Continued from last week…
It’s time to wrap up another whiny harangue. I think I see some light at the end of the tunnel. Remember when I talked about those youth rallies on the Puerto Rican west side during which a thousand Puerto Rican teenagers surged forward to give their lives to Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Remember, I said they were totally hokey, with tears and slobber and people walking around with Kleenex boxes. I just got back from a wonderful retreat, at the highlight of which the gathered congregation surged forward to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was totally hokey, tears and slobber and people walking around with Kleenex boxes and it was wonderful. It occurred to me that the whole thing is about conversion.
To the degree that we - the church - understand and pursue personal conversion as our first priority, we will flourish or perish. The days of assuming conversion are over. Most young people in our culture don’t pray. Why do I mention prayer? It is in prayer, the lifting of the heart and mind to God, that we have the encounter with the Almighty. It is that personal, though not private, encounter that empowers and motivates the Christian life. Our young people have never learned how and they don’t see the point of it. Check out the Pew Surveys on the subject. They have never encountered God. If people do not have an encounter with heaven, they are not going to live the Christian life on earth.
There are moments when the world changes. The life of William Wilberforce was one of those moments. Born in 1759, he experienced a conversion in 1784 and thereafter dedicated himself to the abolition of slavery and came to be that movement’s de facto leader. He and his movement succeeded in ending slavery in the British Empire by 1833, which in turn made abolition inevitable in the United States and the rest of the Christian world. Wilberforce was part of the very unfashionable Anglican evangelical movement. The upper-class sneered at evangelicals, especially those who, like Wilberforce, came from their own numbers. An evangelical Englishman had no future either in politics, or high society. They were a bunch of fanatics who distributed religious tracts outside taverns and one really wouldn’t want to be seen with or, infinitely worse, be one of them. Well, they changed the world and ended one of the greatest crimes of human history.
If one can speak of a leader of the Anglican evangelical movement the nod would have to go to John Wesley who lived and died an Anglican – an ordained one to boot! Wesley’s tireless missionary work among the poor of England started after a horrible ship ride home from a failed missionary journey to the Americas. Onboard he encountered a group of German Pietists and their pastor who maintained complete calm during a ferocious storm. As they prayed in the bow of the boat the English ran about in panic. Wesley asked the Pietist pastor why the Germans had been so calm while the Anglicans had been terrified. To which question the pastor posed another: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and have you been sealed with the Holy Spirit?” Wesley had to admit that he didn’t know. After he arrived back in London he started to attend Pietist prayer meetings and on May 24, 1738, he experienced what he called a strange warming of the heart. From then on he was a fearless preacher throughout Great Britain despite persecution by his fellow Anglican clergymen. Wesley and his friends preached wherever they could despite the opposition of the less enthused. He was accused of all sorts of horrible things, including an attempt to re-establish Catholicism! Heaven forfend!!
Wesley believed that the government sponsored Anglican Church had failed to call sinners to repentance, and these sinners even included corrupt clergy! Despite the great opposition, Wesley travelled Britain preaching the Gospel, mostly on horseback, until his death in 1791 at the age of 87.
So, am I suggesting that we all become Methodists? Wesley was never a Methodist. He died as an Anglican priest. I am merely suggesting that we answer the question that Wesley had to answer. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life? Have you been sealed with his Holy Spirit?
Rephrase the question anyway you pleased but ask and answer it honestly. Can you honestly say that you have met Jesus of Nazareth in a personal way, or is he just a dead philosopher who has a lot of followers? And the second question: When was the last time the Holy Spirit spoke to you? If the answer is, “a long time ago,” then perhaps it's time to renew an old relationship. If the answer is never, maybe it’s time you asked the Holy Spirit to intervene in your life. If we all did this, I have a feeling things would be quite different.
Imagine a Church that expected the Holy Spirit to speak at staff meetings, parish councils, planning sessions, finance committees and even from the pulpit!!! I said a while ago, that just citizens make a just society not the other way around. If we could only expect God to speak, and if we learned to hear clearly, I suspect that the Church and the world would be very different places.
the Rev. Know-it-all