covenants, the Mother of steadfast love and compassion[4]
; the Lord of Israel who attends to the slavewoman and her son in the wilderness, and whispers over dry bones in the valley until they dance with life; the Holy One who burns without consuming, judges without reviling, and pursues without relenting; and the Deliverer in whom to take refuge and find strength.

I believe that God is located most of all among the poor and the oppressed, in places where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. From the vantage point of history, the most downtrodden have been those who are darker and legally disempowered. “The One who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning”—this God who is above all gods—pours out “justice…like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”[5] The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has “set his heart in love,” dwelling with us, and requiring but that we love and serve God alone.[6]

When people ask me, “What is God like?”

I often answer
God is like a shepherd
tending to the flock
leading me to still waters

Or I say that
God is like a rock
grounding all being
securing me through storm and sun alike


But lately I’ve come to think that
God is like a mother’s womb
birthing in pain a new creation
bleeding to give life with the cycles of the moon

Perhaps I should elaborate
God is like a mother’s womb
stretching to hold a crying world and
feeding the hungry with divine placenta

In our scriptures, I hear how
God is like a mother’s womb
delivering people from and through blood
bearing justice for the sake of God’s name

In this world’s stories, I know that
God is like a mother’s womb
carrying the indignation of creation’s rape
braving to bear life to the weak

In my own life, I see how
God is like a mother’s womb
shaping my name and my ability to live
pushing me through the canal to be an agent of life

Finally and foremost, I believe that
God is like a mother’s womb
protecting jealously all of God’s children and
loving life above all pain[7]


I believe that theology and language for God are ultimately inadequate. Our knowledge of God is forever limited by our humanity, yet through God’s relationship to us and God’s relationship to Godself, we find insight into God’s nature. The Triune God therefore cannot be fully known apart from the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Finally and foremost, I believe that “the Lord our God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the stranger…He is our praise; he is our God, who has done for us these great and awesome things that our own eyes have seen.”[8]

CHRISTOLOGY
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior,
you have come to us and shared our common lot,
conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.

I believe in Jesus Christ: the Word made flesh; the visible Covenant, definitively revealing God’s bond to humanity; the I am who feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and calms the storm; the passionate Son of God who loves fiercely; and the rebellious Son of Man who upsets empires for the sake of the meek.


I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, three days after his crucifixion and death. I believe in life after death because I know from my own life that there is joy after sorrow, healing after pain, dawn after dark night. Like Moses striking the rock until a wellspring burst forth, the resurrection of God Incarnate strikes a call for persistence. It is a revelation that the stubborn fight for goodness and life where there is none is both human and holy, an outpouring of Living Water into our broken world.

Jesus! the name that charms all fears,
That bids our sorrows cease
Tis music in the sinner’s ear,
Tis life and health and peace![9]


Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodland,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.[10]


I believe that Jesus is God, fully divine and fully human. He is our Redeemer, who meets both the woman at the well and the priest in the temple, the beggar at the curbside and the teacher in the hall. Jesus is the One through whom God heals. I believe that Jesus is the true example of agape, and that he will come again to bring a new day. Until that time, the promised Holy Spirit dwells among us and empowers us to witness to the good news of the realm to come.

PNEUMATOLOGY
You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit,
creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ,
binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues and races.


I believe in the Holy Spirit: the Comforter of generations, who brings us into the calm of God’s grace; the Intercessor in our weakness and the One with us in trial and rejoicing; the Pentecostal Fire that shapes us into the people God has called us to be; the Mover through whom God’s grace inspires human passion; the divine Communion that breaks down walls and binds together one cloud of witnesses; the Giver of truth and wisdom for fruitful living and the dawning of God’s kingdom.

Spirit, spirit of gentleness,
Blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, spirit of restlessness,
Stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.

You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes,
From the bondage of sorrow, the captives dream dreams;
Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes.
With bold new decisions your people arise.[11]


I believe that the Holy Spirit is God, one with God the Father and God the Son. I believe that the Spirit is the Breath of God, moving over the waters of creation and stirring the waters of new life within each of us. I believe that the Spirit whispers to us the good news: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you.”[12]


ECCLESIOLOGY
You call us into your church
to accept the cost and joy of discipleship,
to be your servants in the service of others,
to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil,
to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table,
to join him in his passion and victory.
You promise to all who trust you
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
your presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in your realm which has no end.


I believe that the church is the Body of Christ, called to serve and to speak with boldness and without reservation. I believe that the church is the primary place for spiritual nourishment within the Christian community. Community is vital to faith and essential to one’s experience of God’s grace. As Christian mystic Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “If I have faith, it is because I have met faith, I have seen it in action.”[13]
The giving of oneself to another—in love, in forgiveness, in compassion, in service—leads to a fuller understanding of God’s grace and marks the pursuit of Christian discipleship. The church is the cloud of witnesses that gives testimony to the truth of God’s grace and mercy.[14]

The mission of the church must be “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”[15] The passionate love of God, the radical justice of Jesus, and the fiery presence of the Spirit must be in the church. Because we are loved, we must love. Because we have been taught, we must teach. “Lord, speak to me, that I may speak. O lead me, Lord, that I may lead. O teach me, Lord, that I may teach.”[16] It is not enough to know God’s grace. The church must live God’s grace, passionately and radically.

The sacraments of the church serve to surround each person with this amazing grace, and to bring each person further into the community that shares in and guides one’s faith journey. The two sacraments celebrated in the United Church of Christ—communion and baptism—are those that we understand to be instituted by Christ according to biblical tradition.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper invites people to a common place for the healing of brokenness and for the celebration of God’s Incarnate presence. In communion, Christ meets us in common elements and nourishes us with strength for life’s journey. The broken bread and the poured cup—signs that we remember Christ as commanded to us[17]—symbolize God’s covenant and God’s presence with us in all of life through the crucified and risen Christ.[18] The celebration of communion should be intentionally welcoming to all, for Christ calls all people to his banqueting table.[19]

Baptism, another symbol of God’s graceful presence, brings us into the church and sanctifies us before God. In the sacrament of baptism, the congregation (representing the larger church) affirms its care of members and recognizes their new life in Christ. The water of baptism marks us with the name of the Triune God, the One who creates us from dust and delights in our being. Because God’s blessing is available to all, including the very young,[20] baptism can be celebrated by the very young and the very old alike.

Wade in the water,
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water.[
21]

I believe that God invites all people to wade in the waters of life, to be refreshed with healing, to be troubled and stirred to justice, to be tried and tested in faith, and to ultimately rest in God’s love and grace.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you. Amen.


ENDNOTES:
[1] Hackenberg, Rachel. “A Nicene Creed.”
[2] Here I use the academic language of systematic theology to designate each theological theme. Theology is the study of God. Christology is the study of Jesus Christ. Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. Ecclesiology is the study of the church.
[3] UCC Statement of Faith (doxological version), 1981. Original version, 1959.
[4] A brief note regarding the supposed gender of God: While it is important to recognize the limits of a patriarchal God, a strictly feminine God also has limitations. God is mother and father, male and female, both and neither. That said, the “default” gender of God (male) is not always best, nor is gender-neutral language always suitable. Using gendered language for God can creatively inspire our theology. In the end, we must affirm the indescribable nature of God, who is beyond our imagining. Human attempts to succinctly categorize God are partially true and catchy at best, deceptive and hate-inspiring at worst. By God’s grace, our eyes can be opened to partial understandings of God so that we are moved and renewed to faith.
[5] Amos 5:8 and 24.
[6] Deuteronomy 10:15.
[7] Hackenberg, Rachel. “What God Is Like.”
[8] Deuteronomy 10:17-18 and 21, pronouns adapted.
[9] Wesley, Charles, 1739. “O For A Thousand Tongues.” Azmon tune by Carl G. Gläser, 1828.
[10] Gesangbuch, Münster, 1677. “Fairest Lord Jesus.” Schönster Herr Jesu tune, Silesian folksong melody.
[11] Manley, James, 1978. “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness.” Spirit tune by James Manley, 1978. This hymn has been a favorite of mine since I was a camper at Hartman Center. It lyrically illustrates the Spirit as Comforter and Initiator, Maker and Revealer.
[12] Isaiah 41:10.
[13] L’Engle, Madeleine. And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1983. 43.
[14] Hebrews 12:1.
[15] Micah 6:8.
[16] Havergal, Frances R., 1872. “Lord, Speak To Me That I May Speak.” Canonbury tune by Robert Schumann, 1839.
[17] Luke 22:19b.
[18] Matthew 26:28. See Deuteronomy 29:10-15 for an example of God’s covenant with God’s people. “You stand assembled today…to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, sworn by an oath, which the Lord your God is making with you today; in order that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God.” See also Revelation 21:3.
[19] Matthew 22:1-10. “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” (verse 9). Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus teach exclusion at the table.
[20] Mark 10:14.
[21] Traditional African-American spiritual.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Theology

Theology is a great intellectual, academic exercise but one which has very little to do with faith or with life. Theology is the attempt to put faith into a rational, orderly, systematic box. But faith is not rational in the usual sense of the word. By its very nature, faith resists attempts to “explain” it in rational terms. Just as each individual must work out the meaning of faith for him/herself, so each individual must determine the content of his/her faith - their own theology, if you will. The products of all the great (and not so great) theologians are what was meaningful to them; their systems have no implicit, universal meaning or significance. No Christian should be expected to conform to someone else’s theology or description (confession) of faith. But every Christian is obligated to be able to articulate and explain his/her faith/beliefs.

RL