This is Caro’s sermon from this morning; Fr Barry also spoke and his is only available as an mp3 file here.
There’s a young man in my neighborhood who has just graduated from Poly. If you ask him he may tell you his name is Bill. But that’s not his real name. His real name is Mohammed, and although his Mom is American, his Dad is from Saudi Arabia. I tell you this because after the horrific massacre in Nice this week, a friend said to me “Of course the driver’s name was Mohammed.” Of course. But it could have been Bill. We cannot start to discriminate against someone because they’re named Mohammed.
Neither can we start to have some test of religion. That’s how the Spanish Inquisition started. There is no place for fascism in this society and as Christians we must resist it in all its forms, including discrimination based on perceived skin color or ethnic origin.
This may seem a strange introduction to today’s sermon, for today we are continuing the series on the Nicene Creed by looking at the second section about Jesus the Christ which starts, “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” Yet if the faith narrative we have about Jesus who came down for “our salvation” has any relevance in this day and age it has to speak to the political and social situation in which we find ourselves.
This is, I think, the true test of whether our statement of faith is anything more than a quaint historical document. It must be sufficiently robust that it stands the test of time not only as the honored tradition of our ancestors but as a touchstone for contemporary faith.
So let’s just review the whole section that we’re covering today (it’s printed in your service bulletin on page 3):
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
The first thing I want to point out is that it does not say Jesus died for our sins. I mention this because in our “Embracing a Mature Faith” conversation on Thursday, several people thought it did. But let’s be clear. It says that Christ became human “for our salvation” and it says that he was crucified “for our sake.” Nothing about his dying for our sins.
It all starts with the incarnation. Of course the idea that Christ came down from heaven and that later he ascended into heaven doesn’t make sense given our contemporary understanding of the universe. We have to see this as a metaphor for Christ coming from the dimension of the divine, perhaps we can say from divine consciousness, into human form. And if he was human, then he must have been born so it makes sense that his mother was human and his Dad Spirit.
I have preached before about whether it matters that Mary was a virgin, and no doubt I will again, but here in the Creed it is part of a statement which picks out the salient points about Jesus’ life and work as far as the ancients were concerned. Whether these things happened exactly like that, we can’t possibly know with any certainty and I don’t think we have to believe them as factual. There are truths that are not facts. As an old Indian storyteller is reputed to have said, “I don’t know if it happened, but I know it’s true.”
The truth of the Creed comes in the living of it
In Latin the creed starts with the word credo. It’s normally translated “I believe…” but that’s misleading because we think it means I believe these things to be factual. It carries a strong connotation of trust or even of a heart connection. So, although there are libraries of books devoted to these things, I’m not going to focus on the statements about Jesus’ life. They don’t say anything about Jesus’ teaching or about his miracles but simply how he was born, died, resurrected and why.
I want to focus on those two “why” statements, “For our salvation… he became incarnate” and “For our sake he was crucified.”
Notice the emphasis this gives to Christ becoming incarnate. For our salvation… he became incarnate. That’s where it all starts – if it wasn’t for the amazing fact that God became human we would have no story, no faith to proclaim. You will remember that this is where we traditionally bow when we say the Creed. For many Anglicans like us, the incarnation is the greatest miracle because although Jesus the Christ died “for our sake,” to focus on that is to lose sight of the amazing love of God expressed in the life and teaching of Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only beloved Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
God became human for our salvation, and that we might have everlasting life. Following the Biblical scholar Marcus Borg, I would suggest to you this morning that we think about everlasting life as the result of transformation, and salvation as transformation. When we say salvation it begs the question what from? What are we saved from? But if we use transformation we can ask what are we transformed or saved for?
In the very beginning of the Bible, in the story of Creation, the ancients understood that we were made in the image of God but that this somehow got tarnished and so they gave us the story of Adam and Eve eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to explain how evil came into the world. In Jesus, God incarnated so that we might be transformed back into God’s image. The salvation, the transformation, which Jesus Christ brought us through his incarnation, his life, his teaching leads us in a new more conscious way back to who we were made to be. We were made to be Christ-like beings, loving and serving God with joy and thanksgiving; we were made to shine forth God’s glory, being made in her image.
And that transformation is not just individual. As we are transformed so it effects all those around us. And it is our calling to continue that transformation in our world, building fairer and more equitable society wherever we find ourselves; in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our work places and in the public square. Our transformation is not something to be hoarded. Like the manna which went moldy if the Israelites took too much, personal transformation becomes a distortion if we think it’s just for us. When we share ourselves, making new connections and working for the transformation of society, so the kindom of God is built.
Now to the second statement, “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” This is perhaps the most debated part of our faith understanding. Why did Jesus die “for our sake”?
The theories about an angry God who needed to be appeased for our sin no longer work for most of us. Jesus was killed by the authorities because he was a threat to them. It happens all the time, even in our own country. He was killed because he was bringing transformation from the old way of being, a way of being that was based in violence and oppression. He did not have to be killed but had he not, then we would not have realized that death is not the end; we would not have realized the lengths that God’s love was willing to go; we would not have realized that love is greater than violence.
Jesus the Christ’s death and resurrection helps us realize that we are not chained down by the violent forces of this world, the ones outside us and the ones within. We can be free! Truly free people are a threat to those who want everything to stay just the way it is; truly free people bring creative energy that can change the world. We are free to take risks, to live lives of adventure because we know that we are loved. We are loved by a God who was willing to take the very worst humanity could do to him and come back, still loving us.
The poet T. S. Elliot wrote the famous line, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Perhaps God has never been the angry God that the Hebrew people feared. Perhaps God has always been deeply concerned for human flourishing and evolving. Perhaps humanity’s path is to explore its way out of the Eden of intimate relationship with the divine and to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and the end of all human exploring will be to return to that relationship and know it again for the first time.
The violence we see writ large in the world today is part of that journey. Humanity is far from arriving where it started. The forces that led Jesus to be crucified under the oppressive political authority of the day are the same forces that led to the Nice massacre, and to the Orlando shootings, the deaths of black men and the deaths of police officers, to mention just a few of the horrors we have witnessed recently.
Anger and violence are real. But let us not project them onto God. When we do that, our idea of God becomes a justification for perpetuating the cycle of hatred. It becomes a justification for hating Mohammed, for blaming all Muslims or all law enforcement officers.
The message of Jesus is that God is not somewhere distant, sitting in his heaven, but that God walks this world with us and that God experienced the horror of human hatred up close and personal. But Jesus the Christ after he died and was buried, rose again. He lives on. His love is available to transform us and the whole world. His love is the force of evolution, moving us closer and closer to being the Christ-like beings we were meant to be living in a fair and equitable society like that of the Trinity.
So the Creed becomes a statement of our hope, a proud proclamation that God is love and that love conquers all and will conquer all, and in the last analysis, when human transformation is complete and the end of all our exploring has been to arrive where we started and know it for the first time, then “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
 In fact, he uses another common American name but I don’t want to blow his cover.