12 Jan Why it Matters What We Believe
January 12, 2017
This coming Sunday I am starting a new sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed. Rather, the sermon series is really about belief—the nature of belief, what we believe and why, and most importantly, what difference our beliefs make in our lives. The Apostles’ Creed is a very early (4th century) and succinct statement of Christian belief and has been widely accepted and used by Christians around the world. It is an important document, one of the foundational Confessions of the church. But, if we can’t answer the question, “What does it mean for our lives?”, then it is only so many words on a page, devoid of any life or power.
Throughout Advent I reflected a good bit on one particular thought: why does it matter that I believe in the Incarnation? Put another way, what difference does the Incarnation make to the very real, very hard circumstances with which I am dealing right now? Does it matter to the person struggling with chronic illness or job loss or a wayward teen or grief over a lost loved one? Does it matter when the airline messes up my travel plans not once but five times on the same trip, and if so, how? When I am exhausted by caregiving, or overwhelmed by work or parenting, or processing through the anger and pain of betrayal, how do my beliefs shape my attitudes, choices, and emotional responses?
We are given many beliefs by the family and culture in which we are raised. That is, of course, necessary and appropriate. But, it is also appropriate that at some point we examine those beliefs and choose to either make them our own or to set them aside if they no longer fit with our personal values. This is a good and healthy process, critical for growth and maturity, and wise are the parents who encourage it and make room for it in their teenagers and young adults (and even beyond).
The trickier and usually more problematic concern is the set of beliefs we hold that we’re not conscious of. These include the opinions, prejudices and ideas that we don’t notice because they are simply part of “the water we swim in.” Sometimes we meet people who are very different from us, and those encounters help us see what we couldn’t see before—that there are different ways of seeing things, doing things, thinking about things, and my way is not “right” but simply one of many alternatives.
More often than not though, at least for me, it has been a challenging life experience that has awakened me to that in myself of which I was previously unaware. Pain is a great and effective teacher, albeit never one I choose, if given an option. In those painful moments, my “beliefs” about how the world should work are exposed as assumptions and expectations, not facts. What I thought was ground beneath my feet sometimes turns out to be sand which is fun at the beach, but nothing I want to build my life on. I have a decision to make at this point: allow my beliefs to mature with this new, broader understanding of myself and the world or stubbornly cling to the old way, even if it’s no longer working. I’ve done it both ways, and I can tell you that the latter never turns out well.
One of the gifts of the Apostles’ Creed is that is has stood the test of time and the examination and re-examination of generations of faithful Christians. Because belief is ultimately a choice, not a certainty, it is reassuring to have a statement of belief like the Apostles’ Creed to return to again and again. I routinely question some aspect or other of my faith, but every time (so far, at least) I have come back to the Confessions of the church with renewed gratefulness for their brilliance, wisdom, and faithfulness.
“What We Believe and Why It Matters: The Apostles’ Creed”—that’s the title of this Sunday’s sermon. We’d love to welcome you to our exploration of belief and its impact in our lives. Come on by! Worship starts at 10:00 a.m., and Sermon Talk Back (an informal conversation about what we heard and experienced during worship) occurs from 11:30-noon. All are welcome!
Yours for the Kingdom,