Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Questions IV

Question from one of our church members: I have the desire to serve God, but I feel like I don't know how/where to start. What do I do?

First of all, we have all been offered many opportunities to serve God and be partners in the Realm of God emerging into our world. Jesus gave us all some "marching orders": Love your neighbor as yourself; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; Forgive seventy times seven; Give a cup of water to one of these "little ones", and many more. We all can be about God's business doing these things, and returning kindness for hostility ("turning the other cheek"). Kind words, unexpected kind actions toward others, and a spirit of gratitude and joy will turn heads in our world, one that is at the least becoming more apathetic, if not down right angry. We don't need any special "call" from God to embark on a life-long journey of meaningful and compassionate engagement.

However, I believe the questioner may be asking something more. is there something special that I should be doing to serve God? Each of us is a unique individual, endowed with gifts and abilities. The first step in figuring out our personal "call" to serve God is to discover what these gifts are. Some of they may not be obvious--dormant until discovered and explored. We have a spiritual gifts test called "Spirit Gifts" available at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, but a person can also go to our denomination's website--www.umc.org--and look through the drop-down menus at the top of the homepage until you find the "Spiritual Gifts Test," which you can take online. It is a much simpler version of "Spirit Gifts," but it may give you some clues to explore.

Beyond spiritual gifts, it is good to ask yourself what you like to do. For some reason, many people feel that serving God--or being a responsible church member--means you have to "sacrifice," and do hard jobs or sign up for service opportunities that stress us out. I don't know why that is. Involving oneself in ministries of various kinds can be hard work, and it can mean giving time, money, and energy, but there is nothing wrong with it being fulfilling, meaningful, and even FUN! Read your church bulletin or newsletter, ask your pastor or other church leaders, or call your church office to see where people are needed to help. Then sign up or just show up. If you match your gifts to your service, things will go much better, but when you work with others on a "team," even simple jobs like setting up for church dinners or decorating the sanctuary for worship can be a blast.

One more thing. When you show up or get involved in a ministry or task around your church (or in the community, for that matter), you may find that the other members of the "team" have been doing this for some time and have formed friendships and bonds. You may, initially, feel like an outsider. Please don't be discouraged by this. Take simple task, do your part, and begin to methodically break into the conversations and "the circle." Your gifts may cause you to quickly analyze the situation and discern better ways to accomplish the task at hand, but resist the urge to be overly enthusiastic or forceful about suggesting your "fix." Remember, most opportunities to serve in the Realm of God are first and foremost opportunities to build community and create new, supportive relationships. The actual job is secondary to that, so make that your priority. It will all work out, as God's Spirit will be your guide.

And a final word to you church members who are already veterans of service and ministry: Be very intentional about watching for new people who join in. Make them feel welcome, help them build relationships within the group, and give them meaningful tasks to do and whatever orientation they need. People drop out when they can't break in.

Here is another: When you take Communion, what should you say when you accept the bread? 

When one receives Communion, that is exactly what you should do--receive. Communion is a sacrament, which means it was instituted by Christ and is God's action, not ours. Hence, we receive God's grace through receiving the elements of bread and wine. No words from the one receiving are necessary. I admit that when I receive Communion from a colleague, though, I usually say a simple "Thank you" or "Thanks be to God," both to express my gratitude to God and to God's "agent" administering the sacrament. Sometimes, though, I say nothing and just receive. That is most appropriate. United Methodists believe that Communion is a "means of grace" whereby God bestows a unique blessing called grace upon us. One simple definition of grace is "God's unmerited favor." Grace is not earned; it is a gift. Communion is a perfect example this grace, as well as a means of it. United Methodists practice a fully "open table," meaning that anyone who wishes to may receive. We don't require the communicant to be a "baptized Christian," a member of the church, or our denomination. John Wesley, who was Methodism's founder, believed that persons might be enlightened or even make a life-changing connection with Jesus Christ in this sacrament.

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...