“How do we respond to the Sermon on the Mount?” is a question that must be asked by each new generation. Each generation must find its own answer to the call of Jesus. Yet throughout the centuries there is a fellowship of those who face the powerful challenge of the Sermon on the Mount without reservation, ready for unconditional discipleship. Among those who speak to us today are the Waldensians and Hussites, the Baptizers and the Hutterites, the Mennonites and Quakers, and now Eberhard Arnold and the Bruderhof.* On the way of Jesus, however, intervals of time lose their meaning; brothers and sisters of earlier days speak to us as if they were present today – which they are, if we listen to them and through their voices hear the voice of Jesus.
Arnold shows us that the Sermon on the Mount is not a new moral law but a proclamation, a witness to the power of the coming kingdom and true life. The Beatitudes come before Jesus’ new commandments. Before laying the yoke of discipleship upon us, Jesus fills our hearts with the powers of God’s spirit. Arnold shows us that following these commandments consistently is neither an ideal nor an ordeal, but a matter of course in the community of Jesus. In the community of Jesus, life becomes clear, simple, decisive, and unequivocal. Gone are the many doubts and compromises, the many half-truths and the half-heartedness. We can only love God with our whole heart and strength; we can follow Jesus only with undivided dedication – otherwise we are not following him at all.
Eberhard Arnold shows us further that discipleship and community life belong together: they cannot be separated. It is from community life that we draw the strength for discipleship and courage to face the inevitable opposition. In discipleship we find our brothers and sisters of the communal life....So I have been asking myself, how can the established institutional church become a living, communal church? How can our church parishes become communities of faith and of life? I believe that this is the way into the future, and I see more and more people going in that direction. We are not looking for the self-righteous Christian sect that despises the world, but for the open church of the coming kingdom of God. It is open to the poor, the handicapped, and the rejected, who find a refuge and new hope there because they find Jesus.
Arnold places much emphasis on the realism of Christian hope: Christians do not hope for salvation for their souls in the hereafter, but pray, as Jesus bids us: “Thy kingdom come!” Arnold has often called this coming kingdom “God’s future state.” Like the New Testament, he speaks of “the heavenly city.” He speaks of the kingdom that is to come to earth in political terms. That is very important to me: if I pray for the advent of this kingdom, I cannot abandon the earth to wars and ecological destruction and to those who hope for security by threatening such disasters. If I pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, I cannot stand by while the environment and my fellow creatures are being annihilated through the progress of civilization and nuclear power stations. Praying for the coming of God’s kingdom calls for a decisive resistance to the destruction of the earth.
Arnold once called the Bruderhof “a seed of God’s kingdom.” During the Nazi years this seed “died” like the buried grain of seed the apostles speak of. But it has also borne – and is bearing – rich fruits, not the least of which is hope. The Bruderhofs, like all faith-based communities and fellowships, are lights of hope in an age that sometimes looks very dark. May they no longer remain “hidden under a bushel,” but be heeded more and more by the rest of us.
* The Bruderhof still has communities in the North Eastern United States, England, Germany, Australia and Paraguay.
This article is an excerpt from the foreword to Salt and Light: Living the Sermon on the Mount.