A Summary of This Week’s Keynote Message for Prayer, Reflection & Response.
Signpost: To SEND and SUPPORT the harvest workers
Theme: ‘Reimagining Christmas Part 3 of 3’
Reference Scriptures: Ephesians 3:1-13
Speaker: Graeme Hush (as I have reflected on ‘Reimagining Christmas’ by re-examining the ‘incarnation’, I acknowledge the revelatory work done by Brian Medway, Michael Frost, C.S Lewis, John Wesley and Brennan Manning and recommend it to you)
What would a more Jesus looking Christmas look like and how can I/we respond?
3 Things that will help us ‘Unwrap the Gift’
- Embody the Gift so others can receive it Truly, & Worship Fully (see last message)
- Humbly Re-discover the Secret and
- Faithfully Represent it TOGETHER
Diving back into the unwrapping the raised Lazarus story for a moment. The temptation always confronts us to take the short cut of relying on our current knowledge and CHOOSE NOT to spend time getting to know things in a fresh way. Jesus is acutely aware of this and asks those present to ‘take off Lazarus’ grave clothes and let him go, so that no one could assume what was underneath.
If I asked any of you who have had successful long term marriages about what helps that to happen, I will guarantee most if not all of you will say, ‘to not take things for granted.’ ‘to not rely on the routine of knowledge but to re-discover the first love – what drew you together in the first place’ …. If you are yet to discover this reality there is still time
Everything in the message of God’s word points to this being crucial for our lives of faith …in fact, humbly seeking to re-discover truth that we think we know by submitting to what God wants to REVEAL to us is a no brainer for a dynamic active faith, it is undeniably scriptural and will build something which can attract those we come in contact with every day to Jesus. A glimpse at the many scriptural examples …
Trust in the Lord …… never rely …..(Proverbs 3:3-5)
Unless you become like a child …. Unless you are born again … (Matthew 18; John 3)
Deny yourself, follow Jesus and not self … (Matthew 16)
… it is the proof of things unseen (Hebrews 11)
… you have forsaken your first love (Revelation 2) and so on ….
Now, turning to our reference text … Ephesians 3:1-13; the apostle Paul’s whole mission task could have been sabotaged if he’d relied on his great scholarship and not humbled himself in submission to God AND with his new brothers and sisters IN Christ. If he’d ignored this requirement, he undoubtedly would not have seen the mystery of God’s riches unfold in and through his life.
Now, Ephesians 3:8-9 tells us, the revelation Paul’s been entrusted with (in relationship with the saints) gives him the privilege of ‘unwrapping’ it for others. SO THAT ….. As The Message version of the text puts it; “Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming (and can become) known and talked about even among the angels!” (Eph.3:8-10 The Message … Emphasis mine)
There’s a story from Church History that emphasises and clarifies all of this.
I don’t think I’ve ever made a secret of how influential John Wesley is in my life of faith and mission. His clarity about grace, faith and salvation is revelatory. His commitment to seeking the restoration of apostolic ministry, evidenced in the way he worshipped and the way he sent boundary riders to break ground and encourage gathered believers all over the world is formative for me. His self-effacing honesty and openness when along with many other humbling life circumstances he was dragged by God kicking and screaming into the realization that people can actually be rescued by Jesus outside of a church building – is re-assuring to say the least.
The fact that he struggled to start a new order beyond Anglicanism when he was committed to actively seeking ways to collaborate across denominational borders in the true spirit of ecumenism (which is oneness and NOT unity) is the stuff of legends.
The fact that a person can make it to number 50 on the BBC’s Top 100 all-time Britons list is almost as satisfying as Tim Costello being named an Australian National Treasure. HOWEVER, the lesser known truth is that God introduced Wesley to a group of people who represented the kingdom of heaven on earth as best they could through an interesting bunch of circumstances and it was his interaction and long term connection with these Moravians that led to most of what I’ve described already that is attributed to John Wesley …. And I might add, his own daily journal attests to it.
In 1735 John, Charles and 2 others were set aside to travel to the New World, primarily to pastor a group of believers that had developed amongst those who were working with the Native American Indians around that time. They left Gravesend port on the ‘Simmonds’ with a bunch of English and other nationality passengers all heading to Georgia for varying reasons and to cut a long story short, Wesley became enthralled by the Moravian community who represented their faith in Christ and their missionary task from the moment they set sail. The Moravian (Czech/German region of Moravia) community, represented by full families sent by Count Zinzendorf in ‘Herrnhut’ to represent Christ as a company in this new field of mission endeavour, expressed their faith in liturgical practices (particularly song)
These practices all the while, blended into daily tasks of service. Wesley wrote in his journal, ‘I had long before observed the seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they have given a continual proof, by performing those servile offices for all the other passengers which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired and would receive no pay, saying, “it was good for their proud hearts” and “their loving Saviour had done MORE for them”. And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck or thrown down, they rose again and went on their way; but no complaint was found in their mouth.’
On one well recorded stormy night in January 1736, Wesley tested their freedom from fear, “as well as from pride, anger and revenge”.
It was during this 3rd storm that Wesley was initially transformed by what he witnessed. He had showered himself with self-reproach over his fear on facing what seemed to be imminent death in two previous storms. The 3rd one was by ALL accounts a monster.
The crisis of this particular storm reached a crescendo about 7 to 8pm which happened to coincide with that day’s Moravian song service. Wesley had been struggling with his fears all day when in the aftermath of the storm he wrote in his journal.
‘In the midst of the Psalm wherewith the service began (wherein we were mentioning the power of God), 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 looked up and without intermission, calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterwards, “Was 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”. It was reported that “Wesley became extremely excited, ran to the English passengers and preached repentance to them and among other things said that one could now see the difference”.
Wesley further notes … “This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen.”
Upon further reflection after he left Georgia, John Wesley questioned his resolve. Coupled no doubt with a perceived lack of missional success in the New World, Wesley recorded that if his faith made no difference in the face of a life-threatening storm was it actually a saving faith at all? He wrote, “I went to America to convert the Indians but oh .. Who shall convert me? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself while no danger is near but let danger look me in the face and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, to die is gain!”
Michael Frost reflects on this incident in his book ‘Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement’ … ‘Wesley is expressing the difference between a faith that one adopts cognitively and a faith that resides in one’s very body. The Moravians he observed carried their faith in their nerve endings and their muscles, and it allowed them to calmly sing psalms in the midst of a tumult. It wasn’t simply that they knew their faith more or better than John Wesley; their faith was an embodied experience, and in the face of danger it was expressed in liturgical fidelity. In this way, I believe, the Moravians were carrying the scrap of history in their bodies. They were carrying the gospel, like a living record of life given, life healed, life hoped for.’ (This is non-compartmentalism – see my previous blog for a description of this i.e. what I mean by it)
To wrap all this up, Wesley would return to England, faithfully serve and struggle with the Anglican system all the while encouraging his evangelist friends including George Whitfield to hang out with him and the Moravians in London.
It was during a Moravian gathering in Aldersgate Street on May 24 1738 when Wesley’s most famously recorded epiphany occurred – in truth as an outcome of all that he had been experiencing in communion with the Moravians. He writes …
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. 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.”
The evidence of scripture AND church history is that if we approach this Christmas with an open heart … humble and expectant that something we haven’t learned or think we know will be revealed to us if we seek to represent it TOGETHER; something that we need to have unwrapped for us TOGETHER … will become clearer in our hearts and like Paul, we will testify to the privilege it is, both to journey intimately with Jesus with the sort of fidelity and faithfulness the Moravians had until He reveals the secrets hidden from the beginning of time AND to then be given the responsibility to be stewards of, or in Paul’s words administer the revealed gospel mystery, and unwrap it so the church might be seen as genuinely followers and demonstrators of Jesus ON the earth.
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