Sunday, August 10, 2014

what we can learn from Peter and a fellow by the name of John Wesley

To follow is this morning's sermon - using the lectionary reading from the day with a good dose of John Wesley's early life, I invite us to consider what it means to get out of the boat in our faith journey.

(please forgive the punctuation and grammatical errors - this is my sermon manuscript)

Matthew 14:22-33:

22 Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23 When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. 24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

29 And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.

33 Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”


At the age of 32, having completed a couple of years of teaching Greek at Oxford college and knowing that he wasn’t suited for traditional parish ministry like his father, John Wesley volunteered to be a missionary to the colonies. He felt like God had called him to bring the Word of God to the settlers and the savages who lived along the new frontier. 
A young John Wesley

Crossing the ocean in 1735, long before satellites, an understanding of the weather and first class cabins, was not an easy voyage…it would take more than 3 months for John and his brother Charles, on the tiny wooden ship to cross to the Province of Georgia, where John was to be a missionary to Savannah and Charles would serve as assistant to James Oglethorpe, who had established the colony of Georgia in 1733.

The Wesley brothers had the very best education possible in their day, like their father they were ordained priests in the Anglican Church – they wrote and spoke numerous languages including Greek and Latin, they also took serious holiness of heart and life – that whole living like Jesus lived and taught, they really believed it – this is something that many of the Anglican priests of the day didn’t do. For John and Charles serving God was their life – they studied scripture, they visited those in prison, they cared for the hungry and poor, they went without so that they could give all they had away.

And yet, John would admit, that he did this as much out of fear as out of any other emotion – he worked tirelessly to please God….but did he know a loving, merciful compassionate God at the young age of 32… Oh, and one more thing - he was afraid of dying because he really was not sure what would happen when he met Christ face to face…

Going to the new world satisfied this longing to do something that mattered, he wanted to be a man of significance, but he wasn’t quite sure what this would look like.

On board the ship – Wesley and Charles had a regular schedule…its enough to make your head spin… Wesley wrote in his journal:

Tuesday, October 21.—We sailed from Gravesend. When we were past about half the Goodwin Sands, the wind suddenly failed. Had the calm continued till ebb, the ship had probably been lost. But the gale sprang up again in an hour, and carried us into the Downs.

We now began to be a little regular. Our common way of living was this: From four in the morning till five each of us used private prayer. From five to seven we read the Bible together, carefully comparing it (that we might not lean to our own understandings) with the writings of the earliest ages. At seven we breakfasted. At eight were the public prayers.

From nine to twelve I usually learned German, and Mr. Delamotte, Greek. My brother wrote sermons, and Mr. Ingham instructed the children. At twelve we met to give an account of one another what we had done since our last meeting, and what we designed to do before our next. About one we dined.

The afternoon and evening continued in this manner. and you wonder why they were called – Methodists?

The only thing to change their schedule was when a storm blew up…
Robert Salmon:  Storm at Sea

Saturday, January 17.—Many people were very impatient at the contrary wind. At seven in the
evening they were quieted by a storm. It rose higher and higher till nine. About nine the sea broke over us from stem to stern; burst through the windows of the state cabin, where three or four of us were, and covered us all over, though a bureau sheltered me from the main shock. About eleven I lay down in the great cabin and in a short time fell asleep, though very uncertain whether I should wake alive and much ashamed of my unwillingness to die. Oh, how pure in heart must he be, who would rejoice to appear before God at a moment’s warning! Toward morning, “He rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (quoting from the Gospel of Matthew 8:26)

You can see how John, this well educated and proper theologian was a mess – not only because he was afraid, but because he understood deep in his heart that he shouldn’t be afraid, and yet, he couldn’t see any other way of being.

On Sunday, January 25 John writes:

At noon our third storm began. At four it was more violent than before.  At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their  behavior….In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterward, “Were you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die”

How is it that this small group of immigrants who were traveling to the new world to start a new life for their families – were able to calmly singing praise songs and reading scripture? – not just the leaders, every last one of them!

I want some of that, Wesley thought to himself… how could they be so calm?

When they finally landed in Savannah in February, 1736, John’s quest for ‘some of that’ continued – Wesley’s time in Savannah did not end well, he actually left under the dark of night for refusing to serve communion to an on again off again girl friend and her new husband – poor John.

On the way back to England he wrote the following…

"I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, 'To die is gain!'

John Wesley’s spiritual wrestling would continue for another 6 months or so – until his heart was strangely warmed during a Bible study with some Moravians on Aldersgate Street.

It was after this that John was pushed and pulled out of the metaphorical boat – to take up preaching outside of the confines of the ordinary church buildings – an occasion that he called most vile - and yet it was in doing so that he began to have a passion to preach and teach the least and the lost, the poor and the down trodden all over England. His brother Charles returned to England and joined him in this venture – and within 50 years the Methodist movement, a movement based on 6 to12 spiritual friends gathering together for prayer and support of one another - was thriving – all over the British Isles and across the new world as well.

6 to 12 spiritual friends – to walk alongside each other, to encourage one another, to hold another accountable in Christian love. To turn to in good times as well as bad, to be willing to open up ones heart to call the other into account….

This is in our DNA, friends…as Christ followers and as members of the United Methodist Church. I believe that the United Methodist church as we know it will die, unless we begin to be more intentional about being in relationship and community with one another – forming groups of fellowship, study and accountability – just as Jesus did with his disciples…

It was because of his relationship with his brother Charles, George Whitfield, Moravian missionary Peter Bohler and others that John Wesley was able to face his greatest fear – a lonely death and a life with out meaning – and stepped out of the boat.

As I think about Jesus – and this morning’s scripture lesson I can’t help but think about the other 11 disciples – we make fun of Peter some times, for being brash, and pushy and yet – here he is willing to step out of the boat…

The other 11…not so much…why do you think they were too afraid to get out of the boat…was it fear of seeing Jesus as one who could command the very sea? Walking across the water was an act of power and strength – surely he IS the Son of God they thought when they realized it was Jesus coming their way. Maybe it was the wind or the rain or perhaps their own self-centeredness that made them deaf in the moment, unable to fathom let alone hear God’s call and claim on their lives…they were unwilling to take a risk for the Master’s sake.

So what’s the point of these two stories?

Well – what about it, church? Are we like Peter – willing to stand up and take a step out in the churning waters, willing to risk failure for our love of God, our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior? or do we prefer to throw a tarp over our heads and wait out the storm?

Remember most of the disciples were fisherman –  they weren’t afraid of the storm – they were afraid of the miraculous appearance of Jesus!   Look again at Matthew 14:

24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. 27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Are we going to live a life of fear, wrapped up in our own individual insecurities or are we going to take a step in faith, and commit to walk with one another as disciples of Jesus?

Twentieth-century Presbyterian theologian and writer Frederick Buechner writes, 

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

Its here…waiting for you…a meaningful relationship with God through faith in Christ, this is possible by being in unity and community with people who care about you – and will support you as your life blossoms with hope and encouragement, leading to a future with meaning…

Are you ready to step out of the boat?  If so, let's talk about how you can take next step to be a part of a small group here at Trinity UMC.

Remember – Jesus is here saying the same thing to us as that did to his first 12 disciples…

“Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”  

In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.