Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Counting the Cost- Luke 14:25-33
On our recent trip, as we walked into the Old Town Square in Prague, we noticed a couple things. First, it was lovely. Many of the buildings that line the crowded little streets around the square date to the Middle Ages. There is a tower with giant astronomical clock on one side of the square. Statues of twelve Apostles rotate through a slot on it's face. There are two enormous, beautiful churches on the square. Between the cobbles stones and the Baroque architecture, we felt absolutely surrounded by beauty. The second thing we noticed was that we were also absolutely surrounded by people, scores of them. I can only count a couple of times when I have been in a city so full of people. Herds of tourists cruised by on those weird Segway scooters. Silver-painted people popped and locked, pretending to be robots to amuse little children. Visitors crowded up to food vendors, anxious to eat real, official Czech food and drink Czech beer. And, all of this joyful activity swirled around one large, haunting monument in the middle of the square, a monument to the Christian reformer, Jan Hus.
Hus seems to be rising out of the middle of the monument, face serious, looking towards the church that would become the spiritual home to the people who followed his teaching. On one side of him are the so-called Hussite warriors, Bohemian soldiers who helped defend Prague from four different Crusades that sought to destroy their religious movement as well as wrest political control of the area. On his other side are the descendants of these Hussites who were driven from their country in the 1620's by people who, yet again, saw their religious beliefs as a threat to the political order. Etched in Czech around the tall base of the monument are some of Hus' words, including the line, "Love each other and wish the truth to everyone." Hus was burned alive as a heretic in 1415.
What, might you ask, did he do to deserve such horrible treatment. According to historians that I read this week, not as much as you would imagine. In some ways, he had the misfortune of being a reformer in a time of great cultural change. He began his education right on the heels of major conflicts in the Catholic Church and in the Holy Roman Empire, the empire in which he lived. There was great political tension within the Empire, with two brothers both claiming to be the rightful emperor. and also in surrounding territories, with Italian politics being particularly rocky. Right around the same time he began preaching, there were three different popes floating around Europe, one in the French city of Avignon, one in Rome and one in Pisa, each once claiming to be the only legitimate Holy Father. The church was also trying to sort out both how much power the Pope should have over Catholic kingdoms and how much power the Pope should have in the church. Some believed that he should have a lot of both. Others believed that there should be a council of Bishops who actually were more powerful than the pope. These tensions helped to create a church with little patience for critique, kings anxious to find something to give them a political edge, and a laity with little confidence in either their religious or political leaders, ready for reform.
Into this tense situation walks Jan Hus, a hard-working and talented preacher and college administrator who mostly wanted to tell the truth and seek greater knowledge. He regularly preached about much needed reforms in his church, targeting corrupt clergy in particular. He had no patience for greedy, lascivious, and neglectful priests, or for the actions of his bishop (he had bought his religious title rather than earned it). What is interesting is that, according to historians, these kinds of reforms were actually very much in line with reforms already being called for in certain parts of the church. His reforms were not particularly radical. However, he was still accused of heresy. A primary reason that Hus was targeted was because the bishop did not like that a local priest was being so critical of him, The Bishop appealed to one of the popes for help making Hus stop preaching. The pope tried. However, despite having the local bishop angry with him and one of the popes trying to silence him, Hus would not stop. Even his eventual excommunication did not stop his preaching, though it should be noted that he was only able to do so because his Queen and King supported him and didn't have him removed from his post.
As I have said, up to this point, Hus wasn't preaching anything too radical. He was mostly calling out shady colleagues and superiors and supporting the freedom to read a variety of scholars at the university. However, he grew tired of being targeted for speaking the truth. He began to believe that Christians were under no compulsion to obey an unworthy Pope and it seems clear that he thought this pope was unworthy. He thought that all Christians, including the pope, must live up to the standards set forth in the Bible. If the pope was not living up to that standard, then he should not be followed. For Hus, one of the pope's actions in particular, did not live up to biblical standards. The pope from Pisa, the one who had been helping the local bishop target Hus, decided to send a Crusade to Naples. According to Hus, this Crusade had far more to do with the pope's involvement in Italian politics than any matter of the faith. The pope also decided to pay for that war by selling indulgences, that is by selling forgiveness. Hus, who had one bought an indulgences for himself but had come to see them as a usurpation of God's power, was appalled and said so in his sermons and writings.
This was one step too much. The pope could not let Hus go on preaching like that. Unfortunately, Jan could no longer count on his king supporting him. At that point in time, the king needed the pope more than he needed an annoying preacher. Hus was ordered to be silent and was again excommunicated. This time, he left. The fight was getting bigger and threatening his entire country at this point. So, he left Prague and went to the countryside. But he continued to write about the reforms that he knew were necessary in order for the church to fulfill it's Gospel calling. When he was invited to speak at the Council of Konstanz, under the assurances of the emperor Sigismundi that he would be safe, he went. One of the stated goals of the council was reform. He thought he could make a difference. But, that is not what would happen there. He would be put on trial.
At the council, he would be ordered to recant his heresy, to which he responded that he would do so happily if they could point to any of his teachings that were actually heretical. It was a difficult examination, but Hus stood his ground. He would not admit to a heresy that he did not believe. Then, for other reasons than Hus' trial, the whole Council ending of going kind of sideways. The pope ended up fleeing. As he left, he seemed prepared to free Hus. However, the emperor Sigismundi,brother and rival of the king who had once supported Hus, realized that he could use Hus' trial to further his own political ambition. The council came to the same conclusion. According to historians, both the king and the council wanted to be understood as "stern defenders of orthodoxy." They wanted Hus to submit to their authority. If he did, they would look powerful.
The council continued to accuse Hus of heresy, to which he continued to reply that he had never actually held any of the beliefs of which they were accusing him. He finally realized that he could not receive a fair hearing. He said to the council, "I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and just. In his hands I place my cause, since he will judge each, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice." He would eventually be stripped of his priestly robes, have his head shaved to remove the unique priestly haircut that he sported, and be turned over to be killed. He would be burned atop the books that he had spent so many years writing. He is said to have recited the Psalms as he died.
"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." This week, as read Jesus' words, I thought of Jan Hus, and that beautiful, somber monument to his faith. I think he knew something about the cost of discipleship. When it became clear that he would need to put his faith in action, he sat down and tallied out what resources he had a hand and saw the projected cost of the reformation project, and he reckoned that it was worth spending all he had to try to rebuild something glorious with God. He spend it all. The legacy of his generosity is 200 years of freedom to worship for people who found his ideas about church and God compelling. And, even when those these folks were run out of Prague, their descendants carried on his faith legacy, especially in the denominations called the Church of the Brethren and the Moravian Church. He spent all that he had, but, I think it was worth the cost. His life was richer, and probably harder, for it.
Everyday we are asked to make a choice for God, though rarely with as much at stake as our brother Jan. And yet, even though the choice may not mean life or death, we are still asked to make a choice. Is our allegiance to the radical mission of Christ is actually our primary loyalty in our life? Is our work with Christ, our bringing of good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, and letting the oppressed go free, actually the most important thing in our lives? Daily we are asked to make a tally of our own lives: our own fears, our own wants, and needs, and see if that list measures up to our call from Christ. Is our allegiance to Christ greater than everything else? If it is, how is our life changed by it? It is clear from our reading, from the record of Christ's own life, and from the witness offered by Jan Hus' story that the discipleship that we are seeking is costly. It will change us and our relationships if we actually enter into it. Thank God that Christ is present in this work with us, reminding us that, yes, it is actually worth the cost.
Sources Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
I am particularly indebted to the following two history books for providing helpful context about Jan Hus' life:
David Schnasa Jacobsen: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2958
Jeanine K. Brown: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=667
Karoline Lewis: https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706
Info about Jan Hus memorial: http://www.prague.cz/jan-hus-monument/
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.