Meditation for August 13 Communion

Home Moravian Church, August 7, 2016 


 I like to call it “the summer of love.”

It was the summer of 1727 in Herrnhut, Germany, the small village composed of religious refugees on the estate of Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. And although it became a summer of love, it was preceded by several seasons of discord. Herrnhut had grown rapidly in the five years since its founding, as many people in the lands around the village were seeking a home for their religious practice. The problem, for Herrnhut, was the variety of practice. The villagers argued over forms of worship and religious doctrine. Worst of all, in 1726 a charismatic preacher named Kruger had shown up in Herrnhut preaching a separatist message that drew many away. Even Christian David, once Zinzendorf’s greatest admirer, had moved outside Herrnhut, built himself a hut, dug himself a well, and settled down to wait for the end of the world, which Kruger had predicted would come at the hands of Zinzendorf, whom he called “the beast.”

WaspWhat came instead—at the hands of Zinzendorf—was the Brotherly Agreement of 1727. Zinzendorf hadobserved the discord in the community. He was not inclined to pursue religious conformity, especially not by means of external regulations. But he did want peace, and to that end he introduced a list of 42 rules that concentrated not so much on what the people of Herrnhut should believe as how they should behave. Some of the rules came straight from the gospels, including “judge none” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

On May 12, 1727, the community’s pledge to abide by this Brotherly Agreement began the summer of love. In the months that followed Herrnhut experienced a significant spiritual revival, with many meeting in small groups for increased fellowship and devotional practice. By creating peace, the Brotherly Agreement seems to have cleared the way for grace; and grace opened the doors of Herrnhut to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

From the Herrnhut diary of 1727: The profound and highly uplifting Communion was held on August 13. Beforehand, as we were on our way to church, everyone was talking with each other and here and there pairs were found among the Brethren, willing to unite. The church service started with the hymn: “Deliver Me, My God”… Afterwards Pastor Rothe, supported by the congregation, bestowed a true apostolic blessing upon the two confirmands. Then the congregation fell down before the Lord, and started to cry and sing at the same time: “My Soul Before Thee Prostrate Lies.” One could hardly tell whether we were singing or crying, but it happened with such grace that the officiating minister … was also totally perplexed by it. After the hymn was finished some of the Brethren prayed with divine power, laying before the Lord the plight of the congregation… We also prayed childlike and modestly, that He should teach us the true nature of His church and how to live and walk in His law; that we remain unsullied and inoffensive, so that we don’t become solitary but fruitful, and neither violate the loyalty and obedience sworn to Him and His Word nor injure the common love through trivialities. We prayed that He would fully bestow on us the holy order of His grace, and not allow our souls to be led from the blood-and-cross theology, on which our sole salvation depends. …Afterwards, as a great anointment flowed over us and we felt not far from Him, we prayed in faithful assurance …. Following the absolution, communion was held with humbled and strengthened hearts, and each of us went home, feeling quite beside ourselves. On the way back to Herrnhut a wasp flew at … [Zinzendorf] with rage and stung him hard on the hand just as he was in the process of trying to win over a separatist. We spent this day and the following in calm and joyful composure and learned to love. [1]

I have heard this story many times, in various retellings, but this week was the first time I read it translated from the Herrnhut diary itself. And you know what? It’s the first time I heard about that wasp.

Now that I have, I can’t stop thinking about it. How joyful Zinzendorf must have been on the one-mile walk back to Herrnhut. Filled with the spirit, having just seen so many brothers and sisters reconciled, he wanted to keep that good energy going and draw in every possible soul. So he stopped along the way to talk to someone who had separated himself from the congregation. That’s when the wasp stung him. Presumably, he kept on talking; but was that hard for him? Did the annoyance of the wasp threaten to overwhelm the joy of the day?

I think I understand why the diarist at Herrnhut included the wasp. In their intense religious devotion, our 18th century brothers and sisters could sometimes veer into something close to superstition. They might well have seen the wasp as an evil spirit, a devil enraged by the success of the communion service and now trying to distract Zinzendorf from his holy business. I’m more inclined to see the wasp as just a wasp; but still, the wasp has given me something new to think about.

I’m thinking about how quickly the events of our daily lives can distract us from even the most powerful religious experiences. Had we been present at Berthelsdorf on August 13, how long would the experience have focused our minds, determined our choices, and guided our steps? Would we have been permanently changed? Or would we lose our religion, so to speak, at the first wasp sting?

When we experience the holy as palpably present, how long do we sustain that feeling, and how does it affect our behavior? Can the effect on our behavior persist even after the sense of the spirit dissipates, as it must, and we are back in our ordinary lives, where we are so often surrounded by annoyances, and disappointments, and rudeness, and wasps?

As much as I love the story of August 13, I love even more what happened afterward: which is that the brotherly community in Herrnhut grew, and went out on mission, and eventually became the Moravian Church, which persists to this day. I guarantee you we have experienced our share of stings; and I can also guarantee that each of us has said and done things in response to those stings that we might not have done in the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit. To be reshaped by faith to conform to the will of God is an ongoing process. The trick is to keep it ongoing.

We do that best by continual return to what renews us: the table. The sacred meal. The presence of Holy Spirit in the elements of bread and wine. The presence, also, of our brothers and sisters at this same table. Always we come from our seasons of discord, seeking the summer of love. We offer to one another the right hand of fellowship, a symbol of our desire to live in peace with one another, that peace may clear the way for grace, and grace may open the door for the Holy Spirit.



The Rev. Ginny TobiassenThe Rev. Ginny Tobiassen is the Associate Pastor at Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC. 

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Seven


This is the 7th 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, Southern Province. 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, 5, and 6).

How many times have you participated in a worship service—and then left with a sense of transformation in your life? Not necessarily a conversion experience, but definitely a moment of growth or transformation? When you were different in a good way than when you arrived at the service? And the difference did not fade away as life’s challenges distracted you from a good and holy experience? How recent was the last time you felt something like this?

In the first post in this blog about Living Faith, I wrote about my belief that God calls the Church to be involved in three basic activities:

1) provide for the spiritual growth of its members,

2) find ways to do outreach in the surrounding community and the world, and

3) regular times of worship.

Everything else the Church does is probably good but is not essential to its calling, or could be grouped under one of these three callings.

Most of this blog has focused on how to encourage spiritual growth in our congregations. That’s the main objective of Living Faith. However, in post #3 I described how outreach fits into the Living Faith model. One thing that I haven’t discussed is the inter-relationship between Living Faith and worship. They have a profound impact on each other.

Since I am a pastor, it may surprise you to learn that I think the power of worship to bless us and Living Faith Small Group Ministrytransform us is not dependent on a good sermon or worship leadership. Musicians may be troubled to find that I would say the same about music. Don’t misunderstand me–these are critical to good worship. They enable us to draw near to God in worship and to experience and express our faith. If this is happening, then you will wonder what else I want out of worship. I want to be transformed; I want to be blessed in ways that will stay with me when I get to Monday, and to Wednesday, and to days that are darkened by my burdens. Great sermons and music aren’t enough for me. Nor are liturgies and prayers and even Scripture readings. All of these are essential. Without them, worship is not worship. But I need something more to make worship transformative.

I need the bonds of fellowship with those who sit with me in worship. Not friendliness, but fellowship. I need something more than the smiles and handshakes exchanged before and after we worship. I need to be in worship with those who’ve shared life with me, who know me, and I them. Living Faith enables relationships like this to flourish. This happens as people walk together in faith in Living Faith groups. Then it happens as these small groups reach out to impact the world in ways they feel the Spirit guiding them. In such fellowship we learn about each other, and we love each other just as we are. We do this not with excessive emotion but with strong bonds of friendship.

I am imaging sitting in worship near three or four people I know well. We’ve become friends that talk through our thoughts about faith with each other and have encouraged each other. We’ve done projects together in service to Christ. We’ve learned give and take in our relationship. There may be 500 other people worshiping with us, but the other 495 don’t affect me as much as those few that I know so well. As we worship, I see their faces; I hear their voices. I’m recalling conversations and experiences that we have shared. The service progresses, and I feel a sense of unity with these who know me as we seek God’s presence together. This makes worship transformative. I am lifted to God by worshiping with those who’ve shared sacred experiences with me. And these experiences come from our times of fellowship and service as one body.

That’s what happens when we come together in a small gathering like a Living Faith group. Who would like to help develop such a community of faith? I would love to hear from you.

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

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


 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