A Moravian Manifesto - Part One - Zinzendorf Welcomes the Stranger

These four posts are based on the sermon I presented on the first Sunday of 2018. I took a New Year focus because of the timing but I hope the material and personal reflection is of interest at other times of the year. I acknowledge that some turns of phrase may have their origins in the book Firstfruit that I had read last year after visiting historic Moravian sites in Europe.
I suggest reading the posts in order - Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.
Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf was visiting the art museum at Dusseldorf. The year
was 1719. The young nobleman had been raised by his German Lutheran grandmother and then attended the Christian boarding school in Halle, where personal experience of faith was a real focus. He had now finished university and was taking the traditional Grand Tour – an exploration of the art, culture and learning of the top cities of Europe. This was the fifth art gallery he had visited that week. As Ludwig strolled round the masterpieces on display, he came to one picture that caught his attention, and he stopped to study it. The painting was called
Ecce Homo, Behold the Man, and it showed Jesus on trial, wearing a crown of thorns. At the bottom, the artist had painted: This I have done for you; what have you done for me? The question shocked young Ludwig.  He pondered, what had he done for Christ? He had loved him, trusted him, prayed, read the Bible and gone to church, but all this seemed insignificant compared with what Christ had done for him. His thoughts went back to times at school when he had listened to visiting missionaries. These people were doing something. He resolved to spend his life not in idle luxury but in serving Christ. This rich young ruler had said ‘Yes’ to following Jesus.
As he pondered further, he reflected on the artists and teachers from every branch of Christianity he had met on his travels. He had talked with Catholics, Protestants, Mennonites and mystics, with many views on religion. He was convinced they had much in common if they would just listen to one another.  These two thoughts “all Christians have a common bond” and “what shall I do for Christ?” merged into one big idea. In the midst of a lavish Grand Tour, he caught a vision of what he could do for Christ; he would bring Christians together into one family who would accept and tolerate one another's differences.

Zinzendorf was to become a great leader in the eighteenth-century church, and his story is inspiring. I have picked out four themes that emerged as he sought to build unity across Christian communities. I hope that these four snippets from his faith journey might prompt some questions in our own minds, about "what I can do for Christ" in 2018.

Ludwig travelled for another year, and when he returned to his grandmother’s estate in Saxony, found she had become quite frail and her lands run down. He was keen to train for the Lutheran ministry but his family opposed this, feeling it was beneath his dignity as a Count. When he turned 21, he used his inheritance to buy the whole family estate of Berthelsdorf – a village, a church and several farms. His hope was to build a Christian community where his faith vision could be fulfilled.

He appointed a manager for the farms, and a pastor for the church, and promised that they would work together as Christian brothers. One of the first people they were able to help was a local preacher called Christian David, who often visited his birthplace Moravia, 200 miles away, in today’s Czech Republic. Brother David had been ministering there to a group of persecuted Christians who traced back to the reformer Jan Hus. In fifteenth century Prague, Hus had protested against the teachings of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and been burnt at the stake – 100 years before Luther’s protest. The followers of Hus had later formed a group called the Unitas Fratrum - Unity of the Brethren. They believed that what made a Christian was not doctrine or church tradition, but a simple life of humility and holiness, following Jesus. After the Reformation, they had been gravely persecuted for these beliefs and were looking for a place to live out their faith unhindered by the Czech authorities. Christian David wondered if Zinzendorf might let some of them settle on the Berthelsdorf estate – and that is what happened. 
Following the Biblical teachings about "welcoming the stranger" (eg Deut 10: 18-19, Matt 25),  Zinzendorf gifted land and timber to these folk from Moravia, and they established the town of Herrnhut as a centre of Christian discipleship and teaching.  
Welcoming refugees is something for which Christians in New Zealand are renowned. Forty years ago, the first Vietnamese boat people were granted refuge here. The churches in Dargaville, where we lived then, took responsibility for several families, and provided housing, clothes, food, and language help for some years. More recently I have visited the Mangere RefugeeReception Centre, where 150 refugees arrive every eight weeks, and are cared for by a hundred social workers, clinical psychologists, nurses, psychiatrists, physios, occupational therapists, and  interpreters. Many of these immigrants have experienced trauma or torture, just as the Moravian exiles did in Zinzendorf’s day. 

To think about: Your community will have its own opportunities to provide such support. Consider: Where might I be welcoming to strangers this year?

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman.