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Sunday Sermon

Apostle's Creed Series
“I Believe, In God”
Mark 9:14-29

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

~

A Gallup Poll found that 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. The study found that 2/3 of the nation attends a religious service on Christmas Eve and even determined that 80% of non-Christians celebrate the Christmas holiday because of their involvement in non-religious aspects such as exchanging gifts and getting together with friends and relatives. In general, 78% of all adults in the US identify with the Christian faith. 9 out of 10 Americans say they believe in God, and 8 in 10 say religion is a very or fairly important part of their lives. But studies have also found that average weekly attendance in church is around 20% of the nation. 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas and yet less than 20% think that what happened on Christmas is important enough to affect what goes on in their lives the rest of the year.

What that tells me is a few things. One, that human beings tend to let the environment around them define their beliefs for them. What sociologists term "the social construction of reality," where people adopt the beliefs and attitudes they do because that is what is held by the majority of the people that surround them.  And two, it tells me that the majority of Americans have not had that ah-ha moment where Christianity becomes real for them. That experience when one truly grasps that God creates us, redeems us, sustains us, personally, and this by God’s power alone. Because if they had discovered the truth that makes them whole, they would be back at the source as often as they could. The ah-ha, when everything made sense and we truly believed. We know what ah-ha moments are- like when you’ve been working on a calculus problem for an hour and then all of a sudden you see how to solve the equation. Or you first understand why downs are so important to football, or how some things don’t cook right unless the pan starts at the right temperature. There is an ah-ha moment in almost every discipline where the foundation is laid and you can begin to move forward because you have an intimate understanding of how the details take shape.

But when it comes to religion, we can’t arrive at that ah-ha moment all on our own. Because we are sinful, we need the help of God’s Spirit, we need the help of scripture, God’s word to us, and we need the help of others pointing the way for us. So as we begin our sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed I think it would be wise for us to let it do just that. We believe that God reveals himself to us in his Word, but sometimes trying to make sense of scripture is like working your way through a dense jungle. Many have used scripture to simply justify their own position or oppress others or say things that seem very contradictory to the truth. So how do we know what scripture says about God? We now have an opportunity this summer to let the Apostle’s Creed, the voices of the greater church, be something like a tour guide through the jungle of scripture- pointing out the attractions, those things that are important, and helping us make sense of the greater ecology of the jungle.

The Apostle’s Creed begins “I believe.” From the very beginning we are making a statement that is personal. This is something that I do. And the weight of the word “belief” means it’s not just some passing notion that we like and we think we will hang onto for a little while, but it is a firm conviction, something we can put our name on- like signing the Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident; I believe… And what do we believe? Well the Creed gives us the object of our faith- we believe in God. And the only way we know anything about God is because graciously chooses to reveal himself to us. We encounter God through his mighty acts in history and his mighty acts in Jesus Christ, all of which are recorded for us in the Bible. So if we want to know about God we have to read the scriptures.

But the scriptures are like that jungle. Most people feel so overwhelmed they’re not even sure where to start or we give up because it’s too vast and complicated. Add to that the fact God sometimes seems obscure, indefinable, to us. God declares through Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  If God is so much greater than we can define with our own human words, how can we know God with any sort of conviction? How can we know with every fiber of our being that God loves us? The problem is, using our normal human capabilities of logic, we can’t completely know God. He remains a mystery, something ever beyond our grasp and ability to explain. And it is because of this hiddenness of God that we need another form of revelation, an ah-ha that helps us understand God.

Most theologians will go on to make a difference between general revelation and special revelation. General revelation refers to those things we can discern about God through observing creation and are generally available to all people. This knowledge, however, does not allow us to truly know God, or know what he desires for our lives. For that we need a special revelation in which God reveals himself in history for a specific purpose such as the giving of the Ten Commandments or Jesus’ death on the cross. Here is the best way I can think of to explain it- imagine an artist paints a beautiful watercolor of a majestic mountain scene. There’s a lake in the middle and the sun beats down on 7 extravagant peaks surrounding the lake. The painting is so detailed that you can even see the veins on the leaves on the trees- oak leaves, maple leaves and pecans. There are several people down by the lake- two of them are swimming, some of them are playing volleyball, and a few of them are sitting in a circle praying. Now, general revelation would say that there are a few things that you can gather about the artist from the painting. We can gather that an artist exists, we can gather that the things in the painting are created with some kind of intelligent design- they are diverse and intricate, we can even presume that the artist must want humans in his painting. However, we can’t tell you why the artist would want human beings in his painting, we can’t tell why the painting would be crafted with such intricacy and we certainly can’t tell anything about the character of the painter. But, if the painter were all of a sudden to step into the painting, to become one of the characters that was painted, why we could tell you all sorts of things about the painter. We could discover if the painter put human beings in his painting because he wanted to laugh at how funny they were or because they were there for a purpose. He could tell them what that purpose was and even show them what it means to be human in his painting.

And this is what God does for us in Jesus Christ, he steps into our existence. The Creator takes on everything about what it means to be created so that we might come to know God. We are able to say “I believe in God” because God reveals himself to us. It is a revelation whereby we truly come to know God.

To say I believe in this way is a hard thing to do; it takes faith. It is not something that we can rationally get to and God knows this. In our passage today, a loving father brings his very sick son to Jesus and begs Jesus to heal him, “Teacher, if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” That’s it; that’s all it takes. I want to believe, help me to believe. We cry out and God meets us halfway.

But the number one way for God to speak to us, to reveal himself to us is in scripture. And that is because scripture is God’s word to us; it’s the living, breathing vehicle through which God reveals himself to us. We’re not just reading another book, we are reading the very instrument through which the Holy Spirit has chosen to reveal God to us.

We can know with absolute certainty that the things that God reveals through scripture are true because God confirms them about himself through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Here is how Calvin, the father of Presbyterianism, describes it,

The certainty it [scripture] deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon

which our judgment may lean, but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork! This we do, not as persons accustomed to seize upon some unknown thing, which, under closer scrutiny, displeases them, but fully conscious that we hold the unassailable truth! Nor do we do this as those miserable men who habitually bind over their minds to the thralldom of superstition; but we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there.

There is a moment where unbelief becomes belief. When we encounter God in scripture, we encounter the ah-ha and there is no turning back. We can say with the certainty of truth “I believe…” But to say we believe something as children of God is not simply to say that we think the information is true, but it is to say that we know something so truly that affects who we are. Belief is not abstract; it is lived concretely. What you believe directly correlates with what you think and what you do.

I’d like to close with an example that we will return to again during this series to reflect on. I witnessed two girls meeting at Panera to catch up and talk about their lives; they talked about church and where they thought God was leading them. At the end of their conversation they decided to pray for each- they scotched closer together and took turns praying for one another. But what got my attention was that as they first one reached out to lay a hand on her friends shoulder, she began by saying “well I’m not really sure what I’m doing, but here it goes.”  That is the faith of the “I believe.” The I’m not entirely sure what is going on here, but I believe in the one who calls me to pray, I believe that praying together as Christ did with his disciples makes a difference for my life and for our lives together. I believe that he holds my deepest hopes for my friend close to his heart and I believe that he holds me close to his heart. I don’t know everything about God, but I believe God hears me. I don’t know what to say, I’m not really sure what I’m doing, but I believe, help my unbelief!

~Pastor Lindsay