“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth… What is this? Or What does this mean?” Hopefully these words are somewhat familiar. The first half of the phrase is the first article of the Apostles’ Creed. The second half is Martin Luther’s question for each part of his confession (explanation) of each part of faith in his small catechism.
So what does Luther confess regarding this first part of the creed? Well, he says, “I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul; eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property – along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit of worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”
How does that grab you? (as my grandmother used to say) Would your feeling about it change if you knew that this wasn’t written as a textbook for a classroom, but instead was Luther’s own very personal confession of what he really believes? And what if you knew that it is quite likely that Luther is writing his small catechism with his children, especially his three-year-old son Hans, in mind. The small catechism is in fact the confession of Martin Luther the father, passing on his faith to his son and family. Read it again with this in mind. Notice the concreteness of it… shoes and clothing, house and farm… Reading the small catechism with this little tidbit of perspective, of a father confessing to his children, I believe, makes the whole thing sparkle with a little more intimacy, emotional connection and shine.
After you’ve read it a couple of times, to let it sort of soak over you, I wonder how you feel about the second to the last sentence, “For all this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him.” It’s the sentence that caught my attention the first time through… specifically the word, “obey.” It’s not a word I either use or think about much. And, while I often think of my response to God’s love as one of gratitude and living with a sense of thankfulness, I wonder if it might be helpful to also think a bit more about the word, “obey.” As a people who so highly value our independence and self- sufficiency, the word “obey” just has a foreign sound to it… do you think? I don’t really have more to say about it because I’m going to instead invite us both to use the word prayerfully for a bit and see how the word might change our relationship with God. As you end your prayers, could you recite this last sentence of Luther’s and see how it goes? If Luther, who clearly had deep faith, felt the word, “obey” was helpful maybe it’s something to prayerfully ponder for a while. Especially as people who so often believe that freedom is what humanity really needs.
“Loving God, help us to praise, serve and obey.” Amen.