Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Psalm 100
- “This Little Light of Mine,” by Anonymous
- “I’ll Fly Away,” by Albert E. Brumley
- “It’s Me, It’s Me, It’s Me O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer,” African-American spiritual
- “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” by Julia Ward Howe
- “Down to the River to Pray,” by Anonymous
- “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” African-American spiritual
- “Down by the Riverside,” African-American spiritual
- “Do Lord,” African-American spiritual
- “I’ll Fly Away” (reprise)
Last week Susanna Wesley shared her story with us. She introduced us to a time in history when the whole idea of church was different. Her husband Samuel was a pastor, and a poor one at that. He was a poor preacher, a poor administrator, and certainly a poor community member. He was certainly not respected and, to a great extent, was hated by those living in the community; so much that twice the community tried to burn down the parsonage. Pastors were expected to be a part of the community, respected, admired, often single, compassionate and were expected to deliver fiery, challenging, inspirational sermons.
Samuel had none of that. But think of how things were back then, what was expected and how churches were run. Here’s what I mean.
Imagine a sanctuary where all the pews are wooden, hard and every section of pews, particularly those closest to the front, are gated and surrounded by low walls. On the gate of every pew is a name of a family engraved on a metal plaque. These gated pews have each been paid for by the richer parishioners. The closer the rich are to the front of the sanctuary, the more expensive the pew. The rich expected the pastor to do as they wished. They drove the life of the church with their power. Pews in the back of the church were not gated, yet they were still reserved. Those who had not paid for a pew or even a pew reservation were forced to stand throughout the whole three-hour service…that’s right…three hours. But wait, there’s more.
Here at the front of the sanctuary was an elevated chancel, an altar, and a lectern, but where the pulpit normally sat was still a pulpit, but it was elevated, and by elevated, I mean it was ten feet tall. There was a winding stairway at the back of the pulpit that led up to it, and only the pastor was allowed to enter. If that wasn’t enough, over the pulpit was a roof, round, eight to ten feet above the pulpit and hanging from the ceiling. The belief was that if a pastor said anything displeasing to God, the roof would fall thus silencing the pastor. No pressure… The hymns were often led by a small organ, very much like the one in the back of our sanctuary, and every soul was expected to sing, and sing without reservation. The challenge was that the hymnals often needed to be memorized not because there weren’t hymnals, but that the hymnals were tiny, pocket-sized, and every parishioner was expected to own one.
This is what they looked like. And just a reminder, reading glasses were only for the rich, kind of like the gated pews.
Oh, did I mention that the services were at least three hours in length, and then everyone was expected to stay throughout the day for Christian education, Bible study, and small groups? Church was an all-day event. No wonder those who were poor or working-class or working on Sundays didn’t attend. No one was there from the poor houses, the coal mines, the factories, the farms, the mills, or the prisons. Church wasn’t for them. It was for the wealthy. They were the holy ones. Not only were the poor not accepted, but they were also not welcome, and they knew it, and they stayed away.
This is where John and Charles Wesley enter the picture. They were raised in this kind of church, but over time realized that most of the population were missing the hope-filled message of God’s grace, and the love of Christ. They felt called to bring hope to the hopeless. It’s what Jesus did, so it is what they felt called to do. The Wesleyan Spirit was one of bringing new life to places no one expected. Places like those same prisons, mines, poor houses, workhouses, mills, and even fields. John Wesley would engage each gathering with a spirited message of grace and hope. He often stood on a stump or anything he could find that would allow him to see the people. His brother Charles would engage them with hymns, but not the old Anglican hymns. Church needed to be different, spirited, uplifting, and engaging, so both John and Charles sought to bring something different to ministry.
Charles believed the old hymns were dry and boring. The genius of Charles would be that he would take familiar tunes, often tunes from pubs (drinking songs), and put faith-filled words to those familiar songs. If you think about it, when you sing the tune of a hymn like “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” you can see everyone lifting a pint, and waving it back and forth. The tune is lively, upbeat, and is to be done with spirit. This morning, I’ve gathered some friends and we’re going to do a few lively songs. Each has a message, is easy to sing, and is hopefully familiar. We’re going to begin by honoring Lelia Nichols and sing one of the hymns done at her service. You know it. It’s “I’ll Fly Away.” The words will be on the screens.
Wesley and Children
Wesley believed that every person should be able to hear the good news, including children. Children had a special place in God’s kingdom. It’s one of the reasons, when visiting the poor houses, he would always take food. His heart would break at seeing the children starving. He wouldn’t stand for seeing any child go hungry. He knew that Jesus also had a soft spot in his heart for children. Remember, he said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them.” And if that wasn’t enough, he would talk about approaching our faith with the heart of a child. As a Wesleyan church, we are to do the same.
Dorothy led a preschool with 155 children in it. I got to do chapel with about 75 of them at a time. This was one of their favorite songs. It has hand motions and I want to remind you that we approach faith, and maybe even singing, with the heart of a child. (Introduce the hand motions – three verses, then repeat the opening verse)Also, if you look in the front of the hymnals, Wesley offers us instructions for singing. Let me read them to you as an intro to how we approach singing in general. “This Little Light of Mine”
Prayer Time Instructions
Wesley believed that small groups offered the best opportunity for Christian discipleship and growth. He called them cells, bands, and classes. At every church camp I’ve ever attended, they divided the campers into small groups; sometimes they were cabin groups, sometimes they were age-related, sometimes it was simply groups chosen from a list. In any case, those groups would spend time together, talk together and always pray together. For Wesley, the groups were intentional about praying for one another, so I thought this morning we might do the same.
If you are willing, and only if you are willing, turn to a few people around you and simply mention a thing or two for which you would love prayer. Then, once everyone has had a chance to share, pray. If there are those who would like to pray aloud, feel free. If you’re not comfortable with that, then pray silently. Then, once I see that groups are finishing, I’ll pray and lead us in the Lord’s Prayer. But first, let’s prepare to pray by singing this old hymn. “Standing in the Need of Prayer”
Wesley believed in an open communion where all were welcomed at what he called the table of grace. He wrote about who was at the table with Jesus, a somewhat motley crew of followers who came to Christ in a wide variety of ways. John Wesley was convinced that those who had never taken communion before could find Christ at the table and in the community, so everyone was welcomed to come. We believe the same. But before that, because of Wesley’s belief that Jesus was truly all in all, one who would guide, even save us, let’s sing. “King Jesus is All”
John Wesley turned the world upside down. He constantly sought to live his life in the light of Christ. There were times when he failed, and failed miserably. He would say that it was because he wasn’t ready. It wasn’t until that small devotional service at the Aldersgate Chapel that things changed. As he shared in his journals, it was on that day that he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and it changed everything for him. He realized that he was saved by God’s grace, and loved without condition. Prayer became something more than an expectation brought to him by his mother. It became an essential, defining part of his life. He sought to bring the Good News of Jesus to anyone willing to hear about it. Charles did the same, and they very literally changed the world. Words can do that. Songs can do that.
Actions will do that. So let’s close today by singing another familiar song, one that assures us that God remembers and knows us. Feel free to clap, take out your keys and shake them, move, or just sing…but let’s close this 4th of July Sunday with resounding love and overwhelming praise. “Do Lord”