So it’s Ash Wednesday - again; the beginning of the very useful season of Lent. Sure you can give something up for Lent in an, I think simplistic attempt to mime Jesus sacrifice for us but I think that almost makes it too simple and it robs the season of what it could really be.
It is a season of repentance, which requires a lot of hard work because the New Testament defines repentance as a complete change of the way you think. Changing what you think is very hard, thinking in general is very hard and that is why so few people bother to do it.
Jesus came into our world for a very grand project, to save creation. Creation is in need of saving because of the way that we have messed it up. God wanted to make it easy for us, but we wouldn’t have it his way. We wanted to do it on our own and without him. Remember the Tower of Babble, the people wanted to make a “name for themselves”, instead of being satisfied with the name God had given to them.
So we need to take stock of ourselves and compare ourselves to Jesus. For sure we will not measure up and so we too often give up. That is not the point of taking stock and if we try to measure up to our Lord we are really trying to do the same thing as the builders of the tower. Our call is to be disciples or followers who walk in the steps of our master. Each of us will do that in our own way. This is made very clear in the gospels were each of the disciples were led by our Lord to follow in their own way and that no one of them were the greatest. You can only be yourself.
This is called existential. The part of our following that has to do with us. We all have different life experiences and different ways of experiencing our world. I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a uniform “experience” of the Spirit; we are all met by God on our own turf, as it were.
There have been many misguided attempts to have all Christians think the exact same things about what we know as Father Son and Spirit. The Nicene Creed prevents people from making things up about God. It preserves what Jesus taught was the relationship between Son, Father and Spirit.
There have been and continue to be people who insist that we must all have certain pre- programmed experiences of God. They argue that their particular experience should be the norm. I find this line of reasoning to be idolatrous, because it makes one person more than another, again like the argument about who is the greatest disciple. Jesus taught that we must honor each other’s unique experiences. This is what Paul was getting at when he spoke of one body with many parts.
The criteria for discerning whether or not a person is a follower or not is the type of experience they manifest. It is whether or not the life they live looks like Jesus. It is whether or not, when one looks at them, one can see love for all, even enemies, joy no matter how difficult life’s circumstances, peace and peacemaking in the midst of conflict. Are they generous or do they withhold from those in need? Are they faithful and gentle? Do they exhibit self-control or do they let their desires run amok? The fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) are the indicator in a person’s life of the work of Jesus in that person’s life.
And nobody has trouble seeing that. It’s really easy to see if a life is conformed to Christ’s or if it is all about them being the greatest. Remember Jesus taught that the greatest in the Kingdom of God was the one who was servant of all.
I believe that it is very important to confess my sin. Unless I admit my sinful and unclean nature there is no hope of my ever getting better which I would define as becoming more like Jesus. That is why I am going to try to illuminate the Nicene Creed for us as my preaching topic during Lent 2015. The Creed is the early church’s attempt to say who god is and just as importantly is not. The only use for the creed is to give form and shape to our thinking about God. First I must confess an undying love for the Creed and for all the love and faith of those who brought it into its present form. I even respect the people who were on the losing side because they thought that this was important enough to argue about. I affirm all aspects of the creed with no reservation.
For me the creed prevents God from becoming an idol. Idols are gods we make up they are created by our attempt to envisage god. They cannot ever give you any new or useful information because the idol is made by you. The people around Jesus often idolized him. Making him what they thought he should be instead of what he was. Jesus was in contrast to an idol an icon. An icon is something that reveals a vision of the divine.
Rather than resulting from the gaze we aim at it, the icon summons sight by allowing the invisible to saturate the visible, but without any attempt or claim of reducing the invisible to the visible icon. The icon attempts to render visible the invisible as such, and thus, strictly speaking, shows nothing. Jesus is the icon of the invisible God and is our only source of revelation. If you know me you also know my Father.
Notice that the creed never says “God Is”. That would be a concept that would delineate god’s being. In Col. 1:15 Paul proclaims that Christ is the icon of the invisible God. What is claimed here is that Jesus is the sole visible icon of God. God remains invisible, not because of our misdirected gaze but because he will not be limited by us in any way. God doesn’t need being. Notice the Creed doesn’t describe the Father but simply recognizes him by what he has done. The Father is the one who made heaven, earth and all that is.
That is why I have been known to get upset when someone tries to say what God’s will is. I always ask sarcastically “did he tell you.” Was Jesus also sarcastic some of the time with the Pharisees? I will leave you to judge that.
The Father is only described in one way by Jesus; as Love. The love of God is love without condition, limit or restriction. It is not fulfilled through being conceptualized, named or comprehended, but rather is fulfilled in giving of itself. It is fulfilled simply in giving of itself. Humanity necessarily responds to this divine Love, and since it is given without limit and condition. Humanity has no alternative but to receive or refuse such Love.
Thus no human intent or gaze can idolatrously dwell on the possibility of adoring or admiring "God", since God as the giving of love overflows any notions of access, limitation or possession. Unlike the idol, love prohibits a limiting or fixing of the gaze onto the giver as an object. For Love does not present itself as an object to be admired and contemplated but rather directs the recipient's gaze to the Giver and subject of Love. Love does not pretend to comprehend or embody the invisible but instead gives itself over in order that the intention of the Giver might be encountered by the recipient. A god who is love needs no being or no “is” statements to be made about him.
As I hope you will see during our Wednesdays together during Lent that the Nicene Creed is a love story between Father, Son and Spirit into which we are invited. It contains statements not to be recited but to be celebrated. It is part of our worship liturgy. Like a hymn. It is a celebration of that which Jesus came to show us.