Sermon: The Creed: Rebooting The Church
Scripture: Acts 5: 12-20
Date: June 24, 2018
I can remember getting my first computer. It made so much of what I did as a Pastor, so much easier. Now in those days computers weren’t nearly as powerful as they are today. It always amazes me to know that there is more computing power in our smart phones then there was in the computers aboard the Apollo space crafts that took human beings to the moon and back. That first computer was more of a glorified word processor for me. But it was a time saver. And the internet was available on a very limited basis. And to connect to it you had to “dial up” over your phone line – remember this sound-(play sound) and it was pretty expensive. It’s not like today when our computers enable us to instantly communicate with one another and gives us instant access to just about any kind of information we might seek. But still I was proud and amazed by my new computer. Until it got infected with a virus. Who knew that even in that time of such limited access that there were already people who were uploading malicious programs that would infect your computer and limit its capabilities. But one day, my shiny new computer started acting strange. First it slowed down. And then it started taking forever to dial up. And then I started experiencing problems with the operating system. And finally just turning it on became difficult. So I called customer service and after waiting forever, the voice on the other end of the line said: “Sounds like your computer has contracted a virus.” Well I had never heard of such a thing and so I asked how I could make it well again. And the voice said: “Do you remember when it started acting strange?” And I said that I could pin point the day or at least get pretty close to it. And then I was led through the steps that would cure my computer. First you need to save anything you want to keep to a floppy disk. (Show picture) And then you need to go to the Control Center on the Computer and find the System Restore prompt and when you click on that you will see several dates and you need to choose a date that precedes when you first started having trouble and restore your system as of that day. Anything after that date that was downloaded to the computer will be erased in the restore process. After some time it should give you the message that your system has been restored to what it was on that particular date before the virus hit. And then the voice said, you need to go to the computer store and buy some Virus Protection Software and upload it to your computer before you do anything else. And I remember thinking what a brave new world we have entered into. But of course, all of that is very innocent and simplistic when compared to today. Insidious viruses attached to the most innocent sounding emails. Malware which unleashes the computer equivalent to the plague on millions of computers at the same time. Ransom ware that kidnaps your computer until you pay a ransom to get control back. Hackers who steal your identity and can empty your bank account in a matter of seconds. And cyber warfare that effects elections, threatens energy grids, and defense systems. Just a week or so ago the FBI issued a warning that hackers were trying to gain control of the routers that we have in our homes and the advice was that we should all reboot our systems. A brave new world indeed. And now the term reboot has become part of our common vernacular.
So, you might ask, what has any of this got to do with the Apostles Creed. Well the last part of the creed focuses on the church, and when the Creed was written the church was in need of a reboot. In the fourth century AD, when the Creed was put down in somewhat final form, the church had been infected with many viruses. We talked last week about some of the heresies and false teachings that had found their way into the main operating system of the church. They were viruses in the body of Christ. And then there was the struggle over who actually was the head of the church and which church was the true church. Was it the Roman Emperor who was the head of the church. Prior to the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in the early part of the fourth century, the Emperor had been the head of the pagan religion of Rome, and in fact there were many who considered the emperor a god. Or was the head of the church the Pope, the successor of Peter., the increasingly powerful head of the Catholic Church. In many ways the conversion of the Emperor and the acceptance of Christianity as the religion of the Empire brought the church out of the shadows and into the mainstream where it was then infected by the politics of the world. The church was struggling to find its identity. Not unlike today. And so, the Creed was written as the 4th Century equivalent to a reboot, and the restore point was set in the time of the Apostles. Back to this fifth chapter of Acts when the Apostles stood in the Temple Courtyard and proclaimed their faith in Almighty God and Jesus His Son and the Holy Spirit that empowered them, gave them the courage to come every day despite the opposition from the Priests and Sanhedrin that had already been complicit in the death of Jesus. The Creed became known as the Apostles Creed because it was based upon an earlier creed that was directly attributed to the twelve Apostles. The legend grew that on the Day of Pentecost, before the Disciples left the upper room and made their way to the Temple to preach the new covenant, they each shared one statement of belief, and those 12 statements became one, creedal in nature, and it was that which they shared in the Temple that led to such opposition. Then, as now, the established church had difficulty embracing anything that was new. And so the later, more developed Creed, sought to restore the church to those core beliefs as expressed by those original apostles and usher in a new day in the church with God as its head and untainted by politics or human manipulations. They sought to “reboot” the church with the Creed. And you might be surprised to know that there were many in the church who were against it, who were reluctant to embrace this new expression of faith. In fact, it would be nearly 200 years before the Creed gained wide spread acceptance and began to be commonly used in worship. And this was certainly not the first time that God had tried to reboot the faith. Noah and the Ark. Remember how the people ridiculed Noah as he was building the Ark. Moses and the Exodus. There were many who refused to accept Moses as their new leader and some Egyptian historical writings indicate that many Jews remained in Egypt after the Exodus. And once they got in the wilderness, there were people who started to grumble against this new nomadic life that they were forced into. Let’s not follow Moses to this new land, but rather go back to the old ways. Restore our lives in Egypt. And they built a golden calf to worship. And they fought Moses every step of the way to the promised land.
And the prophets were called to reboot the faith time and again, but the people ignored them and worse. Jeremiah talked of a new covenant but ultimately the people rejected it and were defeated and carried off in Exile by the Babylonians. Jesus also tried to reboot the church and also talked about a new covenant and what did they do, they put him on a cross and killed Him. It has always seemed to me to be the greatest irony that the church whose faith has been expressed in terms of new covenant and new birth, has always had trouble accepting anything new. Nearly the last words of the Bible, at the end of Revelation, describe God’s efforts to reboot the faith of the seven churches to whom the vision was given, “Behold,” God says, “I make all things new.” But the church has always resisted being rebooted. Folks, I know that some of you are not going to like to hear this, but when a church refuses to accept renewal and rebirth, refuses to be rebooted by God, the viruses start to creep in, and we start to look for that restore point somewhere in the past. You see, I think that people of faith have always struggled trying to live in the space between restoration and rebooting. As a District Superintendent I worked with several churches that thought their future lay in their past. Those who seek restoration are constantly trying to go back to that time that they believed that the church was at its best. But the vision of the Creed is not restoration. The restore point for the Creed is not a point in time. It is a point of faith. The Creed does not call the church to go back in time. The creed calls the church forward in faith. It says that the false teachers will come and go, but we, like those Apostles in the Temple still believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His only son, and in the Holy Spirit and we believe in the church. And as Disciples we must not be afraid to testify to that faith in whatever way we can. The Creed was intended to reboot the church once again, to refresh the core beliefs in Almighty God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the face of those who would pull the church backwards through false teachings and the intrusion of 4th century politics. I think that when God reboots the church He intends to propel us forward into the future not retreat into the past. The writers of the creed are saying that in spite of all of those who would try to say differently: the church still believes in God the Father Almighty. The church still believes in Jesus Christ, His Son. The church still believes in the Holy Spirit and that the church is universal and forever. And the church still believes in sin that can be forgiven because of the grace and love of almighty God. And the church still believes in eternal life. And if this is not what we believe and testify to, then we are in need of a reboot. No matter what others may say or do we must have the courage to stand once more and proclaim this is what I believe – yesterday, today and tomorrow.
And what was true in the 4th Century is surely true in the twenty first century. So let’s bring the Creed forward some 17 centuries till today. And ask the question, do we still believe what it says. But be careful how you answer because if we still do believe the creed, then I believe that God is wanting to use us to reboot his church. He is looking for disciples who are willing to stand up in the midst of the false teachings and politicians and false prophets and proclaim that we believe in God, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That we stand in the line of the Apostles. And that we still believe in the Church. I believe that God is looking for people like those who wrote the Creed, who will stand up in the midst of the uncertainty that plagues the world and the church today, and say no matter what is going on around us, this is what We believe. Are you ready and willing to be used by God to reboot His church? Do we really believe what we say we believe? Because if we do, I think that the hard work of faith is just beginning. Church experts say that in this time of decreasing interest in church in general in our culture, if a church does not reboot itself periodically, they say every seven or eight years – I think it needs to happen more often then that – it is opening itself up to viruses that will sap the life and vitality of the church right out of it. And the voices of the grumblers and naysayers and the idol worshippers will be heard above all else. There will be those who oppose the church every step of the way towards the promised land. Both inside the church and outside the church. It was true in the time of the Apostles. It was true in the fourth century. And it is true today. The church needs to be rebooted today. And God is in need of Disciples who are willing to take some risks to make that happen. St. Luke we say that one of our values is that we are willing to take some risks in our faith. I believe that God is in need of some risk taking Disciples, just as He was following the day of Pentecost, if His church is going to move boldly forward.
And while I have some of you good and uncomfortable, let me see if I can make the rest of us uncomfortable. I believe that God has chosen to make this summer a season of change at St. Luke. Four staff members will have left by the end of August. It is hard to let them go, but it also gives us the chance to reboot and take some new approaches, especially in how and when we worship, and youth ministry, even our vision of ministry. We need to take a new look in the area of staffing the church. And supporting the church. Eight years ago St. Luke was in the midst of opening the Life Center and all the excitement that that generated. The statistics show that the Life Center served to reboot the ministry and the church experienced an increase in membership and attendance and service opportunities. The Life Center was full day and night with both community and church activities and the energy generated by those. There was more space for God’s Pantry and Kid’s Cafe and other outreach ministries. It was an exciting time to come to St. Luke, that’s for sure. But in the ensuing years the excitement has waned a bit. The two schools that met here outgrew our facilities and had to go elsewhere. Membership has continued to trend upwards every year but not in the same proportions. The number of first time guests that was fueled by the opening of the Life Center has decreased. Overall church attendance has plateaud in the last few years, reflecting national trends. It is time that we reboot in several areas of ministry if St. Luke is going to move forward into a bold future. God is calling us to take some risks today and write a new chapter in the incredible story of this church. Every time that St. Luke has faced seasons such as this, you have stepped up. The original pioneers left their churches all over Lexington where they were leaders and stepped out in faith to become part of something new. When God was calling you to leave the storefront and build something new on this property which was not exactly on the beaten path, you answered the call. You made many personal sacrifices. And then came building the New Sanctuary, and you answered the call. And the Education wing and going to three worship services and starting the pantry and kid’s cafe and building the life center, and starting the multicultural service and welcoming the Swahili community. Whenever God has challenged St. Luke to reboot and do something new, you have taken the risk and St. Luke has continued to grow in every way. God has continued to bless and use this church and I know that we will be up to the challenges of this season of change. God is making things new again. We are faced with some tough choices. But I have no doubt that this incredible church will step out in faith. I know that because there is one thing that has never changed in the 42 year history of this church and that is:
We believe in God the Father Almighty …
Come join me at the altar and let’s begin the reboot right here, right now. Let’s not face the future with fear and anxiety, but rather with courage to stand up and proclaim to the world what we believe. And it all starts at this altar – on our knees – asking God to use us to help reboot this church. Come up out of your pews right now and join me. And may God be glorified in all that we do and say.