Last night we saw Les Miserables. I had seen both movie versions. But seeing it in the theatre was even more fantastic! I particularly love the Les Miserables because it is all about grace! Grace that allows us to escape the brokenness of our past. And grace that leads us into the fullness of God’s love. Remember the scene where Jean Valjean is caught stealing the Bishop’s silver? The soldiers bring him to the Bishop. And the Bishop says he gave Valjean the silver? And as Valjean is released he actually gives Valjean the candlesticks as well? Man, that scene is so powerful! I get choked up just writing about it!
That scene is one of my favorites because it reminds me of the grace God has extended to me! Grace that is beyond expectation. Grace that is undeserved. Grace that is extravagant. When I think of the love God showed for me by willingly dying upon a cross it stirs me deep within!
Which brings me to the picture of Robyn in front of the large plaque. The plaque marks the spot where John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. That’s the way he describes his experience of feeling an assurance of God’s love! John has just returned his time as a missionary in Savannah. It did not go well. He has returned consumed with feelings of failure and faithlessness. Then on May 24th, 1738, he attends a service on Aldersgate street. The priest is reading from Luther’s commentary on Romans 3. As Luther describes the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, Wesley experiences a moment of being washed over with God’s grace. He says, “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.” http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/john-wesleys-heart-strangely-warmed-11630227.html
How about you? Have you felt God’s grace wash over you? Was there a time when you received God’s unexpected, undeserved and extravagant grace? Has your heart been strangely warmed? If so, what are you doing in response?
Valjean couldn’t believe grace was being extended! He couldn’t fathom why the Bishop would do such a thing! But Bishop explains that he has done this so that Jean Valjean will live a life for God! And as the play continues you see that in fact he does live a life of love and grace for God. When Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed it changed his whole ministry. It became the launching point for a movement that would transform the world. In fact, historians have credited Wesley and the Methodists for saving England from a revolution like the one experience in France.
You have received grace! You are loved deeply and profoundly by God! How is that being revealed in your life now?
Today we are in London! After a brief stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral and lunch at the London Museum, we visited the grave site of John Wesley’s mother, Susanna. She is known as the mother of Methodism because her influence on John and Charles was so clearly seen.
A pastor’s daughter, Susanna married a pastor in the Church of England. Together she and Samuel had 19 children (9 died as infants). After taking time each morning for personal prayer and scripture reflection, she would tutor her children for 6 hours each day. She taught them Latin and Greek and other classical studies. Each evening she spent individual time with a different child. She also ran the household and wrote meditations on such things as the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments. To get a greater sense of what Susanna was like, check out the 16 rules she kept for her house. They include everything from not complaining when you receive medicine to learning to pray as soon as you could speak. www.raisinggodlychildren.org/2011/03/16-house-rules-by-susannah-wesley-john-wesleys-mom.html
One time, while her husband Samuel was away for an extended period, Susanna started holding worship services in her kitchen. Evidently, Samuel had appointed a guest preacher to cover the Sunday services. But all his sermons revolved around repaying debts. Susanna was unhappy about this. So, she would gather children on Sunday afternoons. They would sing a psalm. Then Susanna would give a Bible lesson. This would be followed by another psalm. It wasn’t long until neighbors began to ask if they could attend. At one point there were over two hundred people attending Sunday afternoon service. At the same time, the Sunday morning service dwindled to nearly nothing (Wikipedia).
When Samuel heard from the guest preacher what was going on, he wrote to Susanna. We don’t have a copy of his letter. But there is a copy of Susanna’s reply to Samuel’s letter. It is posted on the wall in the family home in Epworth. Here is a direct quote of part of it. “If you do after all think fit to dissolve this assembly, do not tell me anymore that you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send me your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity of doing good to souls, when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How’s that for getting to the point? For Susanna, nothing was more important than helping others encounter Christ. What about us? Is leading others to Jesus the main passion and focus of our church? Does our coming eternity with Him serve as a guide for all we do? How can we keep the end in mind when it comes to our ministries at FUMC Winter Park?
More London tomorrow! In the meantime, I pray that God would give me and you the same fervor Susanna Wesley had for the kingdom of God!
We went to Bristol today. It is on the west coast of England about a 2-hour bus ride from where we are staying in Oxford. The scenery along the way was amazing! Rolling green hills dotted with castles and wooly sheep! Everything you think of when you imagine England. But Bristol was another story. It’s a seaport and a working class town. Tall buildings, McDonald’s, and a coffee shop on every corner. There was a good bit of graffiti around. For the first time I saw folks who are living on the street.
I mention this because the context of Bristol is an important part of the story of Methodism. In 1739, John Wesley was invited by George Whitfield to come and preach there. Whitfield had been preaching on the street corners and in the fields and needed someone to take over. So Wesley did. There was such a positive response to his sermons that John decided there was a need for a regular meeting place. So he had one built. It is still open to this day.
During the 18th century, Bristol was one of the largest cities in England. It had extreme wealth. But it also had extreme poverty. Wesley felt especially compelled to minister to the poor. He used his new meeting room to dispense free pharmaceuticals (turns out Wesley had a life-long interest in medicine). He also developed ministries to educate those who could not afford it. He took every opportunity he had to share with the poor that they too were loved and mattered to God.
This led some to violently oppose Wesley. They felt threatened by the idea of an empowered poor. At times Wesley’s life was endangered. Downstairs windows in the meeting place were sealed off because of the danger of thrown rocks. But Wesley kept on. He was a change agent who challenged the established order. Clearly his passion followed after that of Christ – who in his very first sermon said he had come to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18).
Hearing all of this today made me think about my passion. What am I doing to proclaim good news to the poor, the blind and the oppressed? What am I doing to share that all are loved and matter to God? Furthermore, what are we doing as a church? I am so proud that we are involved in helping those in need. Is there more we are called to do? How can we more fully live up to our roots as a people called Methodists?
This brings me to my picture today. It’s a sign that was posted on a statue of John Wesley just outside the meeting room he built in the center of Bristol in 1739. Some might think it sacrilegious. But I suspect John Wesley would probably agree with its invitational nature. His heart beat with a passion to introduce people to Jesus Christ. How about you? How about you?
(I couldn’t resist!)
So I have been thinking about Abraham again. And how God came to him and said – leave your land, and your people and your father’s house and GO to a land I will show you. And how he took his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot and their possessions and went. Being a person who naturally asks questions, there is a lot I want to know. For example, why only Sarah and Lot? Why not others? Did Abraham ask anyone else to come along? Were there others who were asked but they refused to come? Were there others who came but they turned back?
The truth is, I have been reflecting on traveling companions lately. Robyn and I are on this educational trip to England along with my covenant brothers and their spouses. 18 months ago, our group asked if the scholarship fund paying for this opportunity would be willing to sponsor twice the number of recipients as usual? That way our covenant group (and spouses) could go together. Traveling together would make the trip that much more enjoyable. Plus, having been accountable to each other for years we would be able to help each other better assimilate what we were learning into our own contexts.
I don’t know about you, but I have found that the people you travel with on a trip can make or break that experience. Throw together a group who doesn’t like each other or doesn’t get along and a wonderful trip can seem painful drudgery. But put together a group that cares for one another and laughs together and even the most trying trip can be fulfilling. That is why I am so thankful to be here with Robyn. And also with my brothers in the ministry.
There are 8 of us in our covenant group. All of us are pastors in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. Each of us has served in that capacity for at least 18 years (I hit 25 this year!). We all know the ups and the downs, the challenges and the joys. There is Scott. He is at FUMC Ormond Beach. He is funny as all get out. He is the grand master at center ring who keeps the conversation fresh and lively. Sometimes he makes me laugh so hard I cry. Roy is at Cornerstone UMC in Naples. He is the group’s conscience. Big and muscular with lots of tattoos, he looks nothing like a pastor. But don’t let that fool you. He totally is. Brett is at Chris UMC in Ft. Lauderdale. He is very, very smart. Always has a perspective that makes me think. Always has a great insight to the thorniest challenge. Cameron is at Lakeside Fellowship in Sanford. Cameron is the most disciplined, most structured guy I know. He is a writer who reflects deeply. He loves to learn. Steve has just moved to Trinity UMC in Gainesville. He is an encourager. He is good at coming alongside of you and offering powerful words of courage and healing. When Steve offers a thought, you know he has chosen his words carefully. I have known Craig the longest. He actually served as an associate at the same church in Miami several years after I did. He is kind. The kindest of the bunch of us. And he is a great listener. If you want to be heard, go to Craig. Finally, David W is at Grace in St Augustine. He has a gift of reconciliation. I admire his courage and ability to resolve difficult situations. He is gentle. I love that about him.
That is just a sketch of my traveling companions. And by that I don’t just mean this trip in England. I mean my traveling companions in ministry. We share this journey to a land that God will show us. I am thankful for them. Their presence makes all the difference! More tomorrow. For now – who are your traveling companions on the path of faith? Who is going with you to the land that God will show you?
Today was a great day! We spent the afternoon in Stratford-upon-Avon – otherwise known as the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We finished at Oxford College, where we are spending the night. But for me it was our stop in Coventry this morning that was most moving.
During the Second World War, Coventry was an industrial center specializing in the production of aircraft and munitions. This made it an attractive target for German bombers. And there were a number of raids on Coventry during the war. But none was as devastating at the Luftwaffe attack on November 14, 1940. That night, the Germans dropped over 36,000 incendiary bombs. 4300 homes were destroyed. Two thirds of the city’s buildings were damaged. Power, water, and sewer were all destroyed. There were almost 1700 casualties in this one raid alone.
One of the buildings that was destroyed in the bombing was St. Michael’s Cathedral which, at the time of the war, had been around for over 500 years. Bombs pierced the roof, blew out its windows and destroyed its central pillars. All that remained was blackened and pock-marked exterior walls. And yet the decision was made not to rebuild the ruins, but rather to build next to the ruins. The people of Coventry wanted to remember what had happened. And so now the ruins of St Michael’s cathedral stand next to the stunning new sanctuary of St Michael’s. The result is a powerful retelling of the story of the church and its ability to overcome darkness and death! Today St Michael’s is deeply involved in ministries of reconciliation – particularly in situations where civilians have unjustly suffered.
Most profound for me were the words scrawled on the wall behind the altar and charred wooden cross at the front of the bombed out sanctuary. It is said that the pastor of the church, Richard Howard, wrote the words “Father Forgive” with the charcoal of the burned timbers. It is also said that he intentionally did not say – “Father forgive THEM.” Meaning the Germans. This would have made sense in light of the bombing. But Father Howard wanted to remind the people that everyone has something they need forgiveness for! As you can guess, this wasn’t an easy message for the people of Coventry to hear in the weeks and months following the bombing.
As I walked around the ruins this morning, it struck me that this is a powerful example for the church today. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in what we think the church should be doing or not doing. Or who we think the church should or should not be ministering to. And this results in division and even self-righteousness. But when we remember that we all stand in need of forgiveness, we find ourselves on common ground. It is when we live out “Father forgive” rather than “Father forgive them” that we are able to focus on being the church that Christ calls us to be!
I got to drink out of a 300-year-old cup today! Well, it was at least 300 years old. For all I know, it had been around for good while before that. But I am pretty confident that it was in use at the turn of the 18th century. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Makes you want to jump on a plane, ride it for 8 hours, transfer to a bus and ride that for another 2 hours – right? Just to drink out of a 300-year-old cup?
What if I reminded you that cup was in use before the Revolutionary War? How many things do we have in America that are still in use from 30 years ago, much less 300 years ago? A few institutions – churches, hospitals, universities and businesses have been around since the Revolutionary War. But not much else.
What if I told you the cup was actually a chalice? And that Robyn and I were able to drink out of it (it was an Anglican church) as a part of Holy Communion? Each month back home we celebrate Jesus’ words – this is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins! Drinking the blood of Christ from a 300-year-old chalice takes on a whole new level of profound that you don’t find when using the little plastic cups! It starkly reminded us of the thousands of times our Christian brothers and sisters had done the same thing at that very spot with that very cup for hundreds of years! Very cool!
How about if I told you the chalice was Samuel Wesley’s chalice that he used leading his church in Epworth, England? Samuel Wesley was John Wesley’s father. John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement. He was born in Epworth. Called it his favorite place in the world. So, as a part of our visit to England, Robyn and I had communion with the very cup that John Wesley took communion with! Very, very cool!
To make it even better, we took it with the pastors and their spouses from my covenant group. For several years now I have been a part of a group of 8 pastors who support, encourage and hold each other accountable. We meet together twice a year to check in. We also email each other weekly and text a prayer for each other each Sunday morning. And we do crazy trips together. Run 200-mile relay races from Chattanooga to Nashville. Trek through the Florida Everglades. This spring I took two covenant brothers with me to Kenya. Now we are here along with our spouses (at the behest of the Florida Conference) to explore our Methodist roots.
So I got to drink out of the 300-year-old chalice used by John Wesley as I celebrated communion with my wife and colleagues and closest friends – not to mention thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ. I would say that’s a pretty good first day! More tomorrow. For now, reflect on this: In what ways do you celebrate your spiritual roots in faith? What practices connect you to your spiritual mothers and fathers in Christ?
-Rev. David Miller
I have been thinking about Abraham today. Robyn and I are taking care of last minute details before leaving on our trip to England. We are being sent on a continuing education event sponsored by the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. For 10 days we will be touring sites related to John Wesley. Though our flight today (Tuesday). Our trip really began on Monday. That’s when we took our children to the airport for their flight to Minnesota where they will be spending two weeks with my sister Lisa. Let’s just say they weren’t terribly excited that we are leaving the country without them. Oh, and our youngest came down with strep throat on Saturday! You are welcome Aunt Lisa!
Anyway, my point is that traveling to England for 10 days isn’t something that happens at the drop of a hat. Getting the children off, taking the dog to the sitter, changing money, doing the laundry, stopping the mail, making sure the phone works overseas, and making arrangements to miss work are just some of things that go into traveling for a while. Which brings me back to Abraham. In Genesis chapter 12, God comes to Abraham (then Abram) and says: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” And Abraham grabs his bride, packs the house, loads off the camel and sets off to a place he has never seen. He doesn’t even know how far it is or what direction it is! And yet he goes.
I wonder what that was like for Abraham. Was it chaotic? Was he excited? How did he manage such a change? I travel for ten days and the earth moves. Why would Abraham do such a thing? Why would anyone do such a thing? St. John of the Cross once said – to come to the knowledge you have not you must go by a way in which you know not! Perhaps the power of travel – whether for 10 days or for the foreseeable future lies in going a way which we know not. And in doing so come to new knowledge. At least I hope so! More tomorrow. For now – may you find a new way to go today!
SOUL is running a Parables and Problem Solving Camp for the kids of South Street. They are also serving in the community and renovating parts of the South Street Campus.
Cuba. A journey into the past. Aging infrastructure, crumbling roads and vintage 1950’s era cars. And… smothering heat! Our small team shared worship with four Methodist churches in eastern Cuba, and along the way we met some amazing folks. I would not necessarily describe the plight of our brothers and sisters on the island as desperate, but the conditions are poor, and the need is great. The average monthly income is $10 to $15. The price of an egg is $0.30. Yet the passion flows, and we found the Holy Spirit in every house, and in every heart. We were humbled. We were inspired. We grew!