We are on our fourth Sunday in Lent and will be focusing on John and Charles Wesley’s teachings on works of mercy and the role it plays in our Christian lives. Last week we shared the necessity of Grace. We came up with three types of grace: Prevenient, Justifying and Sanctifying Grace. We also shared the Means of Grace. Our study for this Lenten Season is Adam Hamilton’s book: “Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It,” published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2014.
John Wesley, like Martin Luther before him, believed that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. But John also taught that we are saved by grace so that we can do good works. To John, acts of mercy and justice go hand in hand with our salvation. Because of this conviction, John, Charles and his friend William Morgan started the prison ministry at Castle Prison while in Oxford. When he bought the old Cannon Foundry base, he remodeled it and it became the home of Methodism for the next 38 years. In it he made a chapel, school, hospital, and even a printing press where he would later print his sermons and his other work.
John Wesley came to believe that faith is an important part of who we re but at the same time he believed and taught that having this faith should drive us toward doing works of mercy and justice.
At the Foundry he was able to establish a school and a place where the poor children could even be taken care of. Establishing orphanages was also a strong emphasis for the early Methodists and we see the same taking place in America. There are many universities, colleges and hospitals that were started by the Methodist Church. Wesleyan University stands out here in Nebraska and some here are graduates of that school. I am one of them (Southern Methodist University – Dallas, TX).
Therefore, our question this morning today is: what do the works of mercy involve?
1. Caring for Physical Needs of People: Faith and work go hand in hand. A person of faith will express their faith through the good works that they do among the people. This is simply what Jesus called loving our neighbor. The love of God is fully completed when we love our neighbor. We are reminded that if we can’t love a neighbor that we can see, how we can love a God who we cannot see? Those who love their neighbor (anybody in need) will go to any length to: feed them, offer clothing if needed, visit them if sick or in the hospital and even offer them a shelter if they have none. They involve: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the homeless, visiting the sick and those in prison and burying the dead. We will remember Jesus talking about this as he told of the parable of the Goats and Sheep and how they will be separated (Matthew 25:31-40).
2. Seeking Justice: It was nice to see the McDonald’s symbol put upside down this week in honor of International Women’s Day (March 8). I know there are all kinds of opinions on whether flipping the M to W helps with the challenges that women face in the industry but at least they recognized the day. The Church, that’s you and me, can’t allow our faith to ignore things that are unjust in our communities. John Wesley cared enough for the poor children of miners and the poor in his day, that he decided to build schools for them. Seeking justice means: advocating for things like livable wages, flexible work schedules of mothers and fathers, comprehensive health care, family leave, gender parity, having right policies that deter discrimination and harassments. There are so many justice issues that we are called to act on as a church. If we want peace in the world we must try to seek justice first. There can’t be peace where there is no justice. We can’t be silent when our children are being killed in school. We can’t be silent when it is too risky to walk at night in our neighborhoods. John Wesley was opposed to slavery and used all his influence to get motion in Parliament to end slavery. We have to be in places where we can be advocates of the vulnerable in our society. It is this kind of gospel (social) that we believe in as Methodists. Evangelical gospel without social gospel becomes spiritual narcissism. We don’t just hide in our corners when injustice is taking place. Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and other church leaders were key advocates of equality in the days of apartheid. They fought the apartheid regime in South Africa alongside late President Nelson Mandela and other political groups.
3. Caring for Spiritual Needs: The spiritual needs of the people are important. People need to experience that personal relationship that comes in Knowing Christ in a personal way. To some, this is a life-long journey and to others God has to bang their head (like Paul on the Damascus road going to persecute Christians) to get them to see the need. One of the marks of the early Methodists was great preaching. I even believe today that Methodist preachers are among the most polished. Wesley put a lot of emphasis in training, equipping and getting good preachers (many were lay people). People would attend different worship services in the morning and come to the Methodist open-air preaching in the afternoon. Methodists are good singers. We are brought up with church songs. The Methodists teach and believe that people don’t have to check their brains once they get into the church. They believe and teach that people need to use their brains and need to learn something not only for their hearts but also for their brains. Wesley believed in teaching the Word which would go deeper than just to the spiritual appeal. That is why small groups were important avenues of learning as well as spiritual growth. We have to remember that the social gospel, without evangelical gospel, fails to address the root problem of the human condition of sin. It is in evangelical preaching that those who hear the gospel are transformed and renewed by Christ. Then they will do good works.