As probably all of you know, once a month there is a young adult gathering at Jenn’s and my house. This started as an idea of Nancy Fitzgerald from the Arlington Church of the Brethren as a way to connect and build community within the many young adults sprinkled around the DC area. Because of this initial focus the group started as primarily people who had some connection at some point with the Brethren. Even though we have become a bit more diverse over the past two years, in church background we remain in large part Brethren. This dynamic yields, at times, rather peculiar discussions. These are not typically the chosen topic but just where the conversation meanders. On one such occasion there was a fairly detailed discussion (which I wasn’t really able to contribute to) about the different ways of making communion bread. I must confess that while I certainly know how the communion bread my home congregation looks and tastes I didn’t realize that there were a variety of somewhat strongly held views of the best way to make this bread.
I hope this revelation doesn’t undermine you confidence in me. Despite this lack, I do, have other Brethren credentials: I grew up in Lancaster County, PA, one of the oldest and largest concentrations of Brethren which is not very far from the first Brethren church in the United States is. In fact I have done carpentry work on this church and seen the grave of Alexander Mack out back. I grew up in Chiques Church of the Brethren, which is not only one of the largest churches but retains the traditional model of pastoral leadership (similar to what we have recently adopted here). My father is one of these “free ministers” being both a carpenter and a minister. My parents both did disaster relief work in Brethren Volunteer Service. My grandfathers, who attended this church were conscientious objectors and did alternative service during the draft. These are, however, nothing compared to Christ.
Listen again to the words of the Apostle,
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
I want to know Christ[b] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Later in this service we will take part in communion and will have the opportunity, but not obligation, to participate in foot washing as part of the what we typically call “love feast” which is modeled after Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
In communion we in some way share in the broken body of Christ—in this we can hear our Philippians passage—“the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” To share with him in suffering so as to also share in his resurrection. In a few minutes we will break the bread and drink the cup with the words “the bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ.”
Paul continues. “ Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;[c] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[d] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[e] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[f] call of God in Christ Jesus.”
In the world of old churches and connected families, in the world of DC and titles and credentials what does it mean to disinherit ourselves of the benefits that we might otherwise claim? How do we forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead? Paul had such an intense desire to know Christ that the things typically seen as of great religious, political and social value seemed as nothing to him.
Earlier this year I suggested three goals for us to consider as a congregation.
These were; to hold a love feast at WCCOB, 2nd connect with an immigrant church, and 3rd to begin thinking about a church plant. I won’t go back in to all my reasoning for suggesting these goals but note that these three goals pointed forward and out into our community, not abandoning our past but not being stuck in it. This is not saying if only we had the faithfulness or Spirit that they used to have but it is a present a hungering for justice, a deep fellowship with the Spirit, proclaiming of Christ. While not abandoning history we must not be bound by it.
This past can be this congregation’s recent history, the history of the Church of the Brethren, your personal history or the ways that we have thought about and engaged in “church.” We do not exist because our institution needs to exist but by the grace of God. We do not exist on Capitol Hill so that we can be prominent, powerful or well spoken of. We exist because of Jesus. We follow him in his suffering and so may experience his resurrection bearing witness to the way and to the peace of Jesus. That is it. That is why. Let us turn, therefore, from the vain seeking of status or recounting of history and count it as loss for the sake of Christ. Let us gather at the table of the Lord—in communion with Christ, one another, and those who celebrate around the world on this World Communion Sunday. Sisters and brothers—Let’s eat.