Inspired by 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 1:1, 14, 18
2nd of 3-week series on the Apostles' Creed
It is believed by many that this is a representation of Jesus being crucified, as a way to mock both Jesus and anyone who worshiped Jesus, including poor old Alexamenos here. We have no idea who Alexamenos was, other than he apparently counted himself among those who were calling themselves Christianos, which simply means follower of Christ, where we obviously get Christian from. So that’s what this is, now why am I showing this to you? Other than being a history nerd who loves to geek out on this kind of stuff and who assumes everyone else does too, in our reading for today from First Corinthians, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, and they were really struggling.
They were divided. They were quarreling. They were having identity issues—are we a Jewish community, are we a Jewish branch, are we something altogether new? They were having loyalty issues—do we follow Paul, do we follow Peter, do we follow Jesus? They were a mess! You think we have issues! On top of that, apparently, they were feeling a lot of outside pressure, from all directions, from their Jewish siblings, their Greek siblings, the Roman government, not to mention the pressure of their own internal doubts as they questioned if this path they have taken was not only worth it but was legitimate. We have lost most of this perspective over the last 2000 years but at the time, to outsiders, of every kind, Christianity was, and forgive my language, was the stupidest belief they had ever heard of!
I had some of you pretty scared there for a sec, didn’t I! I saw some hands go up getting ready to clutch your pearls, don’t try to hide it! I’m teasing you! Anyway, it’s a perspective that I think we need to bring back to our faith. Meaning, the stupidity of our faith, or as Paul called it, the foolishness of our faith, is not something to be ashamed of as those first Christians in Corinth were, but something that we should be leaning into, highlighting even! Maybe that should be on our welcome statement, right in between “we welcome…all abilities” and “all ages”, we should add “all fools.” What do you think? No? I think if I ever started a new church I would call it, “The Church of Fools.” It would at least get people’s attention! Seriously though, it’s this foolishness of our faith that really shines through in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed.
Which is why we are here today, right? We’ll recite the whole thing in a bit but let me just read that second article for us now. “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s chosen one, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; and descended to the dead. On the third day Christ rose again; ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God, and will come to judge the living and the dead.” Last week we covered the first article, which was just one line about God the almighty creator, or as I ended up saying, “the creative caregiver.” I also went over some introductory creed info, as well as my own misgivings with creeds, so if you missed that you can find it online. The second article is all about Jesus, which sounds like it should be an easy topic, right?
However, it was a little trickier than I thought. Mainly because I didn’t want this to sound like a Christmas sermon, or a Holy Week or Easter sermon for that matter. But if you take this creed at face value, it goes from “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary” to died, buried, and rose, with nothing in between! Born…dead and risen. Just like that! But of course, you and I know, there was so much more in between. So, I wondered what I could say about Jesus that wasn’t just about the baby Jesus, or about his suffering, death, and rising. And for some help with that, I turned to the other reading that was assigned for today and that was the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Don’t worry, I won’t read the whole thing to you. This is the gospel that begins with, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
The author goes on to say that this, “Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” But as I mentioned last week, we don’t use the term “father” here when we recite the creed, and in that same spirit, we don’t use the term “son” either. There are lots of creative ways that churches and Bible translators have begun using. One version translates that last line this way, “we saw the Word’s glory—the favor and position a parent gives an only child—filled with grace, filled with truth.” Another one that’s often used to refer to Jesus is “heir.” Not air like what we breathe, but h e i r, as in the inheritor. There’s also savior, messiah, anointed one, we use chosen one here. But this is what really got my wheels turning.
When we use terms other than "son" to refer to Jesus, it’s not because son is wrong, and it’s certainly not an effort to take something away from Jesus, as if we could. Quite the opposite in fact! It’s an effort to get at the fullness of who Jesus is, to get at the heart of what we are proclaiming about Jesus in the creed. Because when churches proclaim Jesus as "son", it’s not about his gender. It’s not his male anatomy that we are proclaiming, right? I hope not. If so, we need to have a whole other conversation! But this got me wondering, what are we proclaiming in this second article? More specifically, what does it mean to be the Father’s son? Or more generally, what does it mean to be a son? Or a daughter for that matter.
What are we saying when we proclaim Jesus as God’s child, or heir, or anointed one, or chosen one, or whatever title you want to use? I’d love to hear how you’d answer that question, like on Wednesday night at our online Bible discussion? But this is where my mind went. We really cannot fathom what it must be like to be the almighty, the great parent, nor can we fathom being the child, the chosen one. All we can do is explore our faith through things we know. And for me, I know at least what it’s like to be a parent, and a child. In a healthy relationship between parent and child, I know firsthand that my hope is that my offspring will take what is best from me and make it even better. Likewise, I also hope that those things that I am not so proud of about myself, will not pass on, and will die with me.
That is the hope anyway. And from a child’s perspective, especially an adult one like myself, that hope should be reciprocated. The child should actively want and pursue carrying on the best of what makes their parent who they are. On a personal note, this has really come into focus for me as I continue to process my mother’s death last year, and walk with my dad through however many final years he has. The topic of inheritance comes to my mind often, and I don’t mean the financial kind, but rather all the other things that our parents pass on to us, the intangible things, the things of the heart and soul. That section that I read from the Gospel of John ends with this line, ‘No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.”
Whether we like to admit it or not, people often get to know our parents through us, without ever meeting them. And that’s what John is saying here, and that’s what we proclaim in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed. To paraphrase one of my seminary professors, Jesus is the closest thing, the truest likeness, that we will ever get of God. Jesus inherited, and has passed on to us, the very best of who God is. And I have a feeling God whispered into Jesus’ ear just before he came down to us, “And while you’re at it, could you correct some of the crazy ideas that they have about me down there? They got me saying all kinds of things that I never said, and now they’re starting to write this stuff down!” Well, I don’t know how well Jesus did with that! But what I do know is this.
The Jesus I know, the one as presented in our holy scriptures, is overflowing in grace, truth, love, forgiveness, acceptance, peace, inclusivity, and a heart of sacrifice like the world has never seen. And I have to believe that he was radiating the very best of who God is, and who his mother was, as well as Joseph. I have to believe that he was being a good son, the kind of child that anyone could ever ask for, after having the kind of parent in God, and Mary, and Joseph, that anyone could wish for. That is who we proclaim in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, as foolish as it may sound to a world that is too often selfish, deceptive, condemning, merciless, vindictive, chaotic, and exclusive. The exact opposite of our dear Jesus, the good son. Thanks be to God. Amen.