That’s quite a creed, isn’t it? In some ways, it’s
probably a good thing we don’t recite the entire Athanasian Creed too often, or
it would probably discourage some of you from coming to worship at all. That
would be your loss, not God’s, of course, because having a long worship service
isn’t doing Him any good. After all, God is eternal. We just confessed
that. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all uncreated, all infinite, all
When you’re eternal, the length of the worship service
doesn’t really matter. But for us mortals, long worship services make us
antsy. We fidget and shift in our seats. We glance at our watches, and wonder
if we’re going to make our brunch reservations.
Sometimes we sneak out to the narthex and have a chat
with the ushers, duck out the door part way through and light up a cigarette,
or doodle on the worship folder. Our mind wanders to all the things we have to
do or would rather be doing, when God intended this time to be a respite from
all the other things which wear us down and use us up.
Even worse, some of us view worship as drudgery,
boring, a waste of precious time, an inconvenience. For some, unless we’re
compelled by our parents or our spouse, or obligated to come now and then to
attend a wedding or funeral, or maybe our niece or nephew’s baptism or
confirmation, we’d just as soon stay home. After all, there’s sleep, food,
coffee, newspapers, and TV out there. Golf to play. Laundry to catch up on.
Fish to catch. Lawns to mow. Sporting events to watch or participate in.
There’s always something.
And the fact that we feel that way, and many times act
on those feelings, is really too bad. Because worship—whether it’s long or
short—isn’t supposed to be drudgery. We’re the ones that make it that way,
with our attitudes. It wasn’t set up to be an inconvenience to you, an
interruption of your oh-so-busy, oh-so-important schedule. It’s a gift, holy
and precious. It’s God’s way of telling you, “You’re important to me, and I’d
like to spend some time with you. I’d like to help you get to know me better.
I’d like to share some of myself with you, and give you what I know you really need,
if even you don’t know it.”
We know from God’s word that God Himself established
the Sabbath, and was the first to make use of it. It’s not like He needed it
for Himself, either. When you’re perfect and holy and infinite and eternal, a
day off isn’t a necessity. God gave us the Sabbath so that we could have the
opportunity to withdraw for a while from the battles we fight each and every
day with the world.
As we heard in our first lesson from Genesis today,
God gave us this gift even before the Fall, knowing that His dear creatures
couldn’t keep His good creation perfect, and that we would need it. It didn’t
become a command until much later, after it became clear that mankind wasn’t
bright enough to know and do a good thing unless our noses were rubbed in it.
I could ask the young people being confirmed [at
the late service] today about the 3rd Commandment regarding the
keeping of the Sabbath. They’d be able to tell me how we might break that
commandment, and how we might keep God’s word regarding it. More importantly,
I’m confident they could also explain how violating that commandment, like any
other, also denies the very God that we just spent so much time confessing in
the Athanasian Creed.
The word “creed,” as many of you know, is derived from
the Latin word credo, which means, “I believe.” It’s the very
first word of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, those statements of faith with
which we’re far more familiar; the ones we say with regularity in our weekly
But does it ever strike you as unusual that we all
read together something that starts out, “I believe”? Why not say, “We
believe”? After all, these are the creeds of the entire Christian Church, are
they not? When we speak the creeds, we’re confessing together what faithful
believers have learned from God’s Word, and what the Church teaches regarding
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Well, there’s a good reason the creeds say what they
say. While it’s true that our faith in the attributes and work of God are held
collectively by all true believers, in the final analysis, what’s important is
that you—individually—cling to the faith the God has given you in Word
Only by allowing God to have His way with you can you
have a correct understanding of God. Only in letting His gifts work on your
heart can you make an accurate confession of God.
Because if you don’t, you’re trusting in something
else. You’re worshipping a god who can’t save you, a god that isn’t the God
given to us in the Holy Scriptures. If that’s the case, your faith is
confused. If that’s the case, you’re not a Christian. And if that’s the case,
you’re lost, because you’re faith is in something else.
So, in saying the creeds, we confess what we
collectively believe as Christians, but we say it as individual souls, each one
of us confident in the God that the creeds describe. Just how confident are
you in the Athanasian Creed, though? We don’t say it enough to become real
familiar with it, so in some ways we really have to focus on it when we confess
We can’t just zip right through it on auto-pilot, like
we sometimes do for the other two creeds, or the Lord’s Prayer, or even the
confession of our sins, can we?
Maybe the discomfort we have with the Athanasian Creed
is a good thing, if that means we have to think about it a little bit. It’s
traditional that we speak it on Trinity Sunday, since it does go into such
exquisite detail in describing the Holy Trinity and the workings of God within
But I suspect the unease with which we speak this
creed has other roots, as well. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s quite long.
It seems repetitive, too—a complete bore to our modern psyches, sophisticated
beings that we are. We shouldn’t get carried away with ourselves and our
Consider for a moment the fact that what songwriters
and advertisers have discovered in the past few decades—that repeating phrases
over and over again will cause them to be absorbed into our sub-conscious—the
Church has been using to convey and teach the truths of the Christian faith for
centuries. Further back than that, though, God’s told His people:
that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them
diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You
shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between
your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your
gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
I suspect that another source of discomfort is that
use of the word “catholic” a few times within the text of the Athanasian
Creed. As Lutherans, it’s unfortunate that we often run screaming from that
word as if our clothes are on fire. Well, don’t look now, but the fact is, the
original texts of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds use the same word,
catholic—as in, “I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of
saints.” Or, “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”
But by saying this word, we’re not confessing
allegiance to the pope, or sidestepping the concerns we still have about many
of the Roman church’s teachings. Nor am I going to suggest we offer any
indulgences here—at least, not beyond the occasional Dove Bar or a good
Porterhouse steak. Instead, in using the word “catholic,” we are confessing
that we, as Lutheran Christians, believe and trust in the same God—Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit—that the historic Church, dating back to its earliest days,
confessed and taught.
The other seemingly problematic area of the Athanasian
Creed—and I know it was for some of you, because I could hear your voices
change when you got to it—is found almost at the end. There we say, “those
who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil
into eternal fire.” Yikes, Pastor—that sounds an awful lot like
salvation by works, not salvation by grace through faith in Christ’s atoning
On the surface, I can’t say I disagree with you, if we
isolate that one sentence. But look further, and you’ll see what doing good
and doing evil really are, in the end. The fact is, you can’t do any good
without faith in Christ. Only through the Holy Spirit working in you can true
good—God-pleasing good—be accomplished. Anything else we might humanly do for
the betterment of others, independent of God’s motivation, while it might be
helpful, beneficial, and appreciated by them—it isn’t really good in God’s
But when the Holy Spirit is working within us, that’s
not only doing good because it is God’s doing, but it also is an act of
faith—and faith is the ultimate good gift, for us, and for others.
Likewise, as Scripture tells us, there is only one
unforgivable sin, one ultimate evil: It’s blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It’s
denying the work of God in our lives, and claiming that place of authority for
ourselves. It’s rejecting who and what God is and has done for us and for the
world. In a word: It’s unbelief.
Doing evil, then, is rejecting God and instead laying
hold of all those things that are not God as being precious and
important to us. Doing good is trustingly accepting what God has revealed to
us through His word, and letting Him have His way in and with our lives.
Are you still uncomfortable about the Athanasian
Creed? That word “catholic” and that phrase about doing good and evil still
Well, let me give you a little quotation from the Book
of Concord, which the Lutheran Church has for over four centuries confessed to
be a proper exposition of God’s Holy Scripture, and pledged its faithfulness.
This comes from the Preface of that monumental work, and is the summary of the
Reformers thinking toward the Christian faith and their objectives. It reads:
conclusion, we repeat once again that we are not minded to manufacture anything
new by this work of agreement or to depart in any way at all, either in content
or formulation, from the divine truth that our pious forebears and we have
acknowledged and confessed in the past, for our agreement is based on the
prophetic and apostolic Scriptures and is comprehended in the three Creeds, as
well as in the Augsburg Confession…in the Apology that followed it, and in the
Smalcald Articles and the Large and Small Catechism…” 
If you’re a Lutheran, then—and even if you’re not—then
the Athanasian Creed is to be your creed no less than are the Apostles’ or
Nicene creeds. What’s more, it is the whole Church’s creed, a statement of
belief that can be confidently and faithfully confessed by anyone who claims to
be a Christian. To reject the creed is to reject what the creed confesses—God
as God truly is. God eternal; God almighty; God for you: Father, Son, and
You can’t reject your Creator and expect to be part of
His new creation of water and word. You can’t reject your Redeemer and expect
to have His redemption applied to you. You can’t reject the Sanctifier and
expect to be sanctified.
But because you are here today, no matter how
eagerly or reluctantly, no matter how distracted or anxious, something
miraculous has happened.
God’s Word has been spoken to you, and if it be His
will, your faith will be strengthened, re-created, and renewed. Or, perhaps
for some small number of you, it will be given you for the first time.
We are all here today because of a couple of factors:
First, what God did in Jesus Christ, the very things we confessed in the creed
a short time ago: The full divinity; the human incarnation, the suffering for
our salvation, the resurrection, and the ascension.
And, second, because of what Jesus commanded the
Eleven in today’s Gospel lesson: To make disciples of all nations, by
baptizing them in the name of that confessed God: Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit, and to teach others what had been taught them.
Our Savior promised that He would be with His Church
always, to the close of the age. One of the ways He is always with us is in
His Word; in the Bible, and in all the forms His Word can rightly take,
including the blessed creeds.
Your loving God will remain with you, and in
you, and most importantly, for you, in this age and for all time to
This is the faith; whoever believes it faithfully and
firmly will be saved.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit whom
we confess, Amen.
T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.