Healing Divisions

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BY REV. JOHN JACKMAN |

Every year, Moravians around the world pause to observe the August 13th. This was the date in 1727 when our forebears experienced a powerful renewal, an event that has sometimes been called “the Moravian Pentecost.” We celebrate Holy Communion on the Sunday closest to August 13, sing hymns about renewal and reconciliation – and then what? Do we go about our business the same as before? What impact does this have on our lives today?

Most Moravians know a bit about the event on August 13, 1727, but know little of the details. It didn’t just “happen.” The previous year had been one of growing and terrible divisions among the Herrnhuters. Some newcomers to the little community had brought apocalyptic preaching and talk of the end times. Zinzendorf was the antichrist, Pastor Rothe (the Lutheran pastor called to the Berthelsdorf parish church) was the “beast from the pit.” Families were divided – just about the way some families are now!

Herrnhut, Germany - looking at the church | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

Herrnhut, Germany – looking at the church | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

Zinzendorf recognized that his little village of refugees was on the path to destruction, and resigned his position in the court in Dresden to return home and act as pastor to the community, visiting and calling the people together for prayerful study of the scriptures. During this period, the residents became convicted that their behavior toward one another had been inexcusable – that the Savior called His followers to exhibit love toward one another, to be “one” in his name. Out of this grew the remarkable document known in German as the Bruderlisch Vertrag, the Brotherly Agreement, now known as the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living. Rather than a doctrinal statement, the Moravians signed a code of Christian behavior. This was signed on May 12, 1727 by all the residents of Herrnhut. They entered a period of obedience to what they had found in scripture, spending increased time in prayer. The following three months brought about massive changes in the behavior of the community. Dr. Kenneth Curtis, founder of the Christian History Institute, wrote:

“On August 5, Zinzendorf and fourteen of the Brethren spent the entire night in conversation and prayer. On August 10th, Pastor Rothe was so overcome by God’s nearness during an afternoon service at Herrnhut, that he threw himself on the ground during prayer and called to God with words of repentance as he had never done before. The congregation was moved to tears and continued until midnight, praising God and singing.¹”

The Berthelsdorf Parish Church in Germany | Photo by Mike Riess

The next morning, Pastor Rothe invited everyone in the Herrnhut community to a joint communion service at the Bethelsdorf Church. It was held on Wednesday evening, August 13. Count Zinzendorf visited every house in Herrnhut to pray with the family in preparation for this service of communion. During this period of obedience to the Brotherly Agreement, of continued study of scriptures, and intense prayer, all had become convinced of their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness – from Christ and from one another. The service was one of confession; the words of forgiveness in the liturgy, and then the sharing of Holy Communion, had for each a profound meaning. Count Zinzendorf looked upon that August 13th as “a day of the outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation; it was its Pentecost.” It would later be said “This was the day that they learned to love one another.”

This reestablished the ancient call of the Unity – to live out the Great Commandment and the Beatitudes in community in a way that bore witness to the world of the love of God. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35, NIV. This is a call that the Unity has sought to live out for over 561 years, since our founding in 1457.

But what does August 13 mean for us today? For even if we are not arguing about who is the antichrist or when the End will be, we are a divided people. We are divided by the hot-button issues, by the ranting of politicians, by racial divisions. Shall we go through the motions of singing the hymns and receiving the Lord’s Supper this Sunday – and then go back to being divided and regarding one another out of the corner of our eyes?

Just like our forebears, we need a period of obedience to the Brotherly Agreement, a period of intense Bible study, and even more, a time of earnest prayer. We need to learn to love one another. Without the hard work of preparation, no magical renewal come with the waving of a wand.


Sources

1 Dr. A. Kenneth Curtis, “A Golden Summer.” Republished online at the Zinzendorf Jubilee site, http://zinzendorf.com/pages/index.php?id=a-golden-summer


About the Author

image of John Jackman

Photo courtesy of John Jackman

The Rev. John Jackman is pastor of Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem.

 


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Seeking the Moravian Way (part one)

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BY REV. CHAZ SNIDER |

Embracing Mystery and the Fight Against Certainty


Editor’s note: this is part one in a series of blog posts by the Rev. Chaz SniderSubsequent parts to this series, “Seeking the Moravian Way,” will be published over the next few weeks on the Spotlight Blog and on Chaz’s blog. These additional parts will publish on Mondays, outside of the normal rotation. The normal rotation publishes Saturday and typically does not feature the same writer two weeks in a row.

If you want the rest of this series (and other future posts from Chaz’s blog) emailed to you directly, you can sign up for that here.


If you identify as a Moravian, I am sure you are familiar with the inquisitive look that you often get when you tell people that. It is more than likely going to be followed by the question, “What is a Moravian?” If they happen to be familiar with the denomination, then usually the response you get is “Oh you are the cookie people!” I cannot deny the fact that Moravians hold claim to some delicious treats.

The question “what is a Moravian?” tends to have deeper resonance when you ask it in the context of the spiritual landscape of today’s world. Church participation continues to drop and more people call themselves “spiritual but not religious” than ever before. This shift in American religion can cause us in the church to ask some healthy questions. Perhaps the best question we can ask ourselves is the same one that is most often asked of us: “What is a Moravian?”

There is not one theological issue that separates us Moravians from other Christians. What I come back with is a unique approach to faith and spirituality.

When I turn back to our history in an attempt to answer that question, I don’t come back with a doctrinal answer. There is not one theological issue that separates us Moravians from other Christians. What I come back with is a unique approach to faith and spirituality. When I look at our uniqueness it is not the “what” of faith that is different for us, but rather the “how” of our faith. Or to put it another way, how we live our faith is just as important to us as the content of our faith.

One of the key aspects of this Moravian way is an embrace of mystery and being ok with uncertainty. The writings of many early Moravians speak of the mystery of faith. They are not bound to the certainty of dogmatic and religious formulations but are ok with the mystery of God. These early Moravians speak of the Trinity as a family, Father God, Brother Christ, and Mother Spirit. Instead of debating the metaphysics of the incarnation they spoke of entering the wounds of Christ as a way of God inhabiting all of the human experience.

An image of the stained glass Moravian seal in Fairview Moravian Church's sanctuary | Photo by Andrew David Cox / BCM

The stained-glass Moravian seal in Fairview Moravian Church’s sanctuary | Photo by Andrew David Cox / BCM

We Moravians, like many Christians, have not always embraced these mystical elements of our heritage and for many years we have downplayed that aspect of our tradition. For much of the 20th century, faith was equated with believing something with a high degree of certainty. In defining faith this way, it became an intellectual exercise as opposed to something that required our being in meaningful community with others. Instead of focusing on how we lived in the world, faith became only believing a certain checklist of things.

When many early Moravians described their experience of faith, they did not seem particularly concerned about checking off a list of beliefs. Instead, they seemed much more concerned with how the mysterious Christ shaped the way they lived in the world.

[Zinzendorf] was interested in promoting a particular way of living out faith. A way that embraced mystery, made a meaningful impact on the world, and was centered on the person of Christ.

So why is this important? Christians in our country today are facing a crisis of identity. We are living in a more post-Christian society each day. Churches are shrinking at a rapid pace and people seem less interested in religion. And those things scare a lot of people, especially people in churches.

Here is the really interesting thing: even though people may be abandoning religion, they’re not abandoning spirituality. Pew Research tells us that 44% of the spiritual-but-not-religious pray every day and 92% believe God exists. Perhaps there is still a spiritual need to be filled, but many religious communities aren’t meeting that need.

An image of a bust of Count Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, Germany | Photo by Mike Riess / IBOC

A bust of Count Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, Germany | Photo by Mike Riess / IBOC

The Moravian way of faith might speak to this spiritual hunger. If we look back into our own history we will find that Zinzendorf, one of the most influential Moravian leaders, didn’t have any interest in starting a new denomination or religion. He was interested in promoting a particular way of living out faith. A way that embraced mystery, made a meaningful impact on the world and was centered on the person of Christ. So maybe we should give thought to how this Moravian way might find expression in a nonreligious way.

Zinzendorf and the early Moravians were less concerned with the certainty of faith and much more interested in the mystery of faith. We live in a world today where we divide ourselves by our certainties and absolutes. It can be certainty on politics, certainty on religion, or certainty on how good or bad the new Star Wars movie was. Whatever it may be, we divide and categorize each other because we have failed to cultivate mystery, uncertainty, and unknowing in our lives.

Maybe if we turn back to our Moravian way of faith, we can focus less on preserving our institutions and our certainties, and instead embrace the mysteries of our faith in Christ.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Photo by Andrew David Cox / BCM

The Rev. Chaz Snider is the pastor at Ardmore Moravian Church (AMC) in Winston-Salem, NC. Chaz was born and raised in Charlotte, NC. He is a lifelong Moravian. Chaz’s focus is helping people who crave a relationship with God but aren’t sure where to start. He has a passion for spreading the love of Jesus to everyone and is looking forward to seeing how AMC can impact our city. Chaz’s wife Michaleh is a Physical Education teacher and director of children, youth, and family ministry. They have three kids: Chris, Abby, and Sara.

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Christ the Chief Elder

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BY THE REV. JOE MOORE |

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Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

This week Moravians around the world celebrate one of the things that makes us unique–our understanding of Jesus Christ as the Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. At a Synod in London in 1741, the Moravian leaders struggled to elect a new Chief Elder. The office had been vacated when Leonard Dober decided that, after having served as Chief Elder for six years, the job had become too much for one person.

Image of Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766)

Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766) | Public Domain Image

In the years between 1735 and 1741, the Moravian Church had grown rapidly from an isolated community in Germany to worldwide mission movement. After coming to the conclusion that no one person possessed the essential characteristics and gifts necessary, the Synod asked the question, “Would not the Lord our Savior be so gracious as to accept this office for himself?”

On September 14, 1741, Jesus Christ was officially named Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. Being in the days before email, text messages, and cellphones, it was decided that time was needed to spread the news around the Moravian world. November 13 was chosen as the day for all Moravians to celebrate the selection of Christ as Chief Elder.

Even now, over 275 years later, many congregations will celebrate Christ as Chief Elder with Holy Communion and/or a lovefeast on the Sunday closest to November 13. For me, having been born and raised in the Moravian church, I have always understood that Jesus is the head of our denomination. However, I’ve never really given it much thought, beyond knowing it as one of those things that makes the Moravian church different from other denominations. But is it something that is still relevant to the Moravian church in 2017? And what does it really mean to claim Christ as Chief Elder?

The Ground of the Unity (the doctrinal statement of the Moravian Church) says, “Jesus Christ is the one Lord and Head of His body, the Church. Because of this, the Church owes no allegiance to any authority whatsoever which opposes His dominion. The Unitas Fratrum treasures in its history the vital experience of the Headship of Christ of 16 September and 13 November 1741.”

Stained glass seal at Olivet Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC | Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

It is clear from this that the Moravian church continues to recognize Jesus as the head of the church and, beyond celebrating it as something from our history with little contemporary relevance, considers it to be an important doctrine. In other words, it is not just something that our Moravian ancestors believed and we remember, but it is also the belief of the Moravian Church today. The language used may be a bit different, as the Ground of the Unity uses the phrase “Head of the Church” as opposed to Chief Elder, but the idea is the same.

It’s important that we understand that Jesus has been and is the head of the Moravian Church. But it is even more important that we understand what it means to recognize Christ as our Chief Elder. First it means that we look to Jesus for guidance, counsel, inspiration, and direction in ALL that we do. We rely on his leadership to help our church to be a reflection of his light in a dark world, we rely on his guidance to allow our lives to be a source of his love in a world filled with hate.

Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur (Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him)

Jesus is the best kind of leader. He is one who knows what it is like, he is one who has seen first hand how hard it is to do what we are called to do. He is one who has seen how dark this world is and how much it needs his light. Jesus is one who knows how much hate there is in this world and how much it needs his love. As we read in Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Another way to say this would be, “For we do not have a Chief Elder who is unable to sympathize with our struggles, but we have one who in every respect has been challenged as we are.”

Jesus has been here, he has done what we are called to do. He knows how to lead us and guide us to be the people he has created us to be and to be the church that he calls us to be. He knows the challenges that we face and he can help us to overcome them and share his light and his love.

Photo of church Seal

Moravian Seal, or Agnus Dei, stained glass window in the Rights Chapel at Trinity Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, NC | The Rev. John Jackman, CC BY-SA 3.0

That is what it really means to claim Christ as our Chief Elder. It means that we are following the lead of someone who knows the way. On this day, as we celebrate our Chief Elder, as we remember how he loves us and gave his life for us, let us reclaim him as our Chief Elder, as Chief Elder of our church and of our lives. Let us follow him out of the dark and into the light. Let him lead us into love that overcomes hate.


Bio photo of Joe Moore

Photo via the Rev. Joe Moore

 

The Rev. Joe Moore is the Associate Pastor of New Philadelphia Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.  He has served in team ministry with his wife, the Rev. Kelly Moore, at Palmyra Moravian (NJ), Mayodan Moravian (NC), First Moravian Church of Georgia, and Fries Memorial Moravian (NC). Joe also served as the Chair of the Board of World Mission and as Assistant to the President of the Provincial Elders’ Conference. He is active in camping ministry at Laurel Ridge. (Portion of bio via NewPhilly.org)


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Moravians and the Responsibility of Citizenship

 

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BY RUTH COLE BURCAW |

flag-bible“I’m just not going to vote.” “There are just no good choices out there.”

I hear these sentiments often during this tumultuous campaign season. When we are overwhelmed with the negativity, frightening rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and mean-spirited debates, it seems easiest to check out of the process all together. And yet, I am aware that this year, more than ever, my Christianity, and in particular, my Moravian Christianity, will inform my responsibilities as a citizen.

It’s especially appropriate that Moravians are in the process of observing the August 13th spiritual renewal, where our ancestors of the 18th century felt the uniting presence of the Holy Spirit after months of sharp and divisive arguments. Earlier that year (1727), they adopted a covenant guiding their lives together and as individual Christians living in the world, named “The Brotherly Agreement.” Today, we call this document the Covenant for Christian Livingand in the section entitledThe Witness of a Christian Citizen,” it lays out clear guidelines for how we as Christian Moravians are to engage as citizens:

  1. Recognition of Civil Authority: We will be subject to the civil authorities as the powers ordained of God, in accordance with the admonitions of Scripture (Rom. 13:1) (I Peter 2:13-14) and will in nowise evade the taxes and other obligations which are lawfully required of us (Rom. 13:7).
  2. Responsibilities: Considering it a special privilege to live in a democratic society, we will faithfully fulfill the responsibilities of our citizenship, among which are intelligent and well-informed voting, a willingness to assume public office, guiding the decisions of government by the expression of our opinions, and supporting good government by our personal efforts.
  3. A Higher Loyalty: Through giving our loyalty to the state of which we are citizens, we do recognize a higher loyalty to God and conscience.  (Acts 5:29)
  4. Peacemakers: For the sake of the peace, which we have with God, we earnestly desire to live peaceably with all people and to seek the peace of the places where we dwell.

Pay special attention to #2. “Intelligent and well-informed voting?” polling stationHow are we supposed to do that as we wade through our news feeds and contrasting media reports?

Know what you believe. The election provides an opportunity for us to revisit our convictions. What are our own, personal non-negotiables? How can we balance our passionate opinions with a search for truth and fact-based learning? What do we want for ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our world? How do our prioritized convictions align with our faith? Our citizenship? If we want to live like Jesus and build others up in faith, love, and hope, how does that inform our voting?

Do your homework. Use reliable sources. Contrary to what you might find on social media or television, there are still many out there, for example:

  • Factcheck.org is a nonpartisan website dedicated to “reducing the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” The website analyzes and reports the accuracy of claims or statements made by influencers in politics. This includes the monitoring of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.
  • Votesmart.org is another nonpartisan resource for voters, offering lots of information on candidates and elected officials in addition to different political issues and systemic concerns. Find detailed descriptions of politicians and candidates such as their biography, legislation history, top campaign contributors, and stances on the issues, as well as voter registration and polling schedule information. Their VoteEasy research tool lets you see which candidates match most closely to your own stances on various issues.
  • MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization, runs a website which explains to voters the influence money has in the political system. The website has information about campaign contributions and who has donated to political candidates on a federal, state, and local level.
  • Preview your ballot by visiting your county’s Board of Elections website. (NC voters – this page shows you registration information and leads you to sample ballots for upcoming elections.) Once you know who all the candidates are, you can begin specific candidate research.
  • Visit political party websites for the latest campaign statements and to check candidates’ stances on the issues, on the national, state, and even local level. For example, NC voters can visit the NC Republican party, the NC Democratic party, and even NC Green and Libertarian parties’ websites. These sites often contain hard-to-find info on local candidates or at least, links to local information.

Cultivate civility. The root of civility is “civil,” which most often means “polite and courteous.” But, civil also means “of or relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns.” What are your neighbors’ concerns? Why do they feel the way they do about a certain candidate or issue? Take the time to LISTEN. Hear their stories without thinking of your next sentence. Remember Proverbs 18:15 – “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Knowledge comes to us in many ways, especially if our ears and heart are both open.

We do not live in a perfect world. But we do follow a risen Lord! This gives us hope for ourselves, our neighbors, and this imperfect world. Consider the Ground of the Unity, our doctrinal statement adopted by the Unity Synod of the Unitas Fratrum in 1995, which provides some wisdom for us as we contemplate worldly issues:

Jesus Christ maintains in love and faithfulness His commitment to this fallen world.  Therefore we must remain concerned for this world.  We may not withdraw from it through indifference, pride or fear.  Together with the universal Christian Church, the Unitas Fratrum challenges humanity with the message of the love of God, striving to promote the peace of the world and seeking to attain what is best for all.  For the sake of this world, the Unitas Fratrum hopes for and looks to the day when the victory of Christ will be manifest over sin and death and the new world will appear.

 

rcb at fourRuth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Here she is when her daddy was the preacher at Grace Moravian Church in Mount Airy, NC. 

 

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Six

This is the 6th post in this blog about Living Faith, a model of congregational life that has been developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries of the Moravian Church, South. If you’ve been sticking with me throughout this discussion, thank you. If you haven’t, you can find the previous posts here ((part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5).

Living Faith is a model of church life that can work in most congregations within most denominations. But one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is how closely tied this approach is to the life of Moravian communities in the 18th century–sort of a heyday in renewed Moravian history. For those wanting to get in touch with their Moravian roots, for those who like Moravian history and traditions, for those who believe that the Moravians of that era offer something to us today, Living Faith promises a re-connection with our forebears.

When we think of our Moravian heritage, we  often focus on external trappings that look Moravian but that will not necessarily connect us to the roots of our faith. When I mention my denomination to others, they will make reference to our cookies. Sigh! But even things like lovefeasts, Easter services, music–which are rich and valuable traditions–might easily obscure the depth of the faith of those who first invented these wonderful practices. Even these traditions–which are rich expressions of our faith–depend heavily on our own spiritual condition. It’s easy–and tempting–to go through the motions of these traditions without a deep, underlying, spiritual connection with our Savior.

What we need is a way to discover and experience the deep faith of those earlier Moravians, and to practice some of the principles that made their faith strong. Living Faith embodies some of these principles that made the 18th century Moravian Church dynamic and transformative.

In the development of Living Faith, we rediscovered one practice which has fallen into disuse today — the prayer bands. Residents of Moravian communities were expected to be involved in this form of spiritual pursuit. A great way to learn about this part of Moravian heritage is to read an article by Lanie Graf Yaswinski which you can find at this link. It was published in The Hinge, a journal on issues related to the Moravian world. A condensed version of this article was published in the November, 2013 issue of The Moravian. Yaswinski’s article gives attention to the choir system of that time, but Living Faith rests more on the prayer bands which she also describes. Bishop Spangenberg wrote a biography of Count Zinzendorf. He includes a comment by the count about these bands: “[bands] were established throughout the whole community . . . and have been productive of such blessed effects, that I believe, without such an institution, the church would never have become what it is.[emphasis mine]

Living Faith groups are different from the 18th century Moravian bands as they are described in Yaswinski’s article in some important ways. However, they offer the same source of spiritual vitality and fervor that our forbears found in the close fellowship of the bands.

I like what Ruth Cole Burcaw wrote in her recent BCM blog posts (part 1 and part 2). She urged us to be bold in adapting to our changing world. That’s very Moravian in a historical sense. Moravians of the 18th century weren’t focused on tradition but rather on growth, vision, and ministry. They strained against conformity and the restraints of the day. I would typify our church then as a church of innovation, creativity, and vision. Those aren’t the first descriptive words that come to my mind as I reflect on how we do things today. We are more a traditional church — cautious, bound by precedent.

I’m excited that there is interest and yearning for ideas to emerge that will help us move forward with greater vitality, both as a church and as Christians. Living Faith is intended to be a part of that picture. The wonderful thing about it is that it can help us move forward, but it can also connect us with an important part of our past.

*August Gottlieb Spangenberg; Samuel Jackson, trans., The Life of Nicholas Lewis Count Zinzendorf, Bishop and Ordinary of the Church of the United (or Moravian) Brethren (London: Samuel Holdsworth, Amen-Corner, 1838), 86.


Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)gmail.com.

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

In Celebration of Truth

Truth

 My thoughts today reflect on two anniversaries – the anniversary of the martyrdom of John Hus 601 years ago, and the anniversary of the independence of our country 240 years ago. These two anniversaries are not related to each other either in time, place, or in purpose, but they do hold something in common. Both result from a human commitment to truth.7.4.16.WayneBurketteQuote

The Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and approved by the Continental
Congress July 4, 1776, speaks eloquently of “self-evident” truths. Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness….”

For John Hus, the spiritual forebear of our church, it was his commitment to revealed truth in the face of threat of death that led him to martyrdom on July 6, 1415.

While the truth that Jefferson said was “self-evident” and the truth that Hus proclaimed was revealed truth which is understood by faith, these two understandings of truth nonetheless have something in common. Whether self-evident or revealed, the truth they were committed to was a larger and more sweeping truth than either envisioned at the time.

When Jefferson wrote about his notion of self-evident truths, grand and inspiring as they were, they were limited by race and by gender. Only generations later would the self-evident nature of those truths be understood to include women as well as men, all races, indeed all people. In other words, Jefferson’s truth was greater than even his mind could envision at the time he wrote about them.

And, the revealed truth for which Hus gave his life, and which he said would ultimately conquer all, is also greater than any human mind can fully grasp. Hus’s truth was not an idea or a set of principles, but a person – Jesus Christ – who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And that Truth (capital “T”) is still being revealed and taught, even as Jesus himself promised. Remember the promise of Jesus to his followers:

“If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive….You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:15-17) And again Jesus said, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you….When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth….” (John 14:26 and 15:13)

So Jefferson wrote of self-evident truths far greater than he understood, and so did Hus, as he died for a revealed Truth who is none other than Jesus Christ who by his Holy Spirit is still teaching, still guiding and still revealing the fullness of his will for his followers.

Today we celebrate Holy Communion as we call to mind again the martyrdom of John Hus so long ago. And, on this Independence Day weekend, we continue to recognize self-evident truths that are the fabric of our nation.

Let us rejoice today and give thanks for our nation. Moreover, let us give eternal thanks for our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and who continues through his Holy Spirit to teach us, to comfort us, to reveal to us, and at last to guide us into all the truth. Amen.

The Rt. Rev. Wayne Burkette, Unity Moravian Church, July 3, 2016

Photo by Mike Riess / IBOC

Brother Burkette preaches at the Hus Celebration 2015. Photo by Mike Riess / IBOC

 

It’s Time to Be Bold Again

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Let’s face it: we are anxious. Nervous, tense, uptight, some perhaps even scared, frightened, terrified. Life is not the same. We seem busier, more disconnected from each other, less safe, less secure financially, and more uncertain. The world is polarized – pro this, anti that, with very little room for compromise. Violence, intolerance, and xenophobia seem to be on the rise as well.wsquote

Even worse, a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute describes “mainline Protestants” as less optimistic, less hopeful. “Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are markedly more pessimistic than other groups,” the report notes, “with majorities believing that America’s best days are behind us (60% and 55%, respectively).”

It all sounds so grim. Where is Jesus in all this? How did we, the Easter people, become gripped by fear, rather than inspired by hope? We appear to have hunkered down in our beautiful buildings and left the real world behind. Now the world has found us and is beating at our door. Will we answer the call? Can the church today help us build each other up in faith, love, and hope? This should be a frequent topic of conversation among Moravians.

On November 7, 2015, Moravians got together at Clemmons Moravian Church to talk about making bold choices for Christ. We heard from some pretty sharp folks, including Brother Thomas Fudge, preeminent Hus scholar and Professor of Medieval History at the University of New England in Australia. Dr. Fudge was a visiting professor during the fall of 2015 at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he taught a class about heretics and delivered the Moses Lectures. He helped us understand what it means to be a Hussite 600 years after the death of Jan Hus. Brother Craig Atwood spoke about the ways our Moravian ancestors made bold choices for Christ through the generations, from Gregory the Patriarch in 1457 to Comenius to Zinzendorf until our settlement in what is now Winston-Salem, NC. Brother Sam Gray reminded us that, in many ways, our Moravian brothers and sisters around the world are making bold choices for Christ every day, making tremendous sacrifices to live out their faith in places like Cuba, Peru, Honduras, Albania, and Nicaragua, to name a few. (Visit The Board of Cooperative Ministries YouTube channel to view these inspiring, thought-provoking presentations.)

Our history speaks for itself. The courageous witness of Jan Hus, who gave his life so that the truth would prevail, has inspired Moravians for hundreds of years. Gregory the Patriarch and the early “Unitas Fratrum” (or “Unity of the Brethren”) broke from the established state church in 1457, when it was illegal and even life-threatening to start such a radical movement. Our spiritual ancestors went back to the basics of following the way of Christ from the New Testament, believing that many in the church had lost the true spirit of Christianity. According to the Ancient Unity, the New Testament tells us clearly what is essential: faith, love, and hope.

bonhoefferBishop John Amos Comenius helped keep alive the faith of his church in its darkest hour, and provided inspiration that led to its subsequent revival as the Moravian Church during the Zinzendorf era. The renewed Moravian Church of the 18th century followed Zinzendorf’s bold assertion that “there can be no Christianity without community.” For the refugees in Herrnhut, this profound experience of Christian community developed into a passion for living each day for Christ, regardless of occupation or station, and led our brothers and sisters to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those most marginalized throughout the world.

And so the wisdom of the Scriptures and the faithful example of the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Church provide a way to understand our Christian experience today. God creates; God redeems; God blesses. And we respond in faith, in love, and in hope.

The Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood, Professor of Moravian Theology and Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary and the Director of Center for Moravian Studies, spoke to the European Synod in Bad Boll, Germany, on May 24, 2016. European Moravians are feeling much the same as their North American counterparts – challenges abound at every turn. You may read Brother Craig’s complete address (and it is worth the read), but this passage stood out in particular:

I believe that in our world today, what we need is hope. And in our churches: we need hope. We need to hold on the hope that is within us. Yes, we experience conflicts in our congregations. Yes, we are facing financial difficulties. Yes, we may be facing the decline or even death of our traditional church life. But these things should not rob us of our hope and courage. Our church has died before. Our church has faced worse challenges than these. We have thrived when we have been the most radical and courageous, when we have embraced the teachings of Jesus most passionately, when we have looked into the future with courage and hope because we know that we belong to Christ and that Christ has called us to love his world with the same passion that he loves the world.

We do have much about which to be hopeful. Certainly, our rich history provides example after example of Moravians acting with boldness and courage in the face of much adversity. We know that our past can inform our future, but how do we bridge that gap between knowing and doing? How do we as the church best respond in these uncertain times to ensure that God’s grace is known far and wide through our witness and action?

Stay Tuned.

(Update 7/5/2016 – Part Two of this post is now available.)

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Questions?  Contact Ruth Cole Burcaw at rburcaw(AT)mcsp.org or call (336) 722-8126 Ext. 401

Ruth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM).