October 15, 2023 Sermon: "I Believe in God the Father Almighty"

    10.18.23 | Sermons by Lew Parks

    I Believe in God the Father Almighty
    Some people complain as they grow older their memory plays games. They can’t remember
    where they laid their car keys an hour ago but remember in detail a cinnamon sugar doughnut,
    they got trick or treating six decades ago in a town they le: behind half a century ago. I’ve
    learned to settle back and enjoy the eccentrici8es of memory. You can always get help with the
    short-term memory blanks: there’s an app for your cell phone that helps find your keys – if you
    can remember the code to unlock your iPhone! And some of those older, longer memories are
    precious and I would never want to lose them. Here’s one of mine… I’m fifteen and my mother
    has taken a day off work to take me to a specialist in Williamsport. Our GP, Dr. Triers of Lock
    Haven has referred me to the specialist who eventually will diagnose my allergies. We’re making
    a day of it, so we stop at the Widman & Tea store on the way. And there on a rota8ng rack of
    books, I pick up a paperback to pass 8me in the wai8ng room. It’s this: Augustine’s Confessions.
    It’s the only religious book on the rack. I’ve only been a disciple of Jesus for a few months and
    am hungry for anything that will take me deeper into my newfound faith. The doctor’s waiting
    room is rela8vely dark, lit only with table lamps on tables stacked with copies of Life, Look,
    Time, Field & Stream, and Mechanics Illustrated. I claim a chair next to one of those lamps.
    While my mother pages through Look, I lean toward the lamp and start to read Augus8ne. I
    admire his brut honesty as he catalogs the sins of his younger years. I am captivated by his
    psychological insights such as his meditation on the “vast fields of memory”. I smile as he talks
    about his mother who hounded him to faith. That sounds familiar! Most of all I am drawn in by
    Augustine's voice in Confessions. He writes as if God is looking over his shoulder. It is an
    extended prayer of discovery of self and the Other: “Oh hello! So, it was you all along loving me
    when I was unlovely, saving me from my mistakes, interrupting my dumb detours, coaxing me
    down a better path.” On the first page I ran into this wonderful line: “You have made us for
    yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” God is not some new addition to
    our world. God is the one who saw us knit in our mother’s womb (Ps 139) and was a quiet,
    brooding presence for good and mercy all the days of our lives even when we ignored him. No
    one was happier than God (“the angels in heaven shout for joy” is the way Jesus pictures it), no
    one was happier than God the day we quit running and looked behind us. “Oh hello! So it was
    you all along loving me when I was unlovely, saving me from my mistakes, interrupting my dumb
    detours, coaxing me down a better path.” The first line of the Apostles’ Creed is this: “I believe
    in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.“
    I pause here to rant and rave a little. Recently many cri8cs of the UMC have used the argument
    that if you don’t read the Bible to exclude certain persons as they do, you must not believe in
    the orthodox Christian faith as gathered in the great creeds of the second to fifth century:
    Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, Chalcedonian -summaries of the faith that had universal
    acceptance. Those critics invite United Methodists to leave Babylon and join them in places
    where the creeds are upheld. I have three counter arguments. (1) You’re partly right! We have
    been sloppy about the creeds in the recent UMC. One of the good things to come from the
    disaffiliation of churches might be the nudge to clean up our act! The creeds lie dormant in our
    hymnal (check out pages 880-889), but dormant as a bulb sleeping, waiting for a spring. Creeds
    like the Apostles’ Creed can be recovered in preaching as we’re doing in this series, for teaching,
    for worship, and for personal devotion. As the gloom of secularism grows, it would be healthy
    for our churches if more of us could say: “this is what I believe; here is where I stand.” …
    (2) The creeds cut both ways. They speak loud about such doctrines as God as father, son, and
    holy spirit, about Jesus’ death on the cross, about the church. But creeds are silent about a lot
    of other things. The creeds do not say marriage is between a man and a woman, or democracy
    is better than dictatorship, or that the two sacraments of Protestantism are right, the seven
    sacraments of Catholics wrong. The creed is about higher order beliefs: God, salvation,
    resurrection of the dead. They allow space for disagreement on lesser things… John Wesley: “Is
    your heart right with God?” as measured by basic ar8cles of the creed. Then “give me your
    hand; we’ve got work to do”… (3) “Our bones are good”. That’s the way one of our pastors
    respond to critics. The Apostles’ Creed has exerted its influence in the collective memory of the
    church. The creed exerts influence in the hymns we sing, and the texts preachers preach. There
    is a core, what church father Vincent of Lerins, “what has been believed everywhere, always,
    and by all.” We can get over our amnesia. Enough of the ran8ng and raving!
    I believe in God … the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth… Aristotle (300s BC) looked to
    the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars in their courses, and asked about an Unmoved Mover
    behind them. Sir Isaac Newton (1700s CE) looked at the stars and asked why don’t they bump
    into each other? George Lemaitre (mid 20th C), father of the Big Bang Theory asked what was it
    like when God first said “let there be”? Since July 2022 you and I have JWST (James Webb
    Space Telescope) feeding breathe-taking images from deep space. When you see these pictures
    and remember your Psalms, you can’t help but join the choruses: “The heavens are telling the
    glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech and
    night to night declares knowledge.” [Ps 19:1-2] When you say that you have lots of company:
    deists who believe God exists but doesn’t interact with humans; the spiritual but not religious;
    and a host of agnos8cs who are awed enough by crea8on to think there might be a crea8ve
    Mind behind it but not awed enough to take it the next step… That’s good company but the
    Apostles’ Creed wants more.
    So return with me to that first line of the creed one more 8me: “I believe in God the Father
    Almighty” … I believe the Power behind the Stars created humans for relationship with him: to
    talk to him, to live out our lives with him looking over our shoulder, to pray the five basic
    prayers to him on a regular basis. Help! Thanks! Please! Sorry! Wow! And I believe that the
    script of the rela8onship this almighty God wants with us is that of a Parent and a Child. It’s an
    unequal arrangement, but this Parent wants to see his children grow, mature, flourish. He’s not
    a hovering helicopter parent. He’s a parent that gives us space to learn from our mistakes but
    never stops caring. He’s a wai8ng Father standing on the porch in the evening, scanning the
    horizon hoping to see the prodigal child come home. God Almighty invites us to address him as
    Jesus does, as Abba. Both the OT and NT invite us to ponder the power of the parent child
    relationship, whatever our family of origins stories made have been. The Bible is rich with
    stories and images to help. I want to end by sharing one of my favorites. It came back to me in a
    recent trip to Lowes. I asked a sales associate if they had an item I couldn’t find on the shelf. He
    said he’d have to check stock. Then he looked around for a scrap of paper to write down the
    item number. There was none to be found. So he took his pen from his pocket and wrote the
    number on the palm of his hand and off he went. The simple act took me here [Isa 49:15-16]
    where God addresses the human fear of God’s inattention. God plays along: “suppose I I did
    have problem with memory: don’t worry, I have written your name on the palm of my hand. I
    will not forget you.”