Sermon Preached on Aldersgate Sunday 2014 at Rumney Methodist Church, Cardiff
May I speak and may we listen, in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let me read to you, a short excerpt from John Wesley’s journal; an account which I’m sure you’ve all heard many times before, it’s Wesley recalling what was actually in many ways the turning point in his life and ministry:
‘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.’
Now just think about this for a moment…
This is John Wesley, a few years away from 40, he’s long graduated, he’s been ordained eleven years, he had been a tutor and fellow at Oxford where he taught Greek and New Testament studies, and he already started the Holy Club there praying daily and living out the Gospel in pursuit of a devout and Christian life…and yet.
Here he is.
Completely caught out.
Set on fire.
And before this moment life had been busy, and full and hectic, he was saved from a burning vicarage as a child, ‘a brand plucked from the burning’ and just when he thought he had found love, his brother Charles intervenes and ensures that the girl he intended to marry is married off to someone else!
Charles knew, that his brother was destined to start something new and John had to be totally free to do it.
Just in case you aren’t quite with me, what I’m trying to say is that Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, whatever you might call it: conversion, second conversion, filling with the Holy Spirit, baptism in the Holy Ghost….whatever it was it was happening to a developed Wesley, not Wesley the new Christian, but the Wesley who knew God’s word, who lived God’s word, who preached God’s word.
So it would seem that what we heard in the first letter of Peter this morning is true, we grow into salvation…
This change didn’t happen at the beginning of John Wesley’s ministry. It didn’t happen when he was discerning a call to priesthood. He was already doing the tasks, he had already caught the vision of what God wanted him to do – and yet…
He says, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my 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…
You see before that day, Wesley KNEW that Christ was his only salvation, he KNEW that Christ had taken away his sins and indeed that that Christ had saved him from the law of sin and death.
But listen to what he says, he says I felt, I felt I did trust in Christ alone, he felt it….all that he had read, and studied and been told, suddenly made a journey from here (head) to here (heart), from his head to his heart, and he felt the warmth of the assurance of salvation. He was set free.
Free to become all that God had called him to be.
Free to preach God’s word as it was revealed to him.
Free now to speak of salvation not in an abstract way, but in a personal way, for the God he preached of was alive and his Holy Spirit burning away in the depths of his being.
Our Gospel reading from John chapter 14 takes us to a really personal place in that Gospel – it’s funny it’s often people’s number one choice for funerals.
Jesus is surrounded by some of his disciples and they have finally understood, it would seem that this man that they’ve been following.
This Jesus who taught them all that know to be true.
This man from Nazareth who had become their Saviour and their friend…
Was actually going to die.
And for them it seems, that’s all that they understood. He was going to die, and he was going…
Like little children, who are too afraid to be left alone for two seconds for fear of losing their parents, the disciples are troubled, fearful, anxious…we hear again and again each of them asking “Lord, where are you going”?
By this point you might have assumed they ought to have understood some of what Jesus had been saying all along, but nope. As usual. Lots of them haven’t quite got it.
But Jesus doesn’t rebuke them, for all their questions, instead he says to them:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.”
And unfortunately, for Thomas that’s not enough…
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” he asks.
So you see we have Thomas this morning who isn’t willing nor ready to let his Lord go, and I’m sure we can all relate to that, no-one wants to let go of someone they love…
But in contrast to Thomas, we have Wesley who thought up until that day that he had Christ and who had to realize that actually he had religion but not the fullness of faith.
Thomas, is given the chance after the Resurrection to put his finger into the wounds of Christ and see for himself that his Lord and Saviour truly is risen and alive…and Thomas gives that great testimony of faith as he falls to his knees at the feet of Jesus and proclaims “My Lord and My God”.
Wesley goes to that meeting in Aldersgate street and he goes, and lets remember this, ‘Very unwillingly’ to a meeting that actually was only a mundane reading of someone’s preface to one of Paul’s Epistles…and there Wesley is met with the reality of the crucified and risen Lord, and he comes to know that that activity of Christ’s life, death and resurrection even though it happened in another time and place did something to his heart, and his whole being.
Thomas goes off to India, to preach the Gospel as a great missionary and apostle. Dying either as a martyr, or by someone with an arrow aiming to kill a peacock…we don’t quite know!
And Wesley goes to every single place he could get to bear witness to an accessible God, a God who saves and who was willing to save anyone if they would trust in His risen Son.
For both Thomas and for John Wesley, it was necessary to have a confirmation.
Necessary to know that what they had been told was true.
Necessary to know that Jesus died and that he died and rose again for THEM and indeed for the whole of humanity.
A confirmation that we need to experience too!
The miracle in all of this, isn’t the lives they lived, remarkable as they were…
The miracle in all of this, is that God whether in the person of Jesus Christ as in Thomas’s case, or in the fire of the Holy Spirit as in the case of Wesley, the miracle is that God is willing – and ready to journey with us, as he journeyed with them.
Through mystery, through stubbornness, through confusion, through doubt, through fear.
Willing to make himself known, in the most profound and the most mundane and ordinary ways.
Willing to reveal himself ontop of mountains, but also in valleys, in darkness aswell as in light, whether it be at a well, in the garden outside the tomb, on the road to Emmaus, the road to Damascus, in the breaking of the bread, or simply at a meeting in Aldersgate street. Or even here in Rumney this morning. God comes.
As He came in the form of a helpless baby. God comes. To us.
Because He loves us,
Because He knows that we are worth it,
Because He longs for us to have a faith that confirms in our hearts our salvation, a faith that sets us and the entire world ablaze.
And broken, and feeble and fearful as we are….
God calls us, Christ invites us, the Holy Spirit equips us…
To go to the places and people and situations where we might be very unwilling to go to,
To be in those places and amongst those people, in the midsts of situations,
And to stand as a holy people, a royal priesthood, set ablaze, as living testaments to the God who in Jesus Christ came into our world, gave his life for us upon the cross, and who rose again on the third day…to give witness to that truth, as a truth that exists not just in words on the pages of scripture, but in our souls, and in our hearts and in the depths of our being.
“Give me the faith which can remove
and sink the mountain to a plain;
give me the childlike praying love,
which longs to build thy house again;
thy love, let it my heart o’er-power,
and all my simple soul devour.” – Charles Wesley.