BACKGROUND NOTES FOR A SERMON
FOR WESLEY DAY
SUNDAY NEAREST MARCH 3RD OR MAY 24TH
Isaiah 12: 1 – 6 or 51: 1 – 3, 7 – 11
Romans 5: 1 – 11 or Peter 1: 1 – 11
Mark 12: 28 – 37 or Luke 10: 1 – 12, 17 – 20
One of the compelling insights of John and Charles Wesley that inspired their ministries, preaching and songs, was that of the boundless grace of God.
Grace is a wonderful word. Here are some definitions.
Frederick Buechner in "Listening To Your Life" (P288) has this to say:
"After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody's much interested anymore. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some bloom left.
Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There's no way to earn it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.
A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do.
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. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you.
There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.
Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
Brennan Manning writes:
"God loves me just as I am and not as I should be.
He loves me beyond worthiness and unworthiness.
He loves me beyond my fidelity and infidelity.
He loves me in the morning sun and the evening rain
Without caution, regret, limit or breaking point.
No matter what I do, He will not stop loving me.
And this is grace.”
John R. W. Stott:
"Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues."
"Grace grows best in winter."
"All men who live with any degree of serenity live by some assurance of grace."
John and Charles Wesley’s own spiritual lives were for ever changed by an experience of grace. But it was not a once only experience, it was an ongoing one, and was the motivation for the work they did. They wanted others to know the reality of God's grace, the freedom that it brings and the energy it releases for the good of others.
SOME BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS:
From "FOR ALL THE SAINTS", The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia P78:
John (born in 1703) and Charles (born in 1707) Wesley were two among nineteen children of a Lincolnshire rector. Their lives were profoundly shaped by their mother, Susanna Wesley. Her thorough education of her children was based on strict discipline and an obedient will. John in particular never ceased to revere her. Both brothers attended Oxford University, where Charles founded the "Holy Club", a group committed to a "methodical" discipline of prayer, Bible reading, weekly communion, and helping the poor.
In 1735 a journey to America marked a milestone. On the voyage there, John and Charles, both of whom were by then ordained in the Church of England, met a group of Moravian Brethren, products of the German pietist revival. Their peacefulness during a storm and calm assurance of salvation deeply impressed John Wesley, as did the warmth of their fellowship and their singing. Charles returned to England in 1736. John undertook a missionary tour to Georgia, which was not very successful, and he returned to England in 1737, and then made a visit to the Moravian community at Herrnhut.
John returned to London and himself describes what happened on 24 May 1738.
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, while he 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, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Often when he spoke about his new assurance in Anglican pulpits, John met with a hostile reception and was told not to return. Encouraged by George Whitefield, another leader of evangelical piety in England, John began to speak in the open air, taking the gospel to the poor of the new industrial towns, with which the Church of England had little contact. For fifty-two years he travelled on horseback, first between London and Bristol, and later to the Midlands, to Scotland and to Ireland.
John was also concerned that conversion should lead to a life of practical holiness. His system of "classes" (groups for moral support and training in discipleship) incorporated Moravian methods. A by-product of this training was that converts learned new skills and bettered their social and economic circumstances. To the end of his life John continued inspiring the social concern that has ever since been a typical feature of Methodism.
Charles had also been strongly influenced by the Moravians and actually experienced conversion three days before John, on Whitsunday 1738. Charles, like his brother, was an open-air preacher for a number of years before settling in London in 1771. His greatest contribution was the poetry of his hymns. He wrote over six thousand. These express personal experiences such as the call of God, repentance, conflict with evil, and a joyful devotion to Jesus. Many of his hymns are still sung, including such favourites as "Hark the herald angels sing", "Love divine, all loves excelling", "Author of life divine", and "Lo, he comes, with clouds descending". Charles died in 1788.
Both John and Charles Wesley regarded themselves as loyal ministers of the Church of England. John saw the Methodists as forming an energising group within it. However, by the time of his death in 1791, a number of influences had led to the Methodists' becoming a separate organisation.
From "1001 Surprising Things You Should Know About Christianity", Jerry MacGregor and Marie Prys (Baker Books)
645. "Methodist" is the term first used to describe renewal minded Anglicans who relied on a stringent system of methods and behaviours in an attempt to develop a holy life. One of their number, John Wesley, abandoned those prescriptions in favour of a message of grace but relied on their sense of organisation when setting up circuit-riding missionaries to spread out across North America. His reliance on one system brought back the title of "Methodist," but it also gave order to the movement so that it still lives today.
816. John Wesley was an Anglican pastor who, in an attempt to better himself, joined a "Holy Club" that relied on stringent methods to develop a holy life. Unsatisfied with the results, he sailed to America in hopes of finding meaning through missionary work. During that trip, a violent storm frightened Wesley, but he was struck by the calm faith of some Moravians sailing with him. When he returned to England, he was invited to a meeting, and there discovered that salvation is found in trusting Christ, not in one's actions. Turning his life over to Jesus, he began preaching a message of grace.
817. John and Molly Wesley didn't have the happiest of marriages. Molly nursed him back to health after he took a bad fall on some ice, and the couple, who had been engaged before John's fall, married and attempted to travel together. But the tough travel and sometimes difficult crowds made it a hard time. Molly abandoned John in 1758. When she died in 1781, John Wesley did not even attend her funeral.
846. Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, was, by their own account, their `theological mentor." She bore nineteen children, of whom only ten lived. Susanna was an educated woman and passed her knowledge on to her children - both sexes - and took an active interest in their spiritual development. She also served as a teacher to her husband's parish during his absences. Susanna was often given a better reception than her husband, Samuel, because he was a difficult man prone to outbursts and intolerance. Susanna and Samuel often disagreed; their marriage was stormy, and they separated from one another at times.
847. It is both sad and interesting to note that five of Susanna's seven daughters experienced troubling marriages. Emilia, the oldest, married in her forties but was abandoned (along with her child) after only a few years of marriage. Susanna, the next daughter, married and produced four children with her husband before they separated. Hetty ran away with a man who promised to marry her. He didn't, her reputation was ruined, and she ran away with the first man who would take her. He was an alcoholic who abused her; she remained miserable throughout their life together. Martha, second to the youngest of the girls, married a minister. He ran off with a mistress after he and Martha had ten children together. Kezzy, the youngest daughter, had a love affair with the man who eventually married her sister Martha. She later fell in love with another man but died while they were engaged.
THEIR LEGACY, OUR LEGACY:
From "1001 Surprising Things You Should Know About Christianity", Jerry MacGregor and Marie Prys (Baker Books)
497. The Wesley brothers, John and Charles, are generally thought of as popular revivalist preachers who brought bright singing and a message of grace to believers in America and England. But historians would argue that their greatest legacy is that, by accepting those who were different and encouraging a spirit of cooperation across denominational lines, their Methodist teaching changed the tone of the political debate in Great Britain during the late 1700s. While countries on the continent were fighting bloody civil wars, England transitioned from monarchy to democracy with relative peace.
What a remarkable legacy. When we think of our own lives, can we say that we have been so "bowled over" by the gift of grace that we are filled with a similar urgency to make it known? Does the reality of grace, undeserved, constantly given, motivate our lives, drive us to bring grace into others lives? 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.
Jesus Christ, light for everyone who lives,
we praise you for John and Charles,
who prayed and preached and sang
with people whom their church ignored.
Like them, may we be ministers to all. AMEN
(from FOR ALL THE SAINTS, The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia)
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