Faith as Wesley Lived It – A Crisis of Faith
Romans 4:3-5, 5:1-2a
Rev. Sandy Johnson
June 11, 2017
This morning we continue our series on John Wesley, focusing on his failed attempt at starting a church in Georgia and the crisis of faith that ensued. Next week Brian Fox will bring the Father’s Day message since Chey and I will be at Annual Conference, then we will finish this series on Wesley the following three weeks after we return. You won’t want to miss!
Prayer: Gracious Lord, touch the hearts of those who hear my words this morning, let my words be yours. Allow them to seep into their hearts and minds, may this message transform our congregation. Amen
I’m going to start this morning with a quiz. Hopefully the word quiz didn’t immediately put any of you into a panic attack, those of you with test anxiety. I’ll be sure to grade on a curve, so not to worry. I’m going to share a short biography three famous people, your job is to tell me who it is.
This person “rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but he had a bit of a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, this mystery man started a number of businesses that didn’t last too long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. He kept plugging along, however, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked.” Who is he? Walt Disney!
“Most people know this woman as one of the most iconic faces on TV as well as one of the richest and most successful women in the world. She faced a hard road to get to that position, however, enduring a rough and often abusive childhood as well as numerous career setbacks including being fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for tv.” Who is she? Oprah Winfrey!
“Most people wouldn’t believe that a man often lauded as the best basketball player of all time was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Luckily, he didn’t let this setback stop him from playing the game and he share that, “He had missed more than 9,000 shots in my career and had lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, he had been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and missed. He failed over and over and over again in his life. And that is why he succeeded.” Who is he? Michael Jordan
Failure can be just the catalyst that we need to grow into greatness. The Bible is full of stories of great failure and God’s loving grace, guiding his people toward new opportunities, new experiences and God takes us places we never dreamed we could go. That growth and enlightenment doesn’t often come when we are successful, when things are going well, or when there isn’t great strife. A crisis of faith can be seen as failure and it is through that failure that we learn and grow.
James 1:2-4 has great advice for us, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Our founder, John Wesley faced trials, things did not come easy for him. He lived his life in England striving for holiness; working daily to exhibit just the right spiritual disciplines that he hoped, would bring him into a closer relationship with God. For many of us, the struggle to pursue a rich spiritual life means balancing the “quest for holiness with the trust and confidence in God’s grace by which we are saved. In other words, when we are focused on our pursuit of holiness, we may find the goal elusive and may never be certain we’ve done enough to see or please God.” Some find themselves a close friend of failure.
John Wesley struggled in just such a way. He focused so much on pursuing holiness that he lost balance in focusing on his own rigorous actions – like “awakening early every morning to pray, fasting twice a week, studying the Bible for hours each day, he received Eucharist twice week, sometimes daily. He regularly visited prisoners, the sick, and the elderly. He refused to cut his hair and instead gave the money he would have paid a barber, to those in need.”
While these are all good pursuits of holiness, there is a risk that we will forget about grace. Being justified with God isn’t about what we DO, but what God has done for us, through Jesus Christ. “I think of the Apostle Paul who, prior to his Christian conversion, had been “zealous for the law,” working to experience God’s acceptance but never feeling he had done quite enough. It was only when he had an encounter with Jesus Christ and came to apprehend, accept and then articulate the truth of salvation by grace through faith, that Paul was set free from his desperate attempt to win God’s favor. He notes in Galatians 2:16, “A person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
If you are working hard to gain God’s favor, stop it! God wants you, not your hard work. If you feel you are never good enough, or you don’t volunteer enough, or never give enough to your church. Stop it! There aren’t enough committees to join, enough mission trips to take, enough pumpkins to unload that will change your relationship with God.
Our relationship changes only and because of Jesus Christ, dying for us on the cross and taking our sins as his own. In the instant that we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, the moment we say yes to Christ and “no” to the world, we are saved by grace alone. The work we do doesn’t matter, our success nor our failures mean a thing. Of course, as a people, saved by grace, we desire to share God’s love as we become the hands and feet of Christ in our communities, which may mean serving on a committee at church, volunteering to help with a trash clean up at the lake, serving meals to homeless families or making mats for those in need.
The difference is our motive. Are we giving out of our love of God? Or fear that we aren’t doing enough? Is our heart full to overflowing, or empty and looking for false ways to be filled up? “In Wesley’s head, he knew salvation was purely a gift, but often in his heart he seemed to be seeking to win God’s acceptance. Wesley’s struggle ultimately led to a crisis in his faith similar to Martin Luther’s two hundred years before.”
In 1732 John convinced his brother Charles to go to Savannah Georgia on mission to convert the natives and to be in ministry with the colonists. This was a huge step for John because he was deathly afraid of water. “The journey would require just over three months at sea. I wonder if subconsciously, Wesley believed that risking life and limb on a terrifying journey to convert the natives would surely prove the seriousness of his faith and his desire to live a holy life.”
The journey across the ocean turned out to be worse than he could have imagined. The ship encountered storm after storm and Wesley was certain he would perish before reaching America. “The storms shook Wesley to his core and led him to question his faith.”
“For Wesley, the Atlantic storms demonstrated the inadequacy of his cerebral and often works-oriented faith. On January 25, 1736, he recorded in his journal the climax of these storms at sea: the mainsail was in tatters, waves washed over the ship, and the water “poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.” He observed that the English passengers were screaming in terror, as he was, but a group of German Moravians calmly sang a psalm. This encounter with the Moravian Christians affected him deeply, leading him to focus on the inner assurance of faith that he longed for but did not yet have. In that storm, seeds were planted that would be watered over the next two years and would finally blossom one evening in Aldersgate.
Arriving in Georgia he became rigorous in his faith and alienated his growing flock. Wesley was accused of being too strict, of adhering to standards that were impossible to meet. It wasn’t that he required everyone to attend 5 a.m. prayer services each day, but to those who didn’t attend he wouldn’t allow them Eucharist. Where is the grace? There is a fine line “between a passionate pursuit of holy living and an unhealthy legalism focused on rules and guilt.”
Wesley became smitten with a woman, but didn’t feel he should cloud his mission with a relationship so the woman became engaged to someone else. Wesley was so angry with her that he refused to serve her communion, even though she came to the altar to receive. Wesley was displaying what we call “Pharisaic tendencies, including a faith where rules dominate and others are judged harshly. When you have an unbalanced faith, focused on the pursuit of holiness without a corresponding experience of grace, we can easily become like a Pharisee.”
Failing miserably in Georgia, Wesley returned to England and sought out the spiritual direction of a Moravian missionary. He advised Wesley to “preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” Wesley continued to seek God and the close relationship he desired, but still focused on his actions. On a night two years later, in Aldersgate he shared that he felt his heart strangely warmed, and in that instant, he discovered what he had been hotly pursuing. He received God’s free gift, the gift of grace. Wesley’s faith moved from his head to his heart and that made all the difference in his life. He realized that it wasn’t the rules and laws that were required, but a sincere and simple faith in our creator.
Paul says in Romans, “4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.” We work for pay, right? We don’t work on the chance that we will receive a gift, do we? At the end of the week we tally up the number of hours we worked and expect to receive pay commensurate with our work. “Wages are not reckoned as a gift, but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.” When we trust in God, that is enough.
Paul continues in chapter 5, verse 1-2, “since we are justified by faith, (I would argue faith alone) we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”
You know, God knows that we don’t deserve it, and he loves us all the more. God will take our lack of faith, he will take our failures and make them into something grand, if only we will place our trust in Him. You know, some may say that our move to St. Jude’s was a horrible failure. The traffic to get here is awful, the floor is uneven, the chairs, don’t even get me started with the chairs! And then there are those who can’t attend because of the flowers and candles, the space is too small and there just doesn’t seem to be enough room for two congregations to share peacefully! But you know what? I see this as an opportunity. We have found another place that is no longer ideal for us. There has been Fred Yamagata’s garage, The Episcopal Church, The Lighthouse, The Senior Center of Boulder City and now St. Jude’s. I am excited to see where God is leading us. Through the testing of our faith we continue to be refined and grow closer to Christ. And that my dear friends is A-OK with me! Amen
 http://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/02/16/50-famously-successful-people-who-failed-at-first/. Accessed 6/10/17.
 Hamilton, Adam. Revival: Faith As Wesley Lived It. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2014. Page 59
 Ibid, 61
 Ibid, 60
 Ibid, 61
 Ibid, 62
 Ibid, 65
 Ibid, 69
 Romans 4:4-5