Unity’s Watchword for 2020

On Sunday, December 29, 2019, ushers distributed baskets of  “watchwords” for 2020 to those in attendance. Pastor Barry invited everyone to select their own personal “Watchword” for the year. He selected the following text for the congregation.

“Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15

A Note from Pastor Barry about our 2020 Watchword

It is accepted among New Testament scholars that St. Paul’s longest ministry relationship is with this new Christian congregation he started in Corinth. Today, we have two surviving letters that he wrote to this congregation. Biblical scholars have noted that within these two letters are references to five letters that Paul wrote to them and one that the congregation wrote back to Paul.
Archaeological scholars have found fragments of three of those five letters.

The city of Corinth is within 50 miles of both Athens and Delphi – the religious centers of ancient Greece. To think that it was a difficult place to plant a “new religious community” is an understatement. Not only is Paul “re-defining” Judaism and the prominence of the Torah, he is also presenting a new idea of faith in “God’s Messiah” – who is none other than Jesus, a lowly traveling rabbi who gathered a following for his cause of bringing in a new “kingdom” or new “understanding of God’s intent,” and was falsely accused, condemned, and crucified. Yet, he came back from death and inspired his disciples to continue the cause, and even appeared to Paul and commissioned him to go spread this new religious idea to the Jews who would hear and accept it, but mostly, Paul saw his mission as the messenger to the Gentiles (in this case, Greeks) who would embrace God’s mighty work of redemption for humanity through Jesus, his Messiah.

Earlier in chapter four, Paul describes his own troubles and sufferings as an accepted part of his calling. He infers this because he saw a connection with the sufferings of Jesus. And yet, for Paul,
it is through suffering, it is through weakness, it is through risking one’s own future for the sake of the “cause” that God’s grace is received.

Here in chapter four, verse fifteen, we have Paul’s affirmation that those who enter into this endeavor of bringing the gospel of Christ to as many neighborhoods as possible, will experience this
result: Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

It seems that extending grace to more and more people is our calling. This is the essential purpose. All others are ministerial – important for fulfilling needed tasks – but not our main goal.

God’s blessing be upon us as we enter the two thousand and twentieth year of our Lord; and the fortieth year of our congregation.

The Tradition of the “Watchword”

The roots of this long-standing tradition go back to the Renewed Moravian Church, a small group of refugees forming their own community of faith on the estate of Count Nicholas Ludvig von Zinzendorf, a Saxon nobleman.

On May 3, 1728, during the evening service, Count Zinzendorf gave the fledgling congregation a “watchword” for the next day. It was to be a “Losung” (watchword) to accompany them through the whole day.

Thereafter one or more persons of the congregation went daily to each of the 32 houses in Herrnhut to bring them the watchword for the day, and engage the families in pastoral conversations about the text.

From this oral tradition, the Daily Texts soon became fixed in printed form. Zinzendorf compiled 365 watchwords for the year and the first edition of the Losungen was published for 1731. Now printed in over 51 different languages and dialects and with an annual press run of nearly one and a half million, the Daily Texts is probably the most widely read devotional guide in the world, next to the Bible itself.

“The watchword is either a promise, an encouragement, an admonition or word of comfort; the doctrinal text contains a point of revealed doctrine.”

By 1812 it was established that all watchwords would be drawn by lot from a selection of Old Testament texts, and the doctrinal texts would be selected from the New Testament. By the end of the nineteenth century, the custom was established to relate the two texts in theme or thought.

Over the years, congregations began a tradition of distributing scriptures for people to select their own personal watchword (a scripture to guide or inspire them through the year) during the Watchnight (New Year’s Eve) Service or at a service held near the first of the new year.

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.