The Sermon on the Mount shaped the daily life of the Unity of the Brethren. It was their “go-to” scripture. This is why I was so excited when I heard that the Comenius Learning Series was having a weekend at Laurel Ridge devoted to the Sermon on the Mount and John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), the Bishop of the Ancient Unity who prayed that “a hidden seed” of the Unity would survive the persecution of the 30 Years War.
Those of us who attended this retreat discovered an unexpected surprise when we arrived. The Rev. Dr. Daniel Crews, Southern Province archivist, had translated several Comenius hymns just for our worship services. One of those hymns, “Lead Me, Lord Where’er I Go,” is a good example of how Comenius lived his life in service to God (see sidebar).
Almost all of the words we sang during the retreat were new to us, and some of the tunes were as well. With the wonderful help of Nancy Sawtelle on the piano, we learned the new tunes, and sang Comenius’ beautiful words of deep faith, love and hope in Jesus. The Rev.Carol Foltz brought the hymns together with Nancy’s help into two meaningful worship services and a communion service that were anchored in some of the familiar words from the Sermon on the Mount.
In his lecture, Craig Atwood offered us a brief overview of Comenius’ life and times. Beginning with the close ties the Ancient Unity had with the Sermon on the Mount, he walked us through Comenius’ disaster-ridden life. Despite all of the hardships, Comenius never gave up on his calling as a bishop, and his calling to improve education systems all over Europe.
Comenius is well-known as the “Father of Modern Education,” but he was also a theologian, pastor and scientist. He was the last bishop of the Bohemian and Moravian branch of the Ancient Unity.
Early in his life, while he was in exile, his wife and children died of the plague. As a side-effect of one of the many wars that ravaged his homeland, he lost his entire life’s work in a fire, including all of his books, writings and unpublished manuscripts. He continued to serve as a bishop, and sought to find a way for the Unity to be recognized as a legitimate church.
Later in life, he again lost all of his manuscripts, writings and library (in other words, everything he had done since the first fire) in another fire during another war. He never stopped trying to convince monarchs and governments to recognize the Unity as a legal church, but did not succeed. Then he consecrated his son-in-law in the hopes that the Unity would survive its persecution, only to bury his son-in-law, leaving no Bishops for the Bohemian and Moravian branch of the Unity. He died knowing his beloved church was disappearing, but he never stopped having faith in, love for and hope through the one necessary thing: Jesus.
Studying the Sermon on the Mount
The Rev. Dr. Diane Lipsett led our study on the Sermon on the Mount. She was a new face to those of us who attended the retreat, but by the end of the first session, we knew that the Board of Cooperative Ministries had chosen the right person for the Sermon on the Mount. Her use of paintings to stimulate our conversation about the Gospel of Matthew and the Sermon was effective and brilliant, because it helped us view the two from a more creative point of view.
One weekend is not enough time to delve into the entire Sermon, so Diane led us in discussions of some of the most challenging portions of it. She said that there were three ways to interpret the Sermon on the Mount: hyperbole, plain language and dancing at the edge of the possible. In hyperbole, the writer of Matthew is using extreme language that is not intended to be taken literally, but is a case of “saying too much when nothing else will do.” Plain language is the exact opposite of hyperbole. The examples and commands in the Sermon on the Mount are a literal guide for conduct.
The third option, “dancing on the edge of reality,” is a way of understanding the Sermon as instructions for a lifestyle that almost seems possible, but is just out of reach. Dancing on the edge of reality is where I see Comenius. He lived in many ways beyond the edge of reality.
His unbelievable faith, love and hope give me hope that we too can also live dancing on the edge of what seems to be possible, even when our world is too complicated for us to understand.
The Comenius Learning Series
The Comenius Learning Series, developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries, offers educational opportunities that deepen our understanding of the spiritual, cultural and historical aspects of the Moravian Church, which in turn inform the choices by which we live out our faith.
Join us for our Fall Comenius Learning Series, “From Fear to Hope: Where is God Calling the Church,” as we ask our questions of God and listen not only for God’s answers, but also God’s questions back to us! Come worship, learn, discuss and discern with us on Nov. 8-9 at Fairview Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. This event will be informative, practical, and hopefully, transformational! Join the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber, the Rev. Dr. Bill Leonard and others as we move from fear to hope in vision, stewardship, evangelism and discipleship.
Visit www.moravianbcm.org for more information.
C. Daniel Crews, Southern Province archivist, provided a translation of a hymn by John Amos Comenius as part of the Comenius Learning Series workshop this summer:
“Lead Me, Lord Where’er I Go”
(© Daniel Crews, 2013)
Lead me, Lord where’er I go
That my life may give you praise;
Teach me all I need to know,
Help me serve you all my days.
All I am I freely give,
All my strength by grace employ;
You designed me thus to live;
Only thus can life be joy.
All your wond’rous love for me
Always keep before my eyes;
Help me vigilant to be
Ev’ry sin to recognize
And when I am penitent
You forgive my failures still,
That baptism’s covenant
By your grace I may fulfill.
Lord, such time as you permit
That I still on earth shall dwell
For your service keep me fit,
Faithful as your sentinel.
When I’m called this earth to leave
Let me find a blessed end;
Your true life I’ll then receive,
And to you in heav’n ascend.
From the October 2013 Moravian Magazine