A minister’s calendar is filled with entries, which shape his or her day, week, and month. Though we are advised to live every day fully and to live in the moment, most of us just can’t do it. We’re also compelled by the nature of our work to plan ahead, to schedule our visits, to plan our week with a thought to self-care and Sabbath, which for a minister is never on a Sunday, to give thought to the coming season of liturgy and music – others participating in those events are counting on us – and all at the same time we live out the plans, which we made months before.
In the early days of my ministry, I tried to keep two calendars – one all church and the other, personal. I quickly realized that instead of simplifying my life, two calendars made my life totally unmanageable. So I reverted to a single calendar and as the years go by, in addition to the entries I make for church work related events, my calendar has an increasing number of personal dates and responsibilities…doctor appointments for Mom and me; grand-parenting occasions on some soccer ball field or Tai Kwan Do mat, vet and haircut appointments. The usual slew of stuff we all deal with. Add to that list the generous supply of United Methodist observances and we come to the one we are focusing on today. Today we are exploring our heritage as United Methodists.
Looking at our beginnings as an established church must begin with the founders of Methodism; brothers John and Charles Wesley. The Wesley brothers were born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. Of the 19 children born to Samuel and Susanna ten survived. John and Charles were by far the best known. Though all of the children were raised in a Christian home…Samuel was an Anglican clergyman and Susanna home taught all her children with a focus on Biblical truth, it was Charles who first experienced what might be termed “a born-again” faith in Christ. John’s “warming of the heart” experience came about three days after Charles. Both men sought to serve God and both were instrumental in bringing many to Christ.
In Chapter 14 in the gospel of John as we heard this morning, Christ speaks of faith as a belief in God. He describes himself as the instrument by which faith in God becomes real…the way and means through which we, as seekers of God’s comfort, love, and forgiveness can find hope to believe; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” This was the extraordinary promise made to all of Christ’s disciples. Though the words were spoken by Christ many years before the two brothers would hear and know them, these words and Christ’s life would lead John and Charles to take bold steps in redefining their Anglican faith. John would become a great itinerant preacher speaking to thousands in open-air forums. Charles would also preach but his greater gift was to write hymns…thousands of them, a very small sampling of which published in our United Methodist Hymnal. There is some question as to how many hymns Charles wrote by the number rests between 6600 and over 8000. Within those hymns, lies a deep understanding of Christian faith heavily dependent on the grace of the Holy Spirit and the abiding, compassion love of God and the redeeming gift of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
There’s a line in John’s gospel that has something important to say to all of us. Verse 12 reads, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these….” God chose to use the gifts he had given to John and Charles Wesley in ways that would change the face of Christianity in Great Britain and throughout the world. Through divine grace John Wesley was inspired to use his God-given gifts of faith and speech to preach to thousands thus being instrumental in leading many to a faith, which would be both personal and holy. His efforts still impact us today leading us to live out a faith of personal holiness and inspiring us to seek out ways to bring social justice into our world. And, his brother Charles was inspired to use his natural God-given love of music to write words set to tones, which would fire up the hearts of many with a love of Christ, music that still has the power to inspire. Because of hymns like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” and “O For a Thousand Tongues” God can engage our hearts and spirits and enliven and energize our gifts for the tasks we are called to take on in Christ’s name.
The promise is there for us as it was for those who stood around Jesus and first heard him say: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; the one who believes in me will also do the works I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Down through the ages, there have been, and there still are, those who follow Christ knowing God does have a plan for them and does have a plan for our lives too. The gifts we need are provided and we are invited to seek out the best grace-filled means by which to live out the promise of hope and salvation, which we’ve received. Not all of us preach like John Wesley or write music like his brother Charles but all of us have something to offer. We know this to be true because Jesus Christ has promised us the grace to do works even greater than those he himself did. And God, in Christ, never speaks falsely. In this, we can put our faith. In Christ, we have been given what we need to do to do what God has asked. It is so. Amen