Grace Presbyterian Church

A Warm and Welcoming Church

Sermon: God Incarnate

Grace Presbyterian Church

January 29, 2023      

Psalm 22:14-18; Colossians 1:9-14; Matthew 11:2-6

God Incarnate

<sing> Credo in unum Deum…

Those notes have, for literally centuries, been the opening notes of many musical settings of a particular movement of the mass as set by composers from Palestrina to Mozart to countess others. The movement, most commonly known as the “Credo,” is (like all the other movements) taken from the liturgical texts used in the mass in Roman Catholic worship. That Latin word “Credo” is translated as “I believe.”

This traditional musical rendering shares that opening with the Apostles’ Creed as found in our PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions. In the case of the Apostles’ Creed, that reflects its frequent usage as a statement made by an individual, perhaps being examined for baptism or confirmation to be received into the full fellowship in the church. While it might have been administered by a hopeful and supportive membership, one doesn’t have to work too hard to imagine it as being a potentially nervous or fearful moment, struggling to get it right (and sound convincing) before an imposing panel of judges. 

This “I” statement stands in sharp relief to the beginning of part one of A Brief Statement of Faith which we examine today. It is not necessarily unique that this text begins with the word “we” instead of “I” (even the Nicene Creed has, over time, been adapted to begin plurally), it does make a point about how this text is to be used. The point of this statement is not judgment or evaluation or any kind of “gatekeeping.” This statement is one for the community to make in unison. We speak together, as a statement of belief.

Except…not exactly. We only have to speak one more word to see how this statement stands apart from those traditional professions of the church over the centuries. It doesn’t say “we believe“; it says “we trust.” We trust in Christ, and to trust in is a far different thing than to believe in. To believe in is far to easily reduced to a matter of mere verbal assent; say the right words in the right order and you’re in. To trust in is different; mere words won’t ever be enough to demonstrate trust. It has to be shown. It has to be lived. 

We put ourselves under the microscope, for all the world to see and evaluate, when we say “we trust in Christ.”

There is of course another difference in this text from A Brief Statement and those traditional creeds. That sung portion, “Credo in unum Deum,” translates fully as “I believe in one God,” and the text continues with “the Father Almighty.” A Brief Statement opens with Jesus, typically regarded as the “second person” of the Trinity in most ways the Trinity is named. We observed last week how A Brief Statement took its order from the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Paul’s formulation of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit,” and how that ordering reflected Paul’s encounter with Jesus in his vision on the road to Damascus at his conversion. We are thus confronted directly with God Incarnate, Immanuel, God-with-us, God present with humanity in human flesh and blood. 

Once those ancient creeds got to Jesus, those words wouldn’t be out of line. Take the Nicene Creed, for instance, which describes Jesus as:

the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,

begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

That’s a mouthful, but notice what it does and doesn’t say; a lot of trying to pin down who and what Jesus is, not a whole lot about what Jesus does.

That contrast becomes even more noticeable:

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,

was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary

and became truly human.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute here. He was born and then he was crucified? Not a bloomin’ thing about Jesus’s life and works and teaching on earth? Those four gospels full of Jesus’s words and deeds basically ignored? 

A Brief Statement, by contrast, continues: 

Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:

and continues with nine lines reminding us of how Jesus proclaimed the reign of God.

Yes, the crucifixion does show up. The Statement doesn’t ignore that by any standard of justice Jesus’s crucifixion was immoral and unjust. That puts Jesus in the company of way too many people who get executed in electric chairs or lethal injection chambers or frankly on the streets of Memphis. When we sing about “fairest Lord Jesus” as in our last hymn of the morning, that becomes hard to reconcile with a man wrongly crucified.

Part one of A Brief Statement does take us to God’s raising of Jesus, carefully echoing scriptural wording of the Resurrection in numberous places. 

The reading from Psalm 22 echoes its usage on Good Friday, reminding us of Jesus’s crucifixion; the Colossians scripture shows us the resurrected and exalted Jesus, exalted and redeeming. Matthew’s words remind us of Jesus’s own view of his work on earth, in the face of John’s skepticism. And of course, there is a year-long Bible study’s worth of other scriptures cited by the authors of A Brief Statement of Faith to support this statement on Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human. 

As to the God who raised this Jesus from the dead, that’s part two.

Remember how this Statement came about; commissioned in the act of reunion of two Presbyterian bodies, divided since before the Civil War, into the Presbyterian Church (USA). To make the statement, as a denomination, that “we trust in” the Jesus described in these words is a remarkable testament. It is also one that this denomination has inevitably struggled with in practice, coming to live into its implications only slowly and fitfully, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming. Yet it remains for us as a call, a call to accept no human standard or dogma, but to settle for nothing less than trusting in the Jesus Christ who proclaimed the reign of God, was unjustly crucified for doing so, and was raised by God, delivering us from death to life eternal.

For Jesus Christ, in whom we trust, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal unless otherwise indicated): #156, Sing of God Made Manifest; #—, We trust in Christ, both God and fully human; #630; Fairest Lord Jesus

Comments are closed.