Don’t let them rule you, either!
Part of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples. He established small groups everywhere he went. When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.
Here is the twelfth question:
12. Do I disobey God in anything
Ouch. This one gets personal. At least that’s the initial feeling.
But let’s be real here: almost all of us immediately answer, “yes,” right? Then we go on to think, “well, of course I disobey God. I’m a sinner!” We may even wonder why this question is asked at all.
Which, I expect, is the reason it is asked at number 12 rather than number 1.
Do I disobey God in anything? While this is, structurally, a “yes” or “no” question, I do not believe we ought to settle on that answer. Remember, this list of questions was constructed for use in small groups of people who were committed to learning to follow Jesus better day by day, and more than just learning how, to actually following Jesus better day by day.
Which means that, even if your answer to the question, “Do I disobey God in anything?” is always “yes,” it ought to be different things as you move through your life.
In the context of the small group meeting, then, I believe this question was rarely left as a “yes” or “no” question. I believe it would typically engender further conversation. I believe individuals would feel encouraged to share a specific way or two they feel they disobey God.
So, there you are: you are in a small group of people with whom you share a commitment to growing as a disciple of Jesus, and you have admitted a way in which you disobey God. The next step seems almost as straightforward – you strategize how to stop that particular disobedience.
My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans. (CEB)
On this day in 1738 John Wesley found his way to a gathering on Aldersgate street. Remembering it, he wrote this in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street….”
At Aldersgate, following a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to Romans, Wesley wrote that his heart was “strangely warmed.” He continued that he did, in that moment – from that moment on- trusted “in Christ, and Christ alone,” for his salvation.
And he went unwillingly.
The salvation for which Wesley trusted Christ from that day forward wasn’t just a warmed heart. He rarely referred again to that specific event or day or moment, but the life he went on to live changed the world.
Wesley organized small groups to disciple one another. The practices and disciplined life he had already been living, coupled with the warmed heart, brought many others into the fold of Christ. The small groups, the mutual accountability work done therein, would grow the members into people who followed Wesley’s example and followed Jesus.
Schools and hospitals were founded. Prisoners were ministered to. Some have gone so far as to allege that the Wesleyan revival helped England avoid the kind of bloody revolution France would face.
And Wesley went unwillingly.
In these days following #UMCGC, the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, we have a lot of unwillingness.
In response to much and loud and bitter dissension regarding, primarily, our church’s stance on LGBTQI matters, our bishops have called for a special commission to study the issue and present possible resolutions.
Many of us are not holding our breaths waiting for the conclusions reached by this commission. I, for one, am incredibly skeptical that resolution can be reached between the extremes within our denomination.
But then today I was struck by the word unwillingly.
My skepticism rests mostly on my presumption that many are resistant -no, beyond resistant – dead set against any compromise of their position.
But maybe, at least on this Aldersgate Day, that’s exactly the Wesleyan place to be.
May all we United Methodists approach our future as unwillingly as Wesley approached the meeting on Aldersgate Street.
Look what happened that time!