This sermon is starts at one of those points in history I wish I’d been there. The day of Pentecost. It must have been like thousands of light bulbs going off, a mass of people giving their lives to the Lord. What a blessed day in history!
He goes on to excuse the lack of certain spiritual gifts in his day by suggesting that only some of the teachers would have them. He was more concerned with what he calls the ordinary fruit of the Spirit from Galations 5, always one of my favourite passages. For years I tried to be all these things in my own strength and it wasn’t until I was in total dependence with the Lord that I discovered they were gifts. They were not something to be strived for, they were a part of me as inherent as my vascular system. Now it is not something I share easily because to do so may discourage someone who is still striving. There is nothing worse when you’re struggling for someone to come up and say oh but I got all those for free.
Free gifts from heaven are what we receive, this echoes down through the ages. It is why you can spot a sister in a crowd, not because you know her but because the gifts are freely exhibited. Some people, I have one family member, who grew up exhibiting these gifts having given their life to the Lord at an early age. To be unkind is against everything they know, and only now do I understand.
My Christian friends from childhood followed rules, there was nothing they could do that I was allowed to do, even making mud pies seemed to be against some God law. Who would find a rule book appealing. The Bible isn’t a rule book, it is love and because of that love we are changed into the people God wants us to be. We will never be finished in this honing process but look how far we have come.
There must have been that tension around the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues and miracles that still exists today and I have written extensively on the subject without divulging what gifts have been bestowed on me. Part is that reticence to offend a seeker or almost Christian, partly because there is no need for anyone to know at this time, believe it or not I am a deeply private person and this blogging and writing and preaching and all this stuff is not of me.
Wesley talks about the history of the early church. Now he really put on his rose coloured glasses at this point because it sounds like a Christian bubble, everything was good, they loved each other, they shared, they were no power struggles, they didn’t hate, they were humble and they lived in hope. Now I am not saying they were of the world but they were humans, capable of sin, living in close community with each other. Have you ever lived in a dormitory, there is always a snorer, a mover, a shaker, a talker, a one that sleeps soundly and one who sleeps light. Well imagine all the duties of the day being done together – not all people clean up after themselves, some cannot clean as well as others. It would be in the nitty gritty of the kitchen where people disagreed. The big one of course is written about in the Bible, the couple who don’t put in their full portion and they die. So of course there was sibling rivalry but they loved the Lord and got over those molehills for the race was on and being a competitor in the race helping, encouraging, challenging and letting one go ahead was just too important to not get over their differences. They were united in love in the body of Christ.
Then there was the spread of Christianity from one person to another, one to one contact with traders and market holders, centurions, jailers, servants and slaves. Yes there were gatherings were many were saved but it was in the everyday encounters that people saw the lord in these Christians. Word spread and churches sprung up throughout the known world. And they messed up. I mean really take heart from this, the early Christians sometimes got it wrong, they got community wrong, they mixed old ways with new, pagan and Jewish alike, power struggles in the churches abounded and yet still it grew.
It is far, far more important that the Kingdom grows on this earth than who is in charge, who speaks, who doesn’t, our worship has to be authentic, sincere and with the love of God oozing from us. Not surface niceties, it is better to be in conflict if the reconciliation is of God than of pretending to all get on. We can leave our disputes to one side to come together in unity to worship the living God, Emmanuel, God is with us all the time.
Wesley points to the past, showing how good the early Christians were in order to challenge and encourage his own people who he saw reflected in the church in Laodicea.
He then points to the future to the time when the world will be fully Christian. Where there will be no quarrelling, love and joy will abound and all will praise the Lord as they arise and shine, our time has come. His point of the sermon was not eschatology so he did not labour here long, he wanted to get the pulpit boot in.
And finally he comes to present day. He takes no prisoners, it is Oxford and to the university he speaks. He barely even acknowledges the town of Oxford. He is concerned with how the members of the University from the top down and he places a special emphasis on the student, the undergraduates, the young people. They are the next generation.
According to some research most children raised in Christian homes lose their faith at university in the U.S. In this country in the last twenty years there has been an amazing drop in the numbers attending Mass. Services are being commuted, moved to less local places of worship. The middle management is wondering where the next cut will be. But there is a revival in Christianity in this country, small independent churches are bursting into being all over, people are seeking, people need the Lord, they are coming to realise this and it is our role as members of the body of Christ to encourage those people as they tentatively being to draw closer to the Lord.
We need to pour time and energy in living our lives, distinctive, authentic Christian lives, so that people see us as different and become curious. If Wesley preached this verbatim it would turn as many hearts hard as it would turn soft. I am convinced that there would be more to this sermon, that there would be encouraging illustrations extemporally given that were not recorded for posterity. We win souls to Christ by loving not by clever rhetoric.