>Creo / I believe: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters” Sermon II

God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

The God of Job is a God to be feared. The Maker of heaven and earth is a God to be revered and honored. The God of today’s psalmist is a God whose majesty and handiwork is worth of all praise. It is this God – God the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth – who answered Job out of the whirlwind with an incredulous: “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me …Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding … Have you commanded the morning since your days began … have you entered into the springs of the sea … have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?”[1]

God the Almighty – from the Greek word pantokrator meaning “ruler of all.” Almighty. It is a word that puts presumptuous and arrogant humanity back in our place. It is a word for anyone and everyone who has ever thought the world revolved around us – around humankind. Do we really think we are all that? Think again, says this God. Think you are a mover and a shaker? Meet the Maker of all that moves and shakes throughout the earth. God, the great and Almighty pantokrator, Maker of heaven and earth – it a confession that reminds us that we are creature, not Creator; that our life is finite, not infinite; that our knowledge is limited, God’s is limitless. Stand in fear of this God. Kneel in reverence before this throne. Approach this holiness with awe, not arrogance; with humility and not haughtiness. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. It is a humbling thought; a truthful confession; an important reminder; a biblical linchpin of the Christian faith. God, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

But hear me church. Though the confession of belief in a God who is Almighty does serve as a humbling corrective to human arrogance in one sense – though it does remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return – we must also remember that we are not just any dust – far from it – we are God’s dust – formed and shaped by God’s hand; enlivened and sustained by God’s breath – and that is saying something. Yes, we are creature and God is Creator – but as the psalmist reminds us today, we are creatures made “a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honor.”[2]

Pondering this God, this Creator, this pantokrator can leave one speechless, breathless, beauty-stricken, and awe-inspired. It is the stuff of artists and poets. Listen to the words of Annie Dillard:

Look at the horsehair worm, a yard long and thin as a thread, whipping through the duck pond … Look at the turtle under ice breathing through its pumping cloaca. Look at the fruit of the osage orange tree, big as a grapefruit, green, convoluted as any human brain. Look, in short, at practically anything – the coot’s feet, the mantis’s face, a banana, the human ear – and see that not only did the creator create everything, but the he is apt to create anything. He’ll stop at nothing. There is no one standing over evolution with a blue pencil to say “Now that one, there, is absolutely ridiculous, and I won’t have it.”[3]

When we stand to say we believe in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, we step into a reality bigger and grander than science can describe, than logic can deduct, than institutions of higher learning can fully grasp. But trying to grasp, trying to explore, trying to see, trying to understand is a wonder-filled adventure in God’s playground that never fails to surprise. When we stand to say we believe in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth – it is the church urging us to rediscover that child-like wonder at the marvels of God’s creation; it is our confession prodding us to explore the mysteries of the universe while retaining a sense of awe for Creator; it is fellow believers gathering in worship like art enthusiasts might gather around a masterpiece, busy discussing, pointing, praising, and appreciating every brush stroke, every detail, every color of the Artist’s handiwork.

God, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. It is a title that can and should evoke fear, awe, and reverence in the heart of every believer – but get this – this God, our God, was not content to be called “Almighty” alone.[4] The radical and overwhelming majesty and mystery of God’s fearful holiness is matched ounce for ounce and pound for pound with a radical and overwhelming intimacy and affection. Christians don’t just call our God Almighty, we also call God “Our Father.” “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”[5] The Greek word for Father, pater, is the word Jesus used when he taught his disciples to pray. But the intimacy and affection goes even further than this when Jesus used the Arabic word abba[6] – which is more like Papi – the kind of implied intimacy where a parent scoops up a child in joyful embrace at the end of a day, or gingerly hugs and comforts a child when they have fallen and scraped their knee.

It is this God, the triune God of Scripture, who insists on holding words like “Almighty” and “Father” together in healthy tension. And we would do well to not forget it, which is part of the creed’s job. “God the Almighty” can never be separated from “God the Father,” thanks be to God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the strange, peculiar, and oddly refreshing God of the Christian faith. The God whose Almighty strength and power is rivaled only by God’s Fatherly forgiveness, mercy, and desire for intimate relationship.

But perhaps there are objections to calling God “Father.” I have certainly heard my fare share in the past 15 years of ministry. Why do we call God “Father” and not “Mother?” …Because Jesus called God “Father.” It is as simple as that. Father is a name, not a gender. God is neither male nor female, though we often use male and female imagery to describe who God is and how God acts in the world. Why do we call God “Father” and not “Creator” only?” Because “Father” is not only a name, but a name that implies relationship – intimate relationship between Father and Son and intimate relationship with humanity, who was created in the likeness and image of God. Why do we say God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and not God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer? Because God cannot and should not be reduced to what God does.

Many of you know the titles and descriptions that get at some of the things I do as well. I am a husband, a parent, a pastor, a teacher, a writer, and on my good days when my knees don’t hurt, my ibuprofen is taken, and my alarm goes off in time – a sometime basketball player. But none of those roles or descriptors is my name. For those who know me, my name is Kevin. That is what I want to be called. Kevin. Not Gerald, not Reverend … but Kevin. We confess faith in God the Father, we pray “our Father who art in heaven,” and we baptize in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – because that is the name God has revealed to us. A name that implies amazing love, radical intimacy, and interestingly enough – something that is mind boggling to so many other religions and people of other faiths – a God who desires intimate relationship with you, with me, and with all humanity.

In the words of James Weldon Johnson, this is God the Father Almighty, like a mammy:

God sat down on the side of a hill where he could think. God thought and he thought until he thought, “I’ll make me a man.” Up from the bed of the river God scooped the clay, and by the bank of the river God kneeled him down and there the great God Almighty who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night, who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand, this great God like a mammy bending over her baby down in the dust, toiling over a lump of clay till he shaped it in his own image. Then he blew the breath of life and the man became a living soul.[7]

God the Father Almighty, like a mammy bending over her baby. This is the God of the creed. This is the God of our confession. This is the God of the Christian faith. The terrifying, awe-inspiring but also loving, forgiving, and grace-filled Lover of our souls – Father Almighty – the One who tenderly corrects, lovingly disciplines, gently prods, and mercifully commands.

How do we respond to this God? To God the Father Almighty, like a mammy? Rediscover the childlike wonder of God’s good creation. Don’t just stop and smell the roses, lay in the grass and ponder the stars; hike in the mountains and join them in praise; sit down with a friend and discover God’s image in your neighbor. This is a God we can both worship and fall in love with at the same time, day by glorious day, hour by marvelous hour, moment by precious moment. This is God the Father Almighty, like a mammy, strong enough to sustain you through trials and tribulations, caring enough to nurse you back to health, wise enough to counter human foolishness, forgiving enough to pardon our sins, powerful enough to restore broken relationships, holy enough to purify your life, mighty enough to make a way where there seems no way, compassionate enough to embrace the poor, good-humored enough to laugh with alongside us in joy, and loving enough to send his Son into the world, not to condemn it, but to redeem it, remake it, recreate it, and sanctify it. Thanks be to God, the Father Almighty, like a mammy. … I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Amen.

[1] Job 38:1-18
[2] Psalm 8:5
[3] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 135, as quoted in James C. Howell’s The Life we Claim: The Apostles’ Creed,” p. 30-31.
[4] Howell, p. 15.
[5] Matthew 6:9
[6] Used three times in the Scriptures: Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6
[7] James Weldon Johnson, God’s trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, as quoted in Howell, p. 28-29.
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