by Megan Means
(Based on Mark 6:30-34)
So how have we done this week – acting on Jesus’s words?
Rate yourself one to ten – ten being excellent!
How is Lent going for you?
Rate yourself one to ten – ten being poor!
I have taken the choice to explore Wesley Day on this first Sunday of Lent.
I assume that we have all heard of John Wesley, the preacher, and Charles, his younger brother, the poet and hymn writer. Let us use our imaginations and hear this Lenten journey.
Let us try to go back to 24 May 1738, to the City of London, where we discover an anxious young clergyman called John Wesley, aged 35. He has just returned from a two-year appointment as a missionary in the American colony of Georgia. For various reasons, this placement had ended as an embarrassing failure and caused him, John, to question his vocation as a minister and indeed whether he was truly a Christian at all.
On this day, as was his custom throughout his life, John woke at 5am to pray. He opened his Greek New Testament, where he lighted on a verse from 2nd Peter (1:4): “There are given to us exceeding great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature.” He pondered upon this and later in the day, wrote to a friend:
“I see that God’s law is holy, righteous and good. I know that every thought, every movement of my heart should bear God’s image. But how deep I have fallen! How far I am from God’s glory! I feel that I am sold under sin. I know that I deserve only wrath… God is holy, I am sinful. God is a consuming fire; it must devour me the sinner.”
That afternoon John walked over to evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral, where he heard the anthem: “out of the depths have I cried unto thee.” What followed must be told in his own words:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, it was, and while the preacher was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that Christ had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
In the year 1738, both John and Charles each had a spiritual experience and discovered the assurance of God’s gift of grace. However, sadly, their message received little welcome in churches, so they began speaking in the open air.
John took to preaching the Gospel to the poor of the new industrial towns. He was concerned that conversion was to be a positive experience and that it should lead to a life of practical holiness and prayer. Therefore, he set about providing classes for moral support and training in discipleship. A by-product of this training was that the converts learned new skills and bettered their social and economic circumstances.
Charles did a bit of preaching as well. However, his greatest contribution was the poetry within his hymns. He wrote over six thousand and these express his personal experiences such as the call of God, of God’s aroha/love, of repentance, of conflict with evil, and of a joyful devotion to Jesus.
One of the most compelling themes of the Wesley’s ministries was that of the boundless grace of God.
Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn grace or bring grace about, any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth. [Fredrick Buechner1]
Historians may argue that one of the Wesleys’ greatest legacies was that, as they were open to accepting those who were different and encouraging a spirit of cooperation across denominational lines, their preaching and teaching on God’s grace changed the tone of the political debate in Great Britain during the late 1700s. While countries on the continent were fighting civil wars, England transitioned to democracy with relative peace. [Jerry MacGregor and Marie Prys2]
The experience of grace that both John and Charles had was so real that, even though their own lives were not always smooth and trouble free, they lived with a constant sense of gratitude which both sustained them and moved them to action.
The ‘grace of God’ means something like:
Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t be complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things happen. Don’t be afraid. God is with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. [Fredrick Buechner]
John and Charles Wesley’s own spiritual lives were forever changed by an experience of grace. It was not a once only experience, it was an ongoing one, and was the motivation for their work, their ministries, their ‘calling’, their vocation. They wanted others to understand the practical reality of God’s grace, the freedom it brings and the energy that it releases for the good of others.
When we think of our own lives, can we say that we have been so ‘bowled over’ by God’s gift of grace that we have been filled with a similar urgency of action to make it known?
And if we were to ponder upon this, and Jesus’s life of actions, how might we rate ourselves?
In this Lenten season, will the reality of grace, undeserved, and constantly given, continue to motivate our lives, and drive us to impart grace freely into others’ lives? Jesus showed aroha/ compassion for the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; are we doing likewise in these omicron days? Are we praying for grace to be imparted in others in this time of human cruelty in our world and grace in the actions of world leaders? Are we gracefully looking after ourselves, and taking time for self-care and rest?
A Charles Wesley quote says, “Be friends of everyone. Be enemies of no-one.” And John Wesley wrote, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things
To your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
You are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.