Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived it: A Mother’s Love
Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 14, 2017
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer, Amen.
This morning we begin a six-week series called Revival. How many of you when I say revival think of Billy Graham? Do you remember his crusades? I remember watching them on TV when I was a kid. Over the course of 58 years, from 1947 to 2005, he held 417 revivals in 185 countries. It is estimated that he was face to face and by satellite with over 210 million people. Thousands of people dedicated their lives to Christ because of Rev. Graham’s work.
Revivals are funny things. A few years ago, the churches in town got together to have a town revival. After the revival had concluded, three of the pastors were discussing the results with one another. The Methodist minister said, “The revival worked out great for us! We gained four new families.” The Baptist preacher said, “We did better than that! We gained six new families.” The Calvary Chapel pastor said, “Well, we did even better than that! We got rid of our 10 biggest trouble makers!”
Revival isn’t about swapping parishioners! The word revival in fact means “an act or instance of reviving: of giving new attention or interest to something, or a period of renewed religious interest.” Or in the case of the Billy Graham’s Crusades, “a highly emotional evangelistic meeting or series of meetings”
I want us to imagine having our own personal revival, and what it might look like for each of us, personally, in our church, our community and in the world around us. Today, much like two hundred years ago, I believe we are ripe for renewal, for revival and we must be open to the opportunities as they are presented to us.
Each of us participate in our own spiritual journeys. At times, our “spiritual vitality or passion wanes. This is true in all aspects of our lives. In marriage, we slowly find that the fire diminishes if we aren’t intentional about revival in our love lives. This happens in friendships. It happens in our jobs – we call it burnout. In every part of our lives we need revival from time to time. In our Spiritual lives, we have seasons when we are blooming and bearing fruit, when our vitality is high.
But when we neglect our spiritual lives, we begin to wilt. When we have prolonged periods of inattention to the spiritual life, our faith goes dormant. We may go through the motions of Christian life, but the vitality is gone.” “I believe the seeds of our revival, and the revival of Christianity today, are found in the story of our beginning.” To speak of revival really requires us to look back into our church’s history, back to our founder, John Wesley.
Wesley led a period of intense revival in England in the mid to late 1700’s that resulted in our denomination being created. It is my prayer that this series will help us so that “by reclaiming the faith, heart, and practices of John Wesley and the early Methodists, we can rediscover the best parts of our own hearts and churches, and in so doing we might help spark a revival of Christianity in our own time.”
In our scripture this morning, we might that because it comes from the Book of Revelation, it must be seen through the eyes of a guide to the end times. “But that’s not how or why it was written. Revelation was written near the end of the first century to seven churches in Asia Minor, which comprises much of modern-day Turkey. These churches had once been dynamic centers of Christianity.
Ephesus, along with some of the other churches of Revelation, had lost its vitality. Christ, speaking to the author of Revelation, noted that the believers in Laodicea had become “lukewarm: (Revelation 3:16) and the Christians at Ephesus had lost their first love (2:4). These Christians were busy, but their activities had not produced spiritual vitality. In Revelation, the Lord told them the key to their spiritual revival was to “do the works you did at first” (2:5).”
This is not a new story, is it? We can see this theme through the Old Testament and particularly in our own lives, times that we fell away from God, where our own faith became “lukewarm.” “The early eighteenth century was a time when spiritual vitality was ebbing in many parts of the Church of England. As a young man at Oxford, John Wesley could feel it, not only in the church and the university, but also in his own soul.” He was dissatisfied and believed there was something more, something that he longed for but hadn’t yet, been able to find.
The cultural climate was ripe. For the previous two hundred years, Europe had been in the midst of religious turmoil. The Protestant Reformation had caused upheaval within the Christian faith as large numbers of people left the Catholic Church and dedicated themselves to the new “Protestantism” that had developed. “The waning of religious sentiment and the rise of Enlightenment philosophies provided a perfect seedbed for the eighteenth-century revival in which Wesley would play a prominent part.”
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because the story of John Wesley, really begins with his mother, Susanna. Susanna Wesley was married to John’s father Samuel, who was a pastor at St. Andrews Church in Epworth. They were parents to nineteen children, nine of whom died in childbirth or early childhood. They were often in the depths of poverty, and it took great perseverance for Susanna to endure. Her husband was not a popular pastor and they were the victims of harassment on the part of their church members.
There was a fire in their home when John was just five years old in which he nearly died. There was rumor that the fire was begun by people in the community out of their displeasure in their pastor. (Don’t get any ideas!) At home, Susanna ran a tight ship, in spite of the challenges she faced. She was intentional in how she structured her family and the tasks that needed to be done. She prioritized the faith formation of her children. She “educated her children for six hours a day” and led family devotions each Sunday evening.
Susanna was a wonderful mother to her children. She scheduled time with each child, making sure to meet with each one, at least an hour each week to “ask about their faith, their fears, their hopes and dreams, to inquire about the state of their souls. This loving activity was to shape Wesley’s later practice of asking Methodists to meet together weekly in small groups, to enquire about one another’s progress in the faith.” How is it with your soul? They would ask.
“Susanna Wesley changed the world by shaping the heart and faith of her children and by her wise counsel and persistent prayers and encouragement. It is not an exaggeration to say that there would have been no Methodist movement had it not been for the faith and prayers of Susanna Wesley.”
When John left home as a young man and went to Oxford for his studies. The values he learned from his mother and his grounded faith traveled with him. His mother was not the only parent that influenced young John, however. Both his father and grandfathers were influential in teaching John how to deal with disagreements.
“In many ways those two generations of Wesley’s family reflected the religious conflicts of the time. John’s grandfathers on both parent’s sides were dissenters from the established Anglican Church and had been strongly influenced by the Puritans; his parents, on the other hand, were committed Anglicans, deeply devoted to the established church with its High-Church liturgy.” John was about as far away theologically from his parents and in-laws as you could get.
From this intense familial conflict, John “adopted a posture that is often called the via media – a middle way – that found truth on both sides of the theological divide. Wesley had the ability to value and listen to people on opposite sides…to find the truth each possessed, and to chart a middle way, embracing the best of both sides. In one of his most famous sermons, entitled “Catholic Spirit,” Wesley wrote, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? “Wesley was calling his hearers to listen to those with whom they disagreed and to focus on what they shared in common. He was teaching them, and us, to build bridges rather than walls.”
This is most important today in our United Methodist Church. We are as divided now as we were then. “We are not Tories and Whigs, conformists and dissenters, Anglicans and Puritans; we’re Republicans and Democrats, fundamentalists and progressives, liberals and conservatives. Yet divisiveness and conflict drain us of our spiritual vitality and leave many today longing for a different approach, an approach like Wesley’s catholic spirit. “How do we embrace such an approach today? Paul described it when he admonished the believers in Philippi, who themselves were divided, (we come from a long history of division!)
Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourself. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). “Having a spirit like Wesley’s today means that we assume the best of others, not the worst. We give them the benefit of the doubt. We speak well of others, not poorly.
We treat them as we hope to be treated. We listen more and talk less. We walk in other people’s shoes and try to understand what they believe and why. This does not mean we give up our convictions, but it does mean we test them. “We have forgotten how to listen, as individuals, as churches, and as a nation.” We too easily find what divides us, what makes us different and then to demonize those who are different than us.
“The mark of those early Methodists, and a key element of personal and corporate revival in the twenty-first century, is a willingness to see the good in others, hold our positions with humility, and treat others with respect. It is a willingness to make our hearts pliable in God’s hands. It is a willingness to follow the highest calling of Christians, which is both the prerequisite and the goal of revival: and that highest calling is to love.”
Finally, Wesley learned perseverance from watching his father stand up to the criticism from his parish. His parents never gave up, in spite of opposition and hardship. They knew God’s call on their lives and they pressed forward. “John Wesley learned from his father that you don’t run, you don’t turn from your faith, and you don’t give up.”
We can see three precursors to revival for John Wesley: his parents were instrumental in his faith formation, “he had a teachable spirit that was humble, and willing to see the important truths on both sides of the theological divide; and he learned perseverance in the face of opposition.” Together they set the stage for a mighty revival!
Let us pray: Gracious Lord of the Universe, we thank you for Susanna Wesley and her influence on her family. We are thankful that her son John was transformed by your mighty hand and brought about a revival that continues today in the life of our United Methodist Church. Touch our hearts Dear God, prepare us for revival. In Jesus name I pray, Amen!
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billy_Graham%27s_crusades Accessed May 13, 2017
 http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Pastors/Revival.shtml Accessed May 13, 2017
 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/revival Accessed May 13, 2017
 Hamilton, Adam. Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2014. Page 11
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