A Tale of Two Counts
Home Moravian Church, Oct. 26, 2008. Craig D. Atwood
I have been asked to speak on the theme of Courage as we lead up to Stewardship Sunday. It is an appropriate theme at this time. Right now, we Americans are facing difficult challenges. Our nation is engaged in two wars, our financial system is on life-support, our planet is warming, and we are in the midst of an often divisive political campaign. Members of this church have lost their jobs because of the economic downturn; others have seen retirement funds disappear; and we are all rightly concerned about the future. I am not the only one who is anxious and worried. Faith does not mean that we ignore reality, but that we face uncertainty without being overcome by fear. We need to be faithful in the midst of our fear.
When we examine our church’s history, we see that Moravians have faced much more difficult times in the past. For centuries, our church was an illegal institution, and Catholic authorities repeatedly tried to exterminate our witness in the world. At times, they almost succeeded, but our ancestors remained faithful and good stewards even in the face of the extinction of the church. This morning I would like to highlight the stories of two wealthy Moravians who were courageous stewards in times of crisis. One of them you know about, but the other is someone you may never have heard of. Strangely enough, both of their last names start with Z.
Count Zerotin was a Moravian nobleman whose family was very generous to our church and had often protected our ancestors from the Habsburgs. It was Count Zerotin who recognized Comenius’ potential and paid for his education at the University of Heidelberg. During the Thirty Years War, Zerotin went to great lengths to help his brothers and sisters. He protected Comenius and other pastors on his estate at Brandys. It was while Comenius was under Zerotin’s protection that he wrote one of the masterpieces of Christian spirituality, The Labyrinth of the World. Finally in 1627 all Czech Protestants were commanded to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Along with Comenius, Count Zerotin and his family were forced to abandon his estates and go into exile. Comenius’ greatest works were written during his exile, and they were made possible by the stewardship of Zerotin. The original Moravian Church was destroyed by religious intolerance, but thanks to Zerotin’s stewardship the witness of the Unity survived.
The other Count whose name starts with a Z is, of course, Count Zinzendorf. You’ve probably heard the story of the rebirth of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut in 1727 many times. Keep in mind that it was almost exactly a century after Comenius and Zerotin had gone into exile. The rebirth of the Moravian Church was made possible because Count Zinzendorf courageously welcomed a couple of hundred refugees from Moravia who voluntarily went into exile because they wanted to serve Christ according to the simple teachings of Scripture. They were poor and homeless, but Zinzendorf helped them build a new community. We tell this story so often, we forget how courageous Zinzendorf’s stewardship was. Because of his involvement with the Moravians, the king of Saxony banished Zinzendorf from the kingdom, and for over a decade Zinzendorf was an exile. Despite exile and uncertainty, Zinzendorf and his wife, Ermuth, used their resources and influence to further the cause of Christ through the Moravian Church. It was because of the Zinzendorfs that the Moravians were able to purchase the Wachovia tract and build this community in the wilderness.
These are just two of the stories of Moravians who courageously used their wealth and other gifts wisely and boldly during extremely trying times. Both of them experienced exile and hardship without losing faith in their Lord. Both of them provided refuge for the persecuted, homes for the homeless, and protection for the vulnerable. Because of their courage and wisdom, the Moravian witness was not lost during dark and troubling times.
It is important that we meet today’s challenges with the same courage and faithfulness as Counts Zerotin and Zinzendorf. Like them, we are called to protect the weak, house the homeless, and care for exiles. Like them, we need to take action to preserve and promote the witness of the Moravian Church. It is during tough economic times that it is most important that we be good and wise stewards of the gifts God has granted us as individuals and as a church. Perhaps 200 years from now, a member of Home Church will stand before the congregation and highlight your courage during these challenging times in order to inspire a new generation of stewards. Remember, even if you are not a Count and your name doesn’t start with a Z, you can have courage and be faithful in the midst of crisis.