7/6/2011 sermon: Jan Hus on Forgiveness

Location: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Burke, VA
Jan Hus


Today we remember a man named Jan Hus, a Bohemian who lived in the late 14th and early 15th century. The word “hus” means “goose,” which was his nickname. When John Huss was martyred by being burned at the stake, Martin Luther said 100 years later in reflecting on that event, “the goose was cooked,” and this is where that expression comes from. So perhaps you have invoked Jan Hus’ memory without even knowing it!

Hus was a priest who had been deemed a heretic by his own church for advocating many of the corrections that later led to the Protestant Reformation. His “heresies” were to advocate against selling indulgences and against the use of violence—specifically the Crusades—to propagate the gospel, and to advocate for worship in the language of the people and for being able to receive Communion in two kinds, to receive Jesus’ blood as well as his body. <Pre-Reformation reformer>

Hus is not yet a fully-approved saint in the Episcopal Church, but he has been recognized as one on the first of two required votes. He is included in the new official book of Episcopal saints, Holy Women, Holy Men, which is approved for trial use. Hus is included because of his steadfast witness to Christ as he died for his faith. The irony is that Hus was not executed by pagans, as were the people we have remembered for the past two weeks, but by his own church.

Hus had the misfortune of living in an intensely political time in the Christian church’s life. His was a time when there were two competing Popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon in France. The details of HIS time’s political struggles are not important for our purposes today, other than to note that his misfortune was to fall afoul of all sides in the controversy. When called to an ecumenical council to explain his views, he was assured of safe return by his Hungarian Emperor, an assurance that was not honored by the church on the theory that it is OK to lie to a “heretic.”

Here’s the important part of the whole sad story of Hus’ martyrdom, the part that riveted my attention as I read about his witness: his final prayer was this,
Lord Jesus, it is for you that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray you to have mercy on my enemies.” Sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it? Something like, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Also like Jesus, Hus went to his death reciting the Psalms.

In today’s reading from Job we hear, “He will deliver even those who are guilty; they will escape because of the cleanness of your hands.” I don’t know about you, but I often want God to forgive the guilty only when the guilty one is me. Other guilty ones, particularly those who have done something to harm me, done something to deeply hurt me, I want God to righteously smite. I want God to smite them, to vindicate me, and to remove the offending one far from my presence.

Of course, this is not the way that Jesus calls us to live. Like Jan Hus and Jesus, we are to be God’s agents in redeeming the guilty. As John 20:23 says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Today we are so accustomed to seeing ourselves as the victim, to placing ourselves over against those who victimize us, that we sometimes forget that as Christians we are not to claim the victim’s seat. Other people hurt us, as they invariably do, but we are to forgive them even if they hurt us very deeply and we are the righteous party. And we are to forgive them not only for our own sake, so that our own souls won’t become warped by our victimhood, but also for their sake, so that God will forgive them. Sometimes, when it doesn’t seem like we can forgive the other for the harm done to us, we have to live into it, taking a huge leap of faith. We name our forgiveness and pray our forgiveness and live our forgiveness, all in the hope that our hearts grow into that named and prayed-for reality.

We have such hard work to do, being God’s agents of redemption. Perhaps Jan Hus’ example can point the way.

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