Most churches talk about what they believe in the form of faith statements. There's nothing wrong about this way of expression, and Shepherd of the Hills has its' own faith statements that we have used for decades. However, sometimes a story can convey something deeper and richer that a statement would struggle to produce. So, we took one of The Apostle's Creed (one of the three Ecumenical Creeds we believe in) and turned into a narrative way sharing with you what we believe.
Our story starts with the Apostle's Creed saying, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth." This is really just the opening to an epic story, which goes like this.
A long time ago, nobody knows really how long ago, there was God. Infinite in time and in love and in creativity. This God created everything from the ground up, including humans. Within six days of this God's time, everything had been created and he took a rest.
After his rest, many things happened. The humans, whom he had created, met a mysterious and crafty serpent, and from that encounter the humans decided they wanted to be the judges of right and wrong in their new world. The crazy thing was that God let him go that direction. He let them choose to do this. Yet, he also said he wasn't going to leave them in the hurt and the shame of their choice. He cared for them and for their descendants. He cared for them even when they hated each other and even when they hated him. This God kept creation going and kept his children going with natural resources and with creativity of the mind and heart. He never gave up on them.
This is why, many centuries later, another human would call openly this God, "Abba," which is best translated "Dad." Yet, this man's story is for our next section.
The Apostle's Creed extends the story by stating, "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty. From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead." Wow, there's a lot going on here, but it really is just a continuation of the previous story.
So, this man who called God "Abba," was named Jesus, and he was from Galilee which is on the modern day border between Lebanon and Israel. Yet, there was something strange and beautiful about Jesus. He wasn't born the usual way, at least in part. He was born from a young woman named Mary, but she was still a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus. Also, Jesus grew up having a deep and natural faith in God that transcended the faith of even the most faithful adults. Well, through some angels visiting Mary and Joseph and some shepherds, they all find out that Jesus is actually God's son and he is the Christ, the savior of not only Israel but of the whole world.
Yet, all this won't happen until Jesus grows up. So, life goes on for Mary and her husband Joseph and their son Jesus until Jesus turns 30. At that time, Jesus goes out and visits his cousin, John the Baptist, and from that encounter a baptism that produces salvation and forgiveness is born and Jesus begins his adult ministry. He heals the sick, he comforts the poor, he loves the outcasts, and he challenges those who think they speak for God. Jesus tells everyone about how much the Heavenly Father, God, loves them, and how this Father wants them to live in peace, grace, mercy, and love as well. Ultimately, this doesn't go over well with several religious and powerful people, and Jesus ends up being condemned by a Roman Governor named Pontius Pilate to die on a cross. Sounds like a sad ending, right?
The thing was Jesus knew this was going to happen. He knew he was going to have to die, but in his dying he was going to claim victory over death and sin and hurt for everyone. He told his followers, his disciples this at a special supper that we call the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is where we still today find the truth of forgiveness, the hope of salvation, and the reality of Jesus. This is why we call it communion...we are united to these realities and truths in this supper.
So, while Jesus does die on the cross on Friday, he then claims victory over hell and glory in heaven in his resurrection on Sunday. He tells this good news, this Gospel to his followers before he returns to his Father in heaven. Jesus tells his followers to baptize, to teach, and to commune with others so that all are ready for when he returns to put all things right. The day he brings true justice, peace, and righteousness to earth for all...the living and the dead.
If you thought the story was weird up til this moment, this is actually where it gets weird. Because the Apostle's Creed goes on to proclaim in one line, "I believe in the Holy Spirit." Now, to give more context to this, the Nicene Creed (another one of those Ecumenical Creeds we profess) expounds, "And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets." Now, that's more of the story.
For the story is about the mighty and creative Father's Spirit. This Spirit animates all of life. It is the thing that the Father breathed into the first humans, and it is the force that still gives motion and emotion to all of creation and to our creativity. This Spirit knows intimately the ways of the Father and of the Son (Jesus), and thus acts in one unison with them to bring about life every day. However, this is also the Spirit that works behind the scenes in the power of the words of the Gospel, the good words of the Father. These good words can come in the form of just judgements or in the form of graceful forgiveness. They are both part of the entire Gospel proclamation. The Spirit makes both forms, kinds of words effective. So, the Spirit helps convict and helps comfort. This is this Spirit that has been speaking for centuries through the prophets of the Old Testament and through Jesus and the disciples in the New Testament. The Spirit helps us believe the entire Word of God (the Biblical narrative) is true and inspired by the whole Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
The last part of the Apostle's Creed shifts from the past stories that inform our present, to the present stories that inform our future. The creed tersely states, "I believe holy christian (catholic) church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the body and life everlasting." It is in this section, that you and I are swept up into the story.
The story goes that after Jesus went back up into heaven, a powerful force of the Father, the Holy Spirit came, and created the church on the day of Pentecost. Tongues of fire were seen and the disciples of Jesus spoke gloriously of the Gospel in many different languages they really didn't know before. From this birthed the church. The church was committed to 5 essential acts: Fellowship, Breaking of the Bread, Prayer, the Apostle's Teaching, and Almsgiving (Charitable gifts to the poor and the needy). This is basically what the church still does today (add baptism and it's complete).
But why would the church do these things? Well, because Jesus did these things, and even more to the point because Jesus believed in forgiveness and in forever. If one believes in forgiveness and forever living, then that shades what we do here in the present. Followers of Jesus do most of what they do because they believe, along with Jesus, in forgiveness and forever living. The church tries to follow after the life and ministry of Jesus in this way. That's why we celebrate the sacraments (the Lord's Supper and Baptism) so much, because we believe in these places are forgiveness. That's why we celebrate time together and charity/grace toward others, because we believe we'll be together forever and we want everyone to enjoy eternity in the grace of God. .