Sermon Eight ~~~ The First Fruits of the Spirit

Wesley wanted to bring many souls to the foot of the Cross, that is well known. He was also fastidious in his own devotions, spending time with the word of God, he journalled extensively (For today read “BLOG”), he preached tirelessly. His aim was to be Christ like and he was mocked for it. There were bits of his life that fell short of the mark, perhaps his personal life was not the greatest. He embodied:

‘And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;’ Col 3:23

And in his professional life, he did this. He was not working because as some say he was a workaholic. He worked because he was compelled by something, not of him, something from God. God called him and he followed, he chose to not only do life with Jesus but to go wherever he was sent, and bring many souls to the Lord.

But this sermon is more about the follow-up, a skillset often neglected by todays’ evangelists. This was a message for people about backsliding, about sinning and what to do about it when you are a follower of Jesus.

There are two broad subjects within Christian books right now, not the academic ones but the everyday books people read. The first is ‘becoming Christian’ and second is ‘how to grow in faith.’

There are few books that address the issue of falling short, or backsliding, or wondering about it, or being convicted by the Spirit of sin. Why is this? We preach often about how we are not perfect, how we are unworthy, how we are all sinners.

Is it possible that as we say “We are all sinners,” we don’t actually mean it, we don’t believe it, we think we are past that, that by standing in the pulpit we are exempt. What of the listeners, those who have sat in the pews for many years, is this just rhetoric with no substance. Is it a phrase we expect to hear and then tick it off the list along with ‘mercy’ ‘grace’ and ‘love.’

When we say “we are all sinners” what we should mean and possibly should be saying is “I am a sinner unworthy, you are a sinner unworthy,” This is not about communal guilt and shame, it is about reality. We sin, intentional, unintentional, due to circumstances, due to whatever. But we sin. And it is not about thinking of Adam & Eve and holding onto that sin that is within us. We really do things that are sins. We look where we shouldn’t, our minds have thoughts that should be banished, our actions are not always for the good.

This sermon addresses this head on, it does not shy away from the sins committed, but it is also a sermon infused with God’s love. Yes we are sinners, and, yes we are loved with a filial love. When we open up the communication, when we speak to the Lord and confess & repent of our sinful ways we are forgiven and this is not a one time deal. Yes there is the onus to live a changed life, and if we are born in the Spirit we have a changed life and the fruit of the Spirit should be evidenced in our lives but is this something we work at? or is this giftings of these fruit. I can remember being an angry, frustrated, violent person, now not even a guy from Vodafone accounts can make me frustrated. I sat yesterday as someone verbally abused me in public and I was patient. These thins are not of me, they are gifts. Beautiful, priceless gifts.

To backsliders everywhere, get back on track, there is life here, there is love and it is abundant.

I am returning to the Sermons and daily discipline

A year last November I told someone my next project was to voice record Wesley’s sermons in the language it was written in. They didn’t see the point, but then they had not voice recorded the reworded Sermons on Several Occasions. Possibly when they had studied them it came easily, the language, the nuance, imagining a group of miners just out of the pit listening to this preacher guy on or off horseback, imagining the smells & sights, the noise – was there any?

On Wednesday night a preached to a completely silent room, the children were dozing and the adults without exception had their eyes raised looking at me as I delivered God’s message to His people. I wonder when Wesley preached in the fancy Anglican churches was there silence or was the moving of frock coats and skirts as people became more and more uncomfortable as Spirit’s sword pierced their hearts through the words of John Wesley.

I reckoned back then and still do, that I need to know what it was like to hear those words come from a mouth and so I begin a new challenge. One sermon. One voice recording. One small piece of interpretative text or reaction to the words. One day.

Now just like Frank Jenner I am not going to beat myself up if I miss a day but I am intending to complete the challenge in 141 days, minus the travelling days and one day off a week bring me to mid- August.

john wesley

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
    your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
    give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
    your wine vats will brim over.
But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline;
    don’t sulk under his loving correction.
It’s the child he loves that God corrects;
    a father’s delight is behind all this.

Sermon Thirty Five Christian perfection

john                                                             audio clip

This is such a long sermon, even in comparison with other long ones of Wesley. And I have to say not very helpful. I feel like the child who just can’t reach the cookie jar. In one sermon he has put a downer on everyone who considers themselves Christian.

WHY?

Because he says that if we are guided by the Holy Spirit we cannot sin. He uses lots of scripture both from the Old and New Testament to back up his argument. And it sounds peachy. We are Christian and therefore we do not sin. But hands up those who don’t. Never have even the beginning of a bad thought about someone?

He outlines how we are not perfect and uses the example of us not having full knowledge, the Trinity is a huge mystery to us for example. We are fallible, God is not. The Bible is infallible, we are not. We make mistakes.

Actually I feel like the cookie jar has been taken out of my hands. If I follow with Wesley’s theology I should be perfect. And I am not. I follow the law of the land, I follow the law of God but I live in a state of grace which means that my way of following those laws is different to a non-believer.

I follow them as part of the love that pours down on me, as I live with the gifts given and the fruit of the Spirit there are some sins that I couldn’t do without wrenching myself from the Lord’s arms. So why would I do that?

Everyday I am honed a little bit more, another aspect of my character needs some work. Today it was my propensity to sit and sleep rather than do something active to freshen my dull mind. I was struck by lethargy at the very time when I need to be sharp.

Wesley wrote a book about Christian perfection too, it was a major focus of his life. He believed we could attain perfection.

Now when God looks at us through the lens of Jesus we are washed clean and spotless, we are perfect in His eyes because he is looking through the blood of Christ.

God is not grim or a cosmic killjoy, if I were to get hung up on the Law, the sins I would lose my joy, that beautiful gift from God. We are free from the chains of sin and when we do sin we are immediately sorry, we throw ourselves on God’s mercy.

God gave to us a new nature, He put another principle into us, a third part of a perfective constitution; we have the spirit put into us, to be a part of us, as properly to produce actions of a holy life, as the soul of man in the body does produce the natural. God hath exalted human nature, and made it in the person of Jesus Christ, to sit above the highest seat of angels, and the angels are made ministering spirits, ever since their Lord became our brother. Jeremy Taylor 1652

Wesley therefore was not the only one talking about perfection. I get images of people not quite walking on the ground and ice cream. Taylor is talking about the perfect Spirit living within us and Wesley suggests that because the perfect Spirit is within us we cannot sin if we want the Spirit to stay. There is a tension within us, our human nature and the Spirit guiding us. We are sinful living in a broken world but the Spirit gives us the option of a new way of living.

It is but a very little while that our spirits shall be crusht and clogged with these heavy and sluggish bodies; at the resurrection they shall be refined from all dregs of corruption, and become spiritual, and incorruptible, and glorious, and every way suited to the activity and perfection of a glorified soul and the ‘spirits of just men made perfect. Tillotson 1652

Tillotson argues that it is at death this perfection occurs, I think but open to others interpretations. He goes on:

‘Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us always that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen.’ Tillotson 1652

There is a movement here, a progressing. My friend has the phrase, “Work in Progress” always in her mind and quotes it frequently when we mess up. I can just see the words forming on her lips. God forgives us so much, I know he has endless mercy and grace and sometimes I understand that in a very personal way. It isn’t fair, if things were fair I would be heading to hell.

Recently I have discovered there are public sins, the ones that put you in the spotlight, that people have an opinion about where you went wrong, what you should do about it etc. Lots of human judgement and tsk tsking. And then there are ones that no one human knows about. Those are the ones that are a barrier to even attempting to reach perfection.

Some people sit with these secret sins, thinking that if no one human knows, sure it will be alright. Some people worry themselves about them but do nothing about them. Others struggle with them being unable to be free of them and others fall at the feet of the Cross and move onward and forward to that hope of perfection, the way the Lord sees us.

So no, at this moment in time on this issue I do not concur with John, would love to talk it over with him so he could explain it better so I might understand. Doctor, I need a lift…

Sermon Five Put Right By Faith

                 john                                                audio clip

Wesley begins at the beginning, back in Genesis with Adam, giving us the background of that perfection back in the Garden of Eden. He calls Adam perfect, holy and happy basking in the glow of God’s love. And he messed up, became mortal, separated from God through sin. We can all relate to that, but more than that, because this example of holy happiness messed up we can forgive ourselves for the messes we make.

Wesley calls Jesus  – the second Adam. I know where he is coming from but I don’t like that title being applied to Jesus because he isn’t in second place to anyone on this planet, he was there before Adam and he is so much more than Adam. But there is a connection. Because of Adam we were separated from God by sin but because of Jesus we are reconnected with God, because the sinless one, the perfect one gave himself in a single act of self sacrifice he cancelled the debt, redeemed us, from the debt incurred by all the sin of all humankind. Jesus passed through death on behalf of every human (even me, even you).

One single act of sinfulness condemned us all to spiritual death so a single sinless act sets all humans free and gives us life.

Wesley point out that justification is not the same as being made righteous, is not the cancelling of an indictment, is not deception.

Justification is pardon. Pardon is the forgiveness of sins. Justification is an act of God the Father in which he shows his righteousness and his mercy by forgiving past sins. It is amazing that this sermon is the one I get to reflect on today, as it is Sunday and the service this morning was on Psalm 51 with the theme of acknowledging we sin, acknowledge that we need to be cleansed and rejoicing and praising and worshipping the Lord when we are forgiven and accept that forgiveness.

We have the assurance that we ask for our sins to be forgiven, and God forgives them and then forgets them.

God justifies those who need forgiveness, the unrighteous. If we consider ourselves righteous then we have no need to repent so we won’t be forgiven. But no one is righteous, we are all sinners, so we must seek forgiveness.

Historically and in some cases in churches today people are led to believe they should prepare to enter into a church. That we should be cleansed in some way before approaching the Lord.

The Lord meets us where we are, in our mess and stuff. He meets us no matter what we look like, what we wear. He is not concerned with outward appearances he looks into our hearts and if we have a heart for him, if in our brokenness we seek him, he knows and responds.

We can feel guilty and condemned, worthless, unloved, but we can know that the Lord iswaiting for us to turn to him. We just need to ask for him to be in our lives. It is pointless to be outwardly doing when our interior is still a slave to sin.

We are justified by faith, faith that is a gift from God. We must learn to trust, have confidence in, believe, have total dependence, have faith in the Lord. Only through this faith will our sins be forgiven.

And it is instant

There is a whole world chasing after instant self-gratification but this justification is the best instant. As soon as we believe, our faith instantaneously makes them righteous in God’s sight. A transformation takes place, a new creation is born. Hallelujah!

Wesley closes with what we now call an altar call. Come quickly he says Believe in the Lord Jesus and you, even you, will be reconciled to God. Amen

Sermon One Saved through trusting in God

john                                                                                         audio clip

Speaking this sermon is an entirely different experience than passively reading. By the time I get to sermon 44 I hope to enthuse some of the passion from John Wesley because I suspect he was an animated speaker. I made my first error by the tenth word, saying something like God’s grape instead of God’s grace. But as a first attempt it went okay.

You know when you get one of those lightbulb moments when things click into place. Well this sermon is one of those for someone who is on the periphery of church, an almost Christ or a seeker. Oh what judgement I hear you call. No, from experience, from my own experience I can tell you this sermon is the “the last piece of the jigsaw” that has been missing from the spiritual journey of an almost Christian.

The introduction explains grace as free and undeserved favour. How true is this, without the grace of God there is no way someone like me could venture into communion with the Living God. People like me are the ones you cross the road to avoid, I am the smelly homeless guy in the doorway, I’m the young girl on a corner selling her physical body for a fix of instant gratification, I’m the refuge in a cold barren land far away from familiar sights and aromas spat at for being a different colour, I’m the old lady by the cold fire grate to scared to light the fire lest it is colder tomorrow and there is only a few lumps of coal left. I am the internet troll making nasty remarks, I am the paedophile. I am the rapist. I am the prisoner. I am all of these. The people who believe they are unloveable, because once I too thought that God could love a murderer but stopped short of loving me.

Wesley goes on to describe human sin, in terms of good works i.e. that if we do enough good works it outweighs the sin. He is not in favour, thank goodness, of this type of work. When I look at what I do, that people would consider good works, I do not see myself, I see only God working in me. There are things I do now that I know I am not capable of doing in my own strength. God has done and is doing a work in me that I do not know where and when it will end but I am thoroughly enjoying whatever it is. Christians have corporate liability so even if we were not sinners (impossible) we would be as sinful as the most sinful. It is part of our responsibility as individual Christians and as the body Christ to encourage and challenge our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ to dig deeper into relationship with the Living Lord.

  1. What kind of faith it is through which we are saved

God expects intellectual assention that he is God, that there is a God from every human on this planet. Believers and non believers alike. Faith in this situation is the very narrow definition, faith that He exists. He expects humankind to show justice, mercy, and truth to their neighbours. I have a family member who is to their friends “a Christian” because they exhibit kindness and love, would do anything for their friends etc. but they are agnostic. They have chosen not to believe that God exists, but in the choosing there is an option to choose again.

Wesley quite rightly points out that even the devil and demons have faith, the devil believes that Jesus is the son of God, the promised Messiah and the saviour of the world. The forces of evil are well aware that Jesus was God in human flesh, the incarnate Lord, and that he will ultimately be victorious in the fight against evil.

And he goes further than I would at this point, he says that our saving faith is more than the faith of the apostles. I disagree with him. I think that we act in our spiritual journey with the Lord exactly as the apostles behaved, we believe and have trust and faith in the Lord and then we mess up and are shown by the conviction of the Spirit that we have messed up. I concur with Wesley that whilst Jesus was on the earth, in his earthly ministry the disciples could not know the saving faith of Christ because he had not yet become the ultimate sacrifice, the perfect one slaughtered for us, to redeem us and save us from death. Through his death of the cross we have eternal life.

Christian faith is not merely the brain saying “yes there is a God” or even believing that the Bible is without error and everything in it is God breathed truth. It is more than that. The gift of faith, saving faith, that we have been given is giving over our lives to Christ. Relying on Him, not on our own strength, to depend on him totally, surrender and submit to the one who loves us more than we will ever understand.

He was our atonement, the once and for all complete atonement for our sins, we trust in him completely, in his life, in his death and in his resurrection and we hold onto him steadfastly as the only way in which we can become holy, redeemed, wise and right with God.

The gift of faith from God, our Christian faith is our salvation, so it is saving faith. We are saved because we put all our trust in Him.

  1. What is Salvation

It is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. We are saved, saved from sin, saved from the guilt of sin, saved from fear, saved from the power of sin and saved from all sorts of sin according to Wesley.

Jesus saves all his people, all who believe in him. He saves us from our past sin, when we turn to Christ he transforms us into a new creation without the baggage of our past sin. It is gone, finished, we are healed of it. We are pronounced ‘not guilty’ because of the blood of Christ that was shed for us. We have been washed in that blood and he makes us new, pure and white. And if we could stay that way life would be a walk in the park. Now once we have been reborn our habitual sins are gone, the dominating sins that came to us as we we confessed them one by one to the Lord are gone. But we are still capable of sinning, and we do still sin.

If we lived in a Christian bubble and the only interaction with the world was as missional creatures maybe we wouldn’t sin (?) Going down from our ivory towers to the lower people below to give them tracts and sing songs and talk in the abstract of a life saved, the people who stop and listen are searchers anyway so is it effective mission to fill our churches with people seeking only to be happy. No, a sermon preached from a pulpit in 1738 on a bright summer’s day in Oxford University to people of learning would encourage some, challenge others and offend many. A sermon preached outside a sweatshop factory where young children were sold as slaves to the owner, one to one contact with these people in a language they understand, if we meet the sex slaves in this town and help them practically to get out and stay out of that life. If we show the love of God to them through the way we accept them just as they are, then we are in the world of sin. When they talk about what they have done and what has been done to them, we are hearing of sins committed and sins committed to, if we are truly at one with God in this and then we will be tempted. Temptation is good because we can choose to continue on our journey with the Lord, consider them trials.

Wesley maintains that a new creation doesn’t sin. He puts forward the argument that the desire to sin is gone, stifled at rebirth. So I read this and my first thoughts are – well girl you are not as Christian, not as reborn as you thought you were because I know I sin. It is in that sigh when the phone rings and I know that there is a need on the other end of the line. Now because I am in constant communion with the Lord I immediately throw myself on his mercy and I confess my sin and answer the phone joyfully. It is in that frustration that bubbles up when I am studying and my door opens and family life needs to be attended to but I want to get back to my study. The balance of that I am working on. It is in the compromises I have to make, it is all right for someone to preach be in the world but not of it, but what happens when the of it is your spouse, tension, right.

  1. Objections

I like that Wesley puts forward his arguments and then presents objections that were around and still are today. The faith and good works scenario is still played out today . So rather than give Wesleys point of view this is mine and I think they correlate. Because my life is a life surrendered I do what God directs me to and this can be sitting with someone for hours, it can be baking a cake, or picking up kids or paying a supermarket bill or praying for someone, being kind to someone who is being horrid, experiencing joy in the battlefield, endlessly studying, singing, preaching and maintaining self control in areas I would not ordinarily have and loads of other things that I have no part in, it is God through the Spirit directing my life. So I don’t do good works because I am driven to outweigh my sin, or to be seen as doing good works, in fact I prefer when I can be a secret giver than an overtly rambunctious giver (well I am never going to be that) but I remember when someone was sharing a giving I had done and they managed to do it anonymously within the group and I was pleased because they were able to show the abundance of God and all the glory quite rightly was directed to him and no one knew who the giver was.

The next objection is that being saved through trusting in God leads to pride. To have pride in your faith, puffing up the chest while saying I am a Christian is not of God. If we have to tell Christians that we are then we are not getting it right at all. God’s love should ooze from our very pores, it should be so obvious to the world that we are different and make the world curious and want to come see. I am often caught blushing when people talk about me in a positive light, I do not like being in the spotlight, I like it when I am forgotten and God is seen.

If we have been saved and can throw ourselves on Gods mercy and grace whenever we mess up then doesn’t it give us the option to continue sinning? No, because we have been transformed, we run away from sin (the big ones) we are convicted by the Spirit over the small ones and let’s face it sin is sin and all intentional sin is equal. Sincerity in our faith is key. If we are living authentic, sincere Christian lives then we would not want to sin and when sin comes knocking we should banish it. Last year I was in a time of famine and someone else’s bounty was put in place not once but three times and I had to pick up their bounty and hand it to a safe place because I did not trust myself to not eat of their bounty. I was not willing to go where that might lead.

Wesley states that another objection to saving faith is that it leads people to despair. If people cannot be saved by their own works it can lead to despair, and so it should because until those people surrender completely and trust in Christ alone and not in themselves they have despair. Does this make you uncomfortable? If you have given your life to Christ it should be of comfort to you, I am smiling, knowing that my works are useless, when it is done in the name Suzie it is not fit for purpose but when done in the name of Christ with his guiding light then the work is good and all the glory is for Him alone.

This next bit is the part I remember from a long time ago (three years ago but a lifetime) “Is there mercy for all?” Can the love of God that extended to women at wells and tax collectors in trees really encompass me too? Even if no one on this planet love you, God does, no matter where you have been, what you have done, or what has been done to you, God loves you. God loves me. I praise and worship the Lord and lift his name on high because of it. His loves envelopes me daily, hourly, every minute and every second of every day and I rejoice in that love. My life is a response to that love, the more I love in response, the more love is revealed to me, so much love that I will never grasp how big it is.

We are stained red with sin but I will wash you as clean as snow (Is 1:18)

Finally the objectors say not everyone should hear the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ and Wesley. He quite rightly points out that not everyone listening will hear and points to the wealthy, the educated, the moral and the respectable as those who may listen but not hear. This makes me smile because the congregation of St Mary’s in Oxford would have been made up of these people. I wonder how many were offended by his words? Did the words of his sermon wound them?

When I began preaching I stated that I couldn’t imagine not preaching ‘challenge’ and at the time I was not lying by saying this. However in the last couple of months a number of barriers were put in my walk, one is a six foot six reinforced concrete wall but the others were barriers of church making and taking. I have come full circle in my thinking thanks to the Lord and would welcome the opportunity to preach to small rural congregations words of encouragement spiced with a little challenge. I have discovered along the way that yes I may not be acceptable to some in the church because of the relaxed way I talk, the way I dress, the way I do family and the way I do church but rather than frighten away the congregation like I am sure Wesley did in part. I want to encourage them to continue in the way they do church but maybe change a wee bit at a time. This does not make the message in anyway lukewarm, it just changes the language to suit the listeners. My intention is to proclaim God’s message to listeners who hear so that his name will be glorified in this land, all lands, but particularly this land.

I have a special heart for the Catholics in this land and so Wesley turns me right off when his vitriol is turned towards the Catholic Church. I understand a little of what was going on in the church at the time of the reformation, of the franchising of holy relics and buying dead peoples salvation, but this was of human, not of church and religious power corrupts just as much today as back then and to when Jesus walked the earth, it absolutely corrupts because people forget as they move up hierarchies from where they came and so the Methodist Church with its lay people on committees and at conference and sometimes are the voice that stops the ordained in their tracks for a time of selfireflection. We are all equal in this church as we are before God, there is very little hierarchy, no bishops, no secret enclaves, it is open. Wesley was damning of the Catholic Church, but that was then. Now we need to move forward and have ecumenical Christians Together. All churches are hurting from the opening of society towards talking about abuse, just like all of society is reeling from disclosure after disclosure in the secular world and yet access to images that would take a person into thinking human life has no value except as an object for instant self-gratification is greater than ever before.

Wesley ends with words of victory, with words of comfort, with words from God himself – So thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour power and might to our God for ever and ever, amen. (1Cor15:57, Rev5:12)