United: Pursuing peace together


Learn more about the 2018 Mission Offering
at www.brethren.org/missionoffering

A scriptural exegesis written by Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship, for the 2018 Mission Offering.

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).

The early Brethren were part of the Pietist movement within the German Reformed church of their time. Pietists were those folks who sought to live what the Bible said. Those around them, also part of the church, did not use the name “Pietist” in a nice way. It was a slur. Today it would be like calling someone “holier than thou.”

It may be hard for us to think of piety as something negative. And though the word is not used as much as it was in the 18th century, the idea remains embedded within our tradition. We strive to live lives according to the Scriptures. As one Annual Conference theme reminded us, we “take Jesus seriously.” Yet, we should remember that what is pious to us may be legalistic to others.

That was Paul’s concern as he wrote these chapters in Romans. It appears that the Christians in Rome did not get along very well. As the capital city of the empire, it was home to people from all over. Some were Roman, either by birth or by citizenship, and had adopted the customs and practices of “good” Roman people. Historians now call these people Hellenists. They spoke Latin or Greek, or both, and saw the world through the prism of the great civilizations of Greece and Rome. There were also Hebrew people in the capital city. Though they were far from the worship practices of the temple in Jerusalem, they practiced their faith and culture with conviction. These diaspora people, or those scattered from their homeland, saw their religious customs as key to their identity, just as the Romans did their own culture.

For the early Christian community of Rome, these two cultural systems seem to have been a significant source of conflict. Much of Paul’s letter deals specifically with the conflict of law, religion, and culture that quickly emerged between Hellenist and Hebrew followers of Jesus. This letter, one that scholars and theologians call his most eloquent and succinct articulation of the gospel, was written to bring these to cultural groups together.

Food customs provided one of the sources of contention. Hebrew religious practice certainly dictated what food could and could not be eaten. And surely for the Hellenists, those customs were odd and parochial. Food valued by the Hellenists, even delicacies, were not within Hebrew kosher practice. Such a conflict might seem minimal to our modern sensibilities, but for the early church, eating together was a significant part of their life. Paul focused on this conflict because it was doing exactly the opposite of what shared meals in the church meant. Instead of bringing the people together, it was dividing them.

Ever the reconciler, Paul chastised the Roman Christians without naming fault. Instead, he revealed how any kind of piety practiced without faith and concern for others in the community, was not just divisive, it was sin. He did not call into question the sincerity of their customs, but instead highlighted how the practices of their piety were more about pride than they were about faith. Here, the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount echo just beneath the page: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1, NRSV).

Paul’s critique, however, came with an instruction. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification” (Romans 14:19, NRSV). We might be tempted to emphasize Paul’s exhortation to peace in the church, but that would miss the qualifying clause at the end. Peace is not the end, in and of itself. Rather, the peace within the church is so that all believers might be edified and grow in their faith. Setting aside religious practices is not a decision to be made lightly. Rather, Paul’s admonition was for the church to emphasize two things—their shared faith in Christ and their need to build each other up in the faith. If the pious practices were sowing discord, they were also undermining the each one’s discipleship to Jesus.

For us good Pietists, Paul’s words to the Roman church are a clear challenge. While we deeply value the practices of our faith we must continue to examine our motivations and the impact on fellow believers. Peace, in this regard, is a characteristic of our community and our practices. When our practices sow discord and conflict, Paul warns us, we are not true Pietists. May our practices and changes of practice, both rooted in our faith, lead us to be United: Pursuing peace together.

Find a full order of service for the 2018 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 16) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

United: serving the Lord together

Find worship resources for this year’s Mission Offering at
www.brethren.org/missionoffering.
Photo by Donna Parcell

A theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications, for the 2017 Mission Offering

“How wonderful it is when God’s people dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Indeed, it is wonderful to see the body of Christ work together as one. Every person feeling connected to the mission and giving of themselves to the Lord and to others.

It’s beautiful, but it takes work. It’s possible, but it requires intentional effort and a willingness to make mistakes and try again. The endless pursuit of unity is one we experience in our congregations, within our districts and denomination, and as we strive in ministry with our sisters and brothers around the world.

The obstacles to unity that we face are not unlike those that the church has experienced throughout history. The early church especially had some heavy lifting to do. We see a glimpse of their struggle and labor in Paul’s letter to the Romans. As the church grew and people of all nations were invited to follow Jesus, differences became more apparent and disagreements arose. In particular, the Jews still practiced meaningful faith rituals and tried to impress them on Gentile believers. In return, Gentiles either felt inadequate for not following Jewish practices or insisted that these rituals were no longer relevant for the life of faith.

Both walks of faith could be pleasing to God, according to Paul. A person could follow Jesus regardless of which day was honored as the Sabbath and God could be glorified whether a person abstained from eating pork or chose to eat it in fellowship with others. As long as a person lived unto the Lord and withheld judgment from others who did the same, unity with God and each other was possible.

Though the issues we face are different from the early church, God’s call for us is the same. And, while ministry may look differently for our sisters and brothers around the world, we are united to one mission: serving Jesus Christ. This is what we are committed to together. May we devote our time and energy to loving each other more fervently instead of focusing on the differences that could divide us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are united, serving the Lord together.

Find a full order of service for the 2017 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 17) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or give to the offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Persevere: Stand together in faith

Mission Offering 2016-bannerA theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall for the 2016 Mission Offering 

“Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

The Apostle Paul was obsessed with unity. Ever since his perspective was changed from “the Jews are the chosen people” to “all people are welcome in God’s family,” he was compelled to bring all people to the table of Christian fellowship.

It doesn’t require much effort to find the motivation of Paul’s passion for Christian community. Jesus, too, was all about sticking together in God’s family. Before Jesus was arrested, he prayed for his disciples and for us (those who would believe because of their message): “that they may be one” (John 17:21). The unity that Jes us experienced with God the Creator and the Holy Spirit was the same unity he prayed over his disciples and all who would follow them. With the inspiration of Jesus, Paul’s obsession seems well founded and worthy of continuing.

In his letter to the Philippians, we hear Paul at it again. With the declared hope that th e believers at Philippi would be of one mind, we hear echoes of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Signs of God’s love include living at peace with all sisters and brothers, and striving to be of one mind and mission. With his words, Paul paints beautiful pictures of what it looks like for the church to be faithful in loving God and loving others.

Paul’s words to the Philippians, however, are not solely to give us warm and fuzzy feelings about loving one another. Paul was calling the believers at Philippi to stick together through all situations and struggles of life. We all seek to love others without question until we realize how much it costs. Striving to walk with people through dark valleys and over in timidating mountains really tests the depth of our love and faith. Nonetheless, these are the roads to which God has called us to walk together “side by side.”

The Mission Offering highlights the international partners of the Church of the Brethren. As we partner with our sisters and brothers in places like Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nigeria, and South Sudan, there is much opportunity for mutual encouragement and strengthening of faith. Though how we minister within communities may look rather different, God’s call to all is share the love and hope of Jesus in all places.

As we walk with our sisters and brothers around the world, the words of Paul to the Philippians can still guide us today. Whether we are gathered together or far apart, the evidence of God’s love will be known through the unity we share. Though we may be nations and even oceans apart, we share an unbreakable bond within God’s family. Being held together by God’s love and caught up with what the Holy Spirit is doing, we can persevere and stand together in faith.

Find a full order of service for the 2016 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 18) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Proclaim: Rejoice in Christ

Find worship resources for this year's Mission Offering at www.brethren.org/missionoffering .

Find worship resources for this year’s Mission Offering at www.brethren.org/missionoffering .

A theme interpretation written for the 2015 Mission Offering.

Amidst the busyness of life, it’s important to stay focused. Hardships, responsibilities, opportunities, short-comings, and “nay sayers” can all take our attention away from what is most important.

Challenges and obstacles are also a regular part of life for our partners around the globe. Facing daily persecution, violence, and limitations, their efforts to show love to God and neighbor is challenged regularly. Whether completing a project or staying dedicated to a mission, being faithful to what God has called us requires perseverance.

Staying focused in ministry has been a challenge since the very beginning of the church. In Paul’s words to the Philippians, he acknowledged their disappointments and wounds. Having experienced many challenges himself, Paul understood what it meant to come up short of a goal. However, while sitting in jail, Paul recognized the Philippians as a precious gift. In spite of the hardships experienced by Paul and the church of Philippi, Paul reminded them of what is most important: “that Christ is proclaimed in every way” (1:18). Despite the persecutions they had encountered, Paul reminded them not to worry about people and factors beyond their control.

The declaration and power of the gospel is not hindered by the short-coming of humanity. We can choose to obsess about the vain preachers or the peddlers of prosperity, or we can choose to celebrate the places where Jesus is proclaimed in word and action. God alone is able and worthy to judge the minds and hearts of each person. As the body of Christ, our first responsibility is to celebrate in the proclamation of Jesus’ name.

The ministry of Jesus and power of God in the world is not dampened by our failures either. If we ever lose focus or stumble, God’s love and grace remain present. If the good news of Jesus is proclaimed in our words and actions, there is reason for celebration through any season.

While it may seem that our own limitations or external challenges prevent us from celebrating the work of God, we can find comfort and joy each day if the name of Jesus is proclaimed. It is in witnessing this proclamation in every way that we have reason to rejoice in Christ.

Written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications. Find a full order of service written by Ken Gibble for the 2015 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 20) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Ablaze

Shelley West arm-wrestles fellow Youth Peace Travel Team member Chris Bache at National Youth Conference . Photo by Glenn Riegel

Shelley West arm-wrestles fellow Youth Peace Travel Team
member Chris Bache at National Youth Conference .
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Shelley West, member of the 2014 Youth Peace Travel Team.

“While our understanding of peace is rooted in scripture and Jesus’ teachings, we think it has many different manifestations in our world today that are worth exploring. Peace is about more than not going off to war or not fighting with your siblings!”

This is a phrase that frequented my introduction of the Youth Peace Travel Team and our work when we faced campers for the first time on jittery Sunday evenings. While our goal was to introduce the five specific perspectives of peace that we would be teaching throughout the week, it was a genuine reminder to ourselves of the variety of unexpected ways that peace showed its face to us all summer long.

Peace was found in the group’s acceptance of my exceptionally poor performance during a camp-wide kickball game at Camp Colorado. Peace was found in the inclusive and enthusiastic clamor surrounding our “Arm Wrestling for Peace” booth at National Youth Conference’s Brethren Block Party. Peace was found as our team struggled up the metaphorical mountain together, but made it to the top and gazed out at the spectacular view.

Peace is found in whatever moment you decide to seek and pursue it. Jesus’ example of peace was radical, but versatile and all-embracing. We, too, are called to this job of uninhibited love-spreading. In each encounter with our siblings in Christ, we have a grand opportunity to look into their eyes, listen to their musings, and verbally affirm that our hearts are open to the sharing of this human experience. Whether with strangers in the neighborhood or parents we’ve never truly gotten to know, this interaction brings a smile to our God’s face and a spark of hope to those who we have stepped outside of our comfort zones to engage.

Let us be active and willing in our approaches to peacemaking—at camp, at home, and around the world. In remembering our global brothers and sisters through fervent prayer, may we be simultaneously empowered to search for peace in our daily lives. May our hearts burn ablaze with a passion to search, to work, to love. Amen.

September 21 is International Day of Peace. It is also the suggested date for the Mission Offering—an opportunity for congregations to support Church of the Brethren partnerships that maintain a peaceful presence all over the world. Visit brethren.org/missionoffering to find out more, and brethren.org/give to support all of these ministries today.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)