Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived it: Persevering to the End
Rev. Sandy Johnson
July 9, 2017
When I was a little girl I was taught the words to a rhyme that I was to chant as a snappy response to bullying on the playground. I know I said it numerous times, although I can’t remember the situations in which I did. Do you all remember this one? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?” At the time that made sense. After all you couldn’t see any physical damage to angry words or name calling. If you got smacked with a stick it would for sure leave a red welt, a clear sign of damage to the skin. But does this rhyme really make sense? Is it true? Do words hurt or not?
This week I read an article with that same title, “Do Words Hurt?” from Jena University in Germany. The published study showed that in fact “verbal stimuli can trigger reactions in certain parts of the brain that cause physical pain.” In a second article published in Scientific America, titled “What Causes Chest Pain When Feelings Are Hurt?”, Robert Emery and Jim Coan, professors of psychology at the University of Virginia, explain that ” … emotional pain involves the same brain regions as physical pain, suggesting the two are inextricably connected.” Sticks and stones, hmmm.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Jesus knew that his disciples would face opposition and challenges. He knew that well-meaning folks would misunderstand, become fearful, anxious or outright defiant in the face of change and the new gospel that Jesus was teaching.
“Jesus promised his disciples there would be opposition to their ministry. John 16:33 says, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” When you have a vision, some will oppose it. When you challenge the status quo, you’ll ruffle feathers. When you are passionate, others will be skeptical. When you see a measure of success, some will find you threatening. When you seek to change things, you’ll encounter resistance.”
Jesus was right. Jesus knew that words hurt and wanted us to be prepared.
Not only were the disciples persecuted, our founder John Wesley was also and I imagine that some of us here today have felt the sting of persecution. John and Charles Wesley were defying the status quo within the Anglican Church in England. They dared to try new things, to go to where the people were, preaching in outdoor venues, calling those listening to a deeper faith, a stronger and holier life than what they had been experiencing.
Pressing his followers to a more engaged and fulfilling life, put many people off. Wesley at times was harsh in his preaching and challenged people to a deeper commitment, to take more serious and holy approach to life. His daily habits and expectations of others was for many, simply too strict, too difficult, too demanding to endure.
Because of that many churches wouldn’t invite Wesley to preach, or they invited him once but he was not invited back. Wesley believed that the people around him were Christian in name only. He was hard pressed to see the “joy, assurance, or peace that comes from being wholly surrendered to God. It seemed they lived their lives in compromise with sin, willing to do just enough good but no more. They entertained evil, provided that it wasn’t too extreme. They did little or nothing to grow in love with God.
“Wesley believed that there was more to being a Christian than simply acceptance: there is a power, love and joy that comes from walking with God. And God expects more of Christians than simply trying to not be so bad as other people.”
Because Wesley was forbidden to share this message in traditional churches, he was forced to preach his message of repentance and hope in the town square, in fields and the marketplace. Anywhere there were people, you would find Wesley sharing his message. Some of the priests and laity were so offended by his sermons that they hired thugs and rabble-rousers to disturb his preaching. He was thrown down, pushed around, pelted with rotten tomatoes and manure. “He was dragged before magistrates, beaten with fists, pummeled with rocks. Homes where he stayed were set afire. How discouraging it must have been. But he refused to give up, and his perseverance in the face of opposition made all the difference.”
You see, what motivated him was not the abuse that was heaped upon him, but the lives he saw that were changed before his eyes, as people heard his message and began to live a more deeply spiritual life, one in which the means of grace were evident. These were people who were no longer, half Christian, but full-fledged Christians in thought, word and deed.
It was not only Wesley who experienced opposition in his ministry. Think about Moses. He was so discouraged after leading the Israelites in the desert for forty years and listening to their incessant complaining and grumbling about the conditions they were under. “Moses, I’m hungry!” “Moses, I’m thirsty!” “Moses, are we there yet?” At one point, Moses basically prays to God, “Just kill me now!” Sort of reminds me of vacationing with a carload full of kids! I know you know what I’m talking about! Imagine if Moses had given up and returned to Egypt?!
Let’s look at a modern-day example. Martin Luther King, Jr. In January 1956, he received a threatening phone call. It was not the first he had received, but that particular night, feeling exhausted physically and emotionally, he became so discouraged that he considered bowing out of leadership in the civil rights movement. Sitting at the kitchen table, he prayed to God, saying he was afraid and was at the end of his strength. At that moment, he experienced God’s presence as he never had before. He heard God’s voice telling him to keep standing up for truth and righteousness. That experience strengthened him for his work. Imagine if Dr. King had bowed out of leadership that night, rather than pressing on with the fight for civil rights. Where would our nation be now?”
Despite extreme opposition John Wesley persevered and ultimately became somewhat of a celebrity. In his sixties, he had influenced so many lives that he was then invited to preach in some of the most influential pulpits in England. He led a revival of sorts which resulted in the denomination we are now a part of being formed. “When he was in his seventies and eighties he was a national hero, having been used by God to touch countless lives.” “The great revival of Christianity took place under Wesley’s leadership because he refused to give up, despite years of sometimes violent opposition. He remembered the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad.”
We may all, at times, experience opposition in one form or another. Whether it is in your walk with Christ, in your family or in your business life, I suspect that there will be times when you feel like giving up, throwing in the towel and resigning to the critics that are against you. “At those times, here’s the question: Is God calling you to quit, or are you simply giving up? If God is not calling you to quit, will you give up or keep going? Will you, like Wesley, brush off the manure and go at it again? The people who change the world are those who refuse to give in, who get back up when they’re pushed down, who have the courage, with God’s help, to keep moving forward.”
As I begin my sixth year as your pastor, you have my commitment that I am one who will never give up. I will continue to preach God’s word and challenge all of us to be our best, to rise above opposition as it presents itself and to follow Christ in all that I do. Will you join me in that?
Let us pray:
Gracious God, sometimes we are hurt by the words that others say, we believe the harsh words and maybe think about quitting. Sustain us with your power so that we may never be discouraged, that we might be reminded of your power and truth that with you by our side there is nothing that can stand against us. Thank you for giving us great role models, like John Wesley, Moses and Martin Luther King, Jr. so that we might follow their excellent example, pushing forward when the road gets tough. We celebrate the joy you bring when we persevere and honor you with our lives. Thank you, Jesus! Amen
 http://classroom.synonym.com/words-hurt-people-12104.html. Accessed July 8, 2017
 Hamilton, Adam. Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived it. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2014. Page 123
 Ibid 125
 Ibid, 126
 Numbers 11:10-15
 Hamilton, Adam. Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived it. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2014. Page 127
 Ibid, 129