Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived it: A Longing for Holiness
1 Peter 1:13-16
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 21, 2017
This morning we continue our series on Revival, looking at our founder, John Wesley and we will see what we can learn about our faith journey today, from his example almost 300 years ago. Today we’ll be looking at his search for holiness which began during his college years. At the age of seventeen he went to Oxford to study at Christ Church, one of the largest and most prestigious colleges.
Wesley was a typical underclassman and begin to feel the call to academia, he dreamed of becoming a professor at the university. Since most of the fellows at Oxford were ordained priests, he decided to follow that route as well. As most seminarians do, during his theological study, he became more serious about his faith development and formation.
“Wesley noted that in 1725 he was “exceedingly affected” by reading Jeremy Taylor’s The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, a book first published in 1650. One theme of Taylor’s work that seized Wesley’s heart came from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Taylor taught that “every action of nature becomes religious, and every meal is an act of worship…as well as an act of prayer.” Taylor’s words challenged Wesley to see everything he did as being for the Glory of God.”
The idea of everything being an act of worship and prayer, of committing all things to the glory of God, became a mark of what it meant to be a Methodist. By the way, being called a Methodist was not a compliment. During these academic years, Wesley and his friends were called Methodists because of the methodical approach they had to their own faith formation. It was a derogatory slur. Today we might call them nerds or geeks. Can you imagine the United Geeks Church?!
Wesley was also influenced by Thomas a’ Kempis and his devotional classic, The Imitation of Christ. He learned that “giving even all his life to God…would profit him nothing, unless he gave his heart, all his heart to God.” This reinforced Wesley’s primary goal in life: To do everything for the glory of God and to love God with all that was within him.”
Holiness from Wesley’s perspective was simply doing everything for God’s glory. His own longing for holiness, led him back to himself, and the desire, no, it’s more than desire. It was a commandment to be all in, to skip past being half a Christian, and diving in completely and becoming a full-fledged, committed Christian.
In one of his sermons he “implored his listeners not to be satisfied with being an “almost Christian” but to become an “altogether Christian.” Listen to Wesley’s words from his sermon, see how he reached out to his congregation through this rapid fire of questions: (I’ll warn you, the language is very 1700’s)
“Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my all?” Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing? And is this commandment written in your heart, “that he who loveth God love his brother also”? Do you then love your neighbor as yourself? Do you love every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul? As Christ loved you? Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave himself for thee? Has though faith in his blood? Believest thou the Lamb of God hath taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of the sea? That he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross? Hast thou indeed redemption through his blood, even the remission of thy sins? And doth his Spirit bear witness with thy spirit, that thou art a child of God.”
Being an altogether Christian means not holding anything back. Seeking Holiness, isn’t a push for perfection. We don’t have to pretend that we have it all together, we just have to be committed to moving in that direction. As an altogether Christian we seek to love God and to love our neighbor, just as Christ asked of us in Matthew 22. In response to the question of which commandment in the law is the greatest. Jesus said:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I read this to mean that of all the 92,462 laws, ok, there weren’t that many, but of all of the laws in the Old Testament, these two commandments summarize them all. Instead of looking up in the law how we are to treat one another, we can ask ourselves, is this showing love to this person. Or through this action I am about to take, am I demonstrating love for God. If you can’t answer affirmative, then you ought not do it.
As we grow and learn and strive to be our best Christian selves, we utilize a variety of tools to assist us. Bible study, mission work, volunteering, worshipping, book study, and prayer – these are all tools we use to keep ourselves tuned up, to be in our best spiritual shape. One of the best tools that John Wesley models for us is something he and his cronies started during his college days. They met regularly to encourage one another in their faith. They asked the ever-important question, “How is it with your soul?” They modeled the behavior of the original disciples in Acts 2:42 where we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Small groups are where some of the best ministry and accountability takes place. It is in the small group that we are able to develop deep and lasting relationships that will last a lifetime. When we are down, our brothers and sisters are there to lift us up. We are there to help the others and to keep one another walking the right path with Christ. In some ways, our congregation is like a big, small group – we take care of one another, but I would love to see more small groups forming. I have a model that I can share if two or more of you want to begin your own accountability group. (It’s a little tough to have an accountability group with one person!) I would be happy to help you get that started. I have been part of a group for more than 15 years and it is the rock which I cling to when times are tough, and I have been there for my sisters when they are going through difficulty.
Years ago, I went through a difficult time. When I was in high school, my dad had a love affair with the Corvair. How many of you remember the Corvair Monza? Despite what Ralph Nader thought and said about the Corvair, my dad loved them. We had a red 62 coupe, a 64 convertible and two others that we used for parts to keep these two in top shape and on the road.
When he first got the 62, it was in pretty beat up shape. So, he had the engine rebuilt, the upholstery redone, and he was bringing it back to pristine condition. But before he could have the bodywork and the painting completed, I was hit by a truck that had lost its brakes coming down a hill, right toward me. I was stopped at a light and there was no place to go, nothing I could do, they slammed right into me. If you ever wondered why my nose leans to one side, it happened December 23, 1978 as I was driving to a friend’s house.
The car was torn up. All the glass was shattered, the post between the side and the back window was laying in the back seat. The roof, hood, door, front panel and back panel were all damaged. I was devastated, so sure that my dad was going to kill me! I called him from the scene of the accident, to tell him what had happened, I was crying and hardly able to speak. “Dad, I wrecked the car.” He responded by saying, he could get another car, but he couldn’t get another daughter. Even though I had done something to damage his favorite car and messed up his project, he never got mad at me. He was more concerned with me and my poor broken nose than he was the car.
When we make a mess of things and when we realize that we have strayed from the path of holiness, God lovingly brings us back to him and offers to repair and restore us, so that we are good as new again. When we become Christians, and invite the Holy Spirit to dwell within us we become changed by the very nature of that decision. It is then that we become committed to restoring ourselves, just like we would an old car that needs a little attention. God can see the potential in the old, broken down hooptie. He sees who we are, underneath the scuffed exterior and the bravado that we portray to the world.
“The church is God’s salvage yard, and he sees what we could be. Our task is to invite him to restore us. As we do, little by little he strips us down to the bare metal and then begins perfectly restoring us. If we were willing to pursue the Christian life, if we’re willing to say, “take me, Lord – my heart, my life, my all – and make me what you want me to be,” then God, through the Spirit, will restore us.”
“An interesting thing happens to cars that have been restored. After ten or fifteen years, the paint begins to fade and the carpet begins to wear out. They get chips and dings and dents. You can’t restore a car once and assume it’s good for life. The restoration job is ongoing. Sometimes, when you’ve been a Christian for years and years, you become comfortable, content, satisfied, and you lose your passion to be fully restored.
“Is your restoration job looking a bit worn? Perhaps it’s time for you to place your life in God’s hands once again, to invite the Holy Spirit to begin a fresh restoration, and to reclaim some of the spiritual practices you once pursued.” In our own search for holiness, as our scripture this morning says, we are called to be “holy as God is holy – to be consumed by love for God and neighbor, to avoid evil and do good always and everywhere and to pursue the practices that deepen our love for God.
Being holy doesn’t mean holier than thou, it doesn’t mean we are better, just that we recognize that we are in need of a savior, and we are committed to love God and love one another. It’s that simple my friends, but it is anything but easy.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we long to be holy and to follow in Christ’s footsteps. We commit our hearts to you now, and ask that you would work on us, restoring us, polishing us up so that we are shiny and new again. Let us be transformed by your love and in response love one another. In Jesus name. Amen.