Susanna Wesley, Sacramental Evangelical

 

In his journal, John Wesley records a conversation that he had with his mother Susanna in London on September 3, 1739.

I talked largely with my mother, who told me that, till a short time since, she had scarcely heard such a thing mentioned as the having forgiveness of sins now, or God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit: much less did she imagine that this was the common privilege of all true believers. “Therefore,” said she, “I never durst ask for it myself. But two or three weeks ago, while my son Hall was pronouncing those words, in delivering the cup to me, the words struck through my heart and I knew God for Christ’s sake had forgiven me all my sins.

The “short time” was about 15 months. In June of 1738, Wesley visited his mother and read to her a paper describing the spiritual journey that brought him to own inward experience of forgiveness the previous month.

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Wesley’s Open Doors had Exit Signs

Wesley’s journal entry from June 25, 1744:

Monday, 25, and the five following days we spent in conference with many of our brethren (come from several parts), who desire nothing but to save their own souls and those who hear them. And surely, as long as they continue thus minded, their labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. The next day we endeavored to purge the society of all that did not walk according to the gospel. By this means we reduced the number of members to less than nineteen hundred. But number is an inconsiderable circumstance. May God increase them in faith and love!

Wesley and his followers were confident in the identity and mission of their little society. They had a coherent vision of their life together. They knew who they were, what they believed and what kind of life those beliefs required. Sermons such as A Caution Against Bigotry and Catholic Spirit demonstrate that they also knew God might be at work in and through the members of other institutions, some of whom had very different values and practices. Others could take responsibility for their own choices. Those who chose to be part of the Methodist movement were expected to live in accordance with Methodism’s values and practices. If, either through neglect or as a matter of conscience, members of the society no longer wished to conform the group’s expectations, they were dis-enrolled from membership until they amended their ways.

 

Remembering Two Kinds of Death on Ash Wednesday

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. Genesis 3:19

When Adam and Eve strove to be like gods by eating from the forbidden tree, the Lord reminded them that they were not gods – they were dust. And now, in this fallen, broken world, to dust they will return.

The ashes that mark our foreheads today remind us that we, too, are made of dust.

In a culture that does its best to blind our eyes to that reality, it’s important for its own sake to remember that we are mortal. Knowing that we come with an expiration date puts our lives in the proper perspective. Do you remember a few years back, when country music singer Tim McGraw told us to “live like you were dying”? Or when the rock group Nickelback asked us how we would live, “if today was your last day”? Even the secular world gets it. Life is short. Make the most of the brief time you have. Don’t waste the precious days you’ve been given.

“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away,” pleads the Psalmist. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (From Psalm 90) Numbering our days rightly means that we think about more than our own wishes and desires. A heart of wisdom understands that some things are more important than our own personal bucket lists. Early in my ministry, there was a sign in the kitchen of one of my elderly parishioners:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

The ashes remind us of our now natural mortality, but they also point beyond our mortality to something even more important. For Christians, the ashes are a sign of our intention – of our desire – that a part of us actually go ahead and die!

The part of us that lives in rebellion against God and transgresses his law, the part that fails to love God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves, the part that refuses to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God: this part, the old Adam that still asserts himself and screams “I’m not dead yet” – this part of us must die. The cancers that eat at our souls must be eventually be ripped from our inward being and cast into the fires of hell, and the sooner the better.

The ashes, then, are a sign of another kind of death, the death of the old self in repentance. They are a sign of our openness to God doing his work in us, making us new creatures, cleansed of our sinful ways, and heirs of eternal life in the age to come.

For if, according to the word of God, we have been united with Christ in baptism in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For this reason, then, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (From Romans 6)

Let these ashes remind you, then, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return, but there is one who saves sinners made of dust and raises them to new life and righteousness. Thanks be to God.

Why Every Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday

As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. … A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Luke 9:29, 35

The transfiguration story is a theophany – a visible, audible manifestation of the divine. In its details, it reminds the reader of God’s appearance to Israel when the he established his covenant with Moses and the people of the Exodus. God is recapitulating the history of his people in Jesus, but he’s doing more than that.

Here, God the Father makes the invisible nature of his Son visible. Jesus shines with heavenly glory. His divinity is unmistakable. The Father audibly speaks from the cloud to those assembled: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

Of course God does not speak in the same way when the church assembles on the Lord’s Day. Jesus does not appear in shiny clothing in our midst. As we worship, though, we should be aware that we are in the divine presence even though that presence is hidden to ordinary sight. Jesus was always the Son of God – not just when his divine nature became visible on the mountain.

As the Gospel reading is announced to the congregation, we respond by joining the Father in glorifying the Son. We praise him with “Alleluias” and with one voice we acclaim, “Glory to you, O Lord.” And then, as the Father directed, we listen to his Son speak to us as the Gospel is read.

Later, when we share the Lord’s Table, we have his promise that he is with us, giving himself to us in the form of bread and wine. His presence is invisible to natural sight, but he is there. And wherever Jesus is, his presence is still glorious for those with eyes to see.

See also:
The Transfiguration in Mark (2009)
The Transfiguration in Luke (2010)
The Transfiguration in Matthew (2011)

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

Alleluia! sing to Jesus! His the scepter, His the throne.
Alleluia! His the triumph, His the victory alone.
Hark! the songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood.
Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by His blood.

Alleluia! not as orphans are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us, faith believes, nor questions how;
Though the cloud from sight received Him when the forty days were o’er
Shall our hearts forget His promise, “I am with you evermore”?

Alleluia! bread of angels, Thou on earth our food, our stay;
Alleluia! here the sinful flee to Thee from day to day:
Intercessor, Friend of sinners, Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea.

Alleluia! King eternal, Thee the Lord of lords we own;
Alleluia! born of Mary, Earth Thy footstool, Heav’n Thy throne:
Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh our great High Priest;
Thou on earth both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast.

Words by William Dix, 1837-1898.