It was more than he could handle. John Wesley’s movement was about taking the love of Christ beyond the institutional walls of a stiff and cold church and making that love practical, accessible, and truly transformative for the people who were at the very margins of life, struggling to exist. You would have thought that the people in the church would have supported Wesley’s work with the poor and outcast. That wasn’t always the case. Along the way there was a great deal of criticism for what he did and how he did it. In 1742, John Wesley finally had enough of it. He wrote a sermon that was his response to the criticisms that were made against him and the movement his work had started. In this sermon, Wesley wanted people to know what was and what was not at the heart of his work.
This week we look at these statements made in Wesley’s sermon:
“What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” I answer: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in [their] heart by the Holy Ghost given unto [them];” one who “loves the Lord [their] God with all [of their] heart, and with all [of their] soul, and with all [of their] mind, and with all [of their] strength.”
Wesley goes on to explain that a few of the reasons for loving God include these:
- God, through Jesus Christ, has granted us forgiveness.
- All are beloved children of God.
- There is joy in a hope that is eternal life.
For Wesley, foundational for a Methodist is to love God and to fully understand why one loves God. (Remember Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why?).
In the conversations the district superintendents have been having with churches this fall, the first question we ask has been, “how do I experience God at (name of my) UMC?
Some of the responses given have been filled with joy:
- I experience God in the way I was accepted and loved by the people of this church. I had visited other churches and this one loved me just the way I am.
- I experience God in the discussions in a small group (Bible study, Sunday school class, men’s group, or UMW). We have the freedom to express our various opinions and it is ok that we don’t always agree.
- I experience God in the singing of songs in worship. There is something that happens when I hear everyone using their voices, singing in harmony with one another, that reminds me that God values the uniqueness of every person.
- I experience God when I volunteer in our outreach ministry, (too many to name here). I am mindful that God loves the broken hearted, imprisoned, ill, immigrant, etc., and when I volunteer, I become part of God’s work of providing healing, second chances, and new life.
- I experience God in the sermons. I feel as if God knows what I’m going through and speaks directly to me.
- I experience God in our prayer times. I remember that God not only hears my prayers but loves me enough to answer them.
The congregational meetings remind us that there are many reasons to love God. John Wesley’s sermon indicates that there is a sense of joy that floods a person’s life when we connect with all that God has done for us.
If the character of a Methodist is to truly love God with everything in us – heart, soul, mind, strength let me ask this question, what are you doing to fan the flame of that love? What keeps you mindful of what God, in Christ, has done for you? And finally, how do you let that joy-filled love for God find expression in your daily life?
This week I encourage you to intentionally connect with why you love God. At the end of the day for the next week take a few minutes to journal about how you encountered God that day. End your daily entry with a prayer that starts with, “God, I love you because…”
Let your love for God be experienced in all you say, and all you do. It is one of the marks of a Methodist.
My prayers are with us as we continue to journey into our Wesleyan ways.
And in all you do – be the light.