On May 9th (the yearly remembrance of the dedication of this church building), we read about Solomon constructing and dedicating the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon admits that God could not be contained in the temple, or even in the whole of heaven and earth. But Solomon also realizes that the temple can be a focal point for people to encounter God, and so asks God to hear the prayers of those praying in or toward the temple. Today we celebrate the construction and codification of a system of beliefs about God. Like Solomon, we need to remember that God cannot be contained by words, or even in any religion or philosophy anywhere at anytime. But we can remember that our historical trinitarian creeds (just like the temple in Jerusalem) can be a place for us to encounter God and grow in our relationship with God.
Solomon was guided by God in building the temple, as were the church councils in building our orthodox, catholic, trinitarian creeds. But just as the temple was built using human hands, hearts, and minds, so were our creeds. Being human constructs, both the temple and the creeds are therefore imperfect and incomplete. That does not mean that they are wrong; it simply means they are not perfect and complete. Only God is perfect and complete, and only God is truth. Anything else can only be a tool to reach truth.
Creeds, confessions, prayerbooks, catechisms, and councils have sparked violence and hatred throughout history. Maybe one day we will be over that phase. We don’t have to (and shouldn’t have to) believe every theory of God that is put forth, but we can see if pondering them can strengthen our own beliefs, and we can politely disagree with people while not condemning them. We can also be more comfortable with letting the mystery of God remain a mystery rather than always trying to systematize and coordinate our beliefs. The church councils were made of men who were necessarily products of their time and culture – steeped in the philosophical framework of their day, no matter how prayerful and holy they also were. If the creeds were to be hammered out by church councils today, they would be different, because even though the Holy Spirit would be guiding the framers, those framers would be products of a different time and way of thinking. That doesn’t mean they would be wrong; it just means that they mystery of God would be expressed using different concepts, and the unspeakable would be spoken of using different words.
We should be grateful for the work our ancestors did in hammering out the current orthodox understanding of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we must always remember that it is God who is to be worshipped, not our system of belief. Just like this church building or the temple in Jerusalem, a codified system of belief is meant to be a tool to bring us closer in our union with God, and to constantly strengthen that union. We must never misuse the tools God gives us. We must never use them to harm others or to bar them from God. With prayer, thought, and work, we can use our official doctrines to help bring even those who do not accept them closer to God. Instead of the all-too-common abusive pattern of using them to hurt people, we can instead choose to use them to help bring the healing, joyful peace of God to the people around us. That is why we are here and why we say we believe what we believe. We are worshippers of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of us all and the entire universe – the God who loves us all dearly, no matter our ability or inability to put our love into formal statements. AMEN