Monday, July 06, 2015

Jan Hus- Apostle, Prophet, Martyr

I preached yesterday and since today is the Saints' Day for Jan Hus I brought some of my Moravian history and legacy to the Episcopal Church where we are now members. Here's the basic manuscript I went from.

Sunday's Gospel

Mark 6:1-13
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

The Sermon

On Being a Prophet

This morning’s Gospel is one of those eminently quotable passages: A prophet is not without honor, Jesus says, except in his home country. Mark made sure we saw the contrast as he moves from Jesus NOT being able to do many miracles in Nazareth to what the disciples did as they were sent out.

But this isn’t a story about having to leave your hometown behind in order to preach or minister. It’s about "call"- and the prophetic side of responding to the call. Which of course raises the question: What does it mean to be a prophet?

First we have to set aside the idea of telling the future - which is not what prophets are all about. When they tell what is going to happen in the future, they are telling what will happen when the people don’t follow God’s call to them. So the first thing prophets are about is hearing the "call". That leads to a sense of humility- the "call" isn’t about me, it’s about God calling the person. Humbling- or should be. When the prophet reaches that point then, they will begin to follow set of values or principles based on the way of God.

So far so good.

Unfortunately when one reaches that level of being “called” things begin to get a little dicey. A quick look around will show that the ways of God- God’s values- are not often the basis for what is happening around us in the world. You know- those values like
  • caring for the least and the lost; 
  • remembering the prisoner and the sick; 
  • working for the betterment of the homeless and those oppressed by political, religious or economic injustice.
At which point the one hearing the “call” can quickly opt out or face an even more difficult choice. The choice is whether or not to challenge the status quo- the powers that be- and take the side of those who have no power; give voice to those whose voice is muted or silenced.

Perhaps that is why the prophet has so much trouble in his hometown- he knows the people as well as they know him and it becomes difficult to take those necessary stands in that setting.

But many DO stand up and find they have a more far-reaching impact than they would have ever thought.

Six hundred years ago [yesterday]- July 5, 1415- one of those prophets sat in a prison in Constance, a significant university and political center in SW Germany, near the Swiss Border. This prisoner had been promised safe-passage by the Emperor, but had instead found himself imprisoned by the officials of the Roman Church holding an ecumenical council in the city.

The prisoner’s name was Jan Hus and [today] is his Day on the Calendar of Saints of both the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches. He was a priest from Prague who was caught in the middle of church and state because he had responded to a "call" to stand up to what he saw as corruption in the church.

Awakened by the writings of England’s John Wycliffe, Hus antagonized the church by likening the pope to antichrist. He urged that lay people be allowed both the bread and wine at Eucharist instead of only the bread. Calling for a reformed priesthood, he repudiated indulgences and rejected masses for the dead as worthless. Like Wycliffe, he declared that the Bible should be the sole standard by which the church judges religious truth.

He went into exile in 1413, unable to return to Prague, where he had taught and preached for 13 years. He stayed in exile, not from personal fear, but because the pope has placed an interdict on any city which harbored him. Rather than give Rome a reason to deprive Prague of baptism and communion, he chose exile under the protection of his feudal lord.

Hus had been wrongly described as a heretic, charged with beliefs he never held.

Just before traveling to Constance, Hus had written to a friend that he knew that by himself he could not restore all truth but vows at least not to be truth’s enemy. The world may run on in its usual way, but as for himself, he said,
Truth conquers all things.
In Constance, the council refused to allow him to speak. They ordered him to recant his heresies which he couldn’t do, he insists, since he had never held them.

Knowing that he faced death by burning, if he did not recant, he made a final declaration on the 1st of July, 1415:
I, Jan Hus, in hope a priest of Jesus Christ, fearing to offend God, and fearing to fall into perjury, do hereby profess my unwillingness to abjure all or any of the articles produced against me by false witnesses. For God is my witness that I neither preached, affirmed, nor defended them, though they say that I did.

I say I write this of my own free will and choice.
 They sentenced him to die by burning at the stake. On the morning of July 6, 1415, Hus was given one last opportunity to recant- which he naturally refused- and he died singing.

His followers were both religious and secular. The religious side, within 40 years founded what is now called the Moravian Church. Luther a century later affirmed that he was a Hussite. The Moravians found their way to England in the 1600s and bequeathed the legacy to the Anglicans.

The secular side became Czech nationalists and this weekend, celebrations are being held around the Czech Republic on the 600th Anniversary of his death.

The idea that “truth conquers all things,” or “truth prevails,” is not original with Hus. A few years earlier, Wycliffe had written,
I believe that in the end the truth will conquer.
The work of a prophet is to speak the truth to power. It is to be a voice for God’s ways. It may not always turn out the way WE want it to. Nor is it likely to always be popular. But we- each in our own way are called to be a source of the grace of God. As we each hear the call to mission, ministry and the way of a prophet, may we heed the words of one of Hus’s prayers.
Seek truth,
listen to the truth,
learn the truth,
love the truth,
speak the truth,
keep the truth,
defend the truth with your very life!

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