Our Legacy: The Wesleys (Initial Version)

1 John 2: 1-14

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one.

Sermon Text

Last week we talked about the way that the Anglican Church formed out of a history of conflict. Calvinists fighting Arminians, Catholics fighting Protestants, and all manner of disputes in between. Sometimes we talk today about how unbelievable the division in the United States seems to be, but I do not think that it is exceptional when compared to history as a whole. While there are plenty of reasons we should work against the disunity which has become the norm in our society, we are not the first country to find itself divided on important matters, nor will we be the last. Yet, as a divided people, and a divided Church, the way that we chase after Unity cannot be a hollow mandate of compliance, but a real commitment to one another’s good.

The Epistle of John, which is walking beside us as we look at our Wesleyan heritage, tells us that when we come into faith we learn how wonderful it is to have an advocate working on our behalf. Jesus Christ, from his birth to his ministry to his death and even beyond his resurrection has worked to save our souls. In birth he became like us, in life he showed us what we could be, in death he freed us, and in resurrection Christ transforms us to be the glory of his Father in Heaven. This glory is manifested in commitment to Christ’s commands in the world, and those commands are restated again and again throughout the New Testament with one chief governing principle – that we love one another.

As simple as that seems, and as trite as we make it, there is nothing in the life of faith that is not rooted in love. Love for God and love for one another. I often find that if I do anything out of love for God, it naturally manifests as love for my neighbor, there is no separation in those two commands. When we love one another, we discover what it means to love God, and God’s love toward us shines upon us and reveals the truth we might have otherwise missed. There is, as a wise man once said, no holiness but social holiness, no goodness without love for each other.

The founder of the Methodist movement was a man named John Wesley, and he was a nervous wreck and all-around difficult person. His father and mother were members of two separate parties within the monarchy, and so were known for their fights. That same father spent many years in debtors’ prison while his children were young, missing some of the key moments he could have spent with them. All three of the Wesley sons became ministers, Samuel, John, and Charles. These three would take overwhelmingly different positions on matters of the faith, Samuel a quiet minister who made few waves, Charles a staunch advocate for the Church of England and amazing hymn writer, and John, the troublemaker and reformer.

John and Charles first practiced their ministry in the American Colonies, landing in the penal colony of Georgia, they ministered to the people of Savannah. Charles served as rector to a small island congregation and as a secretary to a prominent politician. Scandal from the politician and rumors from his congregation eventually led to him leaving Georgia as quickly as he could. John remained a while longer, forming many small groups devoted to helping the poor and studying scripture. He dreamed of converting the local Muscogee people but found out upon arrival that they were mostly Christian. He eventually fell in love but was unwilling to commit to marriage. His beau found another man who would marry her, and John responded as poorly as you might expect. He denied her and her fiancé communion, a public act suggesting they had sinned in a major way. John was soon chased out of town by her father.

John landed in England dejected, feeling as lost as he ever had. He finally found a group of Moravians, Bohemian’s committed to study of scripture and service to community, and began to learn from them. It was during a meeting with them that John felt his heart, “strangely warmed.” For the first time, John felt that even a screw up like him was worthy of God’s love, and that God did not love him in spite of those flaws, but because John simply was who John was.

Wesley would continue to have his highs and lows in life, but the occasional conflict never stopped him. He was a person who was hard to criticize, because he genuinely tried to do good in all things. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, and tried to bring the complacent Church he lived in into the modern era with a Spirit of ministry in their hearts. John would die the most beloved man in London, living the better part of a century devoted to God and those around him. Books are written about this man’s life, his sermons, and his general teachings, so do not think I’ve captured it all at once here, but know that we follow his example as a disciple of Christ for a reason.

The Wesley’s offer many messages to the Church today. Firstly, John was committed to true Unity in the faith. When he began creating small groups and Methodist “societies,” he did so as part of the Church of England rather than a separate part of it. Like our Davis Bible Class, the Methodist societies were people committed to meeting and studying scripture, to serving together, and to praying together, but that identity never made them distinct from the Church they were a part of. John was born and baptized and Anglican, and he died an Anglican, and if he had his way we would be standing here today.

I do not think that we would be any happier as Anglicans, nor am I elevating Anglican theology above all others as I talk to you today. However, John’s commitment to pursuing work where God was leading him, while staying part of his Mother Church, is a lesson we can all benefit from. In your Heart, you may want to do ministries that you do not see happening in North View, or maybe in our denomination. What if I told you that that ministry might just be a valid call upon your life? What if the thing bubbling up inside you was lifted up and affirmed? We can be doing different things in the same spaces, as our purposes remain aligned. Maybe we should see Church, both this one and the wider association of all houses of worship, in the same way.

Secondly, the Wesley’s show that the community we form together is the real foundation of the Church. Christ establishes us as a group of people together so that we can support one another. Those early societies grew as much as they did, not just because they grew out of Anglicanism, but because they spent all their time in service and study and prayer. The money that the Methodists gave under John Wesley would total in the millions today, and John often oversaw how it was spent. Despite millions of dollars crossing his hands, he died with only about  $20 to his name. He never dipped into the pot, he spent his own money to fund the ministries he started, and that ethic bled through into all he did.

Thirdly, I think that we see in the movement begun by John and Charles a move of the Spirit to see the Church come together more tightly with other believers. The differences in the Wesley household growing up prepared John for what life would be like later on. When he befriended George Whitefield, the greatest orator to ever grace Colonial America, the two began a life together defined by fighting. They would come together, drift apart, write public letters insulting each other, but ultimately they would always reconcile. Both men wanted the other to preach their funerals, and at the end of the day only one of them won that battle out, John outliving George.

We all of us fall short, we all of us sin. We all want to scratch and fight at one another. Yet, God is good enough to show us the way we ought to be. That way is the way of love, and that love manifests in us being willing to serve one another. It manifests in us standing beside one another in hard times. It manifests us in putting our identity as a Church together, over the idea of us as a saint alone. The holiness we chase is a holiness lived together, let us take one another by the hand and run this race well as we only can together. – Amen.

A second version of this sermon was written and preached following the writing of this draft. It can be found here:

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