Born at Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire, John Wesley was the son of an Anglican clergyman and a Puritan mother. He entered Holy Orders and, following a religious experience on this day in 1738, began an itinerant ministry which recognised no parish boundaries. This resulted, after his death, in the development of a world-wide Methodist Church. His spirituality involved an Arminian affirmation of grace, frequent communion and a disciplined corporate search for holiness. His open-air preaching, concern for education and for the poor, liturgical revision, organisation of local societies and training of preachers provided a firm basis for Christian growth and mission in England.
Charles shared with his brother John the building up of early Methodist societies, as they travelled the country. His special concern was that early Methodists should remain loyal to Anglicanism. He married and settled in Bristol, later in London, concentrating his work on the local Christian communities. His thousands of hymns established a resource of lyrical piety which has enabled generations of Christians to re-discover the refining power of God’s love. They celebrate God’s work of grace from birth to death, the great events of God’s work of salvation and the rich themes of eucharistic worship, anticipating the taking up of humanity into the divine life.
John died in 1791 and Charles in 1788.
The Lord God said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
Israel was at a low ebb. With the exception of the elderly and the weak the nation had been captured and taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel’s calling was to minister to those in exile. Ezekiel was a street preacher rather than one who used the pulpit in the local synagogues. Our study passage today speaks of his call to awaken the exiles to God’s presence regardless of whether or not they took notice whilst in a strange land. The underlying issue was how they would respond to the challenge. God gave Ezekiel the difficult task of declaring God’s will to a people who were so wrapped up in their situation that they would not listen, but regardless, he was encouraged not to be afraid and to speak out.
On this day in 1738, John Wesley found himself in a similar position. He, and his brother Charles had returned from a mission to the Native American in Georgia. Like the exiles in Babylon they did not listen. John and Charles returned to London feeling dejected. John records in his journal that on this day he attended a meeting in Aldersgate Street, London. Luther’s preface to Romans was being read at which point John records “I felt my heart strangely warmed, I did trust in Christ and Christ alone, for salvation.”
Like Ezekiel, he became a street preacher, in market places and other centres of population. We too are today surrounded by people with fears and doubts. Often, we seemingly are unable to respond to their needs. Can we also be challenged, by meeting people where they are and respond to their doubts and fears by sharing the joy of knowing Jesus as Lord by both word and example thus revealing a new lease in life, a lease offering both freedom and security.
Gracious God, forgive us when we fail to respond to the needs of others, especially when sharing your word would bring both comfort and hope. Make us more sensitive to the needs of people who are outside the fellowship in which we worship you. Enable us to leave what might be our comfort zone, and like Ezekiel and John & Charles Wesley meet people where they are, responding to their needs, in Jesus name. Amen.
The Rev’d Colin Hunt is a retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church in Essex