Guest Preacher: Rev. Dr. Marshall Cook
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (Testify, week 2)
The Bible is the foundation of our faith. I’m always amused by the reactions of children to many of the stories.
For example, a Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Jason interrupted, “My Mommy looked back once while she was driving,” he announced, “And she turned into a telephone pole!”
A Sunday school teacher asked, “Johnny, do you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the Ark?”
“No,” replied Johnny. “How could he, with just two worms?”
One mother says she had been teaching her three-year old daughter the Lord’s Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat after me the lines from the prayer. Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word right up to the end of the prayer. “Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us some Email.”
If the Bible can be confusing to children, it can also be confusing to adults. And so the early church, over the years, developed creeds or statements of faith to help believers understand the basic beliefs of Christianity. Many of you are probably familiar with the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
The earliest form of the Apostles’ Cree was probably drawn up about 150 AD at Rome. It was part of the service of baptism, by which new members were taken into the church. It was quite natural to ask new members to say publicly what they believed. To help them express their beliefs this creed was taught to them, and they were asked to repeat it when they were baptized.
The earliest form of this creed was used to guard against wrong ways of thinking that were current at that time. The man whose ideas seem to have been feared the most was Marcion. He had the belief that the God of the Jews and the God of the Christians were two different gods. The God who was the father of Jesus was good, but he was not almighty. He did not create the world and he did not rule the world. It was the Old Testament God who did these things. Therefore, to make sure that Christians would not fall into such a wrong way of thinking, the Apostles Creed was started with the statement:”I believe in God the Father Almighty.”
Like the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed grew and developed as the years went on. It,too, grew out of the need in the early church for a confession of faith in connection with baptism.
It dates from the first ecumenical council of the Christian church, which met at Nicea in Asia Minor in the year 325. It was developed especially for the Eastern churches, whereas the Apostles’ Creed was more for the Western churches.
Which brings us to today and our UCC Statement of Faith,
Which like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed is a modern version of what we, as Christians, believe. It is, as Pastor Beth said last week, a testimony of our Christian faith.
Some of you know and some of you may not know that the United Church of Christ is a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. During that process a committee was appointed to draw up a statement of faith for the new church- one growing out of our own times and written in our present-day language.
The statement of faith begins: “We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify,:” which Pastor Beth spoke about last week.
Today we want to consider these words from the statement of faith: “God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.”
The first words in the Bible are these: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God is talking to an angel about creating the world. “I just made a 24-hour period,” God explains. “It will be half light and half dark, and will keep repeating itself until the end of time.”
“Wow,” says the angel. “What are you going to do next?”
“Well,” God answers, “I think I’ll call it a day.”
It’s corny, I know, but our faith is that all that exists comes from God.
Throughout the Bible the authors extol God as creator of all that is.
The Psalmist in Psalm 89 said: “the heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.”
The Prophet Isaiah said: “My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens…”
And in the New Testament, John proclaims, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
The writers of the Bible, perhaps like many of us, look out at the world, especially when we envision the beauty of the world, and say to ourselves that there must be a first cause for all of this.
Scientist Francis Collins in his book The Language of God puts it this way: “We have this very solid conclusion that the universe had an origin, the Big Bang. Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginably bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. This implies that before that, there was nothing. I can’t imagine how nature, in this case the universe, could have created itself. And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to be outside of nature.”
One scientist estimated that the chance of the elements necessary to come together to form human life are 10 to the 160th power, a number so large, life couldn’t have happened just by chance.
Many of our founding fathers, such as George Washington, John Adam and Ben Franklin were deists. They believed that God created the world and then didn’t get involved any more in this world.
But the creation story and our statement of faith says that God “creates humankind in the divine image.”
Genesis says:”So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
And the Psalmist said: “What are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention tot them?”You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur.”
We’re not the center of the universe. God is.
But what does it mean to be created in the image of God?
A little boy once asked his mother. Where he had come from and who he was. She replied that God had made him out of the dust and when people die they return to dust.
A little later he came to her again, and exclaimed, that under his bed there were a whole lot of people either coming or going!
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he says that Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” (Col.1:15) Jesus speaks of God as a Spirit. The word image, then, is not a physical likeness, but a spiritual likeness.
We are in the image of God in that, we, too, are spirit. Our real self, our eternal self, is spirit. We are like God in that we are able to think, to communicate, to look at life beyond ourselves, to remember, to reflect, to reason, to create beauty, to contemplate moral values, and above all, to love.
God has created humankind different from all creation. No other living thing in the Bible is said to be made in the image of God. No other animal, no other living thing in the world is made in the image of God.
Perhaps another way of describing what we mean by the image of God is written in the letter of John:”See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)
Children generally resemble their parents. Our bodies are not like God, but our spirits are like God’s.
Creation in the image of God means that all men and all women, and not some fortunate few or some righteous few, are precious to God. It is the answer to race prejudice, class distinctions, sex discrimination ,national righteousness and every form of man-made separation.
It bothers me that today in America we’re seeing in some areas some trying to bring conflict between the races.
It was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who said it is the content of one’s character that is important, not the color of one’s
God’s plan in coming among us as Jesus Christ was so that through Him each of us would know who we are as a child of God and who we can become as we seek to live our lives patterned after Christ’s way of life and His teachings.
And so in Christ “God sets before us the ways of life and death”
But before the coming of Christ, God had done so.
The people of Israel are getting ready to enter their promised land.
God has given them the commandments and rules by which they are to live.
In conclusion, in the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, verses 15-20, God says to the people:” See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I
Declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Deuteronomy sets out in great detail the blessings and catastrophes which could come upon the nation, dependent upon the choices they made.
Obeying God’s will through the Law was the basis for life or death in the Old Testament. The New Testament is full of guidelines
For Christian conduct from the Sermon on the Mount onwards.
Life is a matter of choices. Choices about how you spend your time. Choices about how you spend your money. Choices about what you think is important.
We have to ask ourselves, do the choices I make reflect God’s values, or are they mostly selfish?
For example, Jesus told a story pf the wise and foolish builders.
He said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
The fall of the condo in Surfside, Florida reminded me of those words of Jesus. The fall was in many ways due to the negligence of the owners who were warned of leaking water pipes in the basement.
And perhaps the choice to build on sand was wrong to begin with.
The choices we make are important. Do we choose God’s way?
It’s perhaps so easy in our time, in this age filled with the wondrous inventions of human beings to feel that we no longer need God.
I like the story of the daughter who set out to introduce her elderly mother to the wonders of the Internet. She went to a popular web site, “Ask.com.” She told her mother it could answer any of her questions.
Her mother looked skeptical. “It’s true, Mom,” the daughter said. “Think of something to ask it, and it will have the answer.”
They sat there for a few moments, and then her mother responded in a serious voice, “Okay, how is Aunt Helen feeling?”
Ask.com doesn’t know how Aunt Helen is feeling, but God does.
We’re not the center of the universe, we have significance only because God has given us significance.
God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death. Amen.