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May 11

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The Foundational Story

Exodus 14:21-31

            Every family has a story that foundational to them.  We are here because in 1835 our ancestors left Tennessee and moved to Franklin County Arkansas to pioneer new land.  All subsequent history flows from that event.  That story sets the tone for the family history.

            The Jews have a foundational story, and that story has become a foundational story for Christians as well.  That story is the Exodus.  It is the story of how God took a ragtag group of slaves and turned them into a community of faith.  That story has as it foundation the Exodus.  God delivered them, through water, from Pharaoh and Egypt.  That story is so foundational to them that Paul likens the Exodus to baptism in 1 Corinthians 10. 

            Crossing the Red Sea they didn’t have worry about who was in the covenant and who wasn’t.  They knew that God had provided for all of them, including their children.  Their children were members of the covenant community, the covenant sign was given to their male children eight days and older as God had made a covenant with Abraham.

            Being a member of the covenant never meant being sinlessly perfect.  Israel sinned and when they did they were reminded of the Exodus and how God had rescued them.  When they encouraged one another they did so in terms of the story of the Exodus. 

            When we get to our times, we tend to view the foundational story a little differently.  Most Christians tend to ignore it all together.  We tend to believe that Christ came to destroy the Old Testament, when in fact he said that he came to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  IF Christ came to fulfill the covenant then why all the sudden are Christian children excluded from the very covenant that Jewish children were members of?

            While that Exodus story is very important to us as Christians, we too have a foundational story.  It is the story of the resurrection: that is our deliverance, and indeed the whole world’s deliverance from sin.  If that is the beginning of the new covenant, which it is; now, as in the old covenant our children are included.

            Being a member of the covenant wasn’t a magical talisman in those days.  The parents were to instruct the children day and night in the faith to enable them to be practicing members of the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 6:20-25; 11:18-21).  That is as true today as it was then.  We do not practice indiscriminant infant baptism.  We believe that the parents have to be practicing Christians and take seriously the vow to train the children in the faith. 

            As a faith community, we don’t believe, as did some of the radical reformers that children had to understand what was happening to make things effective in their lives.  If that were true, then God was wrong in telling Abraham to circumcise male children eight days old as a sign of belonging to the covenant. 

            Those who are descended from the radical reformation, (Baptist, Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, etc.) or those influenced by that type of theology will read the New Testament and say, “Where are we told to baptize children?”  Those who are descended the other side of the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, Cramner) will read the New Testament and say, “Where are we told not to baptize our children?”

            The answer we give to that question is determined by our concept of God’s grace.  Does God’s grace kick in at a certain age of accountability, or is it active in the life the child from day one?  Both children, baptized and not baptized, still have to make the faith claim for themselves.  Both must still profess their faith themselves.  It may be easier for one who have been told from birth they are loved by God to actually love God in return.

            If they know that they are part of the foundational stories of Exodus and Resurrection, that God’s grace has been active their whole life, and that their parents and church family are there to help them, it may be easier for them to say, “This faith is my faith.”

MONDAY, MAY 12, 2008.  I realize that a sermon and study guide will not change people’s mind about the whole baptism issue.  I am not naïve.  But I do hope that it will get us to thinking about the nature of grace.  A baptismal system in a human invention and is not divinely inspired.  It is a way to make sense of what we see in Scripture.  Think about grace and how it interacts with us through out our lives.  How did grace act in your life when you were a child?

TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2008.  United Methodist ministers are not to re-baptize.  Why?  Well, it implies that God didn’t keep his promise in the first baptism.  If we are made members of the covenant once, we don’t need to be remade members of the covenant again.  I know there are some ministers who will re-baptize, but this one won’t.  I also know that there are members of the UMC that hold genuine convictions about infant/sprinking verses believers/immersion baptism.  I celebrate every baptism, whether adult or infant, as someone’s entrance into the faith community and rejoice in what God is doing in their life.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2008.  What is your foundational story?  If someone were to ask you, “Why are you a Christian? What is your story?”  What would you tell them?  How would you connect that story with the foundational stories in Scripture?  How would you connect your story with the Exodus and the resurrection?  Our personal stories have to be connected to the biblical story for our story is a continuation of the biblical story!   How do you make that connection?

THURSDAY, MAY 15, 2008.  One thing I really appreciate about UM doctrine is the:  We believe that the sacraments are not just something to do, not just a rite that has be to be preformed, or a magical talisman, but a genuine call to discipleship.  Our sacraments are calls to follow Jesus.  When we come to take communion, not only is God present to communicate grace to us, it is also a call to take up our cross and follow.  The same holds true with baptism.  As one recent writer says:  Remember, ours is the church that gives an open invitation to a discipline life—not just an open invitation, but an open invitation to a disciplined life. (Sacraments and Discipleship by Mark Stamm, page 41.)  Our sacraments are not just means of grace but calls to ministry.  What does that mean to you?

FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2008.  I hope this weeks page hasn’t been a burden to you.  Part of our discipleship and spiritual formation is to think through things.  I hope I have helped you think through things, even if you disagree with me.  It is not important if you agree or disagree with me, it is important that you have a firm foundation about what you believe.  If I have helped in a small way, this has been successful.  God bless.

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