Sunday, January 18, 2015

Changing The World (According To John Wesley)

Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a    (NRSV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: . . . “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. . . . But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

I want to begin this morning by apologizing.
Some of you seemed to have misunderstood my sermon last week

I was very worried about that --- I actually had Nancy read it prior to Sunday to see if it was too confusing --- and she thought I could get away with it --- I guess she was wrong

Despite what some of you heard --- it was not about self-loathing

I am not a bad person
          Nor am I a perfect person

I am a flawed child of God

And just like you, God has great plans for me.

HOWEVER, --- unless we recognize and combat the demons in our lives --- we will never be able to change the world ---- let alone ourselves.

I have demons to combat --- and God is helping me to defeat them so that I can do those things that God has called me to do.

Listen again to our scripture this morning:
Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a    (NRSV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: . . . “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. . . . But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

The Christian Church is suffering from exactly what the author of the Book of Revelation was writing about.

"The church" has lost sight of its mission
          It has become --- like the old Pink Floyd song --- "Comfortably Numb"

"The church" has lost their spiritual center --- because they got too busy majoring on unimportant things.

My life has often gone through ebbs and flows of spiritual vitality.

Part of my malaise these past few months was that I too, had somewhat lost my center. 
I too, was majoring on the things that weren't truly important

Then something amazing happened.

Kathy O'Brien mentioned a book to me a couple months ago when it first came out, and said --- "It might make for a good Wonderful Wednesday Evening study."

I thought, "That sounds great, I will have to check it out . . ."

Everything I read, every movie and show that I watch I am always asking myself --- HOW CAN I USE THIS --- for a sermon illustration --- teaching material.  EVERYTHING!

And so I bought the book, looked at it quickly, and said --- NOPE, won't work on a Wednesday Evening.
So, do you know what I did with it?
I put it away, and out of my mind

If it wasn't going to be useful to teach with ---- what was the point.

On December 23rd, in the midst of the chaos of Christmas --- for whatever reason --- I picked that book back up and decided to start reading it.

It is a yearlong devotional book.
          52 chapters designed to be read and pondered over --- one each week

As a result of starting to read it, I also started a journal (something I have done off and on over my ministry).

And then after the holidays, I decided I wanted a devotion for each day of the week --- so I picked up Anne Lamott's book GRACE EVENTUALLY, a book, that had been gathering dust beside my bed and have been reading one chapter every day and then journaling about what is going on in my life and how the spirit is nudging me through these devotions.

It has been amazing --- and part of the reason that you are stuck with all this self-reflection by me.

I was sharing this with Pastor Ken the other day and he said to me: "It's hard to grow ourselves spiritually when we are so busy trying to find things for others spiritual growth and neglecting our own."

And spiritually I was stuck in neutral
          And I can't lead you (or myself) if I am stuck!

John Wesley is the spiritual founder of the Methodist movement.

He was born in 1703 in Epworth, England about 150 miles north of London.

He was the 15th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley

Samuel Wesley was a graduate of the University of Oxford, and since 1696, had been parish priest of Epworth.

He had married Susanna, the twenty-fifth child of Samuel Annesley, a Dissenting minister, in 1689.

Samuel and Suzanna had nineteen children, of which nine lived beyond infancy.

When John was a child of 5, on February 9, 1709, the parsonage at Epworth burned --- some suggest that angry members of the church may have started the fire --- regardless of how it started --- young John was left sleeping in his bed on the second floor while the rest of the children were all ushered to safety.

With the stairs burning, and the roof about to collapse, John was plucked from a second story window by two men, one standing on top of the other.

Later, Susanna would describe the experience saying that John was "a brand plucked from the burning." (quoting Zachariah 3:2)

That experience, was one that shaped the rest of his life.

England in the 18th century was not all that different than today.

England was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, and the middle class was shrinking --- the rich were getting richer --- while the poor were growing in larger and larger numbers --- and getting poorer and poorer.

Religion seemed to be losing influence on the culture.

The protestant revolution, which began with Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis (attacks against Roman Catholicism) on the door to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany --- had been raging for 200 years.

People were forced to choose who they would be loyal to: The Pope or Luther and his Protestants.

But in England the situation was even a little more interesting, and confusing.

If you know your history, you remember a man named Henry VIII ---- Henry, like all kings, needed a male heir.  But his wife kept producing girls or still born children. 

Eventually Henry would divorce his wife and begin a long string of failed marriages that always seemed to end with a dead wife.

England then suffered through Bloody Mary and the Elizabethan age.
A period of religious persecution --- that could get you dead if you belonged to the wrong group.

Because of this 200 year period of religious turmoil --- many people had grown weary of religion and the Church.

The age of enlightenment brought scientific reason and skepticism toward religion and all things supernatural.

It was into this world that John Wesley was born.

John's father Samuel was pastor of St Andrews Church in Epworth for almost 40 years. 

But as was typical in that day, John and his siblings were taught by their mother.  She insisted that the girls too learn to read, and write. 

Education was very important in the Wesley home.

Susanna's influence on John cannot be underestimated.

She instilled in him many of the values that would come to dominate his ministry the rest of his life.

One of the things that Susanna did with each of her children was spend an hour with each one of them --- she asked them about their faith --- their fears --- their hopes and dreams --- she asked about the state of their souls.

This practice becomes the genesis of Wesley's small groups in which each participant shared with each other and held one another accountable.
Each week at our staff meeting we ask each other:  "How is your soul?"

John also was given another gift from his parents --- and that was how to preserve in the midst of conflict.

It was not an easy time to be religious in England --- people were deeply divided. 
Much like today people seemed to be separated into two camps
While they weren't
          Red and Blue
          Fundamentalist or progressives
          Liberals or conservatives
But they were divided
Tories and Whigs
conformers and dissenters
Anglicans and puritans

And that division, as we all know --- drains us of our spiritual vitality
          Sometimes we just want to throw up our hands and give up

But Wesley --- because of his upbringing --- found a different way.

Wesley once wrote:
Would to God that all the party names and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world were forgot; and that we might all agree to sit down together as humble, loving disciples, at the feet of our common Master, to hear his word, to imbibe his Spirit, and to transcribe his life in our own.

In a sermon he once said:
Though we can't think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.

Wesley offered us another way --- one in which we listen to each other --- focusing not on where we disagree --- but instead identifying our common ground.

He showed us how to build bridges and not walls.

We learn to assume the best of each other --- and not the worst!

We give people the benefit of the doubt.

We listen more and talk less.

Adam Hamilton in his book Revival writes:
We have forgotten how to listen, as individuals, as churches, and as a nation.  Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and fundamentalists find it easy to demonize others.  The mark of those early Methodists, and a key element of personal and corporate revival in the twenty-first century, is a willingness to see the good in others, hold our positions with humility, and treat others with respect.  It is a willingness to make our hearts pliable in God's hands.  It is a willingness to follow the highest calling of Christians, which is both a prerequisite and the goal of revival: love.

John Wesley's life was never easy.

But if there was one hallmark of it --- it was that he never gave up!

Even when things seemed to be crashing around him.

As his family reflected on the fire in the parsonage at Epworth --- they came to see God's hand in it.  They believed that God had spared John for a special purpose.

I, like every other pastor, have sometimes received difficult letters from parishioners.  Sometimes they have been sent to me, other times I have been copied because they were sent to the bishop.

And while I have gotten frustrated at times, and wanted to throw in the towel --- you have never set my house on fire, like they did to John's house

John never gave up.

Even when he failed --- and he often did --- he preserved.

If we want revival in our lives.
If we want revival in our church.
If we want revival in our nation ----
It must start with you

Without a humble spirit --- one willing to see growth opportunities --- we will never have the opportunity to change the world.

John Wesley changed the world --- we are products of his vision.

Let us not:

abandon the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

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