Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Instructions/Reflections for Exploring the Nicene Creed

First, thanks to all of you who have written for more information about this use of the creed, noted in the article in Episcopal Life. I have “preached” this sermon at least once in every congregation I’ve served and always with some degree of success.

What does “success” mean here? One thing it means is that I have helped people unburden themselves of the mistaken notion that unless they believe it all and understand it all, they are sub-standard Christians. I believe that notion is a lot more prevalent than anyone of us would believe.

The other thing “success” means here is that the congregation will have a different understanding of itself as community. I think we do very well when we see ourselves tied to one another in mission and ministry. We worship together and we all participate in things like the food pantry and welcoming newcomers, but we don’t see ourselves as a community which together is the fullness only because we make up for the incompleteness in one another’s faith, understanding, gifts and service. That, for me, is the biggie with this sermon.

The Mechanics

You can announce in earlier bulletins or newsletters that you will be speaking about the Nicene Creed on X date because there seems to be confusion or concern about it in the congregation – or just do it.

As I mentioned in the article, I have people turn to the Nicene Creed in their Prayer Books. I then say that I would like everyone participate in something that will be fun as well as instructive. “I will go through the creed, phrase by phrase. Your task (and mine) will be to stand when the phrase is something you believe – and that makes a difference in your life. The second part of the task is that we will sit down when the phrase is something we don’t believe or understand – or it doesn’t make a difference in our lives. Got it? I will repeat it one more time.”

Have people stand for a practice. Stay standing if you believe the practice statements of belief – and sit it you don’t believe them. [All stand].
“Today is Tuesday.” [Make sure you are seen to sit]
“Today’s sermon will be just what I need.”

Go through the Nicene Creed, phrase by phrase, giving people the opportunity to stand or sit. You or a couple of confidants may have to prime the pump for creating movement. Begin with all standing:

“I believe in God. .” (most will stay standing)
“The Father almighty. . .” (the more you emphasize “father,” the more you will have sit).

Continue through the creed, using short phrases.

Ask for observations at the end. You can control this with the following questions:

“Were there any phrases for which no one was standing?”
“So there was someone standing at all times. Were they always the same people?”

“Did you feel under any pressure to stand for a phrase you don’t understand or believe?”
Do you know what that’s about?
One of the things many of us like about the Episcopal Church is that we are permitted to doubt – but here it may be hard for us.

“Did you notice if anyone was sitting all the way through?”
“Did you notice if anyone was standing all the way through?”
“How about the clergy and wardens?”

“Would it (does it) bother you that we weren’t standing all the way through?”

The Message:

One thing I hope we learned is that the Nicene Creed is the creed of the Church. It is what we, as the whole church, believe – even though we each hold on to a part of it. We each have our “specialty” – and all the specialties together make up the fullness of the church’s specialty. What is hard for me, is probably easy for some of you – and what you don’t get, I or some others really believe. Separately we are partial, together we have the whole.

I like to go on to draw some conclusions about other parts of our life together. Some of the congregation are wonderful with prayer – and if we really want someone to pray for us or for someone we love, we go to them. Does that mean that the rest of us are slouches? Of course not – it’s like with the creed, we each have part. The same is true of hospitality – some are specially blessed at welcoming and including, while many of us find that hard. Some are teachers, others evangelists. Remember those great passages from St. Paul about all the parts of the Body working together. We each have our part to play.

Another way of illustrating this is with a spring bouquet of flowers (a large variety of flowers). Wander through the congregation, asking for a show of hands for those who are healers or in the healing professions – pick a variety (say a rose) and give one or more healers the rose (that is their part in the bouquet). Then ask for teachers, those who take great joy in giving to the church or community, those who have a vocation to pray – and don’t shy away from simply identifying someone in a category when he or she doesn’t do it on their own. Each grouping gets a flower for that group (you don’t have to go through the whole set of varieties).

Then take time to talk about how beautiful the rose is by itself, as with the lilac or gladiola. Separately we are beautiful – but together, we are breathtaking. Nobody has to do everything – in fact, that is the way we are called to service in the church, with differing gifts and abilities.

This, of course, is also an entry-point for talking about the varieties of expression in the Episcopal Church – or in the church ecumenical. No one would want to go to the circus to watch 26 elephant acts in a row. No one would want to sit through an organ concert when there was only one kind of pipe – and so on. Individually, we are fine – as a spring bouquet, we are amazing.

I will post this on The Episcopal Majority site http://episcopalmajority.blogspot.com – that will be a great place to add your comments or experience. You can also post your comments here.