Love remains

www.brethren.org/oghs

A theme interpretation for the 2022 One Great Hour of Sharing by Rev. Barbara Essex

“And now these three remain:  faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV

The Apostle Paul helped newly converted Christians at Corinth embrace the virtue of love. Love is an active decision—to think of others before one’s self; to work on behalf of others; to care for others with acts of kindness and advocacy. Christian community is less about “me” and more about “us.” Paul defines “us” broadly—it is not limited to one’s household or home church or immediate neighborhood. The church crosses boundaries, creating realities where differences in ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, culture, and social location can be acknowledged and celebrated.

Paul taught that Jesus formed a group of diverse persons into a new kind of community—a community whose very fabric of communal life is woven with threads of love and service. For Paul, persons are called to think, live, and behave differently. The challenges at the Corinthian church are testimonies to the truth that living and loving in community can be difficult and messy at times. Living in love and living by love does not mean there are no tensions, disagreements, or conflicts—in human relationships, these are natural and expected. Paul reminds the Corinthians that love holds them together, no matter what. They are no longer mere individuals; rather, they are part of the body of Christ. They are connected in ways that defy individualism and selfishness. In the Judeo-Christian traditions, connection and unity are esteemed. A commitment to community does not erase differences—they are valued and embraced. It’s all about love.

What does love look like in community? International partners of the Global Food Initiative participating in educational opportunities and working together to establish food security. Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers serving with a new community for a year. Brethren pastors, leaders, and members sharing in meaningful conversations and reflection. Individuals joining in the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries to encourage people and rebuild homes affected by disaster.

The love that the Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians recognizes the connection between and among people, across geography, nationality, and ethnicity. Through your support, the Church of the Brethren cares for communities near and far away, embodying acts of service from a place of love that spans generations. Your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing resurrect dreams and (re)construct spaces for new dreams to happen. When you give, you show that love is more than just a word; your generosity is the embodiment of our connection to sisters and brothers that extends across space and time.

Love is generous and compassionate. Love is action. Love goes the extra mile. Love responds to need. Love makes a difference. Love joins hands. Love works together. Love hikes up and down hills. Love is resilient. Love is big and small. And above all else, love remains.

Find this and other worship resources for the Church of the Brethren’s One Great Hour of Sharing (suggested date: March 20) at www.brethren.org/oghs or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Filling our jars

Read a reflection from John chapter 2 in this week's issue of eBrethren.

By Matt DeBall, Coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications
 
“Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.” ~ John 2:7


Some celebrations are remembered for years to come. Perhaps you fondly remember a birthday party, an anniversary celebration, or a wedding that had a great atmosphere and was a wonderful time with friends and family.

The wedding at Cana in Galilee must have been amazing—because we’re still talking about it after two millennia. Though there was a hiccup when the wine ran out, Jesus, with the encouragement of this attentive mother, helped avoid a crisis. In the Gospel of John, the event marks the first miracle of Jesus, a sign of God’s reign through his ministry, and, surely, a blessed celebration for all those who attended.

In addition to the miracle of turning water into wine, what is interesting is who Jesus invited to be the heroes and heroines of the day:  those who were serving at the wedding. Throughout his ministry, Jesus regularly elevated the lowly, and his first miracle was no exception. By faith, the waitstaff in Cana filled six large washing jars with water (no less than 120 gallons or 1,000 pounds of water, if we do the math) and waited with expectation of what Jesus would do.

Even today, Jesus continues to call people of humble positions to take action by faith and see how God will work. As the body of Christ, we are invited to imagine and reimagine the jars Jesus is calling us to attend to—old forms to fill with new faith for a fruitful future. We likely won’t see water turned into wine, but surely the Lord will bless us and others when we take action for his purposes.

In these first couple months of the year, the staff and volunteers of the Church of the Brethren are revisiting the jars of ministry in their care and trusting that the Lord will make great things happen. Volunteers are being trained to serve like Jesus in a new (to them) neighborhood. Event coordinators and conversation hosts are preparing for meaningful occasions of education, fellowship, refreshment, and worship. We are also grateful for you, as a supporter of and partner in these and many other endeavors, and the ways you are planning to pray, give, and serve as we move forward in faith together.

As the work of Jesus continues among us in 2022, may it be a blessed time of celebration that we remember for many years to come.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

One Great Hour of Sharing 2022

2022 One Great Hour of Sharing banner photo - Dayton, OH home rebuild

Worship resources for the 2022 One Great Hour of Sharing of the Church of the Brethren

May our hands tell our stories

“Las Historias de Nuestras Manos (The stories of our hands)” (center) featuring Marta Rivas is the first photo from a collection by Claire Horrell (right) that tells the stories of the people’s hands.

By Claire Horrell, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 328

Marta’s hands caressed and took attention to each plant, not ignoring any small detail. I was infatuated at not only this routine task, but the form of her hands. The hands of Marta and many other elders in El Salvador told much different stories than those of my own grandparents. They were strong and almost squarish—weathered and with little sensation to heat.

After passing time in a coffee shop one afternoon, I met a woman in her 90’s. I was immediately drawn to her hands, and she asked if she could share her story with me. It was not important that I fully understood Spanish because, as she recounted her life, she wept. I held her hands and could feel the life lived in them. This moment inspired in me to document not only her hands, but also the hands of others who spent their lives working the land, battling loss, raising kids, and sheltering their families from war.

With my experience in photography and videography, I have started to create videos and collections of photos displaying the hands and stories of these people. This was not in the description that I read about for my project site, nor was it something listed as a need. However, I believe this to be absolutely necessary. I will never fully understand the lives of other people—especially those that have gone through war. But I can, at the least, show them how beautiful and strong they are through this creative outlet.

Here at Centro Arte para la Paz, the mission is to help aid in the restoration of peace and healing of the trauma that individuals have undergone. My videos and photos will be presented and archived at the center for future tourists, students, and citizens of the area to learn a bit more of the history of the people. My vision is for others to take away from these videos the experiences that I have had through encounters with people such as Marta and the lady in the coffee shop. Chasing creativity is, in itself, chasing after God’s will for ourselves. Through artistic methods we learn more about him, ourselves, and the people around us. May our hands forever tell our stories.

This article was originally featured in the winter issue of The Volunteer newsletter published by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/bvs or support its ministry at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Thanking God for you, overflowing with love.

www.brethren.org/year-end-offering

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? . . . May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” ~1 Thessalonians 3:9 & 12, NIV

As I write this final reflection for 2021, it’s hard to believe that the year is almost over. My grandparents used to talk about how fast time was moving along. As a young girl, I didn’t really understand. Now I do. Each year seems to go by more quickly than the last, and near the end of each one, I find myself wondering:  what impact is the Church of the Brethren making in this world and in our communities?

It is easy to get caught up in the drama and chaos of our country, to move to one side or the other of a discussion or political view, or to use that view as the lens in which we mold God into the image we prefer. We are called, however, to discern with scripture and the Holy Spirit what the shape of God actually is.

In his speech to the Greeks in the Areopagus, Paul told them that we cannot think of God as an object that we can shape. He said, “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (Acts 17:29). Instead, we are called to increasingly embody the image of God through our transformative relationship with Jesus Christ and through him seek to love one another as he loved us.

The words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica contain encouragement and blessing for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 was also written as a prayer for them. His words are a reminder to those who followed the teachings of Christ to be centered, not on themselves or their struggles, but on loving each other and showing compassion to all who were suffering. Indeed, by encouraging them to love generously, he was inviting them to “live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ”—a mission that we now carry together.

Through loving one another, we join together to show compassion to those who are in need and with whom we can serve and share God’s blessings. Your support this year allowed for the Global Food Initiative and Brethren Disaster Ministries to send grant monies across the globe to our partners who were in need of assistance during this pandemic season. Your contributions made a way for National Older Adult Conference to gather online and for our Intercultural Ministries to offer webinars to stretch us to think outside ourselves and toward survivors of all kinds of injustice. Your partnership has made it possible for Brethren Volunteer Service and FaithX to provide opportunities for service and workcamps in areas where support was needed. In all these ways and many more, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren have made a difference in 2021 with your help.

As this year ends and the next one begins, we thank God for you and celebrate all that we do together. Thank you for your generous gifts of finances, prayer, and service. Together our love increases and overflows for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/greatthings or give a year-end offering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Zechariah praises God

Copyright LUMO project (Big Book Media) under license exclusively by FreeBibleimages.
All rights reserved.

By Sheila Klassen-Wiebe

Luke 1:5–25, 57–80

Priests like Zechariah were called upon to serve in the temple for two weeklong periods every year. During the particular term of service described in our text today, Zechariah’s name is drawn by lot to perform the special task of burning incense in the holy place, a space second in holiness only to the Holy of Holies. In this sacred space, an angel visits Zechariah with news that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, and that he should name the boy John, meaning “Yahweh has shown favor.” This announcement is an answer to Zechariah’s prayer for a son and the people’s prayer for redemption.

The angel’s words outline the role John will have in God’s saving purposes. The command to abstain from alcohol signals consecration for a divine task. Like God’s agents in the past, John will be filled with the Holy Spirit. His vocation will be to prepare people for the Lord’s coming by calling Israel back to God, thereby fulfilling expectations for Elijah’s return on the last day.

Here the language of turning is used in verses 16 and 17. Later we learn that John will carry out his mission by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In response to Zechariah’s incredulity, the angel identifies himself as Gabriel, the revealer of divine mysteries (see Daniel 8–9), who comes from the very presence of God. As a sign to Zechariah that his words are true and as reproof of Zechariah’s unbelief, Gabriel pronounces that Zechariah will be mute until the events have come to pass.

Luke mentions John’s birth briefly, focusing instead on his circumcision and naming. The theme of joy, so prominent throughout Luke’s narrative, reappears here. Zechariah’s naming of the child in accordance with Gabriel’s command acknowledges his acceptance of the divine message, and he regains his speech and praises God.

The crowd’s wondering question, “What then will this child become?” (1:66) anticipates John’s divinely given commission and leads into Zechariah’s song. The Benedictus (1:68–79) reiterates previous themes and introduces others that are equally pivotal in the Gospel of Luke. The first part of the hymn praises God for great acts of deliverance in the past. It highlights God’s restoration of David’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

The language of salvation is prominent here, envisioning a time of freedom from enemies and freedom to serve God without fear. In the second part of the hymn, Zechariah addresses John directly and looks to the future. He echoes Gabriel’s message that the child will prepare the way for the Lord, anticipating the coming of God’s Messiah. The themes of peace and light, which appear as salvation language elsewhere in Luke and Acts, conclude this hymn of praise.


Where do you need to be silent today, like Zechariah before John’s birth, and marvel at what God is doing in your life?
Where do you need to burst into song, and share good news with anyone who will listen? God, quiet my voice when needed so I can become more aware of where you are at work in and around me. Amen.


This Bible study comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia. It was also featured in
Messenger magazine. Support the ministry of Communications of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The Lord is in our midst

www.brethren.org/adventoffering

A theme reflection for the 2021 Advent Offering by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement communications

“The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.”
~Zephaniah 3:15b, NIV


Hope. Peace. Love. Joy.

These are the thoughtful liturgical themes of the Advent season. They are signposts that can guide us from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and serve as gateways that usher us toward the humble manger of Jesus. Whether your congregation follows this rotation of topics or not, each of us is invited in this season to draw nearer to Immanuel—the God who is with us.

In the age of the prophet Zephaniah, the people of Israel were indeed in need of these reminders. His three-chapter book is primarily weighted with words of judgement:  for the people, for their adversaries, and for the land itself because of how it had been used for evil. It seems that God’s patience had run out, even for Israel, and that the consequences for their self-serving, idolatrous actions were finally catching up to them. It is into this heavy situation that Zephaniah spoke.

Have hope:  the Lord is with you.
Find peace:  God will end our affliction.
Feel love:  the Lord will soothe you.
Sing with joy:  God is rejoicing over you.

Though our circumstances may be a far-cry from what Israel was facing, these ancient words of truth still echo into our brokenness, struggle, and pain. We don’t need to be far from God to benefit from the reminder that God is near to us through all that we endure. Though very real conditions of violence, disaster, and disease in our world can trouble us, we can find comfort and confidence in knowing that the Lord is in our midst.

Even in the face of challenges, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren move forward for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good. Together we share words of hope for the future of the church, reveal the peace of Christ and the love of God, and in all things, find joy in the work of the Holy Spirit that is restoring all things.

May we find inspiration and strength on the journey through Advent and experience anew that the Lord, indeed, is in our midst.

Learn more about the 2021 Advent Offering of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/adventoffering or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Thanking God for you!

Thanking God for you!
www.brethren.org/givingtuesday

A reflection for Giving Tuesday (November 30) by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement communications

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” ~1 Thessalonians 3:9

The bond of love in the body of Christ knows no bounds.

As Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, he was serving more than 250 miles away in Corinth—a distance that would involve several days of travel. Paul surely longed to be present with them, but in the meantime, he wrote a heart-felt letter to share words of encouragement and gratitude with their community.

The places where we serve in the US (and around the world) might have far more than 250 miles in between; however, as we talk with one another (by letter, email, phone, or video conference) and hear stories of how each of us is growing in faith and love, we are held tightly together in the family of God.

Over the past year (and long before), we have witnessed your boldness of faith and your spirit of generosity through the ways that you care for your community, for the church, and for people who are in need everywhere. We also have felt your loving support for the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren.

Through your faithful partnership, volunteers are trained through Brethren Volunteer Service to be the hands and feet of Jesus. With your help, the work of the Emergency Disaster Fund ­­­rebuilds communities affected by disaster and brings healing to survivors. Because of your support, the Office of Global Mission continues to accompany our sisters and brothers around the world, and the Global Food Initiative works with partners to support agriculture and address food insecurity. With your gifts, Discipleship Ministries equips Brethren of all ages, the Office of Ministry cares for district leaders and set-apart ministers, and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy bears witness to the peace of Christ in ecumenical and non-religious settings. In short, the ongoing work of our missions and ministries is because of you!

On Giving Tuesday (November 30), we will give thanks for you and celebrate all the work we are able to accomplish together. Join us (today or then) by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.

Through seasons of challenge and celebration alike, we give thanks to God for you and for the love we share across many miles.

Clinging to God’s commands

Traci Rabenstein
Traci Rabenstein preaching at Dixon (Ill.) Church of the Brethren last month.

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”’

     He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
     You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’”
     ~Mark 7:5-8, NIV


The seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel begins with details about Jewish practices that had been kept for generations. It reminds me of the opening scene from the musical Fiddler on the Roof (lyrics written by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock) in which Tevye, the village milkman and local philosopher (accompanied by a village chorus) sings with gusto about their traditions. In summary, he shares how their practices were meant to reveal the identity of their people and their devotion to God. Like Tevye, I wonder if the Pharisees and other religious leaders were chanting “tradition” in their minds as they questioned Jesus about the actions of the disciples.

The response of Jesus is brutally honest. He calls the Pharisees “hypocrites!” and uses words from Isaiah to accuse them of “going through the motions” (in my words)—no longer following God’s commands but clinging to man-made rules they received from others. The Torah was meant to be a gift for the people of Israel to walk humbly with God and be a light to the nations; however, over time, the customs of the Pharisees had turned the blessing of Israel’s traditions into burdens for the people, and in doing so, they failed to guide the people toward a loving relationship with God.

Brothers and sisters, I wonder how many times we have held onto “the way we’ve always done it” and struggled to welcome people to join our fellowship and experience God’s grace and redemption. I’m betting that those who initially started some ministry programs or orders of service for worship didn’t mean for those things to become distractions nor that they believed our practices should remain the same from the time of their inception until the day Christ returns. When someone comes with new ideas, it shouldn’t cause a fight in the parking lot or cause members (or churches) to leave our fellowship.  It should instead give us reason to pause and come together as the body of Christ to pray over the matter and read scripture to make sure that we remain in step with God’s commands.

God’s greatest command, revealed through the life and ministry of Jesus, is very clear:  Love God and love one another. Everything we are about, everything we say, and every practice we carry out should point toward this target. Sometimes this means putting what is familiar aside so that we can create space for people to meet God and have a transformative experience with Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t be worried about the order of worship or if it changes, but instead how we are being changed through offering our worship to God. If our words in worship are going to be a fragrant offering for the Lord to enjoy, our discussions should not involve arguing with one another. Far be it from us to let the words of Jesus to the Pharisees ring true for us.

Rather than carrying on with business as usual, the last two years have surely caused us to step back and reflect. It has invited us to reimagine what “church” looks like and how to stay connected. This surely includes how we worship, what it means to care for one another, and how to use technology and social media to stay connected with one another.

My Sunday school class is currently reading and discussing The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges & Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation by Thom S. Rainer (available for purchase from Brethren Press). This and other discussions are surely inviting us to reconsider the “old ways” of doing things and what it looks like to faithfully carry out the mission of Jesus.

Our vision statement that was confirmed at Annual Conference this summer says it well:   “Together, as the Church of the Brethren, we will passionately live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ through relationship-based neighborhood engagement. To move us forward, we will develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.” If we live into this, Church, we will find ourselves setting human traditions aside and living according to life-giving commands of God.

Learn about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren that grow and adapt to continue the work of Jesus at www.brethren.org or support them at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)