Worship resources for the 2022 Mission Offering
of the Church of the Brethren
A theme reflection written for the 2021 Mission Offering by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands.” ~Psalm 19:1, NIV
Since the beginning of time, humanity has looked to the skies. Whether for direction, agricultural planning, or inspiration, the heavenly bodies—near and far—have promoted ingenuity and amazement in our world.
King David was a sky-watcher, a stargazer. In his younger years as a shepherd tending his sheep, he surely spent plenty of days under the radiance of the sun and nights with little more than the heavenly bodies to keep him company. Taking in the warmth by day and the vast masterpiece at night, David concluded that the sun and stars above were telling a story, playing a song about the awesomeness of God—a song that, he reasoned, warranted words being written and sung along with it.
Psalm 19 is a wonderful hymn for the people of God in every age. It begins with observing the lights in the sky by night and by day, declares the greatness of the Lord who made them all, reflects upon the lifegiving nature of God’s word and promises, and concludes with a plea for protection from wrongdoing and a prayer.
As we consider the body of Christ in all the earth, many have witnessed the beauty of the skies and proclaimed how great God is for bringing them into being. Around the world, our sisters and brothers continue to be inspired by God’s power and goodness, and as a result, work to share great love with those around them. Indeed, all of us are invited to catch the tune of the heavens and to share fresh testimonies of God’s handiwork in the heavens, in our world, and in our very lives. It is together that we can tell (this and other) rich stories and sing melodious songs about the God who created all things and continues to sustain them through all seasons and struggles.
In a time when each of us greatly benefits from hearing statements of hope and promise, what words of Psalm 19 resonate with you or would encourage those around you? As you look to the heavens, what fresh (or refreshed) words of worship do you feel led to sing to God in this season?
No matter where we are located, as we look to the skies, may we with one voice declare the glory of God, singing new words to the song of the universe.
Find worship resources for this year’s offering or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.
(Read this issue of eBrethren.)
By Carol and Norm Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission
“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”
~Romans 14:12, NIV
We live in very trying times. With each passing day, it seems that there are ever more opportunities for disagreement and division. How do we respond at different stages of the pandemic? What should we think about social unrest? Who should we call upon for leadership? Even with much communal reflection and discussion, these topics can lead us to more questions than answers, and when disagreements occur, it can seem easier to find comfort with like-minded people than find common ground with those who think differently.
In Romans 14:1-12, Paul encourages the church in Rome to address differences and conflict with forbearance. We all belong to the Lord and we will all be accountable to God. Therefore, we should not pass judgment on our brothers and sisters when they make decisions that differ from our own. Again, examples of these differences abound and include:
– responses to COVID-19 restrictions (Is it the weak or the strong who wear masks?)
– theological differences (How do we love those who differ from us in our interpretation of scripture?)
– political differences (How do we function in unity as we approach an increasingly divisive election?)
On these issues and more, we are accountable to God when we make observations or decisions. William Greenway in Feasting on the Word shares:
“If you see any controversy dividing today’s church as a basis for exclusion of fellowship, Paul is speaking to you. Paul is not suggesting that we should stop advocating for our respective views. …Paul’s concern and passion here is the spirit of Christians who are arguing, not the rectitude of their position” (p.62).
As long as this life lasts, tension and conflict will exist. However, through loving one another and surrendering ourselves to the Lord, we can live as the body of Christ in the world. May the words of Paul both challenge and comfort you and your congregation in these (and future) trying times.
This reflection was written as a sermon starter for the 2020 Mission Offering of the Church of the Brethren. Find this and other worship resources or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.
(Read this issue of eBrethren.)
A scripture medley with Romans 5:1-9 for the 2019 Mission Offering
ONE: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
ALL: I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.
ONE: Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
ALL: No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
ONE: For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
ALL: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. . . . As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”
ONE: For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
ALL: And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
ONE: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other [as] Christ Jesus,
ALL: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
ONE: So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
ALL: Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
ONE: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
ALL: For Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
ONE: For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
ALL: “I will bless those who bless you, . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
(Romans 15:1-9, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, 1 Corinthians 10:24, John 15:18-19, Romans 5:5, Philippians 2:6-7, Ephesians 4:13; John 13:35, Genesis 12:3; NIV)
Find this and other worship resources for the Mission Offering or support it today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.
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.
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.
A 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.