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Revival is not a word that we use often at Grace, let alone in the broader United Methodist Church. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word revival at church I think about the stereotypes seen in the Steve Martin movie, ‘Leap of Faith’ – a church service set up in a tent on the edge of town that is full of show but shallow with substance.
Revival is to revitalize, to revive, it’s to be refilled and renewed. There are times when our vitality is drained, our energy is near empty, and we need revival.
Our need for revival is found in every aspect of our lives. One of the things that Irene and I like to do is cook, we both enjoy spending time together in the kitchen. With the pandemic, it was actually nice for awhile to spend more time together in the kitchen, we got to try new recipes that we hadn’t got around to yet, and we had an easy excuse to make our favorite comfort foods. But after awhile the recipes got old and the energy we had for cooking faded, but that was OK because restaurants need our support, but even the excitement of take-out goes away after a little while.
For some of us, working from home used to be a bonus, it was a luxury, but even when you love your job there are those moments where you just don’t want to go to work, you’re tired, you’re burned out, and your energy and passion needs be to be revived.
The same is true when it comes to faith. There are moments that feel like a mountain top – maybe for you it was a camp, a retreat, when you joined the church or came to faith, a Christmas Eve service, volunteering at the church or in the community. We have these moments in our life of faith where it feels like everything comes together, it’s a grace and peace that warms our hearts, but that warmth can fade. Faith can become a routine, something that we do because it’s something that we do, which is why we need revival.
Our reading today comes from the book of Revelation, and, like the word revival, it’s not something we use all that often. Some want to say that the book of Revelation is a roadmap to the end of the world, but that’s not really how it was written or even what it was written for.
John of Patmos wrote the book of Revelation, originally, to be shared with seven churches throughout Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, and each of these seven churches were struggling in different ways.
Jane read for us this morning part of Revelation that is written to the church of Ephesus. What we know about the church of Ephesus is that in the first century it was an important and vital church throughout the first century. The Apostle Paul, who writes many of the letters in the New Testament, was based out of the city of Ephesus for quite awhile and in some church traditions it’s said that Mary Madeline, Mary the mother of Jesus, and John the beloved disciple all made Ephesus their home. Ephesus had been a dynamic center of faith, but by the end of the first century, their passion and faithfulness had started to wither.
Today we sang one of my favorite hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and it speaks to the feelings of this passage from Revelation, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…” We can wander from love, and when we do, we need to turn back and revive our hearts with what we did at first, as we read in Revelation.
When we can get those first things right, and find our way back into the love we had at first, amazing things happen. In a lot of ways, the Methodist revival was about going back to the basics, finding ways to center our lives in the teachings of Christ, and because of that for 180 years the Methodist church expanded around the world. There was even a 50 year period in the United States where a Methodist church was started every day. Unfortunately, over the past 50 some years, we’ve seen the opposite of that and we’re closing at least a church a day.
People leave churches and faith for all sorts of reasons. Online recently there was a Buzzfeed article that lifted up some of the reasons why people stopped going to church. What struck me about many of the reasons why people stopped going to church was that so many of them came down to churches failing at what should be the basic practices of our faith. Many people wrote about ways that churches were doing the opposite of the teachings of Jesus. Instead of finding grace and peace people only felt guilt and shame, instead of mercy the message of the church was all about money and protecting the image, the facade, of the church was more important than dealing with the hypocrisy that is rotting it from the inside.
We’re in need of revival, not so we can fill the seats, but so our souls won’t be empty.
There are times where we are not just tried and fatigued, we’re spiritually burned out. At least for myself, this is one of those times; I’m guessing that I am not alone in that. This phase of the pandemic, as a society, may be our most difficult, we’re tired, we’re anxious, and we’re not sure what to expect next. Some of us have found a vaccine, others of us can’t even get on the phone with 211 and none of us know when we’re really going to trust that it’s OK to be together as a group again. If on our first Sunday back at Grace and we are all together in the sanctuary for the first time in over a year, how would you feel if we had communion from a common cup? Would you trust it?
There are so many questions and uncertainties that we have just on the edge of going back to ‘normal’ and the normal that we are excited to go back to looks a lot like England in the 1700s just before the Methodist revival began.
It was an era of social unrest and economic anxiety. Political and religious divides pitted families and friends against one another. We sometimes imagine that our society has never been more divided, and yet in the 1700s slavery was established and entrenched in British society, only furthering the social sins that segregated and separated England, not only from one another, but from God.
We continue to wrestle with the stains of these sins, racism, bigotry, economic exploitation, and anxiety are all around us and the past year of this pandemic has only highlighted how many of these sins we thought were normal and unavoidable tragedies. We are only 15 weeks into this year, yet there have been over 170 mass shootings in the United States leaving hundreds dead and even more injured. Over 170 times, so far this year, a shooting has taken place where four or more persons have been injured or killed. Graphic images from body cameras are seen so often on the news that we’re used to another day with another shooting with even more unanswered questions and unquestioned policies and procedures.
We are desperate for revival, not so we can go back to ‘normal’ but so we can finally move forward into the future of hope that God has for us.
In 1703 John Wesley was born. Inspired by the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus, John Wesley’s faith would change the world and spark a revival that we at Grace seek to continue today.
For us to understand why this Wesleyan revival was needed in the 1700s, and why we need one again, we’ve got to go back in time a little further.
It was on Halloween, October 31,1517 that a monk named Martin Luther was having a really bad day, so he nailed 95 theses to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. Nailing complaints to a door was the original comments section on social media. Luther’s protest against the unjust practices of the Catholic church sparked the protestant revolution. The most well known complaint among all of Luther’s 95 theses was the practice of selling indulgences or buying forgiveness from the church on behalf of God. With indulgences, people didn’t have to worry about the evil that they committed against one another, indulgences were a get out of jail free card. This was a period of time in the history of Christianity where faith was reduced to fire insurance – the message of the church was have faith in Jesus, or spend eternity on fire. But if our only reason for following Jesus in this life is about waiting for the next one, it’s no wonder why the church has so little effect on making a positive difference here and now. Martin Luther helped to show the world and the church that Christians should not be complicit in evil, let alone encouraging it as they were with the buy an indulgence for forgiveness.
Around this same time in England, there was a conflict between King Henry the 8th and the Pope. King Henry wanted a divorce and the Pope wouldn’t allow it, so Henry severed ties with the Catholic church and declared himself to be the leader of the Church of England. By 1534, the Catholic monasteries and convents had been disbanded by law in England.
At this time, the Church of England wasn’t Catholic, but it wasn’t all that different either. It was kind of like when you go to Boston and they call a drinking fountain a bubbler, it’s just a different name for the same thing. A lot of the routines of the Church of England were exactly the same as they were when it was the Catholic Church in England, they just went by a different name so Henry could get divorced.
After Henry died, things stared to get more complicated, because his son Edward the 6th shifted the Church of England to become much more protestant. Edward wanted the Church of England to follow more in the footsteps of Luther, but Edward passed away just before his 16th birthday and his half sister Mary became the Queen.
Mary has a drink named after her, the bloody Mary, I’ll let you guess why.
Mary was catholic she ordered that protestant church leaders be put to death, many of them were burned alive.
Mary was succeeded by Elizabeth, and Elizabeth is remembered for returning England to a more protestant and a more peaceful path. Through her 45 year reign, Elizabeth sought the middle way, seeking compromise between Catholics and protestants whenever she could. It wasn’t a perfect period in English history, but at least it wasn’t the social whiplash that they had before.
Elizabeth was followed by James who named a translation of the Bible after himself, and James was succeeded by Charles. It was during Charles reign that a civil war broke out in England, Charles was executed, England became a commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell came to power with a strong aversion to anything Catholic. After Cromwell’s death Charles the II came to power, restored the monarchy and lead England into a period of social restoration.
In England, there was 200 years of religious violence, upheaval and revolt. At the same time, the enlightenment movement gained steam and scientific advances raised a number of questions about religious practices and beliefs. In those 200 years, new questions were raised and a lot of people just got tired of all the infighting, the arguments that might make a difference when it comes to the order of service on Sunday morning but don’t make a difference in our lives on Monday morning.
Wesley found himself in the midst of a culture of questions, doubt, anger, and division, and it was to this culture that Wesley said we can do better because God’s grace is greater than this.
John Wesley was born in Epworth, northern England, to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. Samuel Wesley was the pastor at St. Andrew’s Church in Epworth for nearly 40 years and while the church has been updated over the years, parts of the church date back to the 1100s.
It was clear that Samuel’s preaching helped to shape John’s faith, but it was really his mother’s life and teaching that shaped him. Susanna insisted that all her children, sons and daughters, learn how to read and write. It was around the kitchen table that Susanna taught her children, it was where she lead family devotions on Sunday evenings.
Once while Samuel was on a trip there was a substitute pastor that filled in at the church in Epworth and they were, boring. The church members asked if they could join Susanna in Sunday devotions and soon more people were worshiping around the kitchen table than at the church next door.
That substitute pastor, Mr. Inman, complained to Samuel about these home services and Samuel wrote to Susanna asking her to please stop because at this time it was scandalous for a woman to teach and preach. After receiving that letter from Samuel, Susanna wrote back and said, in part:
If you do, after all, think fit to dissolve this assembly, do not tell me that you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send me your positive command, in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity of doing good, when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Or in other words, no, I’m going to keep teaching because it is good and right and holy.
After this, Samuel never said another word about Susanna’s services.
Susanna was a strong influence in John’s life and he not only sought her advice, he valued it. There was one time in the early years of the Methodist church where John was convinced that all pastors must be professionally trained, but there was a church member that started to preach. John asked his mother about this and she said listen to him before you judge him, and from that time on, Methodist church members have been foundational in leading and guiding the church.
This isn’t to say that Susanna was a perfect mother, in fact, some of her practices would be seen as harmful and dangerous today. By the age of 1, Susanna expected that none of her children would cry. No crying was allowed in the Wesley home. She also insisted that her children have a special drink every morning with breakfast – beer. Beer was the Wesley’s orange juice because in an era before water treatment, beer was more nutritious and cleaner to drink than water.
I say this so we can remember that even the mother of Methodism wasn’t perfect. She got a lot of things right, but she missed the mark a lot of times too. None of us get everything right, but that doesn’t mean we give up, it means we devote ourselves to doing better next time. That might be one of the most important lessons that Susanna Wesley taught her children – keep striving to live with the love that God has for us.
Charles Wesley was once asked what brought him to faith and Charles said it was his mother’s prayers. Her faith made a difference in their lives, and while John gets most of the credit, John and Charles wouldn’t have made the same difference without the prayers and the faith of their mother.
If you are watching this right now, I can just about guarantee that someone has been praying for you. Maybe one thing that we can learn about the precursor to revival is that it starts with prayer, centering our hearts and minds in God’s grace and peace while we are thoughtful, and intentional, about the persons and situations that we bring to God in prayer.
John Wesley learned about faith from his mother and he learned how to be at peace with disagreements from his grandparents and his father. On his mother’s side, John’s grandparents were dissenters from the Church of England, believing that it was not protestant enough, so much so that John’s grandparents had been kicked out of their church. Even so, John’s parents loved the Church of England, they loved their church so much they wanted to see it at its best, they didn’t think it was perfect, but they still believed that an imperfect church could point us towards God’s perfect love.
This lead John Wesley to live with what he often called the via media, the middle way, a way that sought to see the truth on each side of any theological divide. Wesley was conservative, he held on to what mattered most, there were things Wesley needed to conserve, and Wesley was liberal, Wesley was generous, reaching out in ways that were rousing and new, embracing the best of all sides.
In his introduction to the explanatory notes upon the New Testament, John writes:
Would to God that all the party names and unscriptural phrase 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 one of his more famous sermons, ‘On a Catholic Spirit’ Wesley writes, “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.”
With all that went on during the 200 years before Wesley wrote that sermon, it was provocative simply to say ‘Catholic’ in a protestant service. Blood had been spilled between the catholics and the protestants, a civil war was fought, in part because of religious differences, but Wesley calls this sermon “On a Catholic Spirit” using ‘catholic’ to say universal church while being intentional enough to let people feel the tension by saying catholic instead of universal so people can think about what it might mean to love alike.
What would it mean for us, in 2021, to reclaim and revive this spirit that Wesley witnessed to?
It would mean that we assume the best of one another, not the worst. That we give one another the benefit of the doubt. That we speak well of one another, not poorly, that we listen more, that we walk in one another’s shoes and that we try to not just know what other people believe, we try to understand why. This doesn’t mean that we surrender our convictions, but it does mean that we listen to one another, that we test our thoughts and assumptions, remembering Paul’s words in Corinthians, writing that, “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
We find it too easy to demonize one another these days. But the mark of a Methodist is a willingness to see the good in others, to hold our positions with humility and hope. Revival can’t take place if our hearts are so hardened that we think we have everything figured out. If we simply keep digging into our own trenches, we will end up burying ourselves without learning anything from one another. Criticism and critique are valid, and God knows there’s enough of it to go around, but before we attack one another, can we see the good in one another?
For the next few weeks we will be talking about revival, about the ways that this Wesleyan movement can make things in Des Moines a bit more like they are in heaven, but it will only make a difference if we devote ourselves to our highest calling as Christians, to loving God and loving one another.
Love isn’t always easy, often it’s hard, and usually when life is at it’s hardest, love is the most needed.
John Wesley’s parents sought that kind of love. Samuel and Susanna Wesley had a life that knew pain. They had 19 children together and lost nine before childbirth and in the earliest years of their lives. Samuel and Susanna didn’t believe that God was punishing them, they didn’t have a faith that told them they were being tested by God, better than that they believe that God held each child with grace and would never let them go.
Often, Samuel was in debt, the Wesley family lived below the poverty line. Samuel made 200 pounds a year as a priest, and it wasn’t enough to keep his family of 12 fed. Samuel had to borrow money from church members. One church member let Samuel borrow 30 pounds, almost two months salary, and we don’t know what Samuel did or said in church, but something upset this church member and they demanded Samuel pay back his debt on the spot, which he couldn’t do. That church member threw Samuel into a debtors prison, where he stayed for three months because Samuel didn’t have the money to buy his way out, the church member wouldn’t forgive the debts and no one in the congregation wouldn’t bail him out either. Eventually a Bishop in the Church of England finally put up the money to get Samuel out of debtors prison. Being in jail didn’t deter Samuel too much, though. In one of his prison letters he writes that if I can’t preach at church, I’ll just preach here.
A church member sending you to jail over a debt is one thing, but arson is another. Once, some church members were so upset that they burned Samuel and Susanna’s house down.
John was 5 years old when their house was set on fire. The house burned quickly and everyone made it out fast, or at least they thought everyone made it out. John was caught on the second floor, unable to escape. A few people stood on one another’s shoulders and pulled John out just before the roof collapsed.
Every pastor knows that every person isn’t going to like them, we get emails, unsigned letters, office visits, and glares, but no one has ever tried to burn a house down around me. The closets thing that has ever come to that for me was that one year Christmas day was on a Sunday, so I decided that we would have a small, simple service on Christmas morning for everyone that would otherwise be alone. Just before that service started, a member of the church sent me a text and said, “My kids only come to church once a year for Christmas, and I just thought you should know that they hated your sermon.”
My house wasn’t on fire but I felt that burn.
Samuel was thrown in debtors prison, they were harassed by some members of the church, people would walk out of services, and things got so contentious that someone burned down their home. But Samuel and Susanna persevered, they committed themselves to that church and community for 40 years believing in the transforming grace of God, and committing themselves to share it with others no matter what.
Life is hard, and there is opposition that we will face, there are troubles that will come our way, and we will be tempted to give up and to give in. But John Wesley learned from his mother and father that during these hard times we don’t run away from God, we run to God.
Don’t lose sight of the love the empowers you to keep going. We know our works, our labor, and our endurance, but have we lost track of the love we had at first? Have we lost the plot? Are we going through the motions and not expecting to see anything renewed or transformed? After the Wesley’s house was burned down, Samuel stayed in Epworth as the pastor to their arsonists for another 35 years. They weren’t going to let evil get the last word.
We can reach the revival that God wants for us if we are not willing to trust that God’s grace will bring us through the challenges that come our way.
There are three things that I hope you will take away from our time together today. First, I hope you’ve seen that revival is sparked when we realize that we can’t abandon one another, it comes when we decide to listen to one another and support the best of one another, revival happens when we are devoted to loving alike. Second, revival happens when we are intentional in praying for one another and modeling our faith with one another. Revival happens when we, like Susanna Wesley, keep striving to share God’s love with one another. And finally, revival happens when we don’t get up. In the challenges, in the pains, in the struggles, God’s grace is with us and we are not alone. Don’t give up, don’t give in. Renewal and revival is just around the corner, and if we give up now, if we settle for the status quo we’ll never get to where God needs us to be. So let’s come together in prayer, like Susanna Wesley prayer with and for John and Charles. Let’s be intentional about opening our hearts and our hands to God and one another.
Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a
Write this to the angel of the church in Ephesus…I know your works, your labor, and yor endurance…But I have this againt you, you have let go of the love you had at first. So remember the high point from which you have fallen. Change your hearts and lives and all the things you did at firs.
April 19 – 24, 2021
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Read – 2 Kings 10:15, Romans 14:1-4
Notice – John Wesley’s “Catholic Sprit” sermon asked: Through we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?…Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller difference.” (He used the root meaning of “catholic” – “including many different types of thing: universal.” John Wesley did not mean the Roman Church, which in his day was a denomination that did not love Christians who thought differently.) Wesley taught us much about a “Catholic Spirit,” but he did not originate this way of thinking and living. Jehu, newly anointed King of Israel, needed to defeat Ahab’s family, who urged Israel to worship false gods. Meeting Jehonadab, Jeu asked: “Are you as committed to me as I am to you?” (i.e. “Do we share the same ultimate goal?” – 2 Kings 2:15). (Jeriemiah 35 said Jehonadab founded a family faithful to God, though some of their religious practices were not common in Israel.) How can it strengthen God’s work, and our own walk with God, when we and oters focus on essentials we agree on more than on small differences that divide us? God made each person unique and wonderful (cf. Psalm 139:14). Paul reminded the Roman Christians that since each person is unique, each person’s spiritual journey is too. Encouragement and accountability are vital for spiritual growth, but comparing others to ourselves and judging them is dangerous and destructive. How can you best help others on their personal journey of “knowing, loving, and serving God and others,” without comparing or judging it by yours? Who has helped you in that way?
Pray – Jesus, your family is large and diverse. Give me your spirit on non-judgemental love (John 3:17), so that differences that do not bother me either. Amen
Read – Ephesians 4:1-6
Notice – While Ephesians called on all Christ-followers to “accept each other with love,” Edwin Prince Booth wrote that John Wesley’s father, Samuel, and his family “were exiled from their parishes or put in prison bccause of their obstinacy, their logic and their vigor.” His famil’s history no dobt made John aware of the ways human inguity and harassment based on religious differences can damage Christ’s cause. In his “Catholic Spirit” sermon Wesley said, “I do not mean, ‘Embrace my modes of worship’ or, ‘I will emprace yours.’…We must both ast as each is fully persuaded in his own mind….I believe the Episcopal form of church government to be scriptural an apostical. If you think the Presbyterian or Independent is better, think so still, and act accordingly. I believe infants outht to be baptized; and that this may be done either by dipping or sprinkling. If you are otherwise persuaded, be so still, and follow you own persuasion.” How did his approach make the humility, gentleness, patience, love and unity Ephesians called for a practical reality in his day? How would it strengthen God’s Kingdom today if more of us adopted that same attitude to areas of difference?
Pray – God, free me from the emotional blocks which blind me to people, and that make me argumentative, judgemental and unloving. I whant this “Catholic Sprit” that you, Paul and John Wesley had. Amen.
Read – Ephesians 6:1-4
Notice – British politician and historian Augustine Birrell wrote that Wesley’s mother was “cast in a mold not much to our minds nowaday. She had nineteen children and greatly prided herself on having thaught them, one after another, by frequent chastisements to-what do you think? to cry softly.” But in keeping with the wisdom of Ephesians, there was also love: “Though a stern, forbidding, almost an unfeeling parent, she was successful in winning and retaining not only the respect but the affection of such of her huge family as lived to grow up.” Today we call in the “nature/nurture” question. When children lead fruitful, effective lives (as John Wesley did), how much of that is inborn and would emerge regardless of how they are raised, and how much is taught and modeled by parents or other key people? What good things can you see in your own life that you believe came from your home of origin? Are there ways you’ve had to overcome factors from you background?
Pray – Jesus, for the positives from nature and nurture in my life, I’m thankful. For any negatives, I pray for your continued work in my life to keep healing me, turning my vulnerabilities into blessings for your kingdom. Amen.
Read – Psalm 68:3-6
Notice – At one point, John Wesley’s parents refused to live together for 12 months because they disagreed on who ought to be king of England. Like many of us, Wesley bore scars from his flawed family. He loved his parents, but he put his ultimate trust in God, who said through the psalmist that he is the uniquely reliable parent for even the orphaned or lonely. When in eith a brief crisis of loneliness or a longer time (even a lifetime), have you turned to God for nurture and comfort? In what ways did God provide you the “family” you needed? Part of our faith heritage from John Wesley is the faith that we are God’s voice, God’s hand and feet, in a hurting world. In what ways can you join in who may not be an “orphan” or “widow” in the concrete sense of the term, but who you could bless by extending God’s love and care?
Pray – God, I thank you for the gift of this day. Help me to live this day as a gift from your hand, to let your light shine through me and to thank you for the privilege of being alive. Amen.
Read – Zechariah 3:1-4
Notice – In 1709, a fire in the Wesley’s home trapped John, age 5 1/2 on the second floor. A brave neighbor rescued him by standing on another man’s shoulders just before the roof fell in. From that day forward, both John and his mother said that he had been “snatched from the fire.” They believed firmly that God had a special purpose for his life. Zechariah’s vision originally served to encourage an Israelite high priest named Joshua after Israel had returned from exile. Hostile neighbors and the hardships of rebuilding a city and a way of life the Babylonian army had completely wiped our taxed Josua’s courage. In you life, what “fires” (outward or inward) has God snatched you out of? At age 51, Wesley fell seriousl ill. Thinking he might be about die (he would actually live another 37 years), he composed his own epitaph, which began “Here lieth the Body of JOHN WESLEY, A BRAND PLUCKED OUT OF THE BURNING.” What experiences have made you the most grateful for the gift of life, each day?
Pray – God, I thank you for the gift of this day. Help me to live this day as a gift from your hand, to let your light shine through me and to thank you for the privilege of being alive. Amen.
Read – Romans 8:18-28
Notice – We’ve learned that John Wesley’s early years were tough. His family was poor, and had a mix of strenghts and weaknesses. Religious and political divisions sowed hatred in England, and with a huge gap between rich and poor, many people had given up faith. Yet mandy those very factors helped shape the man he became-a man who for around 40 years road and estimated 8,000 miles per year on horseback, preached and estimate 1,000 sermons per year, and dramatically changed England (and America, too) for the better. Today’s scripture does not say as people sometimes think, that “all things” are good-because they’re not. It says God, whis is always good, can thatk all things, even the painful and difficult ones, and bend them to serve a good purpose in our life, if we are willing to put them in God’s hands. Can you look bak and see how God has brought good out of hard things you have faced? What are you facing right now that is painful, frustrating or scary? Spend time hoestly telling God how hard those things are, and expressing trust that, in God’s own timing, he can bring good for you out of them.
Pray – Jesus, thank you for being with me in good times and bad. Thank you for using your power to bring good out of even the bad times I face. Teach me to trust you more and more as I journey through life. Amen.