This is part 1 of our sermon series exploring the creeds of the United Methodist Church based on Adam Hamilton’s exploration of it in his new book Creed. We begin by exploring the first fundamental tenet of our faith – belief in God.
I believe in quarks.
I believe in quarks even though I have never seen them. I believe in quarks even though NOBODY’s ever seen them. But I believe in quarks, and I’m not alone. Hundreds, if not thousands of scientists worldwide believe they exist. The quark is what scientists believe to be the smallest unit of matter in the universe. Smaller than the molecule, smaller than the atom, and even smaller than the proton, all of which were at one time considered to be the smallest unit of matter in the universe. Now, there’s the quark – even smaller than all of these. Quarks come in six different types that they call “flavors” for some strange reason because they’re not named things like chocolate and strawberry, but instead are called up…, down…, top…, bottom…, charmed…, and strange.. These different flavored quarks combine in different ways to form protons and neutrons which are the basic elements of the atom. But again, no one has ever seen them! So how do we know all of this? How do we even know that quarks exist? You can’t see them, you can’t touch them, they don’t exist by themselves but only in packs of three, why are scientists so sure they’re even there? Because, when they examine the evidence, there is no other logical explanation other than to say quarks exist. They EXPERIENCE the existence of quarks through the observation of the things around them.
We encounter God in much the same way.
We find God, not in seeing him but in the experience of him in our lives. By the power of music to move us. By witnessing his handiwork in the miracle of birth. By his saving grace that makes a heart “strangely warmed.” And in the reading of the Word of God. Like quarks, God is all around us, every day. God surrounds us with his presence. We used to believe that the role of missionaries was to bring God to the people, but God doesn’t need us to bring him to the people. He is already there. Our job is to point out and highlight the work God is already doing among us. That is the biggest difference between those who follow Christ and those who don’t. It’s not that we live in different worlds. It’s that we understand how the world works differently. Something that Paul pointed out to the people of Athens.
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:22-28)
Without knowing God, the people of Athens knew he was there.
They may not have been able to understand the how and why of God, but they were experiencing God in their lives and wanted to pay tribute to him. When Paul found the altar with the inscription “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” he knew these people were on the right track and simply needed some guidance. They were already witnessing God’s work in their lives, but they just didn’t have a frame of reference for him. And that’s what Paul did. He gave them that frame of reference. He pointed out to them how God was already at work in the world around them. And he told them that God did all of things so that we might one day find him and believe. He wrote, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” God is here. Now. And he is working in us and through us to reach out to us. Not by speaking to us from a burning bush or passing by us while we look at his backside from the crevice of a mountain. Instead we experience God in the everyday aspects of our lives.
In 1 John 4, the apostle writes to us, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” John is pointing out to us that the very act of loving another person is a reflection of God in and through us. Love is an expression of God. And if you think about it, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Because love violates the theory of natural selection. Adam Hamilton in his book Creed put it this way, “When we care for the weak, when we are faithful to a spouse, when we show compassion to the struggling, when we choose to love our enemies, we are acting counter to the laws of natural selection but consistent with an inner law written on our hearts that we intuitively know is the right and good path. I believe that this inner law, which reflects humanity at its best, points to the One in whose image we were created.” Love makes no sense if all we are is a collection of cells and chemicals. If biology was all that dictated our actions, we would adhere to natural selection and we would disregard the weak, let the struggle perish, destroy our enemies, and abandon faithfulness. Morality makes no sense in a world ruled by biology, because unless it is advantageous to the advancement of our life or our species, there is no reason that a biological world would do any of those things. The presence of God through the gift of love is what makes us moral creatures who sacrifice the evolutionary advantage for these higher ideals. God guides us and leads us to be his people.
But who cares if there is a God?
If God exists independent of what we do or what we believe, then why does it matter if we believe in him at all? It’s because belief in God shapes and focuses our understanding of everything else in the world. Knowing there is a God encourages us to care for one another. Because we are God’s creation and not just a random mass of quarks, atoms, and molecules, we have value. Believing in God also means we have a responsibility to care for the rest of creation. God made us stewards of the land and everything in it, and if God is real we need to take that seriously. And if there is a God, we need to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).” We need to approach God with “praise, gratitude, and worship.” And that’s only the beginning. As Christians we believe our very salvation rests on knowing and loving God in Jesus Christ. Belief matters.
So we have the Apostles’ Creed.
Not to bore us to death during worship, but to remind us of what we believe because belief matters. Too often we go through worship without understanding why we do the things we do. They become repetitious and lose their meaning. They were written to keep God at the forefront of all we do. We know when we are focused on God, we approach life differently and I hope in a way that not only honors God but makes our life better, too. But we are a forgetful people. We often drift away. We don’t always do a good job of remembering what we’re supposed to be focused on. And so these documents lay out for us in a simple way the core beliefs of our faith. They remind us that God is the creator of the universe, of all that is seen and unseen. And through their words we reaffirm each and every time that we acknowledge the work of God in the world today.
God may be unseen, but he isn’t unknown.
I can’t see the air we breathe, but the fact that I’m alive is a testimony to its existence. In the same way, I can’t see God, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know him. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t influenced the way I live my life. Or that he hasn’t worked in and through me to affect change in the world. Just because we can’t see something or feel something or touch something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So in the end, I believe in quarks. And I believe in God. Because even though I can’t hear him, see him, or touch him, God has revealed himself to me through the experiences in my life. I have felt the blessed assurance that he has come and died for me. I believe. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Adam Hamilton, Creed, (Abingdon Press, Nashville), 2016, p.29
 Ibid, p.32 (this paragraph summarizes Adam’s thoughts on the subject in his book as well)