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,

-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.