The following message is based on Isaiah 46:1-10. It was delievered on the Day of Remembrance, September 25, 2011 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA.
Today is a special day in the life of the Schwenkfelder Church. It is known as the Day of Remembrance. This holiday is usually celebrated the Sunday closest to September 24, marking the occasion of the migrations from what was then, part of Germany, to America. Today marks the 277th Gedachnistag or “Day of Remembrance.”
To have an appreciation for this day, one must go to Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig and his followers. Theirs is a tale of adversity, but also God’s faithfulness. There came a time during the Protestant Reformation that if you were not a Catholic or a Lutheran, you were subject to persecution. After living a portion of his life in voluntary exile, Schwenckfeld died in 1561. Being a nonconformist, Schwenckfeld’s latter years were difficult, as well as for his followers. For instance, Schwenkfelders were imprisoned, forced to serve in wars in which they had no interest, and banned from getting marriage licenses. So they set out for America, in search of religious freedom and a new start. These accounts are written of in Dr. Allen Viehmeyer’s The Tumultuous Years: Schwenkfelder Chronicles 1580-1750. It is a story of tragedy in one sense. But it is also a story of God’s faithfulness.
That is what I’d like to present to you today. What does it mean: God is faithful? Our passage is set in the context of God’s judgment against Babylon, for their idolatry. Within Isaiah’s prophecy, chapter 45 speaks of how the Lord would raise up Cyrus, King of Persia to conquer the Babylonians and allow the Israelites to return to their homeland. Cyrus’ reign would be an example of God’s faithfulness. The way in which God states this through the prophet is a heartwarming lesson of His character. Let’s look at Isaiah 46 today and receive a “Testimony of Faithfulness.” We first learn that we are not predisposed to faithfulness. Rather…
HUMAN NATURE TEACHES THAT WE ARE PRONE TO IDOLATRY.
Here we have a picture of the Babylonians carrying their false gods as if they were on journey, being evicted from their homeland. Are the gods of Bel and Nebo able to deliver them? Not in the least! They are just another form of slavery. Notice verse one: “Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over; their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle. The things [a]that you carry are burdensome, a load for the weary beast. They stooped over, they have bowed down together; they could not rescue the burden, But [b]have themselves gone into captivity.”
The late E.J. Young, Old Testament professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, states: “Bel and Nebo, as father and son, were the two most prominent deities in the Babylonian pantheon. Nebo was the god of writing and divine interpretation and seems to have been an object of devotion on the part of the intellectual world.” They represent the religious world of Babylonia. When they fall the religion itself is destroyed.”
An idol can be understood as anything which takes God’s rightful place in our lives. To get an accurate picture of how God detests anything replacing Him, He gives us the first and second commandment, which is: “You shall have no other gods before Me;” and, “You shall not make for yourself any graven image….” The reason for these two commandments is God’s unrestricted desire for our loyalty. Since He is the greatest good, our Creator and Redeemer, His instructions are for our good. Exodus 20:5 states: “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God; visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” The statement reminds us that time is of little consequence to God; faithfulness is His top priority, and His dearest requirement of us. For the Babylonians, their gods did not just fail to rescue them, they enslaved them! In contrast, Israel’s God faithful saw after their every need. Secondly, we discover that…
GOD IS FAITHFUL, EVEN WHEN WE ARE FAITHLESS.
Verse three is a description of His faithfulness. “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from [a]birth and have been carried from the womb; 4 Even to your old age I [b]will be the same, And even to your [c]graying years I will bear you! I have [d]done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you. To whom would you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me, that we would be alike?”
This is a pledge of faithfulness and provision. God is the One who carries us. He is the One who made us. God’s faithfulness is emphasized in the Psalms. Psalm 100:5 says: “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 117:2: “For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD.” Through these statements, we can affirm the statement that is repeated throughout this section of Isaiah: “I am the Lord; there is no other.”
Can the Schwenkfelders attest to this? Their circumstances were dire. They were nonconformists. When the Schwenkfelders could not find consensus with the Lutherans, their options were to stay and be persecuted, or to leave and find a new home in Penn’s woods. They opted to make the trek to America. This period of history may be summarized as follows: “The Schwenkfelders endured years of oppression. Enslaved on ships, jailed, fined and put in stocks, they were not allowed freedom of worship sporadically for 150 years. Persecution sometimes came from Lutherans or Catholics, and often from government officials. The Schwenkfelders were subject to changes in the political climate, which were frequent and severe.”
By 1700, most of the Schwenkfelders resided in or near Harpersdorf, Silesia. Dr. Peter Erb writes that at this time, there were less than 1,500 persons left in Lower Silesia who adhered to the tradition. This persecution necessitated a nomadic approach to life. After Zinzendorf, the founder of the movement known as the Brethren, allowed the Schwenkfelders to stay on his land, the Jesuits sought to apprehend the Schwenkfelders. So they decided to leave. Afterwards came six migrations of Schwenkfelders to Pennsylvania, the largest in 1734. A rock marks the spot at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, a symbol of God’s faithfulness. You can visit it today. Or you can discover much about the Schwenkfelder story at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center in Pennsburg. They just celebrated their tenth anniversary yesterday.
How has God been faithful to you? Do you see His hand in your life? Do you have family? Friends? A job? A church that loves you and teaches the gospel? What about the love of Christ? His sacrifice on the cross so that you could be reconciled to God? The forgiveness of sin? These are all signs of God’s faithfulness.
And are we faithful to God and His Son Jesus Christ? Remember the words of 2 Timothy 2:12 states: “If we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we [a]deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”Do we count His instructions as the most treasured possession in our lives? Let us be faithful because of who He is, not what He can do for us. And God knows your needs.
And what is the lesson here for us individuals? We are Christians first and Schwenkfelders second. We are to worship God and God alone. Honor Christ! Do not let our political agendas define us. Conform ourselves to the mind of Christ- given to us in His Holy Word. What is right is not always convenient or popular; what is convenient or popular is not always right. And what is the lesson for the Schwenkfelder Church? Since God has been faithful, we must be faithful. Worship God and God alone. Honor Christ! Our main objective is to follow the Lord. God will not bless us if we do not follow Him.
If things are not quite as they should be, don’t be bitter, be faithful! Could it be that God has so designed your adversity that you would come before Him and ask for His blessing? Or is your flesh getting in the way of your faith? Nancy Spiegelberg and Dorothy Purdy wrote: “Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to You with my empty cup; uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known You better I’d have come running with a bucket.”