John Wesley was a complicated person who periodically struggled with his faith. Wesley had focused his life for thirteen years on trying to have a pure heart before the Lord. On one hand, he intellectually knew that he was a child of God, and yet he seemed to be trying to earn his salvation through acts of piety and social justice. He gave to the poor, visited those in prison, lived on very little, prayed and studied continually, preached with conviction and wrote copious letters and lessons. But even while recording everything he did in fifteen-minute intervals in his journals to justify his stewardship of his time and talents, Wesley came to realize that the void in his life was because he lacked a personal assurance of salvation. In spite of all of his efforts, he never could reconcile how a sinner such as himself could ever “measure up” before a holy and righteous God. All of this changed at a religious meeting on Aldersgate Street, London in 1738. At that time John realized his Salvation was a free gift from God, and that his sins were forgiven. He was no longer captive to sin. On May 24th,1738 Wesley found what he longed for:
“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.”
Whenever we have something good happen to us, we want to share it, its human nature to do so. And so, immediately after finding his heart strangely warmed, Wesley confidently shared his newfound faith with those around him. Later that same evening he visited his brother Charles and it was said that he triumphantly exclaimed “I believe.” Grace freely given was the message that John Wesley shared with his congregations. Prior to the Aldersgate experience, John had confessed his unbelief and his need for saving faith. He wrote to a friend that:
“I feel what you say for I am under the same condemnation…God is holy; I am unholy. God is a consuming fire; I am altogether a sinner, meet to be consumed. Yet I hear a voice saying, ‘Believe, and thou shalt be saved’…O let no one deceive us by vain words, as if we had already attained this faith!”
Following his conversion on that London street, he was now freed of doubts and fears of salvation, sin had no more dominion over him. And so as United Methodists, we celebrate May 24th as a milestone in our founders’ life and his desire to share what he now knew as truth. John Wesley was a focused man, and that focus was not on the past and how things use to be, but rather on the future and how to reach out to those who needed the assurance of salvation that he himself had lacked for so long. Wesley was passionate when it came to the Anglican church, the denomination that he was ordained as a priest into. He loved the church, the hymns, the liturgy, the traditions. But, even though those were things he loved dearly, he clearly saw that change was needed. The church was failing in its mission to spread the gospel to the “un-churched.” Changes had to be made if Christianity was to survive. That vision is still alive and well. We need to look forward here at Christ First just as John Wesley did.
This Pentecost Sunday was an extra special day for our church for it was our 25th Anniversary of becoming Christ First as two churches united and melded into one. Pastor Doug’s message was right on point, there is indeed no sense remaining in the past, there is no future in it! Our heritage is important and it was good to look back and enjoy seeing saints once again who have gone on, to enjoy the music of a large choir, and watch how the children have become adults. Our own celebration will hopefully be enjoyed 25 years into the future, and rather than having VCR Tapes it will be captured on a thumb drive and labeled for future generations to share. We have changed as a church over 25 years. We need to celebrate our past, but then much as John Wesley and Charles Wesley did, we need to meet the people we serve where they are. I know you are up to the task. Change is never easy, but if we are to not just survive but grow and thrive, we will need to embrace doing things not as we have always done them, but in ways which will reach a whole new generation.
The need to share the saving grace of Jesus Christ and leave people with the peace that only our Lord and Savior can give is essential to who we are as Christians. We must allow the winds of the Holy Sprit to blow through our church into the homes surrounding us. Change is in the air, never underestimate the Spirit! Hold on tight, buckle your seat belts, because we are on the move through the Holy Spirit’s living breath. God bless each of you as we move into the future as the church together.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Sue Hadley