Monthly Archives: March 2011

John and Charles Wesley, Priests

John and Charles Wesley are some of those rare saints who are recognized both in the Church and beyond.

John is recorded to have ridden 250,000 miles on horseback over the course of his ministry in order to preach, to teach, to spearhead works of justice and mercy, and to organize others in the same work.  For his own impressive statistic, Charles wrote almost 9,000 hymns over the course of his lifetime, and if you have been in a hymn-singing church very long, you can be certain that you have sung a handful of them.  Think Chris Tomlin with an Oxford education and a refusal to work anywhere but with those on the lowest rungs of society’s ladder.

In the Church, the Wesley brothers and their fellow Methodists were at the forefront of an evangelical revival in England and British colonial North America.  What set that revival apart from many revivals, particularly in England, was that the two men refused to separate the preaching of the good news of Christ from the concrete work of Christ in the world.  They visited prisoners, fought slavery, gave away a fortune (to the point that scholar and popular theologian Leonard Sweet has likened John Wesley’s popularity, influence, and financial success to that of Rick Warren, and it’s not an exaggeration), and called a nation to social reform focused on the neediest of society.

Craziest of all perhaps, that nation listened.  From Christian History & Biography magazine:

Some historians have maintained that the revival so altered the course of English history that it probably saved England from the kind of revolution that took place in France.

How many folks can you think of who are claimed (albeit with varied levels of accuracy) as  father figures by contemporary evangelicals, liberal Protestants, Pentecostals, and radical secular Left political thinkers?  Well, aside from Jesus…two brothers named Wesley who devoted their lives to becoming like Christ and calling others to do the same through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Lord God, you inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Lent: A Passageway to Freedom

During yesterday’s Morning Prayer with the staff, we read Matthew 6:16-24 and Deuteronomy 4:15-24.  Deuteronomy warns us against idolatry; in the Matthew passage Jesus exhorts us to not lay up treasures on earth.  We got into a discussion about the tension between receiving God’s material blessings as gifts from the good hand of God and becoming idolaters of these same gifts.  Good food, beautiful homes, art, music, opportunities and means for play and recreation, can all be received as “the gifts of God.”  Unfortunately, any of us can learn to love the gift more than the Giver and find ourselves unwitting idolaters.  The human soul has an amazing capacity to take anything God gives and make it an idol.  (Have you ever met anyone who made an idol of theology?  I have.)

At the same time, our souls are no better off with an asceticism which fails to see the goodness of created life and the material world.  C.S. Lewis wisely observes about “the gluttony of over-meticulous eaters” – people who are so picky that few things meet their standards of taste, health, novelty, or organicness (that’s my word: lest you think I’m criticizing you, I am a Whole Foods geek).

So what the answer?  The wisdom of the Church fathers was to strike a healthy balance between feasting and fasting.  “God has given us all thing richly to enjoy” – so feast!  Celebrate!  Great food and wine, smells that tantalize, beautiful table decorations, laughter and joy with friends and family, the best jazz piano playing the background: receive it as a gift from the hand of God.  “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” – so fast!  Stop feasting on the gifts, and feast on the Giver.

Fasting is the great practical antidote to idolatry.  It allows us to lay aside for a period the thing that is in danger of taking over our hearts and becoming our treasure.  It allows us to realize that the creation is not nearly as sweet as the Creator.  It frees up time and energy to focus on nurturing the soul and to insure that, yes, we can actually survive without the thing to which we have become habituated (a word dangerously close to addicted).  Our lives are really not dependent on that thing – in fact, it is a gift from God, and God is better than the gift.

Lent is part of the regular cycle of feasting and fasting built into the Christian year.  It is a time of fasting.  I find it wonderfully freeing to entirely forego something for a period of time and have my growing, idolatrous addictions nipped in the bud.  It makes the times of feasting so much more delightful.  But is not just a season of freedom from: it is also a season of freedom to.  It is a time of feasting on the Lord – of a much quieter approach that gives my soul space to listen and hear the voice of the Father.  And there is no greater freedom than that.

-Rev. Steve Breedlove

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Please join the community of All Saints Church for our Ash Wednesday Services on March 9!

Brief service including imposition of ashes: 12-12:30pm
Ash Wednesday Eucharist Service followed by opportunity to receive soaking prayer:  7pm

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