05 September 2006

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Finally, after months of inactive typing I produced a typed manuscript for the sermon this past Sunday. It felt good to preach this.

When I went back to WV a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to ponder the differences between church life there and church life here. It hit me that many issues down there arent issues up here: what you wear to church, drinking and a cursing preacher. I occassionaly will let colorful language fly from the pulpit. Yeah this place is really something. Here is the sermon, with hyperlinks, from Sunday.

I Believe…
text: “Why do your disciples not live according the tradition of the elders?” Matt. 7:5
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2006
Deuteronomy 6:1-3 & Mark 7:1-23

The Pharisees and some the scribes tried to entrap Jesus in the seventh chapter of Mark. Everyone knew what they were up to, their desire was written all over their faces from their clever grins to their expectant eyes.

For months an uneducated-redneck from the mountains of Galilee had been humiliating the religious establishment by overturning their schemes and exposing them for the buffoons they were.

But this time the religious professionals really thought they had Jesus this time. Just like Wild E. Coyote, they purchased the latest fool-proof ACME gadget. They just knew their ingenious question, Hey Jesus come your disciples don’t live according to the tradition of the elders? would back Jesus into a corner he could not escape. In their eyes, once their question was posed, it was all over but the squirming. They asked their question, they set their trap, and in their own way hid behind the rock in anticipation of their gotcha moment.

Jesus walked right into their trap, he took the seed laying in the middle of the road and gobbled it by agreeing to participate in their little scheme. He opened his mouth and sounded off his own Beep, Beep by quoting Isaiah and exposing their erroneous interpretation of Moses.

Can you imagine their reaction? Can you hear them screaming No, No, No, this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. You weren’t supposed to trap us. What was supposed to be a fool-proof Jesus trap ended up trapping the Pharisees and some of the scribes. The Pharisees and some scribes, instead of trapping Jesus, found themselves falling off the proverbial cliff in anticipation of causing a small puff of dust once they land. This wasn’t their first attempt to trap Jesus and it wouldn’t be their last, they would live to trap another day.

We can imagine them walking off with their tales tucked beneath their legs wondering where did they go wrong? How come their fool-proof trap failed? How did that hick with more than a questionable pedigree foil their plan again? In their minds they set Jesus up with a fantastic equation: Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before meals. No one could argue against a 4,000 year old ritual the children of Abraham performed. The act religiously and socially defined them as Jews. If Jesus taught this then surely he was teaching false doctrine. Gotcha Jesus.

With this perfect setup we can picture them all asking the question, cracking their knuckles, tapping their fingers in a waving motion like Mr. Burns and saying “excellent.” By employing some savvy biblical interpretation and some astute historical analysis of Moses Jesus ripped the rug their argument stood on out from under them and wrapped them in it like a franks-n-jacket.

This morning we begin a sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed, the oldest and most accepted Creed of Christianity. The Creed more than any other statement established orthodoxy, correct belief, for Christianity.

It may seem odd and even contradictory for a Baptist preacher to focus on the Apostle’s Creed for a sermon series. Since 1525, after all, we have steadfastly fought against the use of creeds. We are marked by our own inconsistent and contradictory statement: our one creed is that we have no creed. Since our emergence on the Continent and the England, the plantations of the South, the frontier of Appalachia and so on we have been a particular people wishing to share our stories rather than our beliefs. We have practiced a religion of the heart more than a religion of the head. We have valued our religious affections more than our religious doctrines. Suffice to say that the Apostle’s Creed is not only odd ground it is plain foreign and perhaps even toxic!

From Roger Williams onwards we have repeatedly stood for religious liberty. We grant and fight for the right of each and every person not only to walk to the edge of heresy but to jump on over if it will enable them to commune with God, to find Christ’s liberation and fully experience the Holy Spirit. Our commitment to religious liberty can lead us, without fully comprehending, lead us into an awkward predicament whereby we have granted each so much freedom that we can forget/lose touch with the God we are seeking.

Baptists, correctly, rejected the use of creeds as a means to legitimate Christian belief and membership. They did not reject the teaching quality of creeds. They did not reject the center and focus of the Apostle’s Creed: God in Jesus Christ. They did not reject the peculiar life and unique story of God in Jesus Christ.

You’ve heard some say: once you’re saved you do anything you want, i.e., it doesn’t matter what you do just as long as you believe. You’ve heard it said it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you act right. These simple and opposing casual statements are both wrong. It does matter what we believe and it does matter how we act.

Which came first in your life: action or belief? Were you initially moved to Christianity by someone’s graceful actions? Or were you initially moved by someone’s words? Did a story from the Bible set you off or did a prayer by a neighbor?

Belief and Action are intimately entwined, no matter how much we try we cannot separate them. Our goal as Christians is to seek a balance, a transparency where faith and works constantly build one another. We act because we believe, we believe because we act. We don’t chase our tails by this action but journey to create a deeper and more authentic Christian life.

When Jesus turned the table on the Pharisees and some of the scribes he didn’t favor actions over belief or belief over actions. He was correcting bad belief and bad actions. Talk about correct belief and action and bad belief and action should raise some cautious flags. But rest assured brothers and sisters we were not entrusted with the job of judgment. We are here to help one another on our pilgrimage to God, but we’re not here to judge. The boundary, as Baptists, between heresy and orthodoxy, is like trying to say an 80mph pitch is fastball or off-speed pitch. Now if someone is a pain, then yeah we probably should say something. Indeed our lives will reflect our beliefs…

We are here to create deeper and more authentic Christians. We are here to develop transparent lives where faith and action are blissfully married. Jesus’ closing words reveal that we don’t have to judge, the fruits of our beliefs will reveal our centeredness on God.

The Apostle’s Creed offers us a springboard for centering on God in Jesus Christ. The Creed offers us the opportunity to, not only hear, but to proclaim for ourselves the good news. Believing in the God we worship does matter, our belief will change our minds, our hearts. Our belief in this God will change our lives.

The Apostle’s Creed at its heart, is a confession, a proclamation, a testimony, an offering of faith. The Creed will not exhaust the contents of our faith, it is only a beginning – rather it points to the God whom we have sought and found, it points us to the God whom has sought and found us. That is the good news, a confession about the God who has sought and found us.

Credo, I believe…

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