Ordinarily, I would wait until the end of the post before answering the question that I use for the title. But in this case, I will answer the question at the beginning.
I think that we will meet Jesus in the most unexpected and unusual places. We will meet him when we are not ready or when it is the most inconvenient. This is an uncomfortable answer for many today, simply because we want to meet Jesus on our terms, not His.
And I do that because, in the first weeks of the Easter season, on the day of the Resurrection and in the days following, the disciples and followers of Jesus were meeting Him in some rather unusual or unexpected places. And from the gloom and despair that came on Good Friday came the joy and restoration of the Resurrection. The movement, the ministry that had been three years in the making would not end but would continue.
And it must have been even more frustrating to the political and religious authorities that the movement, which they felt they had crushed, was still alive. But it had to be frustrating because Jesus never did things the way they, the “experts”, had said religion was supposed to be done.
There were rules and laws which dictated the behavior of the people; there were places in which one was to worship God. And Jesus went outside the boundaries set by the rules and the laws. He extended the ability to worship God to people who were routinely excluded, for any number of reasons, from worship.
Jesus didn’t do things the “right” way, the way prescribed by the laws and the rules established by the religious authorities. He understood those rules and those laws, but more importantly he moved beyond simply following them because he also understood that the rules and laws which prescribed the proper behavior served as a limitation, preventing individuals from truly encountering God in their lives.
During this Easter season, I have been looking for quotes from John Wesley to put on the back page of the Fishkill UMC Sunday bulletin. I was interested in the more well-known quotes, though I did use three of them. But I also found two quotes that spoke to John Wesley’s mind set about religion in 18th century England (see the entries for May 7th and May 28th).
It seems to me that Wesley was the ultimate Type A person, he also understood that others were not. And while he demanded that those who wanted to be “those people called Methodists” follow the rules of the Methodist society, I don’t think that he demanded that all people do so.
And how ever one views Wesley, I think it is important to realize that the vision that he had for the church required that the church go beyond its physical boundaries. Just as Jesus went beyond the boundaries of the established religion, so did Wesley do that as well. Faith cannot grow, individually or collectively, if it is limited in vision and scope. One has to be very careful that the rules and laws that one creates as the basis for operation don’t become restrictions and boundaries that prevent you from moving.
We live in a time where, if there is a vision for the future it is a bleak one. We live in a time where some feel that being one of God’s children is determined by your race, gender or sexual identity, or economic status. The world that Jesus sought to open is becoming very much closed. And as we seemingly stare longingly at the past, we need to see that the England in John Wesley preached could very well have undergone the same violent and bloody revolution that France had recently gone through.
But history tells us that England did not undergo the same revolution as France, in part because of the Methodist revival lead by John Wesley.
In the 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw a world in which laws became even more controlling and limiting. And while the laws that were passed directly limited the rights of a few, they, in effect, limited the rights of all. And this is something that we in this country know quite well (or at least we should know quite well). And, if I understand what took place, the effects of those restrictive and prohibitive laws, filled with hate, changed the way that Bonhoeffer saw the world around him and the role of Christianity in that world.
Today, we are seeing the same things happen. We are seeing the passage or the attempt to pass secular and sectarian laws which limit the rights and privileges of a few. And we would be sadly mistaken if we think that such laws do not affect us, for as it has long been said, when we seek to enslave one, we enslave all.
And the true nature of Christianity is being challenged, challenged in such a way that the church may not survive. Now, I do not know and have never understand that one can claim to be a Christian and yet work for the oppression of minorities, deny healthcare to people, favor the wealthy over the poor and disposed, or even cast out the strangers in our lands. I cannot conceive of anyone claiming to be a Christian but still seek a society that ignores even the basic message of the Gospel. The world in which these people live is a restricted and exclusive world, a world in which even Jesus is excluded.
We are on the cusp of a great change. How we respond to the changes taking place will decide not only our future but the future for our children and this planet.
Personally, I will not live in that world and I will work to make sure that the world in which I live is one in which one can meet Jesus. You see, if we are who we say we are, when others meet us and when we meet others, there we will meet Jesus.
Quotes of John Wesley for the back page of the Easter Season bulletins for Fishkill United Methodist Church (service starts at 10 am on Sundays, click here for the location of the church; you are more than welcome to come and worship with us!
23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter
In August, 1739, John Wesley went to Bristol, England to begin a Methodist revival.
The Bishop of the Anglican Church, Joseph Butler, told him, “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore, I advise you to go hence.”
Wesley replied, “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever, therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can –do most good here. Therefore, here I stay.”
And thus, the Methodist Revival began in England.
30 April 2017 3rd Sunday of Easter
I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. John Wesley, Journal (11 June 1739)
7 May 2017 – 4th Sunday of Easter
Condemn no man for not thinking as you think. Let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself. Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an account of himself to God. Abhor every approach, in any kind or degree, to the spirit of persecution, if you cannot reason nor persuade a man into truth, never attempt to force a man into it. If love will not compel him to come, leave him to God, the judge of all. John Wesley
14 May 2017 – 5th Sunday of Easter – Mother’s Day
Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church. . . nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy Presence.
Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley (as this was Mother’s Day, the quote came from John’s mother).
21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter
May 24, 1738 – the moment we called Aldersgate (let’s face, what quote would you use for this Sunday?)
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 – John Wesley,
28 May 2017 – Ascension Sunday
This is the first of the four points John Wesley used in beginning the Methodist Revival in 1738 –
Orthodoxy, or right opinions, is, at best, but a very slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part of it at all; that neither does religion consist in negatives, in bare harmlessness of any kind; nor merely in externals, in doing good, or using the means of grace, in works of piety (so called) or of charity; that it is nothing short of, or different from, “the mind that was in Christ;” the image of God stamped upon the heart; inward righteousness, attended with the peace of God; and “joy in the Holy Ghost.”
4 June 2017 – Pentecost Sunday
I have seen (as far as it can be seen) many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of horror, fear, and despair to the spirit of hope, joy, peace; and from sinful desires, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God.