Last week, I began a program for 2013 in which I will read the one of the 52 Standard Sermons of John Wesley each week for the year. It’s not a daunting task by any means. It takes no longer than 30 minutes to read one of the sermons so one could forgo one television show a week and read one of these sermons which make up a part of our doctrinal standards as United Methodists. In addition, I thought I would write some short posts each week for the wonderful people in the church I serve. I met with some of those folks last night and they offered ideas and insight toward planning a preaching calendar for 2013. They made some great observations about how I sometimes take for granted the knowledge I have as a “cradle Methodist” about the United Methodist Church and John Wesley. These posts might make for a handy introduction to interested persons. I hope you find them useful and helpful.
Last week, I read Salvation by Faith. I had not read that sermon since my last semester of seminary. Back then I read it for a class, but this time around I was reading it with fresh eyes and an eager heart and what a joy it was. I read a portion that was so moving I had tears in my eyes. It found its way into the sermon I preached yesterday. Since I’m a week past, I think I’ll skip over any introduction to that sermon and go straight into sermon #2.
This week’s sermon, The Almost Christian, didn’t elicit the same kind of joy in my soul that Salvation by Faith did. It’s a fantastic message, don’t get me wrong, but it was a hard sermon as I reflected on the state of my heart. Wesley puts forth two people: the almost Christian and the altogether Christian. As I read the marks of the almost Christian I thought, “What’s so bad about that person? The almost Christian is a better Christian than most Christians I know. Including me!”
The Almost Christian is a classic in understanding what Wesley believed to be the most crucial aspect of the Christian life - “the disposition of the heart” as he calls it in Salvation by Faith. What is the disposition or character of your heart? Is it full of the love of God? Is that love expressing itself in loving your neighbors? Is God your all in all or are you looking to the idols of self-sufficiency and mammon? If you answer “no” to any of those three questions, I have some good news and bad news. The bad news is that you’re an almost Christian. The good news is Jesus Christ. No kidding. As John Meunier notes in my favorite of all his posts:
For many Christians, the key question is something like “When were you saved?” For the Methodist, the key question is always “How is it with your heart?” Our “once saved, always saved” brothers and sisters often speak as if the most important thing in our faith is something that happened in the past. Methodists believe the most important thing in our faith is what we are doing today, right now.
The good news is that Jesus Christ does not turn away repentant sinners. Go to him! Turn from your idols and be filled with the love of God, your all in all, and love your neighbor. Then you will be an altogether Christian .
I’ll also admit that I’m gleaning as much as I can for my upcoming dissertation. ↩
A great resource on the recommendation of my friend and colleague, Dr. Steve Pulliam, is Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit by Paul Chilcote. There are 52 prayers, each based upon one of Wesley’s 52 sermons, and they are excellent. I’ll be praying the one for the Almost Christian all week. ↩