25 May 2015Romans 5:1-11
‘Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ (v. 5)
Psalm: Psalm 130
Today the Methodist Church celebrates Wesley Day (at least, this is normally 24 May, but Pentecost takes precedence). This particular year there is a happy coincidence between rejoicing in the creation of the Church as a whole, and commemorating the 'conversions' of the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, which sparked the beginning of the Methodist movement.
This passage is that crucial one for much Reformation preaching, on justification by faith alone. The story goes that on the evening of 24 May 1738, John Wesley went "very unwillingly" to hear someone read Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans: "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation…" Some days earlier his brother Charles had experienced something similar, and the rest is history.
We use the word 'conversion' about what happened to John and Charles, but the event was not quite like the classic Damascus road experience of Paul (Acts 9:1-19). The Wesley brothers were not opposed to the Church, or even lukewarm in their Christianity. They were ordained, and had already crossed continents hoping to spread the gospel (good news of Jesus) - even though they felt their efforts had enjoyed small success. There was no dramatic change in the direction of their lives, except that they seem to have opened themselves to incomparably more power and conviction than they had generated on their own. These were conversions of people already steeped in church culture, now fired up by the Spirit of God.
And so I think there is hope for many of us who perhaps find churchgoing a bit of a disappointment, or who have become rather routine or desultory about our prayer life, neither of which may have a big impact on the way we lead our lives. Even if we approach the disciplines of our faith 'very unwillingly', there is a chance that the Spirit can touch our stressed and multi-tasking hearts, and finally set them on fire.
- Think about a time when you did something 'very unwillingly' and then discovered it was life-changing. What happened next?
- How far do you expect reading the Bible or spending time in prayer to change the way you do things or relate to people?