“These are a Few of My Favorite Things…”

 As we begin a new year many of us have thoughts of personal and spiritual growth.  Here at Northway we have used Scot McKnight’s language of the “Jesus Creed” to talk about what it is that we are trying to accomplish as a church.  We are in the business of producing “Jesus Creed” Christians, men and women, boys and girls who are committed to loving God with all of their hearts, souls, minds and strength, and who are equally committed to loving their neighbors as they love themselves (Matthew 22:34-40). And so any spiritual growth to which we might aspire will necessarily occur through these two channels – the channel of loving God and the channel of loving our neighbors. 

 Through the years of working these two channels, I have found things that have helped me love God and others more deeply and effectively.  There are resources that I have come across in my journey of faith that have richly contributed to my spiritual growth and well-being; ideas that I have come to treasure, activities in which I engage, spiritual disciplines that I have embraced, teachers to whom I have learned to turn, places I go to find solace and strength, and perspectives that I have made my own in order to see things in my life and world more clearly.  They have become “a few of my favorite things” spiritually, and because they mean so much to me, I want to share some of them with you.  D.T. Niles, the great Indian churchman of the early 19th century, said that evangelism was just “one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”  Well, let me tell you where there’s some bread to be had, and where I want to start is with –

 The “Moravian Daily Texts”

 For several years now I have been using the “Moravian Daily Texts” as a part of my spiritual practice, first in book form, and then starting last year, in the e-mail version.   Here is the one for the day I am writing –

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 Wednesday, January 4

Psalm 3
Genesis 3, 4; Matthew 2:1-12

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. Leviticus 19:11

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6

Holy Spirit, you have created in us a desire for holiness and a hunger for the sacred. Nothing blesses us more than to follow your guidance. Let your will be done in us as it is in Heaven. Amen.

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 Every morning when I open my e-mail, this is always waiting for me: A Psalm, an Old Testament and New Testament reading, a focus verse from the Old and  New Testament for the day, and a simple prayer.  There is never any fumbling about looking for something to read from the Bible each day.  There it is for me every single morning.  And how it got to me is as spiritually significant as the texts themselves.  But first, a little bit about the Moravians.

 The Moravian Church (The “Unitas Fratrum” – The “Unity of Brethren”) is one of the churches that I would give serious consideration to joining if I wasn’t a Disciple.  I am already “Moravian” in my heart, and have been since the very beginning of my spiritual life as a “Pietist” – as someone who believes that “the essence of Christianity is to be found in a personally meaningful relationship of the individual to God through Jesus Christ, a relationship that is that is deeply informed by the Scriptures as they are illumined to the minds and hearts of believers by the Holy Spirit and that effect real change in a person’s life.”  If you have been on a Walk to Emmaus you have seen and experienced “Pietism” firsthand.  The Moravians are historically the “Pietist” church. Here is who the Moravians are in their own words from their church web site (http://www.moravian.org/history/) –

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For over five centuries the Moravian Church has proclaimed the gospel in all parts of the world. Its influence has far exceeded its numbers as it has cooperated with Christians on every continent and has been a visible part of the Body of Christ, the Church. Proud of its heritage and firm in its faith, the Moravian Church ministers to the needs of people wherever they are.  The name Moravian identifies the fact that this historic church had its origin in ancient Bohemia and Moravia in what is the present-day Czech Republic. In the mid-ninth century these countries converted to Christianity chiefly through the influence of two Greek Orthodox missionaries, Cyril and Methodius. They translated the Bible into the common language and introduced a national church ritual. In the centuries that followed, Bohemia and Moravia gradually fell under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome, but some of the Czech people protested.

The foremost of Czech reformers, John Hus (1369-1415) was a professor of philosophy and rector of the University in Prague. The Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where Hus preached, became a rallying place for the Czech reformation. Gaining support from students and the common people, he led a protest movement against many practices of the Roman Catholic clergy and hierarchy. Hus was accused of heresy, underwent a long trial at the Council of Constance, and was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

The reformation spirit did not die with Hus. The Moravian Church, or Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren), as it has been officially known since 1457, arose as followers of Hus gathered in the village of Kunvald, about 100 miles east of Prague, in eastern Bohemia, and organized the church. This was 60 years before Martin Luther began his reformation and 100 years before the establishment of the Anglican Church. By 1467 the Moravian Church had established its own ministry, and in the years that followed three orders of the ministry were defined: deacon, presbyter and bishop.

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By 1517 the Unity of Brethren numbered at least 200,000 with over 400 parishes. Using a hymnal and catechism of its own, the church promoted the Scriptures through its two printing presses and provided the people of Bohemia and Moravia with the Bible in their own language.

 A bitter persecution, which broke out in 1547, led to the spread of the Brethren’s Church to Poland where it grew rapidly. By 1557 there were three provinces of the church: Bohemia, Moravia and Poland. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) brought further persecution to the Brethren’s Church, and the Protestants of Bohemia were severely defeated at the battle of White Mountain in 1620.

The prime leader of the Unitas Fratrum in these tempestuous years was Bishop John Amos Comenius (1592-1670). He became world-renowned for his progressive views of education. Comenius, lived most of his life in exile in England and in Holland where he died. His prayer was that some day the “hidden seed” of his beloved Unitas Fratrum might once again spring to new life.

The eighteenth century saw the renewal of the Moravian Church through the patronage of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a pietist nobleman in Saxony. Some Moravian families fleeing persecution in Bohemia and Moravia found refuge on Zinzendorf’s estate in 1722 and built the community of Herrnhut. The new community became the haven for many more Moravian refugees. Count Zinzendorf encouraged them to keep the discipline of the Unitas Fratrum, and he gave them the vision to take the gospel to the far corners of the globe. August 13, 1727, marked the culmination of a great spiritual renewal for the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, and in 1732 the first missionaries were sent to the West Indies.

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 My first encounter with “real” Moravians as opposed to “book” Moravians (what I knew about them from my readings) was on a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, when Danny was auditioning for the North Carolina School of the Arts.  While Danny was busy performing, I used the time to visit the historic Moravian village and Seminary that is there. I have since spent some time at the other historic Center of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.   And it was while browsing in the Moravian bookstore in both of these locations that I picked up my first copies of The Moravian Daily Texts and began to use them. They have since then become a regular part of my spiritual life, again not just because of their convenience – one comes every day of the year by e-mail – but because of who they come from – the Moravians – and how they came about.

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The origin of the Moravian Daily Texts

 More than 1.5 million believers — in over 50 languages and dialects around the world use the Moravian Daily Texts, a tradition that has continued for more than 250 years. Today the biblical texts are chosen by lot in Herrnhut, Germany, and sent around the world to those who prepare the different language editions. In the North American edition, prepared by the Interprovincial Board of Communication, hymns are chosen and prayers are written by Moravian clergy and laypersons from the United States and Canada. Each month, prepared by a different person or couple, reflects the great diversity of devotion in the Moravian Church.

 The origin of the book

The origin of the Moravian Daily Texts goes back to the great spiritual awakening of our spiritual forefathers in 1727. After the August 13 experience, when the congregation at Herrnhut felt the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the leaders of the church desired some means of keeping the fire of Christian love and zeal burning brightly. As a means to this end they decided to have someone appointed to visit each home in the little community each morning. The brother who made the visit was to encourage all the other brethren and sisters “to watchfulness and faithful endurance” throughout the day. In order to make these visits more effective Zinzendorf wrote out a verse of Scripture or a hymn stanza that seemed appropriate for each day of the week. The brother who was appointed to do the visiting of the day called first of all on the elder of the congregation who had been given custody of these verses. The visitor would then take one of the cards (with the verse written on it) and that was his “Watchword” or theme for the day as he went on to greet all the members in their homes.

 By 1730 the congregation had developed the custom of announcing the text for the coming day at the evening song service. The leader of the service then gave a short explanation of what the text meant. Zinzendorf selected the texts with the present condition and experience of the congregation in mind. He felt that the life of each member should then be a commentary on the text and that others should be able to see the meaning of the text reflected in the life of each member.

It was not until 1731 that the texts were chosen a year in advance and printed in the form of a little booklet, so that year really marks the beginning of the Moravian Daily Texts as a publication of the church.

 

The Watchword

 The German word Losung, from which the German title of the Daily Texts is taken, really means a signal that is agreed upon — a password, countersign or watchword. It is a military term and one may wonder why the peaceful brethren of Herrnhut decided to use it.

The early Moravians desired to remain at peace with the fellows if at all possible, but they laid great stress on the fact that they were soldiers of Christ who warred against Satan and all his hosts. In this sense they regarded themselves as a “warrior congregation” and after the beginning of the foreign mission work this concept took on added meaning.

This battle against sin was a daily conflict. Their watchword then, was more than a theme for the day. It was the password they used in identifying themselves in the same way that a password is used in military camps. And the early brethren testified that as the watchword was discussed and its meaning applied to their own lives in various services and in casual conversations, it became apparent as to who was “one with them in spirit” and who was not.

Selection of the watchwords, which are chosen by lot from a large collection of texts that had been selected from the Old Testament, is a practice that continues today.

 Doctrinal Texts

 Traditionally, the doctrinal texts are selected deliberately with the particular occasion or the needs of the user in mind. In the early day, when Zinzendorf himself selected the Watchwords, they had this same flexibility and were chosen because of the circumstances the brethren faced at that particular time. But as the Daily Texts became more formalized and served a large group, the doctrinal texts were used for this purpose.

 The popularity of the Texts grew considerably in Europe in the late 1940s. Immediately following WWII, the World Council of Churches cooperated with our own international church organization to make paper available for a very large printing of the Losung. Over 1.4 million copies were used annually throughout the world in 1951. Of those, only 7,250* were used in North America. But the demand continues to grow.

There are several reasons for this, as we see it. For one thing, we are coming to appreciate the Daily Texts as a symbol of our worldwide Moravian Unity. The fact that the watchwords continue to be selected in Germany and are used in every language edition of the book says something to us about the unity of Christians that transcends the barriers of national boundaries.

The Moravian Daily Texts continues to give modern soldiers of Christ a vital and meaningful watchword for the day. We could fill an entire issue of The Moravian with the testimonials of people who have found the word they needed for their particular situation in the texts for the day. Even after more than [250] years, the Moravian Daily Texts continues to fill a vital need in the life of the church.

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To share this devotional discipline that is so deeply rooted in Scripture and that originates in such an impressive spiritual tradition, all you have to do is subscribe at http://www.moravian.org/daily_texts/, and it will begin immediately.  It’s one of my favorite things.

 

DBS+

 

 

 

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