This is a much shorter sermon with only two main points, I stumbled over only one word – extortion, saying it three times and still don’t think I said it right. In the scheme of today where at one point I couldn’t remember the word for what a word means – definition (I had to get help) not bad. As a day goes, this one went really well, even paused in my study for lunch and might even get a meal in this evening.
So tottling on I come to Wesley’s second important sermon, that of the almost Christian. The scripture reading that introduces us is from Acts 26 where Paul is in conversation with King Agrippa. It is one of the few places where the word Christian is used in the New Testament. It was a word that that the worldly used to describe these followers of Christ. We could have ended up being called anything from that time but we are disciples and followers of Christ.
So given that, why is there a distinction between the almost Christian and the all together Christian. When I was growing up I was taught how to make cakes, it was a step by step process fraught with the danger of curdling the mixture. At some point in the ‘70’s I was introduced to the all in method of cake making. There was only the addition of baking powder to allow for less air being introduced. It was so much quicker and it didn’t matter if it curdled. Is that the kind of all together Wesley meant.
- What it means to be an almost Christian
There is honesty in an almost Christian, Wesley calls it worldly honesty. People in the world generally expect everyone to follow a certain level of honesty. Oh yes, they will cheat on their taxes and try and get away with as much as possible but they would steal the coat you leave on a chair. Generally people expect life to be fair, they are fair in their dealings in the main. They have an outward expression of not oppressing the poor or under privileged.
Truth is another aspect of an almost Christian’s life. There is truth in all our lives, we try hard not to lie but we allow little white ones. We get upset when our politicians or celebrities get caught out in a lie but they are easily forgotten.
Bear in mind that some church goers are almost Christians. They follow the rules of being a Christian but something is missing. However they can be the best members of a congregation to get things done. They are known for their good works, tirelessly working for charity, always finding another use for things.
According to Wesley almost Christians are also temperate, they don’t live in excess and avoid argument trying to live at peace and they don’t take revenge. So they are very busy working but more than that they encourage people and are good examples of Christian living. They strengthen waverers and comfort those in need and lead people to Christ.
Whenever I think of the almost Christian I think of people doing all the right things for all the right reasons, I think of monks long ago poring over manuscripts creating the beautiful illuminations of scripture, I think of Christian artists throughout the centuries who created stunning pictures depicting the Bible, I think of Christian writers of both fiction and non-fiction trying to put on paper what they experience or imagine, I think of John Wesley and all the preachers down through the years who have challenged and encouraged and comforted congregations and I think of you and me.
The thing is, we just don’t know if the person sitting next to us in church is an almost Christian or an all together Christian and they don’t know either because there is a sincerity to their worship. They don’t do all this work and follow all the rules because of some need, they truly really intend to serve God and do his will, they sincerely decide to please God in every way, deed and word. So we get this far what more is needed to be an all together Christian.
Being in love with God
Mark 12:30 outlines the first commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
This love fills us up, oozes from every pore, is wider and higher and in every way bigger than we can ever understand. This love transforms our personalities (if we allow it).
We rejoice that this love is for us and delight in the Lord. Not in some schmaltzy sentimental way because this love is more than a Hallmark movie, it can bring us to tears at the very thought of it. Note to self – really good if you don’t have that moment whilst preaching like on Sunday.
Since we have this love what else on earth could we require?
Secondly we must love our neighbour. But who is our neighbour – everyone! Our families, our neighbours, our enemies, people we don’t know. Because he loves us, we love. Dorothy Day once said something like ‘I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least” We have to share the love we have freely been given. It is a command.
But because we have been transformed by the spirit we can’t stop ourselves loving if we are an all together Christian. It is not forced, or duty bound but something we can’t help but love.
The next part of being an all-together Christian is faith. We must have the faith of a little child that believes and trusts his parent to get him safely across the road. A dependence on God in complete faith, trust and belief.
Faith is not just accepting the dogma of our church, it is not brain learned. The faith we have, saving faith is a gift from God just as much as love is.
Some people listening to this sermon will realise they are not even an almost Christian because they are not rule followers, not devout, honest, truthful or charitable.
The intention in a church goer is to be Christian, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is difficult to describe without the use of CGI technology what it is like to have all the old hate sucked out replaced by opulent love.
All-together Christians unite, rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and having the love of God planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!
In this sermon Wesley shows the Holy Spirit working in him. It is as vital today as it was back then, beautiful.