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Our Confession of Faith

Romans 10:8b-13
by Rev. Randy Quinn

Martin Copenhaver, a pastor in Massachusetts, tells the story of his family's trip to New York City some time ago. [1]  He relates how they got a flat tire in the middle of the Bronx on a Friday afternoon at the height of rush hour. They saw a cab stop and let out a little old lady who was stooped over and used a cane to walk. He carefully followed her to her apartment, trying not to startle her, and asked if he could use her telephone. She graciously allowed him to do so. While he tried to call a tow truck to come and 'rescue' his family, he began to visit with this woman and the two other women who were in the apartment with her.

Martin saw a sign in their kitchen that proclaimed that it was a strictly kosher kitchen. The table had already been set for the Sabbath meal. And these women were hoping he would be finished with their phone before sundown.

Being "kosher," they would not use their phone on the Sabbath, nor would they answer it if it rang. Like Jews before them, they clung tenaciously to their faith. It had given them hope in the midst of despair. They never assumed that their children would be raised as 'good Jews' so they made sure their children would be taught the core of their Jewish faith. For written into their very faith were the commands to care for the traveler and the foreigner because, as they knew only too well from their Scriptures, they too had once been foreigners: "a wandering Aramean was my ancestor . . ." (Dt 26:5).

It's easy for us to think that our children will learn basic Christian values from our society. We hope to do that through legislation or through our education system. The story of these faithful Jews in the middle of New York City who could not rely on society to teach their children, causes me to ask what essentials are we teaching our children and what are we assuming that society will teach them for us?

If we allow our society to teach our children about faith, if we allow our society to answer the question of who Jesus is and what he should mean to them, I think they will learn a very different truth than the Gospel tells, that Paul preaches, and that the church has taught over the years.

You see, our society thinks we must earn everything we have. We must work hard. We must study hard. When we fail it's because we didn't practice enough. Or we're not good enough. The universal symbol of our society seems to be sports and sporting events. We look at successful teams or athletes and hold them up as role models. They teach us that with proper training and discipline any one of us can achieve great things. When we lose a game, we are encouraged to practice more and maybe next time we will do better. In our society, our value is based upon how "successful" we are. We have no intrinsic worth.

But the gospel say otherwise. There is nothing you can do to be better qualified for the love of God. There is nothing you can do to earn salvation. The gift of God is given freely to any who would claim it as their own. We already have value and worth in God's eyes.

The season of Lent is not designed to make us more penitent so that God will accept us more. The season of Lent is set aside for us to reflect upon the wonderful gift that has already been given to us.

This truth runs counter to our culture. It is difficult for us to grasp, hard for us to accept, but an essential part of our faith that must be taught to our children, if to no one else. Paul has gone to great lengths to show how the faith of the Jews is adequate when understood correctly. He claims that it too is a gift of grace, given freely to benefit both the Jew and the whole world. It is as near to them as it is to us, as near as our hearts and lips are (Rom 10:8b). The error of his people, Paul contends, is an attempt to make it a set of rules; rules that when followed will give us access to God.

It is essential that we not make the same error. Who is Jesus, and what does he mean to us? He is the one who offers to us a precious gift, a gift freely given, not because we deserve it, but so that we might have abundant life (Jn 10:10, Rom 10:12). Our confession of faith is simply an acknowledgement that we have accepted this wonderful gift of God. The unfortunate truth is that the creeds we share have been written for the most part to exclude those who do not believe as we do rather than to unite us around the essentials of faith.

As we join in our traditional creed this morning, the Apostles' Creed, I would invite you to speak it with a sense of inclusiveness and to proclaim it as an acceptance not of the particulars, but of the essentials of God's free grace given to us in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only begotten child of God. Amen.

[1] Copenhaver, Martin, “Hard as Nails for Hard Times,” The Christian Ministry  (Mar./Ap. 1995): np.