Quietly Courageous

I am currently reading a book by Gil Rendle called Quietly Courageous which is making an impression on my thinking as we go through this anxious time. He speaks of the wilderness time that Jesus goes through to determine what God is calling him to be and to do. When Jesus returns from the wilderness, he proceeds, not like John the Baptist, not like Judas Maccabees, not like other Messiah figures of Israel’s history, but quietly developing disciples and communities that are built on loving relationships.

Jesus’ core message was that God loved them, God forgives them, God accepts them, even in the midst of their infirmities. Jesus showed this by loving, forgiving, healing and accepting—especially the ones that other communities found unacceptable. The communities that were established on the concept that “Doing unto others as you would have them do to you,” is significantly different than the popular concept of “Do what you want as long as you don’t stop others from doing the same.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching about how this “Godly Community” will act toward one another:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

He also told them a parable:
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.
(Luke 6: 32—36, 39—40)

How can we be “Quietly Courageous” as we seek to live in community during this time? Might I suggest one small way… can we begin calling it “Physical Separation” instead of “Social Separation?” We are created to be social. We just have to find new ways to continue loving, giving, healing, forgiving as we do our best to remain physically separated for the needed time.

Jesus’ teachings were meant for his time and his community, but we can learn and benefit from his words of wisdom—especially during this coronavirus lock down. The season of Lent was created from the examples in Jewish history when the people found themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where we may not go voluntarily. And when we find ourselves there, we do not know how long it will last or in what ways we will be changed because of it. While in the wilderness, two questions are needed answering: 1) How will we now be with God? 2) How will we now be with one another?

The first example was Noah and the story of the flood. When nature forces us from our homes and communities, God will be with us as we rebuild. The covenant God makes with us is realized.

The second was the Exodus, and the responses are found in the Ten Commandments and in the organization of the 12 tribes.

The third was the Babylonian conquest, destruction of the Temple, and exile of the community. The responses are found in the Levitical Code, the rebuilding of the temple, and synagogue communities which held the people together in remote areas.

In the New Testament, the fourth example is Jesus’ wilderness experience. And the community’s response to Jesus was to form communities we have called the church, which opened the message of Jesus and God’s grace to those outside of Judaism. A very courageous endeavor indeed!

Maybe this pandemic is our generation’s “wilderness” and we are asked to answer the questions: How will we now be with God? How will we now be with one another?

Maybe this is our time to be quietly courageous.

I end with a prayer from William Sloane Coffin of Riverside Church, which was written during the sixties when our country was torn. It was introduced to me by one of my pastoral mentors and I believe it is needed today:

O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who is our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us we plead, for we are a people in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment.
We need an openness about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things, but does not unnerve us.
As a people, we need to remember that our influence is greatest when our power seemed to be weak.
Most of all, we need to turn to you, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be our sole strength in this time of trouble.
In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings: especially health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over,
a nation which despite all, has so much to offer so many.
Help us, O God, to see our failures as lessons to learn and to grow, our losses of finances as a way to find renewable resources,
our mental anguish as a sign to stop and observe Sabbath rest, and our close encounter with death as a means to appreciate and celebrate life.
Send us forth into a new week with a curious mind, and a free and joyful spirit looking for all the ways the Holy Spirit is showing your glory among us. Amen.

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church, Lewisville, NC.

Moravian Roots in Alaska

As I prepare to journey to Bethel, Alaska, I have wondered about the history of this region and its Moravian roots.

The Yupik people have made southwestern Alaska their home for several thousand years. Their village is called Mamterillermiut, which means – “Smokehouse People” – named after their fish smokehouse. During the 19th century, the village was a trading post and the 1880 U.S. Census showed 41 people living there.

In 1883, the secretary of the Presbyterian Mission Board wanted to form an ecumenical group who might be interested in initiating a mission in Alaska. He contacted the Moravian mission agency and traveled to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to speak to the Moravian Seminary about this possibility.

Adolphus Hartmann, a missionary who had served in Australia and also among the Canadian Indians, and William Weinland, a graduating seminary student were appointed to make an exploratory trip to Alaska. After a couple of weeks, plagued by bad weather and vicious mosquitoes, on June 20, 1884, the missionaries welcomed the sight of an Alaska Commercial Company Camp on the bank of the Kuskokwim River.

God saith unto Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there, and make there an altar unto God that appeared unto thee.’ [Genesis 35:1].

They wrote in their journal: “We at length came in sight of the important station Mumtrekhlagamute. We were greatly cheered by the sight of this station, situated on a high bank, with a background of pine forest. The Moravian Text for the day was both encouraging and remarkable: God saith unto Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there, and make there an altar unto God that appeared unto thee.’ [Genesis 35:1]. It seemed as though the Lord was now speaking to us in these words, and was thereby pointing out the place for our future operations amongst the Eskimoes.”

From that point, development of the Alaska mission moved quickly. Other sites for the mission were investigated, but the pair settled on the Camp and renamed it Bethel, after the Daily Text they read on the day they first saw it.

Weinland was appointed to return to Alaska and start the new mission along with the Rev. John Kilbuck, a Native American and alumnus from the same seminary class. Both missionaries married women described as “companions possessed of the true missionary spirit.” Weinland married Carrie Yost and Kilbuck wed Edith Romig.

On June 21, 1885, the first Sunday worship service was held by Moravians in Alaska.

William Henry Weinland was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He attended Moravian schools and graduated from Moravian College and Theological Seminary in preparation for a life of professional ministry.

John Kilbuck was born in Franklin County, Kansas on May 15, 1861, into a family of the Christian Munsee band of the Lenape Tribe (Delaware). His mother was Mahican, part of the Algonquian Tribe. Kilbuck was the great-grandson of the Lenape Chief, Gelelemend of the Turtle Clan, of the Lenape Tribe.

The Kilbucks spent their adult lives in Bethel as missionaries and teachers among the Yup’ik people. They were perhaps the most influential missionaries during the period around 1900. They quickly learned the Yup’ik language and adopted Yup’ik as the language of the Moravian Church in Alaska; a policy which continues to the present. John also based all missionary work in the existing Yup’ik villages, rather than establishing separate mission stations. Since the 19th Century, the native Alaskans have had a rich Christian history, coming from Moravian, Russian Orthodox and Catholic roots.

In 1971, the town of Bethel started a radio station for the Yup’ik people, and it has had a big influence in the revival and redevelopment of the Yup’ik culture.

In 2012, someone in town put up signs everywhere that said Taco Bell was going to be coming to Bethel soon… but, it was really just crazy hoax… until Taco Bell heard about the hoax, and they airlifted a “taco truck” into town to serve about 10,000 tacos to the people. You never know what excitement might occur in a small remote town in Alaska!

I am honored to be able to visit this special place and know the spirits and efforts of all those who have worked to spread the Gospel of love and peace still live in the lives of the people. God’s Spirit continues to be expressed through the love and devotion of Ed Denhert and Barb Wiede and the Moravians who continue to pray for and live among the people of Bethel.

Humbled to be part of all who follow our Lord,

Pastor Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the August 2018 church newsletter.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

As I write this, we are a little more than a week from the season of Advent, and it is just a couple of weeks after the two assault weapon massacres (Las Vegas, Nevada and Sutherland Springs, Texas); and our country is still paralyzed on how to respond to these battlefield-type killings. How do we, as Christians, view these tragic occurrences?

I have tried to avoid any and all temptations to engage in the political rhetoric associated with this debate, and have tried to keep it in the realm of how Christ viewed violence and his responses and recommendations.

The truth is: We humans are all going to die.

The question is: What will be our death circumstance?

None of us want to die a violent death (car accident, war battlefield, gun crime, earthquake, or tornado, etc.). None of us want to contract cancer, ALS, or other types of fatal diseases. What we all wish is that we’ll live healthy and happy lives, then fall asleep one night and wake up in heaven. Yet, to our dismay, life on this planet has a different script for us. We know that there is evil in the world, and when evil takes over a person and that person has access to powerful weaponry…

The often-used statement: “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” is unconvincing…of course, people kill people. Human beings are agents in these matters.

As people of faith, we should be using our “grace-filled imaginations” to find ways to keep death as a natural part of life, and try our best to prevent violent, premature, unnatural ends to life.

Christ’s outlook on this has less to do with self-defense and more to do with the defense of a peaceful, communal life.

Jesus asks us to love our enemies, not to murder them; to pray for them, not to take vengeance; and he commends the peacemakers among us, not those advocating for more weapons for defense.

Was Jesus naïve? Apparently, some believe that the second person of the Trinity didn’t know what he was talking about. But Jesus lived in a violent time himself, under the heel of Roman rule in an occupied land, when human life was seen as cheap. Jesus witnessed violence and was himself the victim of violence and succumbed to the death penalty.

It was not only divine inspiration but also human experience that led him to say: Blessed are the peacemakers.

I wish I had THE definitive answer… but, the only answer I have is to follow Christ.

Each of us, can search our hearts and challenge our Christian faith to answer the questions:

  • Are we powerless to change our violent culture – or just unwilling to try?
  • Does our faith in Jesus have more influence on our thinking, than our political affiliation?
  • What do we say to our children and grandchildren about these violent acts?
  • What should we say?

This Advent season, we will read the scriptures and witness the ancient Hebrew prophets’ courage in the face of violence, and their peace-making efforts against hate. We will read the stories of Jesus and the disciples and witness their courage to love even though they were martyred for believing in this imagined Kingdom of God.

Praying for courage to go against the popular flow and to truly be advocates for peaceful living, and natural dying, is consistent with our faith. Using our grace-filled imaginations to lead our efforts in transforming our national ethos, is consistent with the prophets and with Jesus, our Lord.

Pray a prayer for our world: for the perpetrators and victims of evil and violence, and especially for the courageous peacemakers.

Advent: A hopeful time of seeing another way to live and prosper in the world – Jesus’ way.

Put fears aside; for our Lamb has conquered. Let us follow him.

Peace to all,

Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the December 2017 church newsletter. 

Being the Body of Christ

I enjoy the Fall Season for so many reasons. Mostly because of the cooler days, the agrarian rituals of harvest and good food, and the Thanksgiving Day traditions with family and friends.

In our church family, November marks the celebration of Christ, Our Chief Elder (November 13), Unity Moravian’s 37th Anniversary (November 16), and the universal Christian Church’s celebration of Christ the King Sunday (November 26).

But, I have a confession: These church celebrations of Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Chief Elder, and Jesus is King, are terms and notions that I have struggled with over the years. I have never lived under a “King,” only a democracy. My father did not consider himself, or act as though he was “Lord of the Manner.” I also struggle with the notion that somehow Jesus is our Chief Elder; and how we are supposed to solicit his opinion or decision on every issue facing us.

What happens when one group believes Jesus is leading this way… and another believes Jesus is leading that way?

The New Testament writers have given Jesus many titles which are used to try and define his divinity and role in the universe – as well as in our personal worlds. In the first chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is described as the Word, Son of God, Lamb of God, Messiah, Rabbi, King of Israel, and Son of Man. St. Paul describes Jesus as Lord. What does professing in these titles mean for us today?

Could it be that all of these titles given to Jesus help give understanding to the kind of relationship we might have with Jesus that brings us to a place in life where we become free?

  • Think for a moment — what it would mean to live in Jesus’ household where he was “Lord of the Manor?” How would life in that household be? Could we live in a family that accepts each other and loves each other with an unconditional love?
  • Think for a moment — what it would mean to live in a community, a state, where Jesus was King, and ruler of everything that happened in that state. How would life in that Kingdom be? Would we truly see a kingdom where the last is first, where everyone is treated with justice and fairness?
  • Think for a moment — what it would mean to join a church where Jesus was the Chief Elder. How would life in that congregation be? Could we completely trust Jesus’ way of handling things? (Like forgiving, turning the cheek, praying for the other, healing insult, being a servant?)

Is it possible for us to allow Jesus’ wise interpretations of scripture, his way of dealing with others, his prayer life with God, and his willingness to stop, comfort, heal, and forgive, as well as his illustrations and descriptions of God, to seep into our own psyche, and into our attitudes and choices of conversation and engagement?

This November, Unity Moravian Church will celebrate our 37th anniversary as followers of Jesus who have been called to worship together and mystically become the “Body of Christ.”

As Christ’s body, will we be able to see as Christ sees, hear as Christ hears, and act as Christ acts? With Christ as our Chief Elder, he will show us how a community can live life together without fear, insult, guilt or shame, because everyone in this household is accepted and cherished.

Faithfully,
Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the November 2017 church newsletter. 

Leaving Room for Grace

On Sunday, October the 8th, at 3:30pm at Friedland Moravian Church, the Southern Province will gather to review the study, prayer, and discernment process we have been engaged in, trying to come to an understanding on the issue of homosexuality and church teaching.

Personally, I’ll admit that I have avoided weighing in on this issue. For over the past 25 years I have been deeply involved in the United Methodist Church’s efforts to reconcile the differences – to no satisfactory result. However, I think it may be time for me to take a risk… and reflect on some of my observations.

No issue since slavery, has caused such a split in the Christian denominations. It is clear, that the core reference point for the church is what scripture says, and how scripture is interpreted and understood – not only in its original, ancient world context, but how it might be applied in our modern world today.

What I have found is that folks have drawn a line in the sand about the Bible.

On one side is an “all-or-nothing” view where each sentence, phrase, law, command, must be accepted literally, as God’s intention for us without nuance, wherever possible. Another is a historical view that puts these laws and teachings in their original communities and tries to discern why they were important to the folks then, and how we might use these teachings to clarify our own understandings about God and God’s intentions, and therefore improving our own lives today.

Over and above all of this, is whether the Hebrew writings (Old Testament) and the Church writings (New Testament) are considered “God ordained” – or “God dictated.” In other words, is the Bible itself, somehow God speaking? Is the Bible God’s intent written down by spiritual people of the past? (The Unity of Brethren made it clear, that for them, scripture is not an essential – meaning that it isn’t a substitute for God, but a ministerial – a tool that points to God. Their reasoning was that scripture was used as a weapon against them by the established church to denounce their reformed ideas.)

So, how do we understand the saying: “This is the Word of God for the People of God?” This response after scripture readings is stated in our own sanctuary and thousands of sanctuaries across the world every Sunday. I have come to believe that the way we understand what scripture is, and how it is to be interpreted and understood, determines how we view ourselves and others.

So, how do you feel about your homosexual brothers and sisters? How influential is scripture in these feelings? Will doctrine override relationships? As much as I have hoped that homosexuality would not split the United Methodist Church… I fear it is going to do just that. After all, it has split the Episcopal Church and foiled the Presbyterians’ attempts at unification.

So, how will the Moravians fare?

My inner sense of my congregations through the years leads me to believe that most of you reading this letter have made up your mind. We seem to able to stay together and do ministry for Christ as long as no decision is made on a denominational level.

But… as soon as a denominational vote is taken…

As a pastor, many of my colleagues and I have difficulty accepting that pastoral care and ministry offered to any particular person should come down to a vote.

So, my hope is that whatever you have decided in your heart, that you will leave room for grace. I may be naïve, but I do believe that no matter what side of the issue you are on, you have a heart for Christ’s love and you will continue to follow the path you believe Christ is leading you.

Christ’s church has survived martyrs, reformers, crusaders, inquisitions, inner wars, corrupt priests and pastors, theological debates, slavery, schisms, and will survive this.

It is a shame that we humans have had to go through these difficult disagreements when what we seek most is Christ’s mercy and peace. May God bless you as you pray and discern your own heart. And if, or when, the denominational decision is made, may you not feel abandoned or vindicated, but may you find peace in your heart to continue in Christ’s way.

Faithfully yours,
Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the October 2017 church newsletter. 

Join We All: The August 13th Story

Each August 13th we celebrate the renewal of the Unitas Fratrum. This is a remarkable story of the Czech reformation Christian refugees, who, for over 150 years had been forced into hiding in the areas of Moravia and ultimately Poland. Now, they had come together with disenfranchised Lutheran Pietists and other religious non-conformists to set up camp on Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf’s land in Saxony (eastern Germany).

Would Zinzendorf allow them to stay? Would he deport these illegal immigrants back to where they came from? What is the game plan? What is it that they want from Zinzendorf and from each other? They don’t want to be Lutheran, or Roman Catholic, or Anabaptist… So, what do they want?

Zinzendorf accepted this ragtag group, and entrusted the care of this developing community to the Lutheran Pastor of Berthelsdorf, Johann Rothe. For the next two years, Pastor Rothe worked with the sixty or so folks who wanted to form a worshiping and ministering community.

These refugees then began building their village they called Herrnhut (which means The Lord’s Watch), and they worshiped in Pastor Rothe’s Lutheran church in Berthelsdorf where Zinzendorf lived – only a 20-minute walk away.

Zinzendorf began assisting with some pastoral duties, but when the Herrnhut community began to grow and quarrels and disputes became inevitable, he assumed more responsibility and authority to bring order and purpose to this group.

In May of 1727, Zinzendorf encouraged every resident of Herrnhut to sign his document called Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions along with the Brotherly Agreement which made clear to all who voluntarily signed, that this was to be a religious community with the teachings of Christ as their core.

After the signings, Zinzendorf instituted the Bands which were made up of small groups of volunteers led by a director who assumed responsibility for the pastoral care and spiritual direction of each person in the band. (The Wesleys copied this organization model calling them “Methodist Societies.”) Christian David gives a description of the workings of the band:

We meet as bands to confess to one another the state of our heart and sinful inclinations…this is not done to give light to our imperfections, but that one may see the rightness of the heart. In this way, we learn to trust one another, to meet once a week to assist each other with the unburdening of the heart.

On Sunday, August 13, 1727 during the service of Holy Communion at the Lutheran Church in Berthelsdorf, the Holy Spirit came upon these people and they realized that they had a purpose. They wanted to be Christ’s congregation.

Zinzendorf encouraged the bands to meet and sent food from his manor house to the homes where they were gathering. These “Agape Meals” or “Lovefeasts” became important for this community as it grew together in love and in mission for Christ.

290 years ago, on August 13, 1727, the Unitas Fratrum was brought back to life in the form of the Moravian Church.

What might God have in store for us this August 13, 2017?

Blessings to all,

Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the August 2017 church newsletter. 

Singing in the Storm

Dear Unity Family,

In the month of July, we will commemorate Jan Hus’ courageous mission to bring the Spirit of Christ to the people in their common language and in the sharing of the cup of grace in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Hus, of course was a Medieval Roman Catholic Priest in the city of Prague, who felt the “Church” had put institutional authority ahead of faith and discipleship to Christ and Christ’s love for everyone.

In his 1915 Princeton lecture entitled “The Life and Work of John Hus,” Dr. Remsen DuBois Bird states:

Thus he perished, a man whose only offense even in the eyes of those who condemned him, was that he placed the Bible before the Church, the Lord before the Pope, and the individual conscience before the will of the hierarchy. Thus he perished, John Hus, a man who deserves to live on in the hearts of those who love the Lord, as a dauntless hero, a champion of the Holy Word, a martyr to the truth. Thus he perished, a man who was a great patriot and leader of his people, a heaven-inspired preacher of righteousness and as such one truly zealous for the reform of the church.

Sunday, July 9, we will share the bread and cup of Holy Communion remembering our Lord, Jesus, and his sacrificial love for humanity. We will also remember Jan Hus and his faith in Christ and desire to move the church away from institutional politics to a ministry of love and faithfulness to all the people.

The Moravian revival in the early 1700’s rode in on the wave of music. John Wesley and his brother, Charles, were introduced to the Moravians through their hymn singing as they sailed for Georgia in October 1735. On the four-month journey, a storm came up suddenly and broke the main mast. While the Englishmen were crying, a group of Moravians calmly sang hymns and prayed. John Wesley was impressed by their personal faith in the face of a dangerous, life-threatening storm. He became convinced of his inner weakness while the Moravians seemed to possess an inner faith he did not. It was through his friendship with Moravians that Wesley discovered what seemed to be missing in his faith – a conviction that through Christ, God had truly justified our existence, and in spite of our sinfulness, had forgiven us and redeemed us to our full value as human beings. We are now free from the fear that we are unworthy, or unable to live up to a perceived standard of perfection. We can relax and allow Christ’s Spirit to complete us, and lead us to a fulfilling life.

We can sing in the midst of life’s storms!

In the last week of July, we will celebrate Moravian Music at the highest levels. Please note the information about the Moravian Music Festival found in this newsletter and consider participating in a choir or band… and/or attending the many concerts during the week. The month of July allows us to celebrate our earliest roots and musical heritage as we bring our Moravian Christian faith to the people in our 21st century world.

Faithfully,

Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the July 2017 church newsletter. 

Dear Unity, from a New Moravian Advocate!

Dear Unity Family,

I have completed the Moravian Leadership Network program which began last September and finished the weekend after Easter. Thanks to Ruth Cole Burcaw and the many Moravian leaders from Moravian Theological Seminary to pastors and teachers in the Southern Province, who guided us through Moravian history, theology, and congregational practice. It is clear to me that the Holy Spirit brought the people together in Herrnhut, Germany to mold them and use them to spread the Good News: that God came to us in Christ, and is with us today in “Spirit.”

In these gatherings as well as the Synod preparation gathering at New Philadelphia Moravian Church last February, we heard from our younger generation of Moravians. Some of the things they said have stuck with me, and these are my words of interpretation I would like to share with you:

Church, we talk and talk and talk, but we do so using a dead language. We ’re holding on to dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words over and over isn’t the answer. Are we too lazy to find new words and expressions that speak in a language that more people can understand? Are our words becoming empty, because we do not always live them in earnest – like forgiving, accepting, showing kindness, trying to understand others?

Church, are we spending most of our time, money and energy on our building and property in hopes people will come? Are we content to franchise out our particular brand of Jesus-stuff, then sit back and wait for the sinful world to beat down our door?

On June 4th, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The story Luke tells in Acts is so bizarre, we find it hard to relate it to our own experience.

But, in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit looks like an Advocate –the one who stands up for you when you need it; the one who speaks on your behalf; the one who lends you a helping hand, takes your side, and won’t leave you while you’re down.

What if John is telling us that the Holy Spirit looks a lot like you and me when we stand up for others, try to be accepting and forgiving as Jesus, and carry Christ’s love into the world?

Wouldn’t this be like we were able to take one of those huge, indescribable, rather esoteric theological concepts and bring it down to earth, make it understandable, even seriously imaginable? And maybe, just maybe, each Sunday, we will have an experience of the “Holy.” Then, actually think about how the Holy Spirit is at work in us and through us, for each other and for people in our world. Isn’t this what we’ve been hearing from our younger people? Could this be their way of expecting and experiencing “Pentecost” – the work of the Holy Spirit?

I am thankful to have been invited to be part of the Moravian tradition. I have learned much about this side of the Christian family and I have learned much about myself. And, thank you for your faithful ministry, because whether you know it or not, the Holy Spirit is not only working through you but also looks a lot like you, right now, as you continue bearing witness to Jesus.

Faithfully yours,
Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the June 2017 church newsletter. 

Being “Jubilee” in Easter

The season of Easter begins at sunset on the eve of Easter and ends on Pentecost. The 50 days of Easter are born out of thousands of years of Hebrew religious imagery, metaphor, and numeric symbolism.

For the Ancient Jews, these days represented the 49 days from Passover to Shavuot; Hellenistic Jews gave this day the name Pentecost (“50th day”). Shavuot/Pentecost commemorates the TORAH (Law) given by YAHWEH through Moses to the Hebrew people on Mount Sinai. Every year on the holiday of Pentecost, Jews renew their acceptance of TORAH as God’s special gift of life to them.

After those earliest Christians split from Synagogue Judaism, they adopted The Great Fifty Days as the time Jesus appeared to his followers and encouraged them to continue the work of forgiving, healing, feeding, and caring for those who were least, last and lost. Much later, the church adopted Pentecost as the time the Holy Spirit came and empowered the disciples to keep Jesus’ cause to build the kingdom of God.

“Fifty” also has a special significance in Jewish history according to TORAH (Leviticus 25: 8–12)… The Year of Jubilee came every 49 years – on the 50th year. When the trumpet sounded on the 50th year, liberty would be proclaimed throughout the land and then all of the property that had been taken by others for unpaid debts would have to be returned to the original tribes. On that year the land would be holy to God and the nation Israel and everyone could “eat the produce of the field.” What a celebration that must have been! Everyone that had been indebted was then released from that debt and able to start over again by having their land returned to them.

The writer of Matthew includes another metaphor for Jubilee – the forgiveness found in God’s Kingdom. From within Jesus, himself, and through his mission we experience the Jubilee of God. We are released from debtor’s prison of sinfulness and our fortunes are restored and we can start again. As the anticipation of God’s Kingdom became more broadly understood, there were some who believed that God might be working up to a Jubilee of Jubilees ushered in by God’s Messiah. If the ancient Hebrew Jubilee was to be celebrated after 7 x 7 (49 years); the Jubilee of Jubilees would go further, coming after 70 x 7 (490 years). Seventy times seven. Does that sound familiar?

“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-23)

Peter’s eyes must have gotten very, very big, because, this isn’t just any random number. It’s a number associated with the end of exile, the number of God’s apocalyptic intervention to bring his Kingdom to earth. It’s the number of the Jubilee of Jubilees! And, since the core of Jesus’ ministry was “forgiveness,” he invites Peter and you and I to become the Jubilee as well.

If forgiveness is what defines you – then, you are the Jubilee. That’s what I think Jesus is saying to Peter when Peter asks about the limits of forgiveness. Jesus is inviting Peter, and all of us, to forgive as we have been forgiven. To become people of mercy and grace…

To proclaim, in our own lives, the year of the Lord’s favor so that we might become the Jubilee.

Blessings to all as we practice forgiveness and reconciliation celebrating the Great Fifty Days of Easter.

Faithfully, Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the May 2017 church newsletter.