Baptism and the Body of Christ

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit…. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 26-27

This past Sunday we had the privilege of baptizing a baby at the 9:30am worship service.  At Faith UMC we are blessed that so many babies and children have been baptized recently.  United Methodists understand that in baptism we are adopted into the family of God.  As this article says, we “put on Christ” in baptism: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1697379/

Another way of talking about baptism is to say that we become part of the body of Christ, as the scripture above describes.  Baptism is about personal salvation but more than that, in baptism we are called to live as part of the body of Christ.  We are baptized into one body – Americans or Mexicans, Zimbabweans or Egyptians, Indians or Koreans.  1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that in baptism, we must pay attention to the whole body of Christ, because if one part of the body is honored, we all rejoice, and if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together.

On Sunday September 22, as a worship service was concluding in Peshawar, Pakistan, a bomb went off, killing 80 worshipers.  Established in 1883, All Saints Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in Pakistan.  Christians make up between 2 – 4% of the population in Pakistan. 

Sometimes in the U.S. it is hard to remember that gathering to worship might be risky.  We have such freedom that gathering to worship can fall down our priority list.  But for one of our Faith UMC families, gathering to worship and remembering that in baptism we are called to be the body of Christ has taken on particular importance.  One of our Faith UMC families has family members who live in Peshawar and several who were killed in the attack on All Saints Church.  Now their family suffers grief and loss, and we suffer with them.

As much as we rejoice when one of our Faith UMC families has a baby, or suffer when someone has a family member who dies, we must remember that as the body of Christ we are part of a global body.  Rejoicing and suffering with Christians in other parts of the world is part of our responsibility when we take the vows of baptism.

How does being part of the body of Christ inform your prayers?

Thinking about the global nature of the church, how do you learn about Christians in other parts of the world?

Have you ever worshiped outside the U.S. – and if so, did it change how you think about being a Christian or how we worship?

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What Are We Doing When We Worship?

Faith UMC is blessed to have a lot of creative people who give of their time and talent to our worship services.  Our 11:00am worship service used to have a couple guys play their brass instruments and now we have 10 or more junior and senior high students playing brass, woodwinds, and string instruments along with the adults.  We have with recent sermon series had intriguing altars.  The questions for the Faith Challenges series captured so many of our difficult questions for God.  During a sermon on “doors” we had a Hobbit door on the altar. 

Many people in our community think carefully about worship – music selections, colors and other visuals, slide preparation for the screens.  But exactly what are we doing when the whole community gathers in the sanctuary – that thing we call “worship”?

An article on UM Connections talks about “contemporary worship” and “worship” in general and raises some good questions:  http://umcconnections.org/2013/09/30/contemporary-worship-really-mean

The author raises a number of questions about contemporary worship.  Did any of those questions capture your attention? 

The author also asks “What are the needs of 21st century Americans that can be addressed through worship?”  What needs do you, as a 21st century American worshiping at Faith UMC think can be addressed through worship?

Later the author says “worship is not something that we attend and watch, it is something we DO”.  Do you agree?  Is worship at Faith – at 9:30am, 11am or 5pm – something that helps you get your priorities straight and worship God?

Thank you for reading, and be sure to leave a comment!

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Sukkot Blessings!

As Christians, our roots are found in the Jewish faith.  During the “church history” unit, Faith UMC’s confirmation class usually makes a visit to Congregation Beth Shalom in The Woodlands for a Friday evening Shabbat service.  The students always have good questions to ask their hosts, and often see the connections between Jewish worship and Christian worship.

Today (September 25th) marks the end of Sukkot.  Also known as the Festival of Booths, this is a week long festival of giving thanks.  Read more about it here:  http://www.reformjudaism.org/jewish-holidays/sukkot    Follow the links about the customs and blessings as well.

In Boston, a city filled with college students, Orthodox rabbis will park a small trailer with a sukkot booth along the street next to a college or university campus, and encourage busy college students to take a moment between classes to step into the sukkot and say the traditional prayers.  Here you will find a slideshow of campus ministry sukkot booths: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/20/hillel-sukkahs-2013-sukkot_n_3957312.html  You’ll see the Aggie students giving the “gig ’em” sign in their booth, and at least two of the colleges are United Methodist related institutions.

It takes some creativity in our busy world to maintain traditions.  Despite the fact that Sukkot is a relatively minor tradition, and that it lasts a week, Jewish college students have found creative ways to honor their faith traditions that keep their faith lively.  Did you see all the smiles in those photos?

What faith traditions or rituals are most important to you?

How do you (and your church) keep faith traditions fresh and lively?

Perhaps the Spirit is inspiring you to be creative with a faith tradition at Faith UMC  – share with us your creative ideas!

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Being Church

Around Faith UMC we talk a lot about what it means to BE church rather than church as a building or programs.  There’s quite a bit of difference in those two understandings of “church”.

Years ago my child wanted to play soccer.  We signed up for FFPS, which stands for fun, fair, positive soccer.  As she was a beginner, it seemed a better place to start than the competitive leagues.  The key difference between FFPS and the league soccer wasn’t that every child had a positive experience (which is what the advertising told us) but in the organization structure.

The competitive leagues were set up so parents could watch games and practices.  Paid coaches and trainers worked with the students.   Parents paid for uniforms and equipment, and brought water or gatorade for their child.

In FFPS, parents ran the program.  One parent volunteered to be the coach (hopefully with another volunteering as assistant coach).  Another parent arranged practice times and a field.  Another parent organized portrait day.  Yet another parent found a team sponsor and got team shirts printed.  And still another organized volunteers for game day snacks.  Finally, someone organized the pep rally/parade for first game day, and someone else organized the end of season party.

One model uses paid professionals who have expertise to provide a service.  The other model involves the family in an experience.

Church can be like those two models.  A place you go to, with programs provided by paid staff.  Or a place where everyone is needed.  Where if you’re not there, you are missed.  Where your skills and talents are necessary.

The FFPS model of soccer didn’t end up on my child’s college application as a high point of excellence, or garner any scholarships.  The family had fun together, including grandparents, siblings, and divorced parents.  It wasn’t easy, people had to do things they didn’t quite know how to do, sometimes in the rain or the heat, people had to learn new things and get out of their comfort zone.

Certainly these aren’t the only models of church.  For this discussion, think about those two models.  Is Faith UMC being church?  or are we somewhere in between the two models?  Do people feel needed or missed at Faith?  Are their skills used?  Are they challenged?  How are all generations included?

The church staff thinks often about these questions.  What do you think?

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Babies in Church

Rev. Jeremy Smith is a dad and a UMC pastor in Portland, Oregon.  He also writes the blog “Hacking Christianity”.  This week he wrote about crying babies in church.  Give it a read here:

http://hackingchristianity.net/2013/09/preacher-or-performer-the-crying-baby-test.html

We have LOTS of babies… and toddlers… and preschoolers and elementary age students, and even quite a few intermediate school students and teenagers!  One of the greatest blessings at Faith UMC is all the children.  It is important in a community with so many young children to talk about worship and children.  So here are a few questions for discussion for this week.

1.  If you are the parent of a baby, what is your experience at Faith UMC?  Do you feel welcome?  Stressed?  Anxious?  Comfortable with your child in worship?

2.  What, if anything, would you change about worship at Faith UMC so that parents of babies and toddlers would be able to have a positive worship experience?

3.  This school year 5th and 6th graders have a Sunday school class at 9:30 and at 11:00 they are encouraged to attend worship with their parents.  Students at this age don’t cry like babies and are ready to participate fully in worship – but parents may still struggle.  What is your experience of worship with middle school students?  Is there anything that might help your family worship experience?

4.  As pastors, we love seeing families worshiping together and don’t mind babies in worship.  We are encouraged to see so many students involved in our music program.  What would YOU love to see in worship at Faith UMC?  How would you like to be involved in worship ?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.  Peace!

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March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50th Anniversary

August 28th is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Religion and Ethics Newsweekly has posted a 10 minute interview with Vincent Harding, a retired professor of religion and history at Iliff School of Theology in Denver (a United Methodist seminary).  Dr. Harding and his wife worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and founded Mennonite House in Atlanta as part of their work for non-violence.  Watch the interview, and then find questions for discussion below.  Post your thoughts in the comments. 

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2013/08/23/august-23-2013-vincent-harding-extended-interview/19784/

1.  Dr. Harding says we still have a long way to go to achieve equality.  In what ways do you see this in our area?

2.  How do we get to know people deeply enough to judge the content of their character?  Dr. Harding says we live in separated spaces.  Where do we need to be physically and spiritually in our community in order to get to know people better?

3. Martin Luther King, Jr. was working on a March on Washington in 1968 to ask the U.S. government to end the war in Vietnam and to take action to help the poor in the U.S.  What parallels do you see between the 1968 movement and today (for example, the Occupy Movement, long war in Afghanistan, the recession)?

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