Friday, May 22, 2009

United Methodists and Aldersgate

Next Sunday, May 24th, is what we United Methodists call Aldersgate Sunday. On May 24, 1738, John Wesley had his "Aldersgate" experience. You have to understand that John Wesley was, as we would say today, tightly wound. He was reared by a mother who taught him everything, including his incredible discipline.

At Oxford, Father Wesley, his brother Charles and others, formed a group that met each week for Bible Study, prayer, mutual accountability and ministry to prisoners and others. John Wesley had it all together except that he lived with the notion that something was missing. He did not have the assurance of his own relationship to God.

He was good at doing the ministry but felt that he did not have within the faith that he wanted so badly. His search took him to America where he served Christ Episcopal Church in Savannah. The pastor a few years ago reminded my Confirmation Class that John Wesley was always an Anglican.

That's true. John Wesley had no problems with the Anglican Church, it's doctrine or practices. He felt the church lacked the love to reach out to the "common" person. In Georgia, Father John fell in love with Sophie Hopkey. She wanted to get married; John did not. So, she married someone else. And, when Sophie came to communion, John refused to serve her. (He was human, you know) This got Father John run out of Georgia.

He slipped up to Charleston under cover of darkness and caught a boat to England. On board ship, there was a terrible storm at sea. John was terrified, but the Moravians on board were calm and peaceful, singing hymns and offering prayers. This further caused John to ask what the Moravians had that he did not. It also led to productive relationships with the Moravians.

So, on May 24th, 1738, John Wesley said that for his devotions that day he read in Mark about the lawyer asking Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus told the lawyer to answer. The lawyer said: "Love God and love your neighbor." Jesus told the lawyer: "You are not far from the Kingdom."

John felt that God was speaking to him. "You are not far from the kingdom." That night, John went, unwillingly, to a meeting of Christians at a meetinghouse on Aldersgate Street in London. While the leader was reading from Luther's Preface to the Romans (pretty dull stuff actually) John was moved. 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 sin, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death."

This was a watershed experience for John Wesley. Now, what he had lived and taught, preached and sought, he experienced within. This was John Wesley's "Heart-warming experience".

United Methodists, whatever their politics or their varied practices, are still a "warm-hearted" people.

What does this mean to us today? I'll try to address that Sunday in my sermon.
Dave Nichols

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Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.

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A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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