We’re finishing up our series on the Creed today,
and we’re going to be reflecting on a passage from Ephesians 2 this morning—
I’d invite you to turn there.
Since early April we’ve been talking about “the gospel”—
what exactly is the “good news” that the church has been announcing for 2000 years?
We thought that this would be worthwhile in talking about.
Because if you ask a lot of people what they think the gospel is about
(and if you listen to their answers carefully)
very often the gospel sounds like it’s primarily about us.
About us getting saved for the afterlife,
about us learning to experience blessing,
about us helping heal the world.
About me and my standing with God,
about me and my life right now,
about me and my responsibility to love the world.
It makes sense that we think this way.
Most of lives,
most of the places we go,
most of the people we interact with,
most of the messages we’re confronted with,
we’re having things demanded of us.
don’t do that,
earn the paycheck,
balance the checkbook,
coordinate the schedules,
make sure those needs are met,
make sure this project is done on time,
take the kids here, take the kids there,
wash the dishes, wash the clothes, wash the car.
Life demands a lot from us.
Life is really hard.
And then we come to church…and it feels like the gospel is a demand as well.
Like the gospel (“the good news”) piles more and more onto our impossibly full plate.
You need to do this,
you need to not do that,
you need to think about God,
you need to fix your relationship with God,
you need to be always be experiencing happiness
and always experiencing blessedness
or obviously something is wrong,
you need to be doing more in the church,
you need to be doing more in the world,
you need to secure your future (your afterlife)
and you need to secure the future of your family members,
and the future of your friends and co-workers and basically everyone you know.
No wonder people don’t want to come to church.
Life has enough demands already—
why would we go looking for more?
We’re already burdened and heavy-laden—
why would we go looking for more burdens?
But the good news
is not primarily about us.
Oh man, what a relief!
The good news is not a burden.
The good news is not a demand.
The good news is not something else that we’ve got to do.
The good news is news.
News that we’re invited to simply believe.
As we’ve been been reflecting on
one of early church’s earliest statements of belief
we’ve been realizing that this news is primarily about God.
About what God is like, about what God does—
about God fundamentally being a community of love
(Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
about God creating the world for absolutely no reason
other than his overflowing, self-giving love,
about God becoming an actual human being in Jesus of Nazareth
and forever choosing to be with us and for us,
about God the Son tasting death for all of humanity
and God the Father raising Jesus from the dead
and appointing him king over the world right now,
about God announcing that Jesus is the one
who will judge the world and make all things right,
ushering in a recreated world where the dead are raised and life is everlasting.
According to the early church,
the good news is relentlessly, continually, constantly, unendingly about God.
The church has been saying:
“Do you want to see behind the curtain?” “Do you want to understand the meaning of life?” “Do you want to know what kind of world we actually live in?”
“This is what we believe.”
And now—and now…
we reach the point in the creed where we finally get mentioned.
“We believe in the Holy Spirit,
and in the holy catholic Church,
and the communion of saints
and the forgiveness of sins”
The holy universal church!
(That’s what the word “catholic” means.)
The worldwide family of those who believe this good news—
who are learning to believe in the resurrection,
who are learning to trust humanity’s king.
The people so intimately and tightly united
by the spirit of God and the lordship of Jesus,
that even death can’t break the bond between us.
The people who trust in the forgiveness of sins.
That the darkness we bring to the world,
that the evil we do in the world,
has been forgiven.
We’re finally talking about us—and I’m filled with excitement and dread.
Excitement because I like doing stuff—
I like knowing what there is for me to do
and how I can do it.
But then dread too.
Because this seems like the place where the penny drops.
Is this the part of the creed where it all comes crashing down—?
Is there place where the beautiful story
about who God is and what God does and what God will do,
suddenly shifts and becomes about a bunch stuff for us to do?
Is all of this good news just smoke and mirrors—?
and am I about to get saddled with a bunch of stuff to do,
when I’m already drowning in stuff to do.
Today as we finish up the Creed, we are going to be talking a little bit about us, but hopefully this won’t sound like a bunch of burdens that we’re supposed to apply to our lives.
Hopefully a little bit of reflection on us— and what it means for us to live in this story— still sounds like good news.
And to help us reflect on all of this,
we’re going to be in Ephesians 2:
(2.8-22) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(v11) Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
(v14) For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
(v19) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Paul never lets us forget the good news is about God.
He says that it is
by God’s gift,
by God’s mercy,
by God’s grace
that we are saved (v8).
There’s nothing (v9) we can ever do to brag or boast or get prideful about.
Everything is grace.
Even our ability to begin to trust God— even when we begin to believe this good news— even faith is a gift from God (v8).
Everything is grace.
Absolutely everything is grace.
And God included you in this.
God is already proclaiming peace to you.
God has announced “peace” to those who have got done the “right” religious rituals (something like circumcision in the first century, v11)
AND God is announcing “peace” to those who have never given God a passing thought (those without hope and without God, v12).
Because God is proclaiming peace to everyone (v17)—
to those who are near and to those who are far away.
Even the most rebellious and most lost and furthest away
has been brought near by the self-giving love of the king—
by the blood of the christ (v13).
Now… this is where we come in. This is what we do.
We’re invited… to believe this.
“The holy catholic church”
is the community of people in the world
who believe the good news.
It’s good news for the entire world,
it’s a reality that belongs to the entire world,
and we—the church—we’re the people who say it’s true for us too.
“God is rescuing the world from slavery to selfishness and darkness and death?
And God is creating a new humanity out of the wreckage of the old?
“There’s a way to know that God has forgiven me?”
I want that. I want to be a part of that.”
That’s what the Church is.
The Church is the community of people—
who hear this good news,
and say: “If this is what God is like, then I’m in.”
“Because I have absolutely no hope anywhere else—
I want to throw myself into this God’s story, I want to entrust myself to this God,
I want to trust the peace he’s speaking, I want this God to make me new.”
The Church is the community who says,
“I want to be be the handiwork of God.” (v10)
That’s not a word we use very much,
but it sounds practical doesn’t it?
Like woodworking or something.
Like a table or a chair or a desk.
It gets translated a lot of different ways,
but the word right there is “poiema,”
It’s where we get the English word “poem” or “poetry.”
It’s a word that can be way more than practical—
way more than just functional.
This is word that can be beautiful.
God created us to be his poem,
to be his artwork, to be beautiful.
God created us to join his eternal dance
of relationship and delight and self-giving love.
To live life as it was meant to be lived,
to become what we were created to be,
to put God’s wisdom and beauty on display in the world.
I think God asks one of us,
“Would you like to be a part of that?”
“Would you like to be a part of this people?”
“Will you be a part of my church—a part of my body?”
“Would you like to be my poem?”
The church is the community of people
learning to be the poem of God.
Learning to live beautiful lives. Learning to live good lives. Learning to live full and human lives.
Learning to live holy lives.
Because I think that’s what “holiness” means—beautiful, good, full, human.
The problem with drifting away from holiness—the problem with sin—
is that it destroys the beauty of life.
That’s why the biblical witness speaks against sin.
Because sin disrupts and destroys the goodness of God’s designs.
Sin is like the opposite of poetry—
Gossip is a problem because it’s scribbling.
When we talk about people rather than talking to them;
when we allow distrust and division to splinter relationships;
when we want the satisfaction of talking about a person
with none of the responsibility of loving that person,
We’re not participating fully
in the risk and beauty and wonder
We’re cutting someone off from relationship with us,
and treating them like problem to solve instead of person to serve.
The problem is we’re scribbling.
Pornography is a problem because it’s scribbling.
When we treat people as products that we can thoughtlessly consume,
when we dehumanize another human being for our sake of our passing pleasure,
when we want the satisfaction of devouring beauty
with none of the responsibility of caring for beauty,
We’re not participating fully in humanity—
in learning to be vulnerable and receive love with another person.
We’re isolating ourselves off from the world with what was meant to connect us deeply to another person.
Pride is a problem because it’s scribbling.
When we quietly consider ourselves to be center of the universe, when we look down our noses at others as the consistent problem,
when we think ourselves to be God’s gift to the human race
at the expense of recognizing other people as God’s gifts to us,
We could go on and on.
Greed and violence and stealing and lying and gluttony and economic injustice—
the problem with these things is that totally illegible—they’re just scribbling.
They’re not the love song that God is writing.
They’re not the eternal dance that God is inviting us to join.
The problem with sin is that it’s ugly—
it’s an ugliness that breaks our lives and breaks the world and breaks the dance.
The church is the community of people learning
to confess the selfish scribbling of our lives
and asking God to help us practice his poem.
And the good news is about God— that God forgives our sins and is willing and able to take our helpless hand in his—
to teach us how to stop scribbling,
to show us how to form letters and words
and eventually help us practice his poem.
And God doesn’t just shape our hearts and our community from the outside—
God shapes our hearts and our community from the inside.
The Church believes in the Holy Spirit—
that the Spirit of God—that God’s energy, that God’s personal life—
is present within us and among us,
is patiently teaching us how to live.
That’s why the Creed says, “We believe in the Holy Spirit”
right before it talks about the church.
The Holy Spirit is the one who builds a Holy Church.
God’s Spirit is the one who forms beautiful lives.
Because good news is always about God—
that God is the One who is (v21-22)
building us into a home for himself.
Building us into a temple.
The place where the life of heaven lives on the earth.
That’s what we’re invited to become.
This is indeed the part of the creed where we come in—
our learning how to become a part of this holy people,
but the good news is that it’s not a burden.
Because when we really begin to believe this good news—
when we begin to hear this song being sung over us—
this is a song that invades us and we want to sing for the world.
That’s the reason the Church does anything—
we’re wanting to join a song that’s already being sung.
The reason we gather regularly,
why we practice praying,
why we forgiving those who wrong us,
why we receive the sacraments,
why we serve the world—
we believe that these are places
where God’s Spirit teaches us how join the eternal dance.
This table is the place where we come
to remember what God and his dance and his poem are like.
This is what the truest and deepest life looks like.
This is what the life of God looks like for the sake of the world.
[That] the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Our table is an open table—
open to anyone who wants to be a part of the church;
open to anyone who wants to receive and to practice the forgiveness of sins;
open to anyone who invites the Holy Spirit to teach them to dance.
In just a moment, you’ll be invited to come down this center aisle,
to receive a bit of bread, to dip it into the cup,
and then return to your seat along the side aisles.
As you come this morning,
may you know that God has included you in the good news (this body really is for you)
may you have the honesty and the courage to confess your scribbling,
may you believe in the forgiveness of sins and grant that forgiveness to others,
may you see the wonderful humanness and holiness of the church
and may God’s Spirit teach you to practice the poetry of God.