Today is our first Sunday in Lent and, as many of you know, we started our Lent Season on Wednesday, marked by Ash Wednesday services. For the next six Sundays we have picked a study that will guide us through the season. It is entitled, “Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It,” published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2014.
In this study we hope to follow the Wesley journey of faith with a hope of reviving or renewing our own faith this season. Lent is a time of reflection and seeking God in a deeper and more meaningful way. With this in mind let us begin where it all started in Epworth. This was the town where John Wesley was born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley on June 17, 1703. This couple was blessed with nineteen children, though it was only two who got to be well known: John, the preacher and Charles, the composer.
Samuel Wesley was the Rector (Senior Pastor) for St. Andrews Episcopal Church for thirty-five years. John served, after his ordination, with his father as associate pastor.
The spiritual discipline of the Wesley boys and the other children could be highly attributed to their mother, Susanna. She spent time educating her children as well as teaching them how to pray. She is the one who planted the spiritual discipline as she would spend an hour each week with each child individually. During these times they would share with her what was happening in their world and the mother was there to offer some encouragements. What became early Methodist practices had a lot to do with what Susanna taught them. He often sought her advice on some of the challenges he faced.
Both Samuel and Susanna believed in educating the girls as well as the boys. Susanna, herself, who was a daughter of a Puritan priest from London, was highly educated in the classics and other literature of the day. John attended Charterhouse school in London on scholarship, as Charles. They both, also, attended Oxford University. John being away from the discipline of his parents, wandered away even though he said his prayers, read his Bible and went to church. This is how voiced his concern about being saved, “(1)Not being so bad as other people; (2)having still a kindness for religion; and (3) reading the Bible, going to church, and saying my prayers.” (Hamilton: Revival, p. 39). This morning, as we start our Lenten Journey I would like to focus our attention on Holiness and what some of the spiritual practices that can lead us in this direction are. We have to remember the words of Peter, “You shall be Holy for I am Holy.” (1Peter 1:16).
1. Holy Living: It is Paul who writes, “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31). It was Taylor who wrote, “every action of nature become religious and every meal is an act of worship… As well as an act of prayer.” (Ibid p. 40,41). This view brought Wesley to a conclusion that whatever he did should be that which brings glory to God. Revival is a life change that is connected to the Christian faith. It is when we respond to God in a new way, an even more energetic way than we used to do. Sometimes revival happens when we are following the same routine but a new understanding comes and we respond in a new way. When we come to the point that what we do everyday should be that which brings God’s glory, we can’t allow ourselves to live a double standard of life if we are looking for a revival. Whether in public or in private we have to remember that God’s eyes can see us and there is no place where it is safe to do the wrong things to ourselves or to others. Longing for holiness invites us to a full yield of our life to God. It invites us to a desire to want to become like Christ in our hearts and in our actions, to live a life that glorifies God.
2. Word of God: Holiness involves living in the Word of God. The Word of God is the food that every believer needs to feed on to manage the faith journey. Our journey continues even after Sunday when we go back to our weekly routine. This is where the Wesley boys borrowed from their mother, Susanna, who allocated them individual personal time with her every week. It was, therefore, the Wesley brother with other friends who decided to meet on a regular basis with friends. Because of the rigorous pursuit of holiness, the students at Oxford called them “Bible Moths” or “Holy Club.” Because of their intentional and methodical approach in pursuing holiness, they were labeled “Methodists.” Prayer was at the center whenever they gathered together. They knew, as we do today, that prayer is the connecting thread to the source of life and strength at the time of great difficulty.
3. Acts of Mercy: Holy living calls us to be involved in the acts of mercy. We are reminded of the word of God recorded in Matthew 25:31ff. This involves feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in the hospital, and taking care of the poor. As we seek to live a holy life, we should not forget the acts of mercy for we are the hands and the feet of Jesus in the places where we live. We are told at one time John Wesley would not cut his hair because he would use the money to take care of the poor. He had to keep long hair. That is how committed he was.
If we are willing to pursue a holy life, we have to allow God to work on us so that we can be restored. When God looks at us, what he sees is the potential that is in each one of us if we just allow him to work on us. Like cars that are restored, we will need tune ups as time goes by. We need the same on our faith journey. We can’t be satisfied with what we used to be but rather allow the spirit of God to keep repairing our broken pieces, maybe apply some paint here and there, replace a carpet or a windshield.