By Steven Norris

     Whatever happened to the “rich young man” of Mark 10? He comes to Jesus with a legitimate question about how to inherit eternal life. Jesus challenges him: “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Mark closes his story with this sad editorial comment: “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Maybe that is not the end of the story, however.

     On May 9, 1760 in Christian history, we remember the death of the rich young ruler who said “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to leave everything behind to follow. His passion for unity in the church may be just the kind of example we need to rejuvenate the Church today.

     Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was born into one of the leading families in all of Europe in the 18th Century. Sadly, his father died of tuberculosis only six weeks after his birth. When his mother remarried, Nicholaus went to live with his aunt and grandmother. Raised a Lutheran, Zinzendorf excelled in his studies, though his proclivities were not limited to academics. His tutor also made note of his deep religious sensitivities and personal piety.

     Interestingly, the turning point in Zinzendorf’s life came, not from a sermon or scripture, but from art. At a museum in Dusseldorf, he stood before Domenico Fetis Ecce Homo (Behold, the man”), a portrait of Jesus crowned with thorns with the inscription, I have done this for you; what have you done for me?” Zinzendorf said to himself, I have loved Him for a long time, but I have never actually done anything for Him. From now on I will do whatever He leads me to do.”

     A second transformation came when Zinzendorf opened his estate to a group of Moravian refugees. He allowed them to set up a small community on his land and welcomed additional asylum seekers, who were fleeing religious persecution. Over time, these Moravians added Lutherans, former Catholics, Separatists, Reformed, and Anabaptist members to their little village. Zinzendorf was convinced, “there could be no Christianity without community.” Therefore, he sought to embody a connection that cut across traditional dividing lines in search of the “Unitas Fratrum” (Unity of Brethren), centered on Christ alone.

     The community became known for its missionary zeal. Zinzendorf, himself, stated, “Missions, after all, is simply this: Every heart with Christ is a missionary, every heart without Christ is a mission field.” Within a period of two decades, Zinzendorf and his community sent missionaries around the globe — more than 70 missionaries from a community of fewer than 600 answering the call to serve.

     In a time when many of our denominational structures seem to be splintering at the seams, the Church needs more individuals like Zinzendorf who are willing to look beyond human divisions with a will to sacrifice all to passionately follow the way of Jesus. The Church needs individuals committed to uncomplicated missionary zeal: loving God with everything that we are (heart, soul, mind, and strength) and loving our neighbor as ourselves.