191006 – Called to Be

Yr C ~ Creation 4 ~ A New Creed

You may be more familiar with the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s creed (both written 16 centuries ago, and a mainstay in many churches) but today we’re looking at A New Creed which was written just a few decades ago by a United Church task group as a creative expression of a statement of faith. The United Church has always been, and remains, a ‘non-creedal’ church. That does not mean that we don’t believe anything. It simply means that unlike some other Christian denominations, in ours you don’t have to look at a creed and sign your name to it in order to be a member. Even ministers don’t. Our requirement is that we must be found to be in ‘essential agreement,’ meaning we affirm the essentials of what is being argued/said but not necessarily the particular details of the way it’s stated. That is in our United Church DNA. And that’s why this is called “A” New Creed and not “The” New Creed. As I’ve joked before, we are people of the indefinite article!

“A” New Creed was first adopted in 1968. (Last year at General Council we celebrated its 50th anniversary.) In 1980 it was changed from male language to inclusive language. Originally it said “Man is not alone, he lives in God’s world.” Sounds completely wrong, doesn’t it? That’s how theology changes us. The creed (I know I just made a big deal about the indefinite article, but I generally default to calling it ‘the creed’), anyway, our creed was changed again in 1994 when the line “to live with respect in creation” was added to honour the influence of indigenous people’s spirituality and also the strong theme of creation theology. And then in 2012 A New Creed was elevated to the status of United Church doctrine, along with the 20 Articles of Faith, A Statement of Faith (1940), and A Song of Faith (2006). Did you notice all the indefinite articles?!

All that to say that this document is a pretty big deal.
It has found a particularly special place in our worship life. We include the creed whenever we do a baptism, or a confirmation, or welcome new members – those times when we remind ourselves of our fundamental ‘beliefs’. We do that because that’s what a creed is for. The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, which simply means “I believe.”

That’s what the first half of A New Creed is all about: what we believe. Although, and I keep preaching this because it’s such an important concept – the words “I believe” do NOT mean “I give my intellectual assent, or agreement to this sentence.” That kind of intellectual believing reduces our faith to something like “I believe in the tooth fairy” – believing as whether or not something exists. That’s not the kind of belief a creed deals in. It’s more like if a family member was going on a job interview, or getting ready to do something significant, you’d look at them and say, “I believe in you!” You are not giving intellectual assent to their existence! You are giving your heart to them. THAT’S what “I believe” really means: it means “I give my heart to…”

What do we, as people of faith, give our hearts to?

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.

Just quickly, there’s a ton of theology in those few words. It is decidedly Trinitarian in that it speaks of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It speaks of God’s continuing presence, of incarnation, of rebirth, and of transformation – and yet it doesn’t say any of them in a specific way – just that we believe, we give our hearts to these ideas. So quintessentially United Church!

The second stanza is what gets most of our attention though.
The first stanza is the “we believe” part: the second stanza is the “we are called” section.

We are called to be the Church. We are called to be. We. But it’s not just we, it has to also include me. I am called to be the church. Does that make sense? I hope so. “I am the church. I am the mission.” It’s personal. I am called to own it, not just ‘the church’ on my behalf. ‘We’ language is great, but I worry that ‘I’ can hide in that ‘we’ and let the church do ‘my’ work for me! I encourage you to read our New Creed substituting all the ‘we’ language with ‘I’ language! It makes it very personal, and challenging!

We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence – in other words, to worship, both here and beyond here in the flow of our lives.

We are called to be the Church: to live with respect in Creation – to be aware of the world around us, the environment and our impact upon it. Here in the liturgical ‘Season of Creation,’ and with echoes of recent climate strikes resounding in our consciousness, it’s pretty easy to see why this was such an important line to add to our creed.

We are called to be the Church: to love and serve others – this is our bread and butter, our wheelhouse. A great quote attributed to John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” That’s us!

We are called to be the Church: to seek justice and resist evil – to champion ethical, respectful, inclusive, intercultural living and to actively speak out against that which is not. For example, it’s not enough to just be non-discriminatory or non-racist but to be anti-discriminatory and anti-racist. This is why we did the hard work to name ourselves as an Affirming church – to be public, intentional, and explicit – and why that work is never done.

We are called to be the Church: to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope – the proclamation of Jesus is key – to not be timid, to not stop at the what (action) but to go on to include the why (reason). This is, by far, the heaviest and most theologically dense sentence in A New Creed. Crucified and risen, our judge – these are big, challenging theological concepts that are easy to stub your toe on. But remember, it’s “A” New Creed, not “The” New Creed. You can give your heart to something and still quibble about what it all means. We don’t have to think the same way; we just need to wrestle together – to be in mutual participation, not lockstep – to be in communion.

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.

We treasure these tender and comforting words and rely heavily on them at funerals. Together with the words that begin and end our Creed – We are not alone – these are the words that we especially give our hearts to.
This is what we are called to be – to be in communion, with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, and with one another.

Today is World Communion Sunday. World communion doesn’t specifically mean that every church in the world is supposed to partake in the sacrament of communion today (although, that is the most obvious way to celebrate the day).
The Latin word communio literally means ‘mutual participation’.
So this is world communion Sunday, where we celebrate how we are interconnected with the body of Christ throughout the world – how we mutually participate with other Christians around the world.

Recently our denomination has entered into ‘full communion’ relationships with the United Church of Christ (from the U.S.) and being finalized today, as we speak, with the Christian Church: Disciples of Christ (which has congregations in both the U.S. and Canada). Full communion is not quite amalgamation but it does represent a significant desire and commitment to ‘mutually participate’ in God’s work.

Clearly, as A New Creed begins, we are not alone. Yes, that’s a fundamental theological statement about how God is ever-present, everywhere and always. But it’s also a statement about Church – capital C. We are part of this community of faith called Faith United, and we are part of a wider body called the United Church of Canada, and that is part of a wider body called the body of Christ in the world. And we mutually participate in all of them.

We are not alone. We live in God’s world. We are called to be the Church.

Church comes from ecclesia which literally means assembly of citizens, and from the beginning was the word that was used to describe the earliest church. We are an assembly of those who have citizenship in the Way of Jesus, who belong to Christ – and our assembly is as small as you and I having coffee, and as large as the world-wide totality of Christians. We are not alone.

We are a specific community, charged with a world-changing mission of living Christ-like lives of worship, service, compassion, and love uniquely in this specific context of Courtice, Ontario, Canada. AND we are at the same time part of the whole body. That means we are not alone – and that means we can’t do things however we want.

We don’t own this church. We hold it in trust on behalf of the United Church of Canada.
We express our mission and ministry here on behalf of our denomination.
This place has been entrusted to us.

There’s that word again – entrusted.
Entrusted has become our touchstone word for this stewardship campaign that we’re in the midst of – helping us focus on what stewardship means these past few weeks.
We’ve been entrusted with time and money; we’ve been entrusted with spiritual passion and giftedness; and we’ve been entrusted with a call to be the Church in this time and this place.

We are called to communion – we are called to mutually participate in worship, creation-care, service, justice-making, and the proclamation of Jesus.
We’ve been entrusted with a great gift – the gift is ‘good news’ – the gospel.
We’ve been entrusted with this life-transforming news.
How we share it – through worship, through creation-care, through service, through justice-making, and through proclamation – is about how we’re honouring that gift.
That’s stewardship – sharing your giftedness in the name of Jesus.

What a tremendous blessing it is to pause and ponder this amazing communion we share.
We are members of a fantastically diverse and passionate body of faithful folk spanning the entire planet.
And each and every assembly, and each and every person in those assemblies, is called to be the Church – in their own (YOUR own) unique way, making the most of your gifts, giving your hearts to God, and sharing that with which you have been entrusted.
That’s church – and that is what we are called to be.

We are not alone. Thanks be to God.