What Matters To You
At different points in your life,
"We belong to Christ" is a loaded phrase. It's loaded because it means different things to different people. It packs within it comfort for some; challenge for others; and for many both comfort and challenge. For some, the words unite; for others the words divide. In the United Church of Christ, we pray the words comfort, challenge, and unite.
Simply put, "we" means that you are not alone. You are part of a larger "we" that God has united in this Church. "Belongs" is something more than belief; it's a vital relationship. It's not like belonging to a club where hazing or proven credentials are required. It's more like belonging to a nurturing parent, family, or community. Belonging is a gift that inspires thanks and devotion.
And what about the words "to Christ?" God, to whom we belong, is understood and experienced by Christians through Jesus Christ. In the Bible, Jesus Christ is prophet (Luke 4:14-30), teacher (Matthew 5), healer (Mark 5:21-43), savior (John 3:16), welcoming host (Mark 8:1-11), justice-doer (Luke 19:1-27), a pray-er (Luke 22:39-8), a dying servant (John 19:28-30), and a living companion along the way (Luke 24:13-35). In the gospel of John, Jesus is our bread, living water, door, and light. Christ is the way, truth, and life. We discover much about Jesus in scripture, but we also experience Jesus today.
For us, Jesus Christ is the only head of the church. Our name "United Church of Christ" was chosen not because we intended to exclude people, but rather to embrace the world as widely as Jesus' own arms embrace the world (LTH , Vol 6, 583-4). No one person, creed, statement, denomination, or — church holds all truth only Christ, only God. What we say about God in Christ "begins in wonder, and when theological thought has done its best, the wonder remains." (LTH , Vol 7, 430) God is not an object to be contained, but a holy mystery to encounter together. Where there is justice, peace, and compassion, we see the living God at work. To such a God, we belong; you belong.
Although Christ is the primary lens through which we view God, we experience God in a variety of ways. Through the centuries, one way the church talked about God is through the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You see this in ancient creeds, as the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, as well as in our contemporary UCC Statement of Faith. The Trinity expresses many ways God relates to us, and we relate to God. Yes, we believe in one God, but our God is dynamic, inviting, intimate, and communal, not stuck in only one aspect. God exhibits diversity. The Holy One is known in the diverse expressions of God's parental and creative care, Christ's eternal justice and compassion, and the Spirit's power and abiding presence.
We also speak about God in other ways that enrich our faith—God as mother, rock, liberator, savior, and friend. These understandings, affirmed in the Bible, break through any single, limited way of experiencing God and open us to be changed in new ways by this marvelous God.
Grounded in our history and open to the future with you, our heart belongs to Christ. We affirm historic creeds and statements of faith, not as tests, but as inspired words of faithful women and men who came before us. We continue to discover God through the Bible, through prayer, through worship, through engaging in the world in just and loving ways. We especially listen for the voice of God in the voices of those who cry out for justice and peace. We intend to follow Christ faithfully into the world.
How do you imagine Christ?
Who is the Christ to whom you belong?
What might God be saying to you as you consider "We belong to Christ?"
What do you want to learn more about?
Jesus the People by Janet McKenzie firstname.lastname@example.org
Matters to a UCC Congregation
In what ways does your congregation express "We belong to Christ?"
Do you know of a moment or situation that your church clearly gave testimony
Many Beliefs, yet United in Christ
United around the manger, the children of Carrollton Cosmopolitan UCC celebrate the birth of Christ at the Christmas pagent.
Reverend Dr. Lourdino Yuzon describes how Carrollton Cosmopolitan UCC in Carrollton, Texas, has made it through rough times and transformed because of its conviction that they belong to Christ, and that "Christ is the sole head of the church." The predominately Filipino congregation, located in central Texas, faced conflict as some members didn't affirm the presence and leadership of gay persons. The tension was further fueled by national TV advertising by the UCC which said we embrace all people, including persons of different sexual orientation, to the denomination.
After many meetings, struggles, and discussions, Yuzon reported they struggled for a common view of the situation, but it seemed impossible. A few left the congregation. Yuzon even reported that his own understanding of the Bible does not fully support homosexual orientation. But he pointed to the affirmation of "We belong to Christ" as making all the difference. "We have many Christologies, many beliefs, many interpretations of the Bible, but we are one in Christ. What one believes should not be held as a test for another, but as testimony of one's own faith." Yuzon also said, "We take what we believe seriously, but bear witness only humbly accepting the light of Christ. All are subject to correction from one another." Today, Yuzon reports, the church is more aware than ever before of their commitment to Christ and to all God's people.
In what ways does Robin express how she belongs to God in Christ?
What questions would you like to ask her? What prayer would you offer for her?
What do you yearn for in life, what really matters to you? What might be God's desire or prayer for you? To what might Christ be calling you?
Robin Sadler says, "Belonging to Christ means everything to me as a young African American female college student." At 21 years of age, Robin attends Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Leaving home and heading out on her own to college, Robin knew Christ cared for her. "I believe if it were not for my belief that I was a child of Christ, I would not have made it through four years of constant growth away from my comfort zone of home."
But leaving home did make a difference for her, Robin's faith moved from one that she was "taught" by loving parents and the church to one she "caught." "I can now say that I am a true believer in my own right—that I belong to Christ. In everything that I do, Christ is there to guide me and make me conscious of what I do. It is because of the special relationship with Christ that I can recognize my mistakes and grow from them. I have my own little joke that I always say when things happen to me. I know I am one of Christ's special children because I can't get away with anything. Anytime I mess up it seems God makes sure I see exactly what happens, and I move from there, God helps me."
"The fact that I know I can call on Christ in difficult times and give my struggles to him has made all the difference in everything. No matter what the situation, I never feel alone. Christ keeps a special eye on all those who belong to him."
Robin is about to make another move from a comfort zone, graduating from college. She's considering God's calling for her life, and belonging to Christ is all tied up with that decision as well. While in college, Robin worked for a congresswoman in the U.S. House of Representatives, and she considers public service may be in her future. "I am not exactly certain about my calling, but it is something that I know has been in me; and Christ is leading me in that direction more and more everyday. I really love that about my life right now. I understand that it is a struggle and a journey and not one is perfect, but to be more in tune with the directions for my life from Christ is my ultimate goal for the future."
| History Matters
What bit of our history do you connect with? What might God be saying to you through these accounts?
What's a Catechism and What Does It Have to Do with Anything?
Frederick III sought unity through creating a catechism rather than waging war.
In 1562, in Germany, Lutheran and Reformed churches fought and demanded loyalty to particular beliefs. Theologians argued with one another. Bitter fights arose particularly in Heidelberg. The prince, Frederick III, concerned for peace to end the hostility, called for order and a new catechism.
Some folk think of a catechism as a bunch of questions and answers that people have to memorize to make everyone of one mind. Catechisms can, however, clarify things and sometimes bring people together in faith. Frederick's catechism sought to pull people together and offered faith in Christ as a way of healing.
The first question of this catechism was "What is your only comfort, in life and in death?" To which the response began: "That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself—but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…" (LTH , Vol 2, 329). This answer suggested that we don't belong to the opinion of a particular theologian or national creed, we don't even belong to our own beliefs, but we belong to Jesus Christ.
Today, 40 congregations with direct historical ties to the Hungarian Reformed Church are part of the United Church of Christ. Their story includes an account of brave belonging. In 1674, Hungarian Reformed ministers were among forty-two Protestants who were sold as galley slaves and chained to oars on trade ships in the Adriatic Sea. Hungarian Protestants, especially the poor, suffered intense persecution in the midst of a dominant Catholic majority that battled against the rise of the broader Protestant movement in Europe. These forty-two refused to recant their faith.
Károly Jeszensky wrote the "Hymn of the Hungarian Galley Slaves"/"Lift Your Heads, O Martyrs, Weeping" (TNCH 445) based on original words of Pauli Joachim, who experienced the persecution. The hymn expresses the devotion of those persecuted to Christ, their conviction about belonging to Christ, and Christ's abiding care for those who belong to God. The closing words of the hymn powerfully affirm that relationship: "You are God's own people; surely God will fold God's own securely."
This is the second verse of the hymn that became an anthem of liberation for Hungarian Protestants:
What a Difference Christ Can Make
"We Belong to Christ" was affirmed as well on the frontier of the United States. During the 18th century, many people were swept up in an enthusiastic faith in Christ that eventually led to the forming of the Christian Church . The heart-felt faith appealed to both European immigrants and former African slaves invited into the revival.
Many of these persons left other churches insisting on a new way of being the church and believing. They wanted a less hierarchical way of governing and less reliance on the authority of creeds. Their faith was full of feeling. Although not anti-intellectual, they emphasized direct experience of Christ, as much as belief about Christ. This experience would lead to a church where all, clergy and laity, were understood as radically equal. They characterized their faith in six Principles of the Christian Church.
"Christ as the sole head of the Church" was an essential conviction. This suggested that when members tried to resolve conflicts or figure out issues, they prayed for Christ's guidance, and listened to one another rather than demand particular tests (LTH , Vol 4, 10). The conviction also led to other principles: Christian character, the way you live your life, was as important as any belief. And because Christ is the head of the Church, all who confess Christ, even with their differences, are still one in Christ. The Church is one.
Claiming Christ from the Start
In 1957, when the UCC was formed, and again in 1960, when our constitution was adopted, we drew upon and were inspired by our commitment to Christ. It is evident in both naming our newly-formed denomination, The United Church of Christ (LTH , Vol 6, 583-4) and in the Preamble of our constitution. The second paragraph states: "The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession." Belonging to Christ has shaped us and continues to shape us as we move into the future.
To discover more about Jesus Christ, the one to whom we belong, take prayerful time to read about Jesus in the Bible. Begin with one of the more story-like accounts of Jesus discovered in one of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. If one gospel is being read more than others in worship at your church, you might try that one. The gospel readings in worship often alternate, year by year, between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Another idea is to begin with the shortest and earliest one, Mark, and read it through from start to finish. Take your reading slowly, section by section or chapter by chapter. You might even take a full prayerful month. As you read, pray "O God, what do I discover about you in Jesus? What does it mean that we belong to you?"Prayer Matters
Although God knows you and loves you as you are, perhaps you haven't taken an opportunity to introduce yourself to God in your own words. Close your eyes and take a deep breath—breathing in the breath of God. Begin a prayer with, "O God, I belong to you." Silently or aloud, pray repeatedly, slowly breathing, the phrase, "O God, I am," and note honest personal perceptions. For example, "O God, I am a woman. O, God I am a young adult. I am a mother who loves my children very much. O God, I am lonely often. O God, I am one who wonders where you are sometimes." Continue to express to God your perceptions until there is a lull or sense of completion. Then express to God any longings, feelings, thoughts, or intercessions you carry. You may rest quietly in the presence of God. A variation of this prayer is to pray this while writing in a journal. Perhaps invite a sponsor or partner to sit next to you and pray silently while you pray.Worship Matters
Have your congregation participate fully in welcoming new persons considering baptism or membership in the United Church of Christ. Appoint sponsors to pray and care for the new persons as they move toward baptism and membership. Check out "A Liturgy and Prayers for Youth and Adults Seeking Baptism" from Prayers and Patterns for Worship. Adapt it for your congregation. It is available with the Worshiping into God's Future resources at ucc.org/worship/worshiping-into-gods-future.God's World Matters
Compassionate outreach is needed in our communities as a direct response to Christ's call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who are in prison and who are sick, and to give shelter to those who have no shelter. Many UCC congregations provide services for their communities, like homeless shelters, soup kitchens, day care, legal assistance, and job counseling. Our faith calls us to do even more, to prayerfully ask justice questions:
• What is causing so many people in our town to be homeless?
• Why are so many people coming to our food pantry?
Reflecting on these questions, may lead a congregation that serves the homeless to explore policy issues around homelessness and affordable housing and to meet with city legislators to consider solutions.
What Matters is written by Sidney D. Fowler. Designed by Duy-Khuong Van (risingflare.com)
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