Today we are beginning a new series on “what we believe.”
And we are using for our resource the original belief statement of our faith, The Apostles Creed. The Apostles Creed is #881 in your hymnal and as I just mentioned it is the original statement of faith in the church.
The Apostles Creed was believed to have been formulated, in thought and teaching, by the original 12 disciples of Christ. However, it is the 3rd Century when it really comes to the forefront of use. It was used as a statement of faith made by persons receiving baptism. This became the means by which they declared what they actually believe, and it contains within it a series of statements proclaiming faith in God, Jesus, Spirit, Church, Saints, Forgiveness, and Resurrection. (Some info from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apostles-Creed)
Therefore as we, Christians in the year 2017, seek to understand exactly what it is the church has proclaimed as beliefs to help us to develop our own I think it is pertinent to turn to this very ancient creed in order to lay the foundation for our own commitment to faith. The first words make it very clear that we are not just idly making a statement about something we don’t care about, but the phrase “I believe” makes a statement in itself about who we are and what our convictions are.
So as we get started I urge you to find new meaning in our weekly recitation of The Apostles Creed. I hope these weeks will open your eyes to the meaning behind some of the different aspects of the creed we look at, but I hope you would find a renewed sense of what the creed as a whole means and not just recite it blindly every week but make it mean something.
Today we engage in that first statement of faith.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;…” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/apostles-creed-traditional-ecumenical)
And for that, I turn your attention, not to the creation story, although that would be a great place to turn to talk about God as creator, I turn your attention to the story of Moses. Primarily to the call story of Moses, because in it God’s true nature is revealed in the name that God gives to Moses.
I am sure some of you have heard the story before, but let’s reflect on why God is giving his name to Moses.
Moses was a baby in the time the Israelites were in Egypt. Pharaoh wanted to kill all the baby boys to prevent a usurping of power by the Israelites. However, Moses’ mother prevents it by sending him down the river in a basket. He is picked up by the Pharaoh’s daughter. She adopts him, but once Moses is older he feels something deeper in his life than the connection to Egypt. He ends up killing an Egyptian, flees Egypt, and goes to Midian and resides and marries into the house of Jethro, the priest of Midian. While tending the sheep he encounters this burning bush that reminds him of the oppression of God’s people in Egypt and charges him to save them. Moses is not to encouraged toward this task due to how his relationship with the Egyptians was left, and so Moses begins to ask questions.
Our scripture passage today drops us in the midst of this questioning by Moses. Moses says to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). Moses, still unsure of his mission and in a state of reluctance asks who this God is. Who is this God that is speaking to him, who has called this place sacred ground, who has called him to this task, who is seeking to shake up his life in this manner?
And God’s response is about as perfect as it could be.
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)
God’s name is as much a statement about who God is as it is a name. Just as each and every one of our names has some hidden meaning. For example, my name, Andrew, means strong, manly, or courageous (https://www.babycenter.com/baby-names-andrew-285.htm). God tells Moses that his name is YHWH, four-letter, and in the original Hebrew it literally is a play on the verb to be. That, I believe as do most Christians, that God just is. God’s name is his very being, very existence.
This name in the Judaic tradition was called the Tetragrammaton, and it was the most sacred name of God. So sacred that only the priests were allowed to say it and they could only say it on certain days. Common lay folk would resort to using names such as Lord and Jehovah for fear of taking the Lord’s name in vain.
The Judaic tradition puts great emphasis on God’s name. Why? Because it is God’s name. It is the very essence of God.
Frederik Buechner writes, “Buechner is my name. It is pronounced Beek-ner. If somebody mispronounces it in some foolish way, I have the feeling that what’s foolish is me. If somebody forgets it, I feel that it’s I who am forgotten. There’s something about it that embarrasses me in just the same way that there’s something about me that embarrasses me. I can’t imagine myself with any other name Held, say, or Merrill, or Hlavacek. If my name were different, I would be different. When I tell you my name, I have given you a hold over me that you didn’t have before. If you call it out, I stop, look, and listen whether I want to or not. In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses that his name is Yahweh, and God hasn’t had a peaceful moment since.” (http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2016/11/29/buechner)
We proclaim that God is almighty, that God created heavens and earth, that God created humanity, and that God most importantly created and is perfect in love. God has made himself accessible to humanity in this moment. There is something about knowing God’s name that reveals the relationship God wants to have with us. Think about that line from Buechner again, “When I tell you my name, I have given you a hold over me that you didn’t have before. If you call it out, I stop, look, and listen whether I want to or not.”
Names are truly sacred and God’s most of all is, but knowing God’s name embodies relationship with God. Hold tight to that idea. God wants a relationship with us. So embody and live into that relationship. God wants to be a part of our lives. Why else would he have revealed his name to us? Why would he give us his very being? When we talk about a belief in God the creator we talk about that relationship God has formed with us and our reciprocation of that relationship. The manner in which we pray and have the conversation, the manner in which we study God’s word, the manner in which we live and embody God’s plans for our lives.
This is what it means to believe in God.
I hope when you recite those first 12 words of The Apostles Creed you will recognize that relationship and what it truly means to say, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;…” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/apostles-creed-traditional-ecumenical)