Encounters with God

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org. Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org.
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

A reflection by Stanley Noffsinger

When I graduated from Manchester University, my eyes were set on the future. I was filled with anticipation, hope, relief, and a modicum of anxiety. Little did I know that the path ahead would take unusual and unexpected twists and turns beyond my wildest imagination.

I am reminded of the story of Moses—a trusted and experienced shepherd—who was asked by his father-in-law, Jethro, to lead a flock through the wilderness. Moses set out with his faith and experience to get the flock moving, feed them, protect them, and return them home.

But Moses’ serenity was interrupted in an unexpected way—by an angel of the Lord through the burning bush. The last thing Moses expected was to be in the presence of the Divine, but as Moses heard God through a burning bush, he entered into an unimagined reality. Moses knew he was in the presence of Yahweh, the Lord God.

Moses was prepared for the future just like each of us. And like Moses, we will encounter a day when unexpected events will alter our journey. These unplanned detours may not be as dramatic as a burning bush but, nonetheless will change the course of our lives.

I never thought I would become the first lay person to hold the office of general secretary for the Church of the Brethren. Nor could I have imagined this position would allow me the privilege to have audience with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, with the former president of Iran, or the President of United States. All of these events and opportunities to interact with people from all over the world were moments when I experienced God’s presence.

During my time of service to the Church of the Brethren, we have seen spiritual growth with congregations the United States and around the world. We have witnessed lives changed and faith strengthened at conferences like National Youth ConferenceNational Older Adult ConferenceNational Junior High Conference, and WorkChristian Citizenship Seminar. We have responded to extreme national and international disasters, walking alongside leaders as they served their communities in a manner consistent with their context of living. We have persevered in a tradition of service through ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service and workcamps. We have spoken to the world and its leaders on important issues, hopeful that we might find alternative paths to resolving conflicts. In all of these things, we have truly witnessed God in our midst.

Looking to the future, we will be heading forward with great expectation, even though the paths we will take are truly unknown. While we still have much to learn about showing love to one another, I have the utmost confidence and trust that our faith and experience will serve us well. Inspired by our appointment with the Divine, we will persevere in our pursuit of life, relationships, and Christian service.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Time of your life

Kim Ebersole, NOAC coordinator, with the 2015 National Older Adult Conference planning team. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Kim Ebersole, NOAC coordinator, with the 2015
National Older Adult Conference planning team.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Kim Ebersole, NOAC coordinator

What is it about a conference for older adults—those age 50 and older—that makes young adults wish they were old enough to attend? If you have attended the Church of the Brethren’s National Older Adult Conference(NOAC), you know all that this biennial gathering has to offer. If you haven’t attended NOAC, here are highlights of this September’s conference, featuring the theme “Then Jesus Told Them a Story” (Matthew 13:34-35):

  • Renowned speakers Deanna Brown, Ken Medema, Brian McLaren, and Alexander Gee will enlighten and challenge participants about a wide-range of relevant topics.
  • Bible study leader Bob Bowman will invite participants to explore scripture and apply its message to their own lives and communities.
  • Worship experiences will feature preachers Robert Neff, Chris Smith, and LaDonna Nkosi, voices raised in harmonious song, and quiet times of prayer and contemplation.
  • Performances will be given by musicians Terra Voce, comedian Bob Stromberg, storyteller Gary Carden, and folk dancing troupe J. Creek Cloggers.
  • We will laugh at the zany antics of the NOAC News Team
  • We will reach out to others through service projects such as Church World Service Kits for Kids, the fund-raising walk for the Nigeria Crisis Fund, and sharing stories through giving books to local elementary students.
  • We will enjoy laughter, conversations with friend old and new, eating together, recreation, creative arts, workshops, and relaxing by (or jogging around!) beautiful Lake Junaluska.

    Through ministries of the Church of the Brethren, age-specific conferences including NOAC, are provided as opportunities for faith formation, spiritual growth, learning, and service. NOAC is a Spirit-filled gathering of adults (age 50 and older) who love learning and discerning together, exploring God’s call for their lives, and living out that call by sharing their energy, insight, and legacy with their families, communities, and the world. Like youth who attend National Youth Conference, many NOAC participants have a “mountain top experience” that continues to nurture and inform their lives long after they return to their homes and local faith communities.

    What about young adults who yearn to be part of NOAC? Several have discovered the joy of attending NOAC as volunteers to share energy, experience, expertise, and enthusiasm to help make NOAC happen. So whether you are young or old(er), consider coming to NOAC for the time of your life.

    National Older Adult Conference 2015 will be held September 7-11 at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in western North Carolina. Register or learn more at www.brethren.org/NOAC or call 847-429-4305.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

 

Great things in 2014

From all of the staff, volunteers, and Mission and Ministry Board members of the Church of the Brethren, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

From all of the staff, volunteers, and Mission and Ministry
Board members of the Church of the Brethren,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Thank you for praying, serving, giving to support the Church of the Brethren in 2014. There are many things that we were able to do together:

2,390 students, advisers, staff, and volunteers attended National Youth Conference (and 19 from international Brethren groups).

123 volunteers served 248,720 hours at Brethren Volunteer Service projects.

9 Ministry Summer Service interns explored their vocations in ministry placements across the country.

Volunteers maintained a Brethren presence in 9 different countries.

Over 377 deacons and church leaders attended 9 deacon training events.

19 BVS volunteers served at international projects, and 11 international students served in the US.

98 individuals participated in the Church Planting Conference.

152 Global Mission Advocates are now connected to the network.

165 individuals attended 4 Intercultural Ministry related events.

140 participants served at 8 workcamps.

83 congregations began or continued participating in the Vital Ministry Journey.

62 individuals represented 13 districts at Young Adult Conference.

3 Mission and Ministry Board meetings were held and 3 new members were welcomed.

684 congregations financially supported the Church of the Brethren.

151 donors gave to the core ministries of the Church of the Brethren for the first time.

And so much more!

Thank you for generously giving to your church. Your faithful support is inspiring, and ensures that the many life-changing, loving-giving ministries of the Church of the Brethren will continue into the future.

If you are excited about or have been blessed by the ministries of the Church of the Brethren, support them at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Pass the Peace, Please!

group at National Youth Conference 2014

Fun at National Youth Conference 2014


National Youth Conference 2014. Ever since we were called by Christ to join the Y P double T this summer and blessed for our journey together, we had been anticipating the mountaintop whirlwind that is NYC. Not only would we get to experience the powerful worship services that we had remembered so fondly from NYC 2010, but we would get to share our message of radical peace with a larger-than-usual audience and check back in with youth we had met in our travels throughout the summer. Our responsibilities at this Spirit-filled conference were far and wide, so I’d like to run you through our typical day and throw in some heartwarming highlights. My teammates will share their favorite moments as well, along with highlights from some of our bigger events of the week.

I arose bright and early each day for a breakfast meeting with all of the wonderful folks of On Earth Peace. We checked in about the day’s tasks and how previous events had gone. From there, we headed to Moby Arena to put on different displays and demonstrations for youth and advisors to view and participate in on their way into worship. This was one of my favorite responsibilities of the week. I got to hold a sign for the Stop Recruiting Kids campaign, which I delivered a speech about in my public speaking class last semester. I got to witness youth writing heartbreaking but very real things that keep them from claiming their identity, from fear to a mom with cancer. It is moments like these that remind me that we are all in this struggle of humanity together, regardless of age or background.

We then entered worship, where Christy and I often joined forces with YPTT alumni and friends to dance our way through the theme song. We soaked in the skits, scriptures, and sermons alongside the youth, carefully noting what stirred our hearts so that we could lead good discussion with our small groups after worship. In one of the rare moments that all members of our team were split up to provide leadership, we all had slightly different approaches to small group time. We would exchange stories about how our respective youth were interactive, honest, and brave, which was always encouraging. After lunch, we led workshops. Alternating between a general introduction to YPTT and leading games with a peace twist, it was a blast to share our message with a more intimate, interested crowd, learn new dance moves, and ultimately get excited about meeting the next generation of peacemakers. The evening led into helping once more with displays and activities outside of worship, and then experiencing the power of music and dynamic speakers. After worship came late night activities, where we either attended concerts, caught up with our youth worker friends, or went to bed for some much needed rest.

It is impossible to record all the life-giving moments that comprised NYC, but we came away from this time so grateful for the many lives that intersected ours. Perhaps above all, we are encouraged by the hordes of youth that we have to join us in the work of bringing heaven to earth.

-Shelley

Arm wrestling Alexander Mack at National Youth Conference 2014

Arm wrestling Alexander Mack at National Youth Conference 2014.


This summer we have run into the same people numerous times at varying places. From camps to Annual Conference to Song and Story Fest to NYC, multiple faces showed up again and again. Some of my favorite faces to see at these places were those that belonged to the band Mutual Kumquat. This Brethren soul-folk-pop band who plays songs focusing on social change and fun is a joy to listen to as well as hang out with. I’ve gotten to know each bandmate, especially since my brother Jacob Crouse had the opportunity to play with them this summer! Furthermore, in a late-night convo between some YPTTers and Kumquatians, we came up with the idea to collaborate on a song for NYC during their concert. Thus, we did so! Combining the wrap-up raps for a few of our peace sessions with a catchy hook & chorus by the band, we came up with a peace melody that we performed for the NYC body. I had a blast feeling like a rock star, performing with some of the coolest human beings I know, and spreading a message that I’m ridiculously passionate about. Pass the peace, pass the peace please! Pass the peace, yeah, pass the peace please!

-Christy

One of the many tasks we were given for NYC this year was to come up with a booth for the Brethren Block Party, carnival games sponsored by various organizations for the attendees to have fun partaking in. Having our only parameters be making an easily portable and cheap game was, at first, a pretty difficult task. The only idea that really came up was arm wrestling, but we still wanted something better. After weeks of failing to come up with anything new we settled on “Wrestling With Peace” as a title for our arm wrestling booth. We had hoped for moderate success and for a chance to talk to youth about the things in their lives that cause conflict. What we got was way more than we expected! Not 15 minutes into the block party we found ourselves surrounded by a crowd of youth watching Chris tear through challengers left and right. With color commentary provided by any YPTTers not currently arm wrestling, the crowd continued to grow and cheer for challengers and YPTTers alike. By the end of the block party, the booth had evolved from just us versus them to youth asking to use the table to challenge their friends too. Building community and getting to know the struggles in these youths lives was so much more fun and rewarding than I had imagined.

-Jake

Each member of the Youth Peace Travel Team was given a small group to lead. My group was Small Group #117 (SHOUTOUT!!!). The entire team missed the introductory lesson as to how one should conduct small groups and so we were left to our own creative energy. The time allotted were four different 45 minute sessions. Somehow in a combined three hours spent together we were to meet and form a bond, reflect and grow together, and leave better than we came. How one individual could manage all of this with 12-14 other individuals baffled me, but I gave it my best effort. Get to know you games were a must, as names are not so easily remembered when you are meeting one hundred new people a day. This was followed by some feeling out of the group as far as how they wanted to go about talking. My group decided they did not enjoy large group discussion, so I had to work without one of the easiest activities to lead. But we managed to get to know each other, check. The next day we did some team building and then got into concentric circles so that individuals were paired up and could share their experience in more intimate manner. The group seemed to enjoy it and the room was buzzing with conversation. I asked them what they wanted to change about the small group and to my surprise very little was suggested, and they enjoyed the concentric circles. So I challenged them that the next day we would be sharing stories about a lesson we learned in our lives. The next day I opened with my own talk and a speech about how this is a safe space. Everyone shared and went deep into their own lives about very serious issues that each of them were facing. I was touched that they all trusted each other. Bonding reflecting and growing together, check. The next day we did an activity I have talked about in the Camp Colorado Blog, Taps. The game correctly expressed the feelings of the group. We all appreciated how far we had come in the four days we had together and we were all going home changed, but blessed for the journey together. It was a wonderful experience to lead a small group and I truly appreciate the youth that are willing to put themselves out their to learn more about themselves.

-Chris

National Youth Conference 2014, July 19 – 24, Fort Collins, Colorado

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)

Punks

Jarrod McKenna blesses Dunker Punks at National Youth Conference. Photo by Nevin Dulabaum

Jarrod McKenna blesses Dunker Punks at National Youth Conference.
Photo by Nevin Dulabaum

By Maddie Dulabaum

Sitting on the stadium floor next to my friend Aaron before worship on Wednesday night, I was afraid that National Youth Conference might pass me by with only a gigantic pillow to show for it. I’d always heard that NYC was a life-changing experience, but so far I hadn’t really felt changed.

Enter: Worship on Wednesday night.

I had enjoyed Jarrod McKenna’s workshop about causing Christ-like trouble the day before, so I was excited about the word he would bring that night. I was not disappointed. As he introduced the concept of the “Dunker Punk,” my fear of leaving NYC unchanged dissipated. Jarrod reminded us that only eight brave people started our Brethren Dunker Punk movement more than 300 years ago, that they began a “Mustard Seed Revolution.” Then he called for eight more brave brothers and sisters to continue this radical love, and I was changed. For the first time all week I felt an overwhelming sense of call.

When Jarrod asked for at least eight people to come and stand with him, to dedicate themselves to being Dunker Punks, I didn’t hesitate. In the mass of people flooding the stage, Aaron and I were side by side.

After the service, we sat outside the arena while people bustled around us, getting psyched for the concert that was about to follow worship. “Do you think tomorrow all these people will remember that they stood?” Aaron asked.

That question has consumed me ever since. Watching everyone laugh and scream as they made their way back into the arena for the concert, it was easy to think that maybe we wouldn’t remember. Maybe we would forget that we aligned ourselves to the renewal of our heritage of Christ-like love. Maybe we would get back home and everything would return to how it was before NYC. Maybe all of this would just be a great memory.

But that hasn’t happened. With a Facebook page, Twitter handle, and website devoted to the Dunker Punk movement, our little Mustard Seed Revolution has already spread beyond Fort Collins and NYC. With those two tiny words we claimed a name and started something with big potential. With our lives that often feel small, we came together and realized our strength. It seems incredible to think about but, then again, we Brethren have always been called from small beginnings.

Maddie Dulabaum was a youth participant and member of the news team at NYC this summer, and will begin college this fall. To read coverage from the conference, visit brethren.org/nyc . To support the Youth and Young Adult Ministries that are dedicated to creating experiences like NYC for Brethren young people, visit brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Should Dunker Punks Play Politics?

Dunkers have been nonconformists since 1708, and punks certainly are no fans of politicians, so what do DunkerPunks have to say when it comes to the messy business of politics. Anything? Can we successfully work for social progress in the political arena while faithfully following Christ? Let’s see…

At NYC, Jarrod gave us a working definition of a DunkerPunk:

Jarrod sitting in front of his Dunker Punk Definition

Jarrod sitting in front of his Dunker Punk Definition

 “A young person who is a member of a rebellious countercultural tradition that radically commits their life to living God’s Calvary-shaped love in the power of the Spirit, to the glory of the Father.”

This definition gives us a firm foundation for each of us to root ourselves in, no matter what context we are currently living in. Having this rootedness is key. DunkerPunks must be individually and communally rooted in scripture, Brethren theology and traditions, and the immediate context and community surrounding each of us.

It may sound fun to be countercultural or rebellious, but we can only be authentically and effectively countercultural if we spend time steeping ourselves in scripture and Brethren community. We have to figure out where we fit in to the larger story, so that we can faithfully contribute to the development of that story. If we fail to do that, our efforts will be in vain, or unintelligible, at best.

When applying this to politics (in this instance, specifically immigration reform) we have to be sure we know why are faith is compelling us to enter the realm of politics. Because advocating for immigration reform (or many other political issues) can make sense on many levels (economic, humanitarian, etc.), but why did over 100 religious leaders recently engage in nonviolent protest and get arrested because of their action? Because of faith convictions that have sharpened their moral understanding of how we are called to treat others.

We have scripture instructing us to be kind to the sojourner, and most importantly we have Jesus modeling self-sacrificial love in his life, teachings, death, and resurrection. This ‘calvary-shaped love’ is what this whole movement hangs on. If we take it seriously, people take notice, and the world can actually change.

I recently listened to an OnBeing Podcast with Lutheran Pastor Nadia-Bolz-Weber and her thoughts on how to be both orthodox and creative struck me as words DunkerPunks should heed as we continue this journey. She said:

“I really feel strongly that you have to be deeply rooted in tradition in order to innovate with integrity…So we are taking these traditions and we’re living them out and then we’re tweaking them in ways that are super meaningful or funny or relevant for us. So it’s always both for us.”–Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber

When we apply this thinking to our original query, I think the answer is quite clear that yes we can get involved with politics (just as we can get involved with many other pursuits outside of the traditional church), but we must be deeply rooted in our tradition so that we can innovate with integrity and act faithfully.

How do you think DunkerPunks can innovate with integrity? What Brethren traditions have the potential to be reimagined for transformative purposes? Leave us some comments below about your ideas!

In Christ’s Peace,

Bryan Hanger


Keep up on all things DunkerPunks!

www.dunkerpunks.com
Follow @dunkerpunks on Twitter
Like DunkerPunks on Facebook

Remember, DunkerPunks travel in a pack, so don’t forget to find a small group of 2 or 3 others to start praying, studying and thinking together about how God can use you in the Mustard Seed Revolution!

ALSO: If you have the gift of design, we want you to design the Dunker Punks logo!

AND

Check out this DunkerPunk video!

Holy Ground

Photos by Glenn Riegel and Jenna Stacy

Photos by Glenn Riegel and Jenna Stacy

By Stanley J Noffsinger, general secretary

This summer I enjoyed hosting Ministry Summer Service interns for barbecue, traveling to visit your congregations, and attending Annual Conference and National Youth Conference. In these places and others, I have found myself standing on holy ground. You and I are blessed to serve a God who uses ordinary people like us in extraordinary ways: in our congregations, communities, country, and world.

When I hear about congregations fundraising to send youth to National Youth Conference, I am filled with hope for the future of our church. When Brethren gather to study scripture in intentional community on the Vital Ministry Journey, I give thanks for our foundation in God’s word, and for the way we value each other.

When another Brethren Volunteer Service unit completes orientation, and when workcampers travel to Haiti, Pennsylvania, or Washington, I am blessed by the ways Brethren show God’s love by being the hands and feet of Jesus. When I talk with partners in South Sudan, North Korea, Haiti, or Nigeria, I am humbled by the far reaches of our ministries and moved to prayer for sisters and brothers around the world.

We are truly a blessed people. We have a voice that the world needs to hear and a light the world needs to see.

Our sisters and brothers in the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria also carry that light, even as they face incredible trials and violence. They follow Jesus, enduring in faith, remaining dedicated to peace and showing love to everyone—even those seen as enemies.

Whether in Nigeria, Columbus, Fort Collins, or our own hearts, the journey of receiving the reconciling grace of Jesus is not easy. We discover that discipleship is often difficult, and we experience chaos because we are God’s people. Yet in the wild and crazy times of life, we may discover that we are standing on holy ground, standing in the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s shalom, and Christ’s peace.

Support the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

NYC-bound

The youth group held a carwash to fundraise for National Youth Conference. Each is excited to join a multitude of Church of the Brethren youth at NYC. Photos by Daniel D'Oleo

The youth group held a carwash to fundraise for National Youth Conference.
Each is excited to join a multitude of Church of the Brethren youth at NYC.
Photos by Daniel D’Oleo

By Gimbiya Kettering, Intercultural Ministries coordinator

Five years ago, Daniel D’Oleo and Dava Hensley met over a shared vision. As Church of the Brethren pastors (one of a new Spanish-speaking congregation, the other of an established “Anglo” one) they had decided to share a building. They discussed the practical details about shared space, utilities, and timing of events, and trusted that the Spirit would move in their midst. But neither could foresee how deeply Roanoke First Church of the Brethren and Roanoke Renacer would unite in their shared space. They certainly couldn’t have imagined how it would impact their youth.

Just over a year ago, the two youth groups decided to merge into one, big, multicultural crowd. The youth quickly bonded, and the groups became woven together into an inseparable mix. What started as a practical consideration of resources was revealed to be the Spirit of God blessing a vibrant gathering of young people.

There was just one problem: Roanoke First Church of the Brethren had been raising and saving money to send “their” youth to National Youth Conference since 2010, but the new, combined group was much larger than they had planned. Roanoke Renacer had not had as much time to plan for the conference, so they couldn’t send all the youth who came from that congregation.

Separating the youth group was unthinkable, so the two congregations combined their resources and the youth began joint fundraising in earnest. Between carwashes and luncheons, camping en route to save money on the trip to Colorado, and scholarships from Congregational Life Ministries, they made their goal. All the youth from Roanoke Renacer and First Church of the Brethren, as one large group, are NYC-bound.

For some, attending NYC will be a continuation of a faith and family tradition. For others, it will be the first time anyone from their family will have attended. Regardless of their history, each is excited to join a multitude of Church of the Brethren youth at National Youth Conference. And all are excited to do so together, as one, big, beautiful group, born of a shared vision, moved by the Spirit.

National Youth Conference is July 19-24. Register at www.brethren.org/nyc .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Blessings

Photos by Kendra Johnson, Katie Cummings, and Ron Lubungo.

Photos by Kendra Johnson, Katie Cummings, and Ron Lubungo.

An excerpt from a sermon by Christy Waltersdorff, based on Matthew 5:1-12.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God.”

Somewhere along the way I started signing letters with the word, “Blessings.” It is a meaningful word that wishes all good things to whomever I am writing. It has the fragrance of grace—that promise of a gift undeserved.

In Matthew’s Gospel we find a list of blessings in the Sermon on the Mount. But more than that, we find a call for action, a teaching that is counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, radical, subversive—just like Jesus, himself. It is not concerned with what is practical or possible, but calls us to turn the values of the world upside down.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you areno more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

Matthew helps us to see that we can believe these impossible things because of what we know about Jesus and the God who sent him. God blesses us and asks us to bless others.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”

One of my Sunday school teachers used to say that the best way to think of the Beatitudes is as “be-attitudes.” They are ways of being—nine blessings that speak the language of grace, proclaiming truth that is the opposite of truth as the world knows it.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family” (The Message).

In his hilltop sermon Jesus addressed those who were, right then, dealing with difficult and painful realities. “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, at this very moment, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” Not after you die, not two hundred years from now, but right now.

That promise remains true today. God is with you no matter what happens. You are blessed right now, and you are never alone. God is a God who cares about the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers, those who suffer.

And even as they assure us, the Beatitudes call us to live as the people God created us to be, right here and right now. They encourage us to bless each other as we have been blessed by God, as an act of grace. A blessing is a prayer. It is a gift from God. Blessed are you… Amen.

Christy Waltersdorff is pastor of the York Center Church of the Brethren in Lombard, Ill., and a worship coordinator for National Youth Conference. For suggestions of ways to bless others, visit www.brethren.org/volunteer, www.brethren.org/pray , and www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)