History

Blind Men Look at an Elephant

Following the Chief Elder After a Hard Election

This was preached at Trinity Moravian Church on November 13, 2016.

It’s been a difficult week. We’ve seen demonstrations, some of which have turned violent. We have seen swastikas painted on walls, racist slurs chanted at Wake Forest. A couple in Kernersville had a terrifying message left on their car. A lot has happened – not in LA or New York or Chicago. In our back yard. In our community.

If you read the message on the cover of this month’s newsletter, a message written weeks before the election, I said that our work as followers of Christ began anew on November 9th. Here’s what I wrote:

The fact is that after the election, things will not return to “normal.” In many ways, no matter who wins one office or another, nearly half our friends and relatives will be angry and disappointed and hostile. That’s the moment when our work as followers of Christ kicks in to high gear – to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation, to show that our spirits were not “sharpened against those that voted on the other side,” and focus with relentless energy on sharing the love of Christ.

If anything, I underestimated the “angry and hostile.” It is not my job to be a political pundit, to analyze or scrutinize. It is my job to challenge the faithful followers of Christ to their highest and best calling. And one calling we are NOT called to is calling one another names. Saying that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist and a bigot; calling everyone who voted for Clinton a “Libtard” – or anything similar; these should be out of bounds for any follower of Christ. Period. If you don’t understand why, you and I need to have coffee this week.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

A number of months ago, while preaching about John Hus’ valiant search for God’s truth, I told an old story about several blind men “seeing” an elephant. Now, I need to make clear that the elephant in this story has no political ties at all. I tried to change the story to a rhino or some other neutral animal, or come up with an illustration of blind men and a donkey, but I came up short. The story has been around for hundreds of years, it originated in India, and it’s always been an elephant. It goes like this:

Six blind men are asked to describe an elephant. They each walk up to the elephant and feel it very carefully. The first one, feeling a sharp ivory tusk, says “It’s like a spear!” The second, feeling the elephant’s trunk, said “No, it’s like a large snake.” The third, which had climbed up on top of the elephant, and was feeling its ear, pronounced that it was like a fan. The fourth, feeling with both hands the huge side of the elephant, said “It’s a wall.” The fifth had reached his hands all around one of the elephant’s legs, and said, “No, you’re all wrong, it’s like a tree!” The sixth man, holding the elephant’s tail, laughed at all the rest. “You’re all fools. It’s just a rope!”

Each man was convinced that he was right and the others were wrong.

There’s an alternate ending to the story: that the next day, six blind women were asked to describe the same animal. They came and each one felt one part of the animal’s body. Then one of them said “I have to go to the powder room.” Strangely enough, all of them needed to go to the powder room, and so they went off together. A few minutes later, they came back and one of the ladies announced, “It’s an elephant.” They had talked in the powder room.

Now, that alternate ending is probably unfair to the guys and maybe too generous to the ladies. But the point is that not only did they talk to one another, they listened to one another.

In the midst of all the media noise and busy-ness of our culture, we have a terrible deficit of listening. Lots of shouting, very little listening. I read a sociological study that was done a while ago that analyzed and tracked hundreds of recorded conversations between real people. They categorized the different tracks of the conversation and whether they were responsive to the other person. In the vast majority of cases, they found that most of the time the people paid little attention to what the other person said; they were just waiting until it was their turn to talk. The majority of the responses had very little to with actually listening to what the other person said.

This happens in marriages all the time. An outsider listening to a marital spat is often baffled because the two are talking about completely different things; or a simple observation is given huge emotional weight by the other spouse that seems completely out of proportion. And sometimes it’s just talking past one another.

A computer programmer is going to the grocery store and his wife tells him, “Buy a gallon of milk, and if there are eggs, buy a dozen.” So the programmer goes, buys everything, and drives back to his house. Upon arrival, his wife angrily asks him, “Why did you get 13 gallons of milk?” The programmer says, “There were eggs!”

In hard and emotional discussions, such as a marital difference or a bad job review, it is most common for people to listen only with an eye toward responding. In other words, they don’t genuinely listen to the criticism or problem, they listen only for things they can use as weapons in response. That’s a guaranteed way to have a disastrous and unproductive non-discussion.

Active Listening

In seminary, when we get to classes on pastoral counseling, one thing that is drilled into us is “active listening.” This is the practice of setting aside all distractions, like the important letter we forgot to send out, and focusing completely and exclusively on what the other person is really saying. In many cases we have to listen for what they are really saying behind the smokescreen of what they have literally said. When someone tells you that “everything is all right” at home when you can feel the tension and the tears under the surface, sometimes we have to tease that out and see what’s really going on. In many cases, we have to listen carefully to angry, hurt spouses and hear every bit of their pain – but be wise enough to know that their side of the story, their version of what the other spouse is like, may not be the whole truth at all.

When we get on to the end of our graduate studies, during our internship (known as Clinical Pastoral Education, usually in a hospital setting) we will be drilled and challenged on our ability to faithfully hear and understand what others have said to us, particularly when it is critical or emotion-filled.

A rule of thumb is to not believe the caricature that one person draws of another, especially when they have some vested interest in slanting the picture. If you believe the false caricature of atheists and agnostics that is drawn by fundamentalist filmmakers, you will have a very false impression of what real atheists and agnostics believe. I know some atheists who are profoundly moral people. In many cases, they have rejected a cruel and flawed version of Christianity, but have not yet found a deeper and more profound spiritual life. I’ve found it helpful to ask them “What kind of God don’t you believe in?” because often I can tell them that’s not the God I believe in, as well. But by the same token, you shouldn’t believe the false caricature that militant atheists like Richard Dawkins draw of Christians! Because the false picture that he draws is unbelievably distorted and hateful. In the world of philosophy and logic, this sort of thing is called a “straw man” argument. You can’t really pick holes in the case the other person has made, so you make up a false representation of their argument, one which is full of holes, and then attack that. It’s one of the most common strategies in the political arena.

So the first thing that we must do as followers of Christ is to stop believing the false pictures that have been carefully crafted for us to convince us to vote one way or another. And the second thing we need to do is listen with genuine compassion and open hearts to the stories of the real people that have been hurt by the system on both sides…on all sides.

And that’s going to be hard. Because most of us today are firmly entrenched in a bubble of comfortable reassurance that everything we think is true and right. We tune in to news channels that only give us news we agree with, listen to pundits who only say things we already think; we dismiss out of hand dissonant information from any other source. We have friends who believe the same things we do. And in many cases, people go to churches filled only with people who also agree with them.

At our recent minister’s conference at Laurel Ridge, it was good to hear Bishop Wayne Burkette say that he was glad that many Moravian Churches are “purple” – i.e. filled with a mix of political points of view. Unlike churches that are homogenous, he said, we are challenged by the real stories and real faith of people who view the world very differently from ourselves. Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

We need to LISTEN to one another’s stories. And this is hard work. This is challenging work. This is world-view cracking, unsettling work. We need to set aside the caricatures and easy platitudes and political litmus tests and straw men and listen to one another.

If you’re a city liberal, you need to get outside of your comfort zone and go have coffee at a small town diner with a farmer who’s about to lose his farm, which has been in the family for generations, because you get cheap prices at the grocery store.

If you’re a conservative, you need to go spend some time working at Sunnyside Ministry and listen to the story of the young mother who is working two jobs to support her children, and is paid so little that she cannot feed them and keep the heat on at the same time. The young black man who missed three days from work because of the flu, and now can’t pay his rent and is about to be evicted.

Rod Dreher, columnist for The American Conservative Magazine, recently wrote:

As a conservative, I grow weary of fellow middle-class conservatives acting as if it were possible simply to bootstrap your way out of poverty. My dad was able to raise my sister and me in the 1970s on a civil servant’s salary, supplemented by my mom’s small salary as a school bus driver. I doubt this would be possible today. 1

Responding to this comment, J. D. Vance, the author of the book Hillybilly Elegy, said:

We need to judge less and understand more. It’s so easy for conservatives to use “culture” as an ending point in a discussion–an excuse to rationalize their worldview and then move on–rather than a starting point [for discussion]. 1

If you’re a faithful party Republican or a faithful party Democrat, you need to go and sit down in the worn and tattered parlor of a poor white mill worker in Leaksville or Mebane – or for that matter, Reading PA or Youngstown, Ohio – a proud man who did his job well, and who does not want to be dole, finds his very being destroyed by being on welfare. But he is trained to do nothing else – and hear how both parties have sold him out with empty promises that turned out to be more care packages for the already-wealthy.

If you’re one who is against gay people, you need to sit down and listen to the story of the teenager who has always felt “different;” who has been bullied and pushed around and victimized at school, and who has now been kicked out by his “Christian” parents. He thinks regularly of suicide.

Will these conversations be hard? Of course they will! In a video about our discussions regarding homosexuality and the church, one which I hope you will all see and discuss, Sister Nola Knouse says:

There should be no topic at all that we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, have to avoid talking about. There are Moravians who love Jesus, and who love their sisters and brothers, on all sides of this question, and we owe it to ourselves to deal openly, honestly, and lovingly with one another.

In the Gospel lesson for today, especially selected for the Festival of November 13th, Jesus says:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:7-10

The equally challenging Gospel that is normally read on this Sunday in the Church Year, is from Luke 21:

You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. -Luke 21:16-19

Christ the Chief Elder

One of the things the Scriptures tell us again and again is that we must not put our faith in weak human beings – in kings or politicians or Popes. Other denominations are often lead by a single human authority like the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. And while I think highly of Pope Francis and of Archbishop Justin Welby, I am under no illusion that they are infallible or perfect. Even less do I put faith in politicians, even those who claim to be outsiders, to solve our problems. In the past, Moravians also had an elected head. In the early 18th century, Leonard Dober served as the Chief Elder. He was a remarkable, faithful, and profoundly dedicated person – but he realized the task was beyond him. In the early Unity, we had Presidents, wonderful leaders like Bishop John Amos Comenius or Luke of Prague, who did their best to lead the denomination – but often felt ill-equipped to meet the terrible challenges they often faced.

When Leonard Dober resigned, saying that no one person was able to supervise the spiritual needs of the wide-flung missions – in the Caribbean, in South Africa, in India, in Greenland, in America – the Elders that met in London in 1741 had a difficult task. The Synod meeting included:

Count and Countess von Zinzendorf, Benigna, their daughter (who was only 16), Leonard Dober, Anna Maria Lawatsch, Friedrich von Watteville, Rosina Nitschmann, David Nitschmann (not the bishop), and August and Mary Spangenberg. Nearly all were under the age of 42, and half of them were women!

In those days, it was very important that every decision was submitted to the lot, as a way of actively listening to Christ. Every name that was floated was rejected by the lot; and in fact, many were submitted tenuously since Dober had fully convinced the Elders of how difficult the job had become. They entered a period of prayer and Bible study; the Scriptures that they read spoke over and over of Christ as the great Shepherd. One of them was the Gospel lesson we read this morning. Finally, a few put forth the idea: maybe Christ Himself should be the Chief Elder, and lead His people directly. Christ was formally nominated and elected by acclamation – I mean, who was going to vote against Jesus? – but then the election was put to the lot. And the lot confirmed the election. In their view, Jesus Himself had agreed to serve in that high office. In good Moravian fashion, they sang a hymn, “We kiss thee with great tenderness, you elder of the congregation.”

This was on September 16, 1741. This decision was not immediately announced. There was no Twitter, no Skype, no telephones, not even telegraph. Communication was by hand-written letter carried by courier on ships and horseback. The Elders decided that the news should be announced simultaneously in all churches; and to allow enough time for communication, they selected November 13, which was a Monday in the old-style calendar.

And that is why today, Moravians the world over gather at the Table of the Lord together, no matter what political party, nation, or station in life, humble Christians together sharing a meal given by the hand of our Savior, our Chief Elder. The actual date of the election, September 16th, is observed each year by pastors, who gather for a Cup of Covenant service in which we rededicate ourselves to the ministry of Christ.

A final point that must be made: this unique election came about not because of the political mechanisations of archbishops and cardinals, sending up white smoke; or of political brokers in smoke-filled rooms where sausage was made; or in anger-filled campaigns of horrible rhetoric and nasty accusations. It came about because these very dedicated people paused to listen to the Savior.

You remember when I talked about “active listening?” One of the things that we must do as followers of Christ is listen actively to HIM. We may not use the lot any more. But Bible study and sincere prayer will do much to transform our hearts from stony brokenness and anger and change them into hearts of love, hearts of faith.

To prepare for this simple meal, we have the privilege of singing together a new hymn, which has never before been sung in public worship, a hymn written by our own Ed Lyons. I hope as you prepare to receive the bread and wine, the body and blood, you will be able to do so with a humble and repentant heart, standing next to brothers and sisters who are bound together as one in Jesus Christ.

Now comes the hour when we meet
To gather in the banquet sweet
For those we serve, who can’t repay,
Whose voices cry to you each day.

The world has tendered heavy cares
On those to whom Thy mercy shares.
We have abundance to delight
The hungry people day and night.

Then let us bow our heads in prayer
And so the sacred meal prepare
To link each one in heart and mind.
Now we shall love, we shall be kind.

As when we set our table good
To take Thy body and Thy blood,
We offer food and drink to those
Who Thou above the privileged chose.

Where Zion’s holy waters flow
The lovely trees of healing grow.
Thy Spirit dwell with us that we
May come those blessed shores to see!

Text: Edward Lyons, III (2016)
 Tune: Puer Nobis (Adapted by Michael Praetorius, 1571-1621) Moravian Book of Worship, page 267

 

1. Rob Dreher: “Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People,” The American Conservative Magazine, July 22, 2016 (more…)

After the Election

John Wesley Bobblehead

Yes, I have one — I have a Pope Francis Bobblehead, too.

I have a good friend who has announced that she is only watching Netflix movies until November 9th – she will no longer watch regular TV for the time being because she simply can’t stand hearing one more political smear commercial. I think most of us are with her in spirit. We were warned that this would be one of the nastiest, most negative political seasons in living memory – and they weren’t kidding! Many pundits have said that we are now as divided as before the Civil War – a warning that ought to get our attention.

There are all kinds of reasons why a person will vote for one candidate or the other. Christians of good faith and conscience do not agree on politics, sometimes simply because they see the world from such very different vantage points and personal experiences. Christians must take care to not let politicians divide us with anger and fear. Every election season, I recall the advice of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, back in 1774:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And,
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.

Good advice even if it is 242 years old!

The fact is that after the election, things will not return to “normal.” In many ways, no matter who wins one office or another, nearly half our friends and relatives will be angry and disappointed and hostile. That’s the moment when our work as followers of Christ kicks in to high gear – to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation, to show that our spirits were not “sharpened against those that voted on the other side,” and focus with relentless energy on sharing the love of Christ.

There are many in our world that will stop at nothing to divide the followers of Christ, to set us against one another instead of working together to build the kingdom. Moravians have a great calling to model loving Christian community in a world that doesn’t see anything remotely like it! I pray that we will work towards that creative, healing goal with the same energy that the world puts into division and destruction!

- Pastor John

A Hero Comes Home

This month, we have the unique honor of welcoming home a member who has been absent for 64 years.  George LeTell Rights, the son of Rev. & Mrs. Douglas Rights, was an active member of Trinity when he went off to serve in the Army during the Korean War.  In September 1950, he was assigned to the 15th Field Artillery Battalion of the Second Division. In mid-February 1951, near Hoengsong, South Korea, his unit was involved in a battle later called “Massacre Valley.” He was among those taken prisoner and marched into North Korea to a prisoner of war camp, referred to as the Suan Bean Camp. He died there in May 1951, the cause of death being listed as malnutrition.

George’s death was a blow to the Rights family; his brother, the Rt. Rev Graham Rights, says that Trinity members ministered to their pastor during this time, comforting and supporting parents Douglas and Cecil.  The family had come to believe that George’s remains would never be retrieved.  However, on July 8, his family was notified that remains of George had been positively identified via DNA among those turned over to the United States Government by the Government of North Korea in 1992.

A Moravian service will be held in God’s Acre on Sunday, August 9, at 3:00 p.m. in the Cremains Section. The graveside service will feature a memoir written by sister Eleanor Rights Roller.

Winston-Salem Journal article about the funeral

George Rights grew up in the parsonage of Trinity Moravian Church, where his father served as pastor for 37 years; he remained a member there until his death. He loved classical music, listening daily to WQXR in New York. He was the first of the four Rights children to be taught by their father to play a band instrument, learning to play the cornet and participating in the Trinity Church Band and the Easter Band. He was the first of the four to take piano lessons from Helen Savage (later Mrs. Aaron Cornwall, Jr.), beginning as her “practice pupil” during her study at Salem College. He had particular fondness for the music of Frederic Chopin. He enjoyed caring for pet ducks and, during his teen years, was the family wood chopper, producing kindling for the wood stove and fireplaces. He spent several summers working with those who cared for God’s Acre in Salem. George’s favorite pastime was taking long walks really long walks. It wasn’t unusual for him to leave Winston-Salem and walk to High Point, Mocksville, Pilot Mountain, Elkin, or North Wilkesboro.

We celebrate with the Rights family in the recovery of George’s remains and the closure of holding this meaningful service.

– Pastor John

A Moravian Christmas


Moravians sure know how to do Christmas!  But did you know that the Moravian Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem and Salem were regarded with suspicion by other religious folk of the day?  In fact, Puritans had outlawed the observance of Christmas in the early colonies, viewing it as a “Popish,” or Catholic, holiday filled with sin and excess?  In fact, Puritan laws forbidding Christmas were not repealed until 1681, and during the 18th century most religious folks did little if anything to observe Christmas.  Christmas did not become an official holiday in America until 1870.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was named by Count Zinzendorf of Christmas Eve, 1742, to recall the village of Jesus’ birth.  Moravians saw the incarnation of Jesus as a pivotal event that changed all of human history, and they thought that the love of God expressed in Jesus’ birth should infuse all of life and practice and faith.  They had no problem with rejoicing and celebration to honor the birth of the Savior.  So they went right on having their Christmas services and pretty much ignored what everyone else thought.  When the practice of sharing lit beeswax candles with the children began in Germany on Christmas Eve, 1747, the Moravians in Bethlehem adopted the celebration right away the very next Christmas Eve.  When Salem was founded, the Candle service was a beloved tradition, though back then the candles were only given to the children of the congregation.

Like those faithful Moravians of old, we can celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ without worry or concern about what the rest of the world does.  Don’t get caught up in “Christmas wars” or outdoing the neighbors with your Christmas display.  In fact, it might be a good idea to cut back on some of the worldly trapping of the season and focus more time and energy on being with your family and creating new memories.  Try an Advent calendar with your grandchildren!  Take them to see the Putz in Salem.  Explain to them what Christmas means for your faith.  Set aside time to do something nice for a person who has not been nice to you.  Instead of watching a movie of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, get the book and read it aloud to your children, pretending to be the various characters.  It’s a lot of fun, and an experience your kids won’t forget.

These things which bring meaning to Christmas and build memories don’t cost much at all, but they have spiritual impact that will outlive this year’s hot toy or soon-forgotten video game.  This year, invite a family in your neighborhood to one of the Christmas Eve Lovefeasts – there are many Winston-Salem residents who have heard about the Candle Lovefeast but never experienced it.

May the light of Christ’s love, glowing from stars and candles and faces, illuminate your life this year!

-Pastor John

unity_600

Today is August 13

Today is August 13, a date that has no special meaning for most people, but has unique importance for Moravians.  This is the anniversary of the renewal of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany in 1727.  The church, founded in 1457, had been nearly destroyed by the Thirty Years’ War, and the church was outlawed in Bohemia and Moravia.  A small remnant – what Moravian Bishop John Amos Comenius earlier called a “hidden seed” – migrated to the land of a Lutheran noble, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf, a unique spiritual genius, permitted the “Herrnhuters” remarkable religious liberty for the day, but with the unfortunate (and perhaps predictable) result that religious excess and controversy exploded in the village.

The Count resigned his court position in Dresden to become a noble pastor to the troubled group, 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.  A few months later, at a special service of Holy Communion held on Wednesday, August 13, they experienced a powerful sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit – and those who had been divided felt truly one in Christ.  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 557 years, since our founding in 1457.

In a recent online discussion about this, I made the (almost correct) statement that the Moravian Church is the only mainline denomination to have never experienced a schism or split.  I was properly corrected by someone who recalled that in the very early days, a group did split off over the issue of whether or not Brethren should swear oaths.  That group reunited with the Utraquists, a group that eventually died out.  But since that time, for over five centuries, we have worked to preserve Christian unity as a primary virtue and testimony to a religious world that is most often divided and bickering.  That testimony is respected out of all proportion to our tiny size by larger denominations, who often seek to learn from us how to achieve what we do.  Moravians have been pioneers in the ecumenical movement, calling denominations together in the name of Christ – and as a result, we have twice had Morvian clergy elected to head the World Council of Churches, and twice to head the National Council of Churches in Christ – despite the fact that we are one of the smallest member denominations.

So today we are faced with a decision: once again, as has happened in each generation, or probably each decade, we face a divisive issue that threatens to tear our unity apart.  We have people who believe that their issue is one that is so important, they must leave the Unity if a vote does not go their way.  Some of them want to form an “independent” Moravian Church, something which is really an oxymoron, since it overlooks the central tenet of being a part of the Unity – that is, to be part of the Unity!

So once again, our unity is challenged – as it has been so many times before.  The Unity is a relationship – much like a marriage – which must be nurtured and maintained.  Just as in a Christian marriage two people commit to relationship with one another – each also in relationship with the Savior – so too we commit to a relationship with one another, each also in relationship with the Savior.  As in a marriage, we must overlook each other’s shortcoming and bear one another’s burdens, so it is in the Unity.  We live together as sisters and brothers in Christ, not always agreeing in detail, but always agreeing in love – and seeking to follow the Savior together.

We have a choice today – as the Herrnhutters had a choice 287 years ago, and as the founders of the Unity had a choice 270 years before that.  As indeed we have had again, again, and again: do we continue to bear witness that we are disciples, known by our love for one another?  Or shall our differences consume us so that we break this astounding witness?  We have a choice today, just as we will have a choice tomorrow: a choice to continue this witness of unity, or to destroy it and prove to the world that even the Moravians cannot live together in love.  Which shall it be?

Standing Up For Justice

On October 31, 1517, a monk named Martin Luther posted a list of 95 complaints about the Roman church on the Wittenburg Church door.  Over a hundred years after the martyrdom of John Hus, Luther had rediscovered the same issues and arrived at virtually the same conclusions.  The Church, hand-in-glove with the State, was filled with corruption and abuse.  Indulgences (slips of paper that acted sort of like “Get Out Of Hell Free” cards) were sold at exorbitant prices to pay for an unpopular and never-ending war, and to finance the lavish lifestyle of the wealthy and powerful.  Anyone who opposed or even questioned the church was condemned as an heretic.

Now, I don’t believe that things today are as bad as they were in the time of Hus or Luther.  Not by a long shot!  The cataclysmic struggles of the Hussite Wars and the subsequent Protestant-Catholic Wars decimated Europe and were times of terrible slaughter.  Today we face less violence and have a much higher standard of living.  In our capitalistic society, divisions end up being more about money and power – the “haves” versus the “have nots.”

Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the tanking of our economy, income inequality in America has accelerated dramatically.  We’ve now hit an all-time high for income inequality in America, matching the era of the robber barons – and closing rapidly on the kind of inequality that exists in Third-World nations.  Being super-wealthy automatically brings with it power, access to power, and the ability to influence government policy to your advantage.  Both political parties are corrupted by this, and there seems to be no end to the change in policies that can be called “trickle-up economics.”  This is an economy where policies and business practices are rigged to redistribute fair living wages away from workers and upward to those who already have more than they could spend in many lifetimes.

Article Link: Income Inequality Hits Gilded Age Levels, CBO Reports

Income disparity is at an all-time high in the US, equaling the period right before the crash of 1929.

Where is the church in all this? As we see more and more people lining up for shrinking resources at food banks, as we see children going hungry as programs are slashed, as we see the working poor being crushed by the weight of a society that clearly doesn’t care about them, where is the church?  Where are the prophets speaking God’s truth to power, the Isaiah who cries: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed!”  Where is the Amos who calls out, “But let justice roll on like many waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing river?”

Yes, we are called to minister to the less fortunate.  But is our responsibility limited to bringing in cans of food for Sunnyside Ministry?  Does our responsibility as Christians end with a bit of help here and there to get folks through emergencies?  Or does God also call us to wade into the difficult waters of advocacy, to call out those who abuse power to steal from the poor?  The Bible is clear on this!  Both the Old and New Testaments are radical in their defense of the poor and the weak against the wealthy and powerful.

It is time for a season of prayer – to be followed by a season of action.  Christians must shake off the shackles of politics, so easily exploited by pundits and inflammatory rhetoric, and stand up for the kind of justice that allows a space for everyone in society to simply live and thrive.  James writes:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. -          James 2:15-16

There are many variations of the following story, sometimes called the Story of the River Babies.

One summer in the village, the people in the town gathered for a picnic. As they leisurely shared food and conversation, someone noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying. The baby was going to drown!

Someone rushed to save the baby. Then, they noticed another screaming baby in the river, and they pulled that baby out. Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river, and the townspeople were pulling them out as fast as they could. It took great effort, and they began to organize their activities in order to save the babies as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the babies, two of the townspeople started to run away along the shore of the river.

“Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these babies!”

“We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!”

Christians, we are called to go upstream and find those who are throwing the babies in the river!

 

- Pastor John

Festival of August 13th

This month, we celebrate a uniquely Moravian event as we gather for Holy Communion in Celebration of August 13th, the time in 1727 when a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit swept through the congregation at Berthelsdorf, Germany.  The experience was so profound that it was likened to the experience of the disciples at Pentecost, and it marked a new era of God’s work among the Moravians.

A lesser-known part of this experience was the Children’s Revival that followed.  A few days after the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation among the adults, a number of children at the village school felt called to prayer, and began to organize their own prayer groups.  The adults were so inspired by the spirit of the children that it reinforced their own experience and helped to drive the famed Prayer Watch that went on continuously for the next hundred years; and there is no doubt that it was out of the prayer and study that followed that the seeds of the mission movement came.

This month, we have the remarkable opportunity to have the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber visit to lead two Sunday School workshops about the Moravian movement.  Brother Weber is professor of Pastoral Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, and is one of our leading experts on the revolutionary social systems that Moravian communities engineered.  He can speak with great authority about the intriguing ideas that they employed that made those communities work and witness!  I hope that you will take the time to come out for these Sunday School workshops this month.  Brother Weber will also officiate over Communion on August 11th while I am away directing the next segment of the movie “But Now I See,” and will bring a meditation about the August 13th experience and its meaning for us today that is well-informed and inspiring.

All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving

November is a month bracketed by All Saints Day (November 1) and Thanksgiving (November 22) and ends with our move into the season of Advent. Just like the changing weather, November is truly a change of seasons in the Church!

All Saints’ Day began back in the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic church began to run out of calendar days for Feasts in honor of lesser saints. While it began as a sort of catch-all festival to acknowledge lots of lesser saints who didn’t have their own feast day, in the Protestant church it became a chance to celebrate and reflect on all the unacknowledged saints who have passed the faith on to us and now are in the more immediate presence of the Savior. Many of these are folks who would never have been recognized as “official” saints, but they are the true working Christians who have lived out the message, passed on the love, shared a cup of water with the thirsty and bread with the hungry. On the first Sunday in November, we’ll come together and remember those saints who have touched our lives.

On November 11, we will celebrate Holy Communion in remembrance of the 1741 announcement that Jesus Christ had been elected as Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. While the election happened in September of that year, the celebration was delayed to make sure that all the mission outposts in far-flung parts of the world could receive the word and celebrate on the same day. This very peculiar Moravian tradition is a powerful symbol that we follow Christ and Christ alone.

The modern celebration of Thanksgiving has moved around a bit from time to time, but has generally been the fourth Thursday in November. Once again this year, we will join with other neighborhood churches in a Community Thanksgiving Eve Lovefeast on Wednesday night, and take a special offering that will be used to benefit the needy in our area. This is a wonderful service to invite friends, neighbors, and family to – a time of thanks and praise to our creator God!

- Pastor John

Centennial Celebration!

Well, the date has finally arrived! This month marks the Centennial anniversary of Trinity Moravian Church. Though the construction of the building was begun in late 1911 (that’s why the cornerstone has the earlier date) and the first worship services were held in May, the official Charter was not closed and accepted by the Provincial Elders Conference until July 14, 1912 – that’s when Trinity became an active, full-fledged congregation.

We will hold our great Centennial Celebration on Sunday, July 15th at our 11 am service. The Right Rev. Graham Rights, who grew up in our parsonage during the years his father, the Rev Douglas Rights, was pastor, and the Right Rev. Wayne Burkette will be our special guest speakers. We anticipate many friends and children of the church to be visiting back with us for this wonderful day, which will also feature the first performance of an original anthem composed for the occasion.

While this day marks the “high spot” of our anniversary, we will continue to have special moments of recognition through the rest of the year, including several other guest speakers who have connections to the history of the congregation. We’ll release a special color pictorial directory complete with both historic photos and pictures of our celebration events; we’ll have a special dedication of the brick memorial garden; and there will be several other recognitions of important moments from our history.

I want to extend my personal thanks to the Centennial Committee for their hard work in planning these events, and especially to Joyce Carter and John Foltz for the many hours of extra “behind the scenes” work; to Donna Rothrock for organizing the Centennial Concerts; to Jonathan Sidden for supervising the composition of the commemorative anthem; to Elaine Cockerham and Betty Jo SLuder for their work on the pictorial directory; and to the many other people who put in hours of work in the archives and other places to make this event possible. Finally, I want to extend a special “thank you” to Kim Noftle, our office administrator, through whose capable hands and work many of the ideas of the Committee became reality – either in the form of newsletters, special bulletins, or simply making sure that specially ordered items were here on time! Thanks to all of you!

- Pastor John

The Birth of the Unity

March 1, 1457 is the day recognized as the official date of the organization of the Unitas Fratrum, the Unity of Brethren – so this month actually marks the 555th anniversary of the Moravian Church. This was sixty years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral; and as I have recently had the opportunity to remind the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, it was over seventy-five years before the Church of England separated from Rome. Many historians now refer to the Hussite movement as the “First Reformation,” and recognize that there was in fact a strong and organized reform movementin place before Luther and Henry VIII were even born. The movement had an enormous impact on the life and worship of central Europe, much of which was wiped out in subsequent wars and swept under the carpet when the area later became Roman Catholic

Ours was a church born out of struggle and war that then sought a way to peace. Following the martyrdom of John Hus in 1415, his followers in Moravian and Bohemia rose up against the Roman Catholic armies, and a period known as the Hussite Wars began that ravaged the area. There were initially a number of different Hussite groups with varying and sometimes competing ideas; but as war raged on and these groups competed, eventually a variety of Hussites came together to found the Unitas Fratrum or Unity of Brethren. .

Through five hundred and fifty-five years, the Church has seen a lot of changes. The Unitas Fratrum almost died out (some historians feel it actually did die out) in the 17th century during the time of Comenius and the Thirty Years’ War. It was reorganized by that legendary band of settlers on Zinzendorf’s lands in 1727, and that movement defines many of the traditions and practices that we so love today.

But through all those years and changes there have been some important constants: the centrality of Christ, the compassion and love of God, the incredible grace that is extended to us, and an emphasis on looking back to Apostolic Christianity rather than the institutional pronouncements of Rome. The idea that there are really only a few “essentials” and that other differences should not divide Christians has been an important constant; so too is the idea that it is essential that we live lives that express Christ’s love. Indeed, the early members of the Unity referred to themselves as “Brethren of the Law,” the law of love. It has to be said that we have not always lived up to this great tradition, sometimes getting more caught up in the external non-essentials.

As we look back on the founding of our congregation only a hundred years ago, as we celebrate and recall the faithful Christian lives in living memory that have impacted our faith, we also need to recall that we are part of a much longer history, a rich heritage of faith that proclaims:

In essentials, UNITY
In non-essentials, LIBERTY
In all things, LOVE.

- Pastor John

Go to Top