Creed comes directly from the Latin word, Credo.
Credo, in Latin, means literally, “I believe.”
So any time we say an affirmation of faith
like the Nicene or Apostle’s creeds,
the first two words, “I believe”
“Credo in God, Almighty
maker of heaven and earth…”
Creed is a summary of beliefs or principles
and usually are shared or communal statements.
In the case of religions,
creeds are summaries of historic
beliefs and ideas
which serve as the scaffolding
of all the other beliefs and structures.
So by nature, a creed is a communal statement –
rather than a personal testimony.
In the case of the Nicene or Apostle’s creeds,
they are heirlooms of historic beliefs
that formed the church.
They are symbols of historic continuity,
and in fact,
the Nicene Creed was first known
as the Symbolum of Nicaea –
Greek, for “token.”
Who was the “We believe in one God?”
It was those bishops gathered at Nicaea who believed,
and it took them eighty years
to finally settle on what they believed.
It was a committee document
that was hammered out through argument,
compromise, and politics.
It was not exactly what each of them believed personally,
but what they could agree on together.
And then, it was the coercive weight of empire
that enforced conformity
to what they said they believed.
It was forced because not everyone believed
all those things in just those ways.
The Symbolum of Nicaea is a perfect example
of a creed –
a flag rising high on the horizon
that everyone can salute
because somehow, somewhere,
in some way, everyone has a piece of it
but it does not represent any individual perfectly.
A creed, at least in this church,
is not a litmus test
for whether we belong in or out of Christianity.
No one here has to personally believe
every tenant of the creed,
or any of it.
A creed is not personal.
Beliefs are personal, creeds are communal
or even institutional.
The word “belief” arises
from Old English and Germanic origins
and refers to the mental or intellectual acceptance
of something thought to be true.
Belief is of the mind
in the same way that creed is of history,
and from the community or institution.
There is usually some kind of tension
between what we believe as individuals
and what the community asks us to believe
as members of it.
At least, there should be some tension
because otherwise we are in danger
of creating and nurturing a cult,
or nationalism if on the scale of nation.
As an historic summary of communal beliefs,
there is some distance between a creed
and our personal belief,
because our beliefs tend to be more rooted
in the contemporary,
and peculiar to our own experiences,
and our own interpretations of those experiences.
But there is something far below belief
and a totally different category than creed.
Belief, remember, is of the mind,
an intellectual assertion of truth.
Creed is of the mind too,
the group mind.
Faith is a different animal altogether.
we leave our Roman and Greek roots behind
and enter into the spiritual heritage
of the Hebrew text.
Emunah is the Hebrew word
most often translated into English as faith,
but the ancient Hebrew notion of faith
is far from what we mean by faith today.
In modern parlance,
in almost any religious sense,
belief and faith have become synonymous.
To say that one has faith
usually means that he or she “believes” something.
Believing, as I have just summarized,
is an affirmation of the mind that something is true.
Faith, in the ancient Hebrew sense,
has nothing to do with a particular belief
or believing something is true.
Rather, Emunah is an experiential act of trust – a total embrace or holding onto.
The question for the ancient Hebrews
was not what someone believed was true
but whether they had come to trust it –
to hold onto it –
to know it.
Before the Passover experience,
when Yahweh killed the first born of Egypt,
they may have believed in God
but afterward they had Emunah –
they knew God had acted on their behalf.
Before the red sea parted,
they may have believed God would provide,
but after the Egyptians and their horses
floated dead in the water,
they had Emunah – they trusted,
they knew God had provided.
Emunah comes from a culture
as yet unpolluted by Greek philosophy
when there was no difference –
no distance –
between faith and knowledge.
Trust was physical,
born of experience,
and so rooted in knowing.
It is not “Credo” –
I believe in God almighty, creator of heaven and earth…”
It is, I know God,
I know this creator
of heaven and earth,
and because I know,
I trust. I hold.
I realize I have described this
sometime in the past, and I apologize for repetition,
but I do not know any better example of Emunah.
When my mom was dying,
at home in the living room in a hospital bed
angled in front of a big picture window
so she could watch the birds and squirrels –
we took turns sitting with her through the night
and holding her hand.
We had to.
Of course, those of us who did not live there,
were only temporary surrogates
for my sister and father
for whom this was a much greater sacrifice.
Because, you see, my mom
insisted on holding our hand through the night.
Someonehadto be there,
and had to hold her hand all night long.
In the amber cast of burning candles,
or from the little night light
with the yellow Christmas tree shaped bulb,
those nights grew long.
My sisters found a great old oak framed chair
with fat pillow stuffing
that reclined in an old-fashioned way
by moving a wooden peg
as you adjusted the frame from behind.
I discovered it was very important
to get adjusted before the lights went out –
to fluff the pillows behind my head
and place the ottoman just right for my legs,
because once my mom took my hand
it was for the night.
If by chance,
when both of us drifted off to sleep
and our hands would unwind, suddenly,
a yell would fill the house.
I marveled at how loud and resonant
mom’s voice could be when even breathing was a chore.
Emunahis that kind of holding onto,
and the thing held onto, trusted.
Emunah, holding onto God
with fierce and ferocious trust
that comes from knowing rather than believing.
But alas, most of us were raised
in a religious institution
that asked us to trust it,
to believe what it believed,
and to count belief in its beliefs
Then we left the 100 Acre Woods, and
we began to be suspicious of what we were taught.
As the entire culture left the 100 Acre Woods
and entered into the mangrove swamp of secularism,
we got angry at the church
for not being more or better than it was.
But the church is like our parents:
a significant influence
and yet, as we become adults ourselves,
not the continuing source of our difficulties.
We have always been free
to wonder about the Bible
and beliefs we were given,
and to re-think such things.
We just needed some encouragement
and a sense of trust
that the hand we held
would not let go.
So, for example,
this reading from Luke today.
Once we start wondering about it
it is amazingly easy to see the problems in it.
Jesus was a peasant.
He was probably illiterate.
Like all people in his socio-economic class,
his life was precarious and fragile.
He was closer to being a slave himself
than having a slave.
In fact, for people like Jesus,
becoming a slave was not an unlikely possibility
because bonded servitude
was what happened
when you couldn’t pay your credit cards
in the 1stCentury.
That parable we heard this morning
is clearly a proverb from the slave–owningclass
not the slave class.
It should make us immediately suspicious
when we hear something like this,
and suspect it is from Luke not Jesus –
from a Roman, not a dispossessed peasant.
But even more than whotold this parable,
we could easily have noticed,
if we were not assuming the beliefs we were taught,
that Scripture assumesslavery.
Nowhere does the Bible condemn slavery
as a moral outrage.
Slavery is not even questioned.
In the Bible, there are rules for how to treat a slave
but nothing against slavery itself.
That should be a clue
to anyone who has left the 100 Acre Woods,
that what we were taught to believe about the Bible
may not be the right thing to hold on to.
those decisions of the mind
about what is true,
are an important part of living
but they are not all that trustworthy and solid
for holding onto.
Whether those beliefs are brought to us
by the Church,
patriotism or secularism,
they are more for investigating
than for holding onto.
Instead of holding onto our beliefs
as if they are a bulwark we can trust,
we might better think of beliefs as a hand at cards.
Beliefs are the cards we have at the moment,
and we might get to draw a new card or two
before the hand is played.
There may even be another hand or hands
yet to be played, with a whole new deck.
So while we can value the cards we have – our beliefs –
we also know they are not trustworthy
in the sense of deep, embodied
Honestly, I have very little trust in what I believe,
but what I know…yeah.
Something I believe
is that Emunah
is available to all of us –
an embodiment of knowing and trust.
But in order to touch it,
we have to let go of our trust in what we believe.
So long as our faith is in what we believe to be true,
we cannot quite get to the experience
of holding hands with God.
It is a kind of non-rational surrender,
the same kind that is required for recovery
that says “I give up, I can no longer trust myself
and so I now trust you, Beloved.”
Except when you’re in the throes of getting sober,
it sounds a lot more desperate than that.
Still, it is an Emunah.
I was not there when my mom died,
but I understand she died holding hands
with my sister,
maybe my dad too, although I don’t remember.
She held onto us
because, as I look at it now,
she trusted us.
I do not know if she held hands with God
because we never had that conversation.
But I do know she held the hands of family
to the end.
She held our hands in trust,
because she knew in an embodied way
we were there
and we loved her
and she loved us.
It was a knowing
rather than a believing.
That is Emunah.