This is a powerful sermon. It could be preached today. It is a three point sermon:
- The Nature of the Kingdom of God
- How to Enter the Kingdom of God
In the first section Wesley points out the essence of the Kingdom, here and now. There is no eschatological thought here, it is an evangelical sermon pointing out what the Kingdom is in such a way as to convince people of its value.
Wesley, of course, not content with Jesus phrase “the Kingdom of God” calls it “true religion.” Now this would put us off, we are not religious, we strive not to be seen as “holy joes” as if we walked an inch above the ground. We get down in the cesspool of life and meet people there as Jesus would have. He was not religious like the Pharisees, he was a teacher, healer, preacher, friend, who met people in their sinfulness and transformed them.
So I will stick with Jesus words and let Wesley have his true religion. It is the same meaning but for different times. There is no place for the rituals and habits of the church and the temple in the Kingdom of God. This does not mean there is value in a Sunday service, there is, as an act of spontaneous worship of the body of Christ for the Living God. As soon as you know the words of the liturgy off by heart, it is no longer the heart speaking the words. If you sit after the third hymn because you always have – wake up sleeper, the time has come to leave the rituals behind.
In conversation with someone younger than myself:
“We are very traditional here, your church has lovely hymns, we slowly introduce them here”
“There’s a place for new and old, some of Charles Wesley’s hymns are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them – come publicans, come harlots.”
“Did I not say, we are traditional”
And they ended the conversation. We were talking about hymns but it could be true of any of the rituals in church. We want what we like, what we are used to, what we know. We don’t like being blindsided by something we don’t know. What is important no matter how we do worship, is that the focus of that worship is God, not the charismatic preacher, or talented musician or the great pray-er but God. The focus should not be on the things we do but how we are.
Themes already covered come up again and again in Wesley’s sermons and this is true of good deeds more than anything else. Because Wesley was born of the Spirit he knew that the fruit of the Spirit took over his own spirit or personality and he became those beautiful words in Galatians. Wesley was already a preacher, he was already theologically and orthodoxically knowledgeable when he gave his life to Christ. Churches all over the world are full of people who know with their heads what they are to do and so they go do. Being a citizen of the Kingdom of God naturally leads to good works. It is not forced or duty bound. It is natural, inherent within us to do because first we are. We are children of God, living in his Kingdom doing his work in the Kingdom because to not do so would be contrary now to our very being.
Wesley points out that it is the heart that must come to know. Intellectual assent is not enough. Book learning without love is pointless. The devil knows the doctrine of the Christian church as well as any human. This true religion of the heart, the Kingdom of God firmly planted in deep foundations in our hearts, to love God with all our hearts, all our mind, all our soul, all our body and all our strength and to love all humans. This saviour, redeemer of our souls in whom we can fully trust. He is our defender, our refuge and our strength.
Love is key to understanding the Kingdom of God now. The ability to love our enemies, that is not from a human mind, that can only come from God, we are not capable of such love without the love of God first. Inside of us, in the place only God knows, we have compassion, gentleness, meekness and patience that were not present in our former lives. The peace and joy of the Holy Spirit that transcend our understanding enables us to be things and do things that we as former selves would not be able, would not want to be able. It is the immediate result of God reigning, sovereign in our souls.
Wesley uses the example of a Pharisee, self sufficient and full of self-righteousness to point out the consequences of not turning to the Lord. But without God in our hearts we are full of sin. Pride, vanity, ambition, coveting and lust, a putrid bitter river that brings anger, malice, revenge, envy and jealousy. And all our good works will turn to dust, nothing good can come out of these branches? The fruit of this life will be bitter and evil.
When the kingdoms of the world take precedence in our lives over the Kingdom of God, we are not children of the Living God but cardboard cutouts left out in the rain, decomposing into the soil. We are dead to life, our life is full of sin, more than the raindrops in a storm or sand on the shore. Putrid mass of sin.
Only when we are completely aware of our own helplessness can we begin the process of repentance and this is the only way to the Kingdom of God. And what a joyous moment this is. The hour I first believed, John Newton wrote.
Jesus is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice that takes away all your sins. Cast yourself on him. You will find that he will open up the way for you to enter the Kingdom.