25 Pentecost: 18 November 2007
(Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6/Psalm 72/Jude 20-25/John 14:1-14)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In prior centuries, when scholars were more broadly literate than today, mathematicians concluded their formal proofs with a Latin flourish: Q.E.D. you would see written at the end – quod erat demonstrandum, that which was to be proved. Now mainly you just see little rectangular boxes – some blackened in, some mere outlines – like you often find at the end of magazine articles: No need to turn the page, the article’s over, these boxes announce.
The Creed also comes to us from another time, from prior centuries when theologians seemingly were more broadly immersed in the full life of Christ’s costly gospel than today. Many of the framers of the creeds – certainly it’s the case with the Nicene Creed – still bore on their bodies the marks of Jesus Christ, marks branded on them in times of intense persecution, marks like medals of honor and faithfulness. Αμην, these heroes of the faith wrote at the end of the Creed in their Greek language – amen.
I would like to think that Q.E.D. was more than a grammatical stop sign in the earlier proofs. I would like to think it sounded a note of triumph, that it served as a bold affirmation of the truth of all that went before, that it challenged the student to make the proof his own and to explore – perhaps for a lifetime – the implications of that proof. For some, it was only an ending: no need to turn the page, the proof’s over. For others though, it was a beginning. I’ve completed the work I was given, says the author. Now what will you do with it? asks the Q.E.D.
I would like to think that Amen is more than a theological stop sign in the Creed. I would like to think that it, too, sounds a note of triumph, that it serves as a bold affirmation of the truth of all that goes before, and that it challenges the church to make the creed its own and to explore – for a lifetime and beyond – the implications of that creed. For some, amen is only an ending. The Creed’s over. Now we can hurry through the next part of the service and maybe beat the Baptists to Calhoun’s. For others though, it might just be a beginning. We’ve completed the work we’ve been given, the great saints say. Now what will you do with it? asks the amen.
Is there a sermon here, in this single word amen? I think so. I think there’s a whole life to be lived inside this single word. It just may be that amen is as close as we can come to a distillation of the whole Christian experience into a single word. Amen is a proclamation of truth, a shout of praise, an agreement of faith, and an acceptance of God’s will: all in a single word.
The sound of the amen was never far from Jesus’ lips, particularly in the Gospel of John. Three times in his short discourse with Nicodemus we hear it, doubled for emphasis: Αμην, αμην, λεγω σοι – Truly, truly, I say to you. Truly, truly: Amen is a proclamation of truth. Of course, that’s problematic in our present, Western culture which apparently values tolerance over truth, political correctness over truth, “spin” over truth – a culture in which truth is in diminishingly short supply. We say we want the truth but then we run kicking and screaming from it. “I want the truth,” says LTJG Kaffe in the film A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth!” replies Col. Jessup. That could be the script of our times. Politicians routinely lie to us for power because they think we can’t handle the truth, the truth that citizens are often little more to them than votes and contributions in their quest for election. Businesses and advertisers routinely lie to us for profit because they think we can’t handle the truth, the truth that humans are little more to them than consumers and sources of revenue. Academic institutions routinely lie to us for pride and prominence because they think we can’t handle the truth, the truth that man is not the measure of man, the truth that there is a God and that we are not that God. Worst of all, peddlers of God’s word – men who preach the prosperity gospel of health, wealth, and success, and practice it by living in opulence from the contributions of their flock– routinely lie to us because they think we can’t handle the truth, the truth that discipleship means taking up your cross and laying down your life.
In the midst of all this deception comes Jesus with his bold proclamation: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me. Αμην, αμην, λεγω σοι – Truly, truly, I say to you. Amen is a proclamation of truth. And so, the final word in the Creed is amen. By that single word we proclaim the truth of all that has gone before: that God is, that he created the heavens and the earth, that Jesus Christ is his Son and our Lord, that he was born of a virgin, that he suffered and died for our sins and rose again for our salvation, that he ascended into heaven, that he will come again, that we are his in the church and through the Holy Spirit, that we will one day stand before Christ the Judge, that our resurrected bodies will live forever in his presence. Amen. Truly it is so. We want the truth, the world says. This is it, we reply. Amen.
The sound of the amen was never far from Paul’s lips; it’s there in all his letters.
33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! 34‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ 35‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’ 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen (Rom 11:33-36, NRSV).
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen (Gal 1:3-5, NRSV).
20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen (Eph 3:20-21, NRSV).
20To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Phil 4:20, NRSV).
17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:17).
On and on they flow from his heart and pen, these doxologies, these words of glory. Amen. Amen. If there is a natural language of humankind, a tongue heard in Eden before the fall, it is the language of praise. Amen. Amen. And when all is said and done, when Christ has trampled all enemies under his feet, when God is all and in all, it will be the language of praise that echoes throughout all space and time unto the ages of ages. Amen. Amen.
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lambbe blessing and honour and glory and mightfor ever and ever!’ 14And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshipped (Rev 5:13-14, NRSV).
When we stand together and pronounce our faith before one another and the world in the words of the Creed we give voice to the praise of all creation. Amen! we say with the four living creatures and with the elders we fall down and worship. Amen is a proclamation of truth. Amen is a shout of praise.
The sound of the amen was often far from the lips of the Corinthian church. Instead, some spoke in unintelligible tongues, spiritual language – a gift of the Holy Spirit apparently abused by the Corinthians. And still others were silent. Paul wrote them, in part, to restore the amen to its rightful and essential place in their worship.
13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. 15What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. 16Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? 17For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. 18I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; 19nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue (1 Cor 14:13-19, NRSV).
The amen is an agreement of faith, a voice of unity and solidarity. The amen is the voice of we and not merely the voice of me. The amen is the common voice of the common faith and prayer of the church. Through the years of my experience with the church I have heard many lousy prayers: prayers dripping with personal agenda, prayers founded on terrible theology, self-serving and self-promoting prayers. And these always leave me feeling cheated and sometimes angry. And why? Because the one praying should be voicing the common faith of the church. Because I should be able to add my amen – So be it! – to the prayer. Because prayer and worship may be private but never personal; it is always corporate. When we pray, even in our closet as Jesus advised, we pray with and for the church. When we worship, even with only two or three present, we worship with angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven, with martyrs and with the communion of saints in heaven and on earth. And all these long to cry out Amen! in their voice of agreement, of unity, of solidarity. However you may feel about liturgical prayer, those prayers voiced and preserved by the church through the centuries, those prayers endorsed by the church as expressions of our common faith, allow us to voice the amen. And that is worth something.
So, too, with the Creed. It has been voiced and preserved by the church through the centuries and endorsed by the church as an expression of our common faith. It protects me from idolatry – self-worship – and from heresy – misdirected worship. The creed allows me to say amen to the faith, and not me alone, but all the faithful in every time and place. This amen binds us together through Christ and with Christ and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, and brings glory and honor to God the Father. Amen! Amen is a proclamation of truth, a shout of praise, an agreement of faith.
The sound of the amen was never far from Mary’s lips, never far from her heart.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38, NRSV).
Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel voiced the perfect amen: “Let it be with me according to your word.” This may well be the most basic meaning of amen: “let it be,” or “may it be so.” And is this not the essence of the Christian life – a willingness to commit oneself fully into the hands of the Lord, to live in obedience to his will, to humbly submit to his word? We seek to understand the word and will of God. But it is more important to stand under the word and will of God. And here, Mary’s son Jesus is our greatest example.
42‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42, NRSV).
Your will be done. Let it be. May it be so. Amen.
When we voice the amen at the conclusion of the Creed we do so in an act of trust and submission and we commit ourselves to a life founded upon those words. Let it be to me according to these words. May it be so. Amen. Amen is a proclamation of truth, a shout of praise, an agreement of faith, and an acceptance of God’s will: all in a single word.
Is there a sermon here, in this single word amen? Or, as they might ask in Africa, “Will this preach?” Will a life lived inside this word preach to the world? Will it proclaim truth and shout praise? Will it witness to the solidarity and unity of a common faith lived in submission to God’s will? I think so.
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