Come walk the labrynth today at 4 pm.
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Today is Pentecost, and it’s sometimes thought of as the birthday of the church because it’s the celebration of Christ’s spirit being unleashed so that we be the church. This is that day where we celebrate Christ trusting the mission of the church to us. Not only are we celebrating pentecost today, but Monday, May 24th is Aldersgate Day in the United Methodist Church, it’s the day when we remember John Wesley’s heart being strangely warmed, this spark of grace that started the revival we are a part of at Grace.
With all the Methodist and John Wesley history that we’ve talked about in the past few, I thought we would take some time today to look at the history of Grace, to think back to when our church got started so we can find hope for our future.
Grace started as a mission congregation founded by Des Moines First UMC. The first location of Grace was built at 19th and Crocker and the spot was conferred to be the “extreme northwest part of [Des Moines]” in the 1880s. Des Moines First UMC planted the seed of Grace, and fewer than 50 people devoted themselves to Grace so this church could be in mission.
One of the first pastors at Grace, LB Wickersham, had business cards that they would give out and in the corner of the card it said, “Seats free. Strangers always welcome.” That’s who we’ve always been, with everyone having a place at the table because everyone is always welcome.
The late 1800s in Iowa was a time of economic insecurity, unemployment was high and wages were low, but Grace continued to grow. Grace partnered with other churches in the area to form a Deaconess Home Association. A Deaconess Home was built at 1107 Center Street and the Deaconesses, women devoted to changing the world, started their work of “care of the sick, looking after the needs of the poor, establishing industrial schools, conducing religious meetings, visiting hospitals, Sunday School work, distributing books, papers, and flowers, and other such charitable and religious work as the case may demand.”
That Deaconess Home still exists in Des Moines, but the name has changed to Bidwell Riverside.
Throughout the late 1800s, Grace was growing, and so the congregation built a larger facility at 19th and Crocker. 20 years later after the city of was expanding, the church was growing and since Grace started as a mission church built on what was the edge of the city, Grace moved to the edge of the city, to the location we have today and in 1926 this church was building was dedicated. One of the many passages of scripture that was read during the dedication came from the book of Hebrews where it’s written, “…let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love of good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
Since 1885, Grace has existed for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. If you are interested in learning more about the history of Grace, stop by the church library and pick up a copy of ‘A Tradition of Grace’ written by Tammy Andrews with the help of numerous Grace members.
In the history of Grace, there are a couple of things that stick out, first is that the mission has always come first. Grace was a mission church on the edge of town, Grace continued that mission by moving to the next edge of town, and that established Grace as a church that was here to make a difference. That’s what we’ve done because that’s what we do, we spark love and good deeds.
As we talk about revival, the second thing to notice and remember is that today Grace has more members, resources, and technology than the first few members of Grace could have imagined. One of the founding documents of Grace says that 48 people agreed to be the charter members of the church, but only 46 people actually signed the dotted line in 1885.
We are the dream of those that knew Grace could make a difference, so, as Mary Oliver might say, what is it we plan to do with our wild and precious life? We have more resources, we have more members, and we have more connections throughout the community than the first members of Grace, but as we long for revival, can we match their passion and their faith in the future?
We’ve spent the past few weeks talking about revival, but throughout his life, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, didn’t use the word revival, instead, the word that he used was awakening. If you have been with us on this journey you might remember that for much of John Wesley’s life he thought that he had to earn God’s love. Wesley believed that he had to prove he was worthwhile, that he needed to earn his acceptance, but then he came to a transformative moment where he felt his heart strangely warmed on Aldersgate Street. It was there that Wesley knew that he was accepted and loved no matter what and he needed everyone to know just how loved they are too.
Early in his life, Wesley was invited to speak in some churches since he was an Oxford professor and chaplain, but when he would go into a church and speak he got so excited about grace and what it meant to live a life that was transformed by Christ it sounded like he was criticizing everyone for not believing hard enough. Wesley was trying to tell people his life story, about how for much of his life he had been a Christian in name only but now he was seeking to give himself fully to God so that he could love his neighbor as he loved himself.
Wesley didn’t doubt the faith of the church at that time, he simply wanted to spark their passion and desire, he wanted to see the church take grace as far as it could go.
Wesley lived like an alarm clock, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t like my alarm clock. I know I need one, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
This is why Wesley didn’t get invited to speak in churches for most of his adult life. He spoke in fields, in city squares, and at mines because that’s where he could. But when Wesley was speaking outside there were some church folks, especially pastors, that didn’t like what Wesley was doing. Churches, and pastors, thought that people should listen to them, that people should come to them, but Wesley went to the people, Wesley worked with communities to seek and create a common good, which meant Wesley had bigger crowds than the churches and the pastors that thought everyone should simply come to them.
A few times in his journal, John Wesley writes about how pastors would hire folks to disrupt his services.
There was one time that a few people had been paid with gin to try and disperse the crowd that had come to hear Wesley speak. A couple people brought a bull to the edge of the crowd, hoping that it would charge and scare the people off. But the bull just stood there. So they slapped the bull a couple times and it took a few steps, but then it laid down. They tried to get the bull to do something, but it just went to sleep and Wesley went on.
Sometimes a sermon is boring on purpose.
The church that was entrusted to share the hope of grace, that’s what Pentecost is all about, being the hands of God at work in the world, the church that was supposed to seek justice and love kindness while walking humbly with God, the church that was supposed to care for the least, the lost, and the left behind, the church that was supposed to change the world, was boring, and out of touch.
I love food documentaries, because I love food, and one of my favorite documentaries is Chefs Table on Netflix. If you don’t have plans for the rest of the day, now you do.
There’s one episode that follows the Brazilian chef Alex Atala. Alex is not just a chef but an adventurer. Early in the episode he travels into the amazon to find rare and unique spices to feature in his restaurant which funds preservation efforts while supporting indigenous Amazonians. He travels into this remote village in the Amazon and meets with one of the elders there. She cooks for Alex and the community, and as they talk about recipes she’s making she’s working on a sauce, it looks like a heavy, rich, sauce, and as she’s mixing it, Alex realizes where the dark, red color is coming from – ants.
She offers him a taste and to his surprise, this dark, red sauce tastes like lemon-grass and ginger. Lemon grass doesn’t grow in the amazon so he asks her what herbs she put in the sauce and she says, ants, then he asks about spices, and she says ants, and as he gets ready to ask again what she mixed in, and she says, ants.
At one of the most expensive restaurants in Brazil, one of the best restaurants in the world, you will be served ants, and you will love and savor every bite.
It’s easy to imagine that a sauce at a high end restaurant, one of the top ten restaurants in the world, would have all sorts of secret ingredients in it. You’d want to imagine their signature dish takes every technique the chef can pull out of their fancy hat, but it’s just one ingredient.
When it comes to the life of the church and the things that bring about revival, it’s not one ingredient, but it’s pretty simple, it’s seeking justice and joy, it’s sparking one another on towards love and good deeds, it’s trusting that God’s grace really is good news for us and everyone else.
For 19 years, John Wesley shared that simple message and he had tomatoes thrown at him while he preached, he had people try to chase him out of town. Not once or twice, but weekly for 19 years, people tried to stop Wesley from speaking about and sharing grace.
There were times when Wesley would preach and hired thugs would come to him and try to chase him away, but by the end of a sermon those some people would come up to him and ask for forgiveness.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
You might remember from our first sermon in this series how John Wesley’s parents, Samuel and Susanna, taught him perseverance. When John Wesley was a child some members of the church that Samuel was a priest at burned down the Wesley home, while they were still in it. Thankfully everyone made it out of the fire, and instead of quitting, instead of seeking vengeance, Samuel Wesley worked for reconciliation and refused to give up on sharing grace even with those who hated him.
If you’re working for change, you’re going to face challenges, you are going to be criticized, and it will not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.
There will be times in your life where you will face opposition for doing what’s right, the only question is, will you give up or will you keep going?
The people that give up the first time things go wrong, those people don’t get much done.
If we can learn anything from Wesley, it’s that faithful and gracious perseverance pays off.
When Wesley was 85 years old he went to Bristol. If you were with us last week, you might remember Bristol, the poor mining community where no church or pastor reached out to the people there. Bristol was a mining community, but it was also on the coast of England and because of that slave ships were often in Bristol. Many of the Methodists in Bristol made their living from the slave trade one way or another, and Wesley went there to put a stop to it.
At 85 he stood in the pulpit and preached against the evils of slavery. Half way through the sermon a fight broke out in the church, it’s said that people broke the pews and fought one another, but no one threw a punch at Wesley, who just kept shouting at the crowd to wake from their sleep, to be sparked towards goodness and grace in tangible and community transforming ways.
That’s the legacy that Wesley gives to us. He kept sharing his message, and he kept challenging people with it. Wesley said God is love and love changes us, it challenges us, it inspires and transforms us, so we can’t stay the same, we have to keep going. One of the ways that Wesley kept going was by challenging slavery. In his 60’s he often spoke out against the evils of slavery. It was the cause that he dedicated the rest of his life to and one of the last letters that he ever wrote was to abolitionist in the United States encouraging them to keep fighting for dignity and respect for all people. that’s the legacy of Grace, so what will your legacy be?
The only thing that you take with you when you’re gone is the legacy that you leave behind.
You get to create this life, you make choices and decisions, your life is yours, so what are you creating with it? Wesley was called by God to wake up the church of his day, to challenge complacency with a celebration of grace. What are you being called to do? What spark of goodness do you need to set ablaze?
As we read from Romans today, “Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law. As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near.” So wake up. We can keep pressing snooze, but the alarm of purpose and mission keeps ringing.
The legacy of our church is one of hearts that are open to the love of God, minds that are transformed and renewed by grace, and hands that work for the good of all.
That’s why I’m a Methodist and this is why I’m trusting we will all make the most of our re-entery throughout the year. It’s not that we’re re-opening, because we never closed, and we’re not starting over, because we never stoped, but as we re-enter into the community with one another in-person and online, how are we going to wake up to share and be a part of the grace of God?
Since 1885, we’ve been witnessing to Christ by doing whatever we can to be worthy of the name Grace. We started with mission, we’ve moved forward because of the mission, and we keep sparking love and good deeds. That’s why Grace is here, to live out the promise of Pentecost, to know that the spirit is with us so that we can live into our purpose.
On their deathbed, John Wesley said the best of all, God is with us. That’s Pentecost, God is with us, the spirit is on the loose and grace is changing the world. May we be the church and the people that God has always need us to be. Amen
Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law. As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.
May 24 – 29, 2021
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Read – 2 Chronicles 6:19-21, 40-42
Notice – 75-year-old John Wesley led in building City Road Chapel in London in 1778. Wesley wrote about the day when the Chapel opened in his Journal: “I preached on part of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple [today’s Scripture reading]; and both in the morning and afternoon … god was eminently present in the midst of the congregation.” Solomon invested a lot of time and resources in building the Temple in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Kings 6). Yet in verse 21, he specifically referred to God’s “heavenly dwelling place” –Solomon knew God wasn’t limited to any one earthly building. But his prayer confidently asked God, “May your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers of this place.” John Wesley knew this, too, and described his City Road Chapel as “perfectly neat, but not fine, and contains far more people than the Foundry.” Which impresses you more: a church building’s external funishings and finery, o the inner beauth of God’s work in human haearts through the ministry in that structure.
Pray – Jesus, you are not a secret to be kept. Shine your light of love through me, this day and every day, and use me to make the world you love a bit more like the kingdom of heaven. Amen
Read – 1 John 4:11-16
Notice – The City Road Chapel, like any building, was important, not as a monument to John Wesley or the early Methodists, but as a tool God could use to awaken and revieve hearts. When they laid the Chapel’s foundation, Wesley urged those present, “Let our hearts be joined herein; let us unite our wishes and prayers; let our whole soul pant after a general revial of pure religion and undefiled, the restoration of the image of God, pure love, in child of man!…let us, with all diligence, diffuse the religion of love among all we [interact] with.” It is sometimes assumed that “righteous” people are preachy and not very pleasant to be around. This was not the apostle John’s view! John Wesley quoted his words, urging Methodists, “Let us provoke all men, not to enmity and contention, but to love and good works; always remembering those deep words …”God is love; and [God] that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in [them]!'” In what ways has following Christ made you and your relationships more loving?
Pray – Christ, please help me to take in, and then live out, “the religion of love.” I want to live in love, to live in you and have you live in me. Amen
Read – Luke 9:23-26
Notice – In one sermon, Wesley said, “Having first gained all you can, and secondly saved all you can, then give all you can.” In another, he urged, “Touching this point of denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily …sit as loose to all things here below, as if you were a poor beggar. Be a good steward of the manifold gifts of God.” How would you define “materialism”? The MacMillan Dictionary defines it as “the belief that money and possessions are the most important aspects of human existence.” In what ways does Jesus’ teaching and way of life lead us away from materialism? How have you found your faith in Jesus altering the materialistic assumptions our culture tends to teach us?
Pray – Jesus, I like to gain as much as I can, and sometimes I like to save, too. Grow in me a heart that takes just much delight in giving as much as I can to honor you and bless the lives of others. Amen.
Read – Matthew 25:19-23
Notice – John Wesley sought to be a “good and faithful servant.” He made one of the most remarkable entries in his Journal when he was 81. He wrote, “On this and the four following days I walked throught the town and begged two hundred pounds in order to clothe them that needed it most. But it was hard work as most of the streets were filled with melting snow … so that my feet were steeped in snow water nearly from morning til evening.” Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 did not tie either servant’s “good and faithful” quality to the amount brought to the the master. (The second servant brought less than the first servant began with!) It was the energy and willingness to do the master’s will that made each one a good and faithful servant. In what particular ways is God calling you serve? How are you energetic and willing in answering the call and dong God’s will?
Pray – God, this day I face many choices. Guide me by your Spirit, that I may make thos choices in ways that honor you as my King and my Lord. Amen.
Read – 1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Notice – In John Wesley’s sermon “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” he drew on Paul’s words, and said, “Let this especially fortify us against the fear of death: It is now disarmed, and can do us no hurt.” He taught Methodist to die “a good death,” free from fear and facing life’s end “in calm assurance.” When we or someone we love faces death, we often use “combat” language, saying things like “she lost the battle.” Paul, quoting the prophet Hosea, denied that death “wins”: “Where is your victory, Death?” (cf. Hosea 13:14). That confidence was central to Wesley’s “good death” idea. For a Christian, death is is not a defeat, but a transition into a new phase of our victorious walk with Christ. Does thought of death cause you fear and anxiety? How can internalizing the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection lead you toward the “calm assurance” Wesley spoke of?
Pray – Jesus, you went where most of us most dread going–the realm of death–and you emerged victoriou! Teach me how to claim your victory, and to live, and die, in the calm assurance of your eternal love and life. Amen.
Read – Psalm 146:1-2, 5-10
Notice – John Wesley died on March 2, 1791, three months short of his 88th birthday. As his log life ebbed away, Wesley spoke the oft-quoted words of faith: “The best of all is, God is with us.” With his final breaths, he tried to sing Isaac Watts’ hymn, based on Psalm 146: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath, and when my voice is lost in death, praise shall emply my nobler powers. My days of praise shall ne’er be past, while life, and though, and being last, or immortality endures.” The second stanza of Watts’ hymn forther expanded on the themes of Psalm 146: “Happy are they whose hopes rely on Israel’s God, who made the sky and earth and seas, with all their train; whose truth for ever stands secure, who saves th’oppressed and feed the poor, for none shall find God’s promise vain.” In what ways is it true of you that your hopes rely, not on your own aptitudes, accomplishment or possessions, but on Israel’s God? How can you join the psalmist, Isaac Watts, and John Wesley in declaring confidently, “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath”?
Pray – God, you have touched my life, as well as many others, through your work in the life of the psalmist, of Isaac Watts, and of John Wesley. In big ways or small as choose, use my life, too, as a channel of your grace and blessing in our world. Amen.