When I was growing up we had an illustrated copy of Aesop’s Fables for children at my house. I read it many times, and those fables made their way into my memory. Specifically, I remember the Rabbit and the Hare—slow and steady wins the race; the Ant and the Grasshopper—you pay in the end for idle time and laziness; The Boy Who Cried Wolf…you know, all of that. There’s a whole lot of Aesop’s Fables, some of which I have never heard and were not included in my childhood book. Take for instance the Ass and His Purchaser, which folks who rewrite these for children have renamed: The Donkey and His Purchaser.
Either way, the story goes: a man went out to buy a donkey because he needed one to work hard in his fields. Before he bought the donkey he decided to test him out, so he brought him home to his own fields and watched what he did.
As soon as the famer let him loose, that donkey went straight to the other side of the field and found the laziest, greediest donkey who ate the most food and was almost useless to the farmer. Upon seeing this, the farmer took the new donkey back to his owner and said he preferred not to buy him. When the owner of the donkey asked why, the farmer told him he didn’t even need to test him out in the field. He knew that that donkey would be just like the donkey he chose for a friend. And Aesop’s point? Well, of course: a man (or a donkey, as the case may be) is known by the company he keeps.
These past few weeks in worship we’ve been looking at some of the basics of our life together as church: sanctuary, mission, structure. Today: affiliations—that is, the organizations with which we choose to partner with in order to do mission. Our affiliations are important because they say a lot about who we are. The people we choose to associate with give the world insight into who we are at our very core, into what we believe in and what we stand for.
In Baptist life we don’t have a hierarchy of organization with which we are required to associate and that makes decisions that impact our life as a congregation, so any organizations with which we associate…we choose. It’s important as we reimagine who we are and who we want to be as a church, that we learn about the organizations we claim and become conversant in their missions and their work. If we claim them, their work becomes our own.
In a few moments, members of our congregation are going to come up and tell all of us about four denominational organizations with which our congregation affiliates. You need to know about them, because, as Aesop would tell us, we are known by the company we keep.
Guiding our consideration this morning is another Psalm, Psalm 26. This psalm is a lesser known psalm attributed to David. Perhaps it is lesser known because it’s really a legal argument set to music…? Yes, it is. Throughout the Hebrew text there are numerous accounts of a procedure that should be followed by those who feel they have been falsely accused of some wrongdoing. Scholars think that prayers like this were often used in these kinds of legal proceedings, which took place usually in the temple.
This prayer is a personal defense.
Basically, whomever is singing or praying this psalm has probably been wrongly accused of something—or has gone through a process of being accused and the evidence is inconclusive.
In this case, the backbone of the defense is found in verses four and five, then hit home again in verses nine and ten. The foundational proof of innocence that this person can offer the court—offer to God—is the obvious element of associations. His argument? I don’t hang around with people who are shady, who tell lies or hurt others. In fact, I go out of my way to disassociate with those who live their lives in dishonest and harmful ways. I stay away from the wicked, and I have nothing to do with those who harm others by the actions they take. See? My life tells who I am.
It’s a compelling argument…because who we associate with speaks to our own character. When we as a church are called to answer for who we are and what we’ve done in the service of bringing about God’s Kingdom, we’d better be able to say along with the Psalmist: I do not associate with those who do evil, and, more importantly, those with whom I choose to associate represent God’s best hopes for this world.
And so, I’d like to welcome our first Calvary member, Jodi Smith, as we hear about our denominational affiliations:
AMERICAN BAPTIST CHURCHES, USA:
ALLAINCE OF BAPTISTS:
Good morning, I am Carol Blythe, sharing with you this morning about the Alliance of Baptists.
- The vision statement of the organization
In 1987, a group of people upset about the fundamentalist shift in the SBC wrote a covenant for a new organization. The Covenant begins — “In a time when historic Baptists principles, freedoms, and traditions need a clear voice, and in our personal and corporate response to the call of God in Jesus Christ to be disciples and servants in the world, we commit ourselves to. . .” soul freedom, freedom of the local church to ordain women as well as men to ministry, a commitment to work ecumenically, the servant role of leadership, and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the calling of God to all people to repentance and faith, reconciliation and hope, social and economic justice.
To keep faith with this covenant Alliance of Baptists committed to creating places of refuge and renewal for those wounded or ignored by the church. Because of that commitment, the Alliance of Baptists became welcoming and affirming as an organization in the 1990’s. The Alliance also committed to pursuing justice with and for those who are oppressed and so this last spring, we endorsed the Faithful Budget campaign which encourages Congress to consider the poor and voiceless.
The Alliance remains deeply committed to inclusiveness — our membership and leadership includes women and men, clergy and laity, folks of different sexual orientations, races, ethnicities.
The Alliance has also followed a different model for doing mission work – we partner with people already doing ministry and mission both here in the US and overseas. To be honest, we don’t have the funds to send missionaries overseas! – but that financial limitation has led to wonderful partnerships with Baptist groups and individuals around the world, often folks who were kicked out of the traditional Baptist organizations because they ordained women or because they worked ecumenically. The approach of partnership in mission is similar to Calvary’s partnership with Shalom Baptist Church in El Salvador.
- Calvary’s history and current involvement with the organization
Calvary began giving to the Alliance early in its founding. Two Alliance Convocations have been held at Calvary in 1998 and again in 2007. Calvary has received Alliance mission funds for over 10 years which support our Latino ministry. Many members as well as Pastors Amy, Edgar, and Leah have attended convocations, led workshops, served on committees or attended retreats. Former Calvary staff member Mary Andreolli is now on the staff for the Alliance. And….Calvary’s involvement also includes my service as the President from 2010 to 2014.
- How does Calvary benefit from involvement in the Alliance and how can Calvary impact the work of the Alliance?
Calvary benefits by cooperating in ministry and mission with other progressive Baptist churches committed to inclusivity, partnership in mission, women in ministry, and a commitment to social justice. In 2013, the Alliance will roll out a new web site with a social media component so individuals and congregations separated by geography can more easily communicate with each other – people will be able to share ideas for worship or curriculum resources – and all from a progressive Baptist perspective.
With a new structure adopted a couple of years ago, the Alliance provides space for grass-roots groups to organize into communities. So Calvary members could sound a call for a community on immigration reform, for example, and work with other Alliance congregations and members who are passionate about this issue.
Calvary can continue to impact the Alliance with our financial support, of course, but more importantly in partnership with other “different kinds of Baptists” both in the US and around the world, we can raise our clear voice to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and the calling of God to all people to repentance and faith, reconciliation and hope, social and economic justice.
DC BAPTIST CONVENTION:
As you probably already know, I am Amy Butler. I have the opportunity to talk with you today a little bit about the DC Baptist Convention, our local organization of Baptist churches in the Metro DC area. I am representing the DCBC because I have recently been taking some leadership in the life of that organization, and I feel optimistic about its future life and impact.
The vision statement of the DCBC reads: “The purpose of the Convention shall be to develop and support a Baptist expression of the Christian mission in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, seeking to strengthen and expand God’s Kingdom through the individual and united ministries of its member churches.”
The DCBC has a membership of 155 churches all over the DC Metro area, and an affiliation with several Baptist denominations across theological, racial, and geographical lines. In fact, the DC Baptist Convention is the most diverse Baptist association in the United States and probably the world.
DCBC’s history is very closely intertwined with Calvary’s. In fact, the DC Baptist Convention was formed right here at Calvary on November 26, 1877, when six area Baptist churches gathered to meet. The founding premise of the organization was: “to strengthen the fellowship among the churches, give greater efficiency for church extension, and ‘throw upon us a burden of evangelical duty . . . to watch for the purity, peace, and prosperity of the churches in Washington and its vicinity.’”
Calvary was one of those six organizing churches, so members of Calvary have been instrumental in leading the DC Baptist Convention from the very beginning. As recently as ten years ago, in fact, a Calvary member, Vivian Nielsen, was DCBC president. Currently, I serve as chair of DCBC’s Strategic Realignment Task Force, a group working within the convention to examine its effectiveness and to chart a course for the future.
From a practical standpoint, we need the DC Baptist Convention because our membership in the DCBC is how we maintain our congregation’s status as a nonprofit organization. The DCBC also functions as a denominational clearing house for things like nationally recognizing the credentials of those we ordain.
But, as leadership has changed and the face of Baptist life has shifted considerably in the last 50 years, the DC Baptist Convention has become somewhat more peripheral to the lives and ministries of area churches, including, to be honest, our church.
I am working with the hope that we can reengage our active participation and leadership in the DC Baptist Convention. Why? Because what we are doing as a congregation—creating diverse community together—is exactly what is possible within the DCBC. As we work internally to create a church family that reflects the larger family of God, we would do well to build relationships and engage in mission alongside other Baptists—even Baptist who are different than we are—who are seeking to do the same.
Calvary can be a leader in this relationship building, and a conversation partner around some social issues we’ve addressed but many churches are still struggling with, like full inclusion of GLBT community in our church, like creating a church that’s ethnically shared and diverse, like welcoming women into leadership. We have a lot to learn from our Baptist brothers and sisters in this city, too—things about how to be authentic in this city, what it’s like to be a minority, different kinds of worship, unique mission and ministry…the list goes on.
Next month the DCBC will hold its annual meeting and will unveil a new initiative to build relationships between pastors and congregations in this city. I’m hoping we can jump right in, and I am excited to see where a new DC Baptist Convention will take us, and the part Calvary can play.
COOPERATIVE BAPTIST FELLOWSHIP:
As the Psalmist sings over and over in his defense, his character is vindicated by his associations. So it is for us: we are known by the company we keep. In our individual lives and in our life as a church, let us keep company, then, with those who are busy bringing about God’s kingdom on this earth.