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What It Means To Be "UCC"
Sun, June 22, 2014

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE “UCC”

(Micah 6:6-8, MK 9:38-40)

           

            I am what is known in some circles as a “UCC brat.”  You see, the United Church of Christ came into being in 1957, two years after I was born.  And all the churches I’ve been a part of throughout my life have been UCC.  So really, the UCC is all I’ve ever known.  Oh sure, I’ve worshipped in other churches and experienced other faith traditions, but the UCC has always been my church.  And I do not foresee that ever changing.

            This past week our Vacation Bible School program had some FUN with Weird Animals (including one we called Pooky - who was a cross between a tarantula and a German Shepherd), with the message being that no matter how different or weird we might be – Jesus loves us just the same!  So, what I would like to do this morning is spend a little time with some of you “more mature” Children of God exploring the roots of our faith tradition, as well as what I understand our tradition to be, and look at a couple of scriptures that I think are central to our tradition.  For some of you, especially when it comes to the history of the UCC, this may be old information.  But I think enough people are unfamiliar with our history that it needs to be mentioned.

            The oldest “wing” of our denomination is the Congregational Church, founded by the Pilgrims when they came to North America in the 1620’s to escape religious persecution in England. 

            About a century later, in 1725, German immigrants began establishing congregations in the U.S., and by 1793, the Synod of the German Reformed Church in the U.S. was formed.  By 1867, the word “German” was dropped from the name.

            In the early 1600’s, some disgruntled Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists, living in the Southeastern United States, came together - simply calling themselves “Christians” -  demanding more lay leadership, more attention to the Bible, and open fellowship with all Christians.  In 1820, they convened a national meeting in Connecticut to bring their three groups together in the United General Conference of Christians.  It is through this branch of the UCC that we have our historical roots as a congregation.

            And then, last but not least - in the early 1800’s, the Evangelical Church of Germany, with an emphasis on the practical Christian life rather than strict adherence to doctrinal beliefs, came to North America in search of greater freedom of religious expression.  In 1872, the churches organized into the German Evangelical Synod of North America, with the word “German” being dropped  from the name in 1927.

            In 1931 - stressing congregational freedom and a continuing reformation, the Congregational and Christian Churches united as one body.

            In 1934 - stressing liberty of conscience, authority of the Scriptures, and their common liberal German Protestant heritage, the Evangelical and Reformed Churches united as one body.

            And then, in an unprecedented move of unification - the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches came together to form the United Church of Christ in 1957, seen as at least partial fulfillment of the great prayer of unity by Jesus “that they may all be one.”

            Dr. Robert Moss - President of the United Church of Christ from 1969 - 1976 summed up his understanding of the UCC in this way:

            “The United Church of Christ is a united and a uniting church.  Each of the communions which came together to form the United Church of Christ in 1957 had itself come into being through the union of two denominations.  Therefore church union and Christian unity are in the very bloodstream of our people.

            The United Church is a church of Christ.  We believe we are called to carry out his mission in the world today.  Wherever there are people without the gospel, wherever there are people in need, wherever there is injustice, strife, hatred, and greed - there the Church of Christ is bound by God to bear witness, to serve, to help, to reconcile, to rebuild.  We belong to Christ and we must follow where he leads.

            The United Church of Christ is a free church and a responsible church.  No one dictates to a local church concerning the decisions it makes.  Freedom is guaranteed.  But it is ‘freedom in the gospel’ and assumes that every corporate body within the church, whether a local church or a Conference or the General Synod (the National Church), will make its decisions in the light of the gospel and out of a sense of responsibility to the whole fellowship.

            And the United Church of Christ is a church of the people.  The church is not the clergy, nor is it the organization at the regional or national levels; nor is it the officers or boards, commissions or councils, though all play their important and indispensable parts.  The church is people gathered for worship, work, and witness.  The local and regional mission and the wider mission to the nation and the world through the instrumentalities of the denomination are made possible by the response of persons to the task and witness entrusted to us together as people of God.”

            The emblem of the United Church of Christ is based on the ancient Christian symbol known as the Cross of Victory or the Cross Triumphant.  Traditionally, this symbol - the cross surmounted by the crown and all of it atop the orb, signifies the kingship of the Risen Christ over the entire world.  The orb, representing the world, is divided into three parts to signify the command by Jesus to the disciples “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”  It is also seen by some as a symbol for the Trinitarian Nature of God.

            For the United Church of Christ this emblem, rich in the traditions of the past and alive with hope for the future, is particularly appropriate.  For this reason, there appear on the perimeter of the emblem both the name of the church and the text, “That they may all be one.”

            And then, of course, we have our Statement of Faith - a version of which we used for our Prayer of Invocation today (SEE BELOW).  This statement provides a pretty complete list and outline of the basic beliefs of the UCC.  But it is not a creed.  In other words, there is no one official interpretation of what this statement means that a person must subscribe to in order to become a member.  Rather, it is a rendering of basic faith concepts and ideals that people are invited to understand, each in their own way.  For this reason, within the United Church of Christ, there is a broad spectrum of, at times, diverse understandings and beliefs, of what this Statement of Faith really means.

            Now, when it comes to scriptural sources and foundations for our tradition - a great many come to mind.  But for me, the two that seem most central are our scripture readings for today.  First - Micah 6:6-8: “… do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with … God.”  Or in other words - work for justice, not only in what we say, but in all we do and how we live our lives.  And make kindness a priority ... as a matter of fact - get to the point where showing kindness to others becomes so important to you that you can honestly say you love doing it.  And in the midst of our actively working for justice and the showing of kindness - don’t forget that God is ultimately in, and in charge of all that has been, is, or will be ... a humbling thought.  But it is through our walk with God that we are given the strength and the vision for doing justice and showing kindness.

            And since we are both a united and a uniting Church, by faith, history, and tradition, it seems to me that the ecumenical vision offered by Jesus in his comments made to the disciples in our reading from Mark for today provides us with a scriptural foundation for this approach.  Within the wider faith community, there are, of course, both subtle and major differences of belief and understanding of the Faith.  But as Jesus said, “If they’re not against us, then they’re for us.”  This basic belief is not only central to our own United Church of Christ, but to the wider ecumenical vision, as we actively seek ways to come together as people of faith and accomplish greater things together than we could individually.

            As a member church, and as friends and members of the United Church of Christ, we stand in a long line and upon a rich and firm foundation of working for peace and justice, and being open and accepting to a wide variety of beliefs and lifestyles.  My hope, and my prayer, is that we will stand firm and be true to this vision of faith as we face the sometimes confusing realities of the present, and move on into the future, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

            Remember – God is still speaking!  And no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here in the United Church of Christ.

            …..  And let us pray  …..

STATEMENT OF FAITH
of the United Church of Christ

WE BELIEVE IN YOU, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify:

YOU CALL the worlds into being, create persons in your own image, and set before each one the ways of life and death.

YOU SEEK in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.

YOU JUDGE people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.

IN JESUS CHRIST, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.

YOU BESTOW upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.

YOU CALL us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil,to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.

YOU PROMISE to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.

BLESSING AND HONOR, GLORY AND POWER BE UNTO YOU.

Amen.