John 14: 15-21
Happy Aldersgate Day. No, this isn’t the day when we celebrate the fight for independence of one country from another or the day of some great naval battle. If you rushed to the Hallmark store looking for a card to send your pastor you were probably disappointed that they were all out. What is the appropriate gift one gives to celebrate the day? Cash is always good. For those of you who have been living in a bunker on some deserted island it was on May 24, 1738 that John Wesley’s heart felt strangely warm. Don’t be embarrassed. Your secret is safe with me.
John Wesley, founder of our Methodist denomination, was born in 1703 and died 87 years later in 1791. He and his brother Charles were Anglican clerics, priests of the Church of England as was their father Samuel. Wesley’s religious training began before he could even speak. He was the 15th of 19th children and his mother was a strict disciplinarian. Wesley grew up receiving a first-class theological education and was a rising star in the Anglican church but something didn’t seem right. It seemed like he was going through the motions but something was lacking. He identified with the Apostle Paul who wrote in his letter to the church in Rome about his inner struggle where he lamented over doing what he hated to do even when he knew it was wrong, that evil was right there with him every step of the way. It was during a discussion with his friend Peter Bohler, a Moravian bishop and missionary, that Bohler told Wesley that a true living faith in Christ is inseparable from a sense of pardon for all past, and freedom from all present, sins. This faith was the gift, the free gift of God, and that he would surely bestow it upon every soul who earnestly and perseveringly sought it. It was not long after that that Wesley went to a society meeting on Aldersgate Street in East London where he listened to a reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. The speaker was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ. Wesley reports that upon hearing the reading he felt his “heart strangely warmed”. He said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This has been described as an equivalent of Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road. It was a turning point for Wesley where he realized that our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to the favor of God. The next morning he said, “The moment I awaked, “Jesus Master”, was in my heart and in my mouth, and I found all my strength lay in keeping my eye fixed upon him, and my soul waiting on him continually.”
I think what Wesley felt when his heart was strangely warmed was what Jesus was describing to his disciples on the night before he was crucified. He had just told them that he is going away to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house but that he will be back for them one day. Jesus tells them that he will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with them forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you, Jesus tells them.
Jesus is describing the Holy Spirit who will be with them, and us, in his absence. Until he returns. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God within us and all believers, helping us live as God wants and building Christ’s church on earth. By faith we can appropriate the Spirit’s power each day.
So, as Methodists, where do we stand on the Holy Spirit? To answer that question we have to go to the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church found in paragraph 104 of our Book of Discipline. Article 1, Of Faith in the Holy Trinity, states that there is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Article IV, Of the Holy Ghost, states that the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.
As Methodists, we believe that the Holy Spirit is a powerful person who is on our side, working for us and with us. To those who hear Christ’s words and understand the Spirit’s power, the Spirit gives a whole new way to look at life. I think that’s what happened to John Wesley. He, like many of us, had been a life-long church goer, active in church but perhaps not quite there. Something was missing. When his heart was strangely warmed, it was actually the Spirit giving him a whole new way of looking at life. He had a spiritual awakening, a spiritual exaltation, a turning point in his relationship with God. Most people, myself included, have never had that dramatic “come to Jesus” moment where the revelation of God’s love hits them like a bolt out of the blue. We’re more like John Wesley. We’re Christian and spiritual following God’s commands and ministering to his people. We see needs that need to be met and injustices that need to be righted but deep within us we may also feel something is missing. And then we have that “aha” moment when we get it and our hearts are strangely warmed and we feel at peace. We experience the warmth of God’s unconditional love and his no-strings attached forgiveness.
Jesus tells them that he won’t leave them as orphans and that he will come to see them. He says that soon the world will no longer see him but that they will see him. Because he lives they will also live, he tells them. On that day, he tells them, they will know that he is in his Father, and they are in him, and he is in them. He says that whoever has his commandments and keeps them loves him and whoever loves him will be loved by his Father, and he will love them and reveal himself to them.
Jesus is assuring them, and us, that everything will be okay. Because of his assurances, we don’t have to know the future to have faith in God; we have to have faith in God to be secure about the future. Until that day, we have the Holy Spirit to serve as our companion, to be with us every step of the way so we are not alone.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are that you haven’t left us alone as we await the triumphant return of your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for your gift of the Holy Spirit who is our constant companion there for us to guide us and direct us in your ways as we live our lives in you and strive to build your church into an accepting, inclusive and all-encompassing church where all are loved and all are welcome. What a wonderful feeling it is to have our hearts strangely warmed by your love which cultivates in us a joy in our life in you. May our inner joy, compassion, mercy and love radiate out to every corner of the world as we work to bring relief to the last, the least and the lost. In the name of your most precious Son Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.