(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Wesley – The Early Years
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
2 Kings 10:15, Romans 14:1-4
John Wesley’s “Catholic Spirit” sermon asked: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?…Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” (He used the root meaning of “catholic”—“including many different types of thing; universal.” He did not mean the Roman Church, which in his day was a denomination that did not love Christians who thought differently.) Wesley taught us much about a “Catholic Spirit,” but he did not originate this way of thinking and living. The idea is Scriptural, from ancient Israel to the apostle Paul.
While Ephesians called on all Christ-followers to “accept each other with love,” Edwin Prince Booth wrote that John Wesley’s father, Samuel, and his family “were exiled from their parishes or put in prison because of their obstinacy, their logic and their vigor.” His family’s history no doubt made John aware of the ways human inequity and harassment based on religious differences can damage Christ’s cause. The “Catholic Spirit” Wesley preached is one Christians must intentionally nurture.
British politician and historian Augustine Birrell wrote that Wesley’s mother was “cast in a mold not much to our minds nowadays. She had nineteen children and greatly prided herself on having taught them, one after another, by frequent chastisements to—what do you think? to cry softly.” But in keeping with the wisdom of Ephesians, there was also love: “Though a stern, forbidding, almost an unfeeling, parent, she was successful in winning and retaining not only the respect but the affection of such of her huge family as lived to grow up.”
At one point, John Wesley’s parents refused to live together for 12 months, because they disagreed on who ought to be king of England. Augustine Birrell noted wryly, “If John Wesley was occasionally a little pig-headed, need one wonder?” Like many of us, Wesley bore scars from his flawed family. He loved his parents, but he put his ultimate trust in God, who said through the psalmist that he is the uniquely reliable parent for even the orphaned or lonely.
In1709, a fire in the Wesley’s home trapped John, age 5 ½, on the second floor. A brave neighbor rescued him by standing on another man’s shoulders just before the roof fell in. From that day forward, both John and his mother said that he had been “snatched from the fire.” They believed firmly that God had a special purpose for his life.
We’ve learned that John Wesley’s early years were tough. His family was poor, and had a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Religious and political divisions sowed hatred in England, and with a huge gap between rich and poor, many people had given up faith. Yet many of those very factors helped shape the man he became–a man who for around 40 years rode an estimated 8,000 miles per year on horseback, preached an estimated 1,000 sermons per year, and dramatically changed England (and America, too) for the better. He loved God, and God worked all things for good in his influential life, as Romans 8:28 promised.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, thank you for being with us in good times and bad and for bringing good out of even the bad times we face. Help us to see our lives, even though we struggle, as your gifts to us. Thank you for always being with us; for loving us and for holding our hands as our Father. Free us from our foolish judgments about others and instill in us a loving, “catholic spirit” so that our personal differences seem as incidental to us as they are to you. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
When most people meet someone new, is our human tendency to look for their flaws and how they are different from us, or do most of us tend to accept people at face value, just as they are? What causes us to tend to react one way or the other?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read 2 Kings 10:15, Romans 14:1-4. What message do you receive from these two readings? What does “catholic” (or universal) church mean to you? In what way(s) are all Christians united in their thinking and beliefs? Is there one or more Christian creed(s) that list these common beliefs? As Christians, how are we stronger because we hold common beliefs? What happens when we allow small differences in beliefs to come between us? Would God want us to fight among ourselves? Of course, not all of us are alike. How can our differences make us stronger and more effective in doing God’s work? How can judgmentalism over our differences harm God’s plan? What should our attitude be toward those whose faith seems weaker or stronger than our own?
Read Ephesians 4:1-6. Why might Paul have felt it necessary to write these words to the Ephesians? Were they written only to the Ephesians, or do those words speak to you today? Would Paul say that we must all worship in the same way, or interpret the Bible’s meaning in the same way? Does your church seem to allow for these differences within its congregation? Do you fully embrace, say, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox or Baptists as fellow Christians? What about people who wear blue jeans or shorts, or perhaps suits, to church?
Read Ephesians 6:1-4. To what degree are you a better person because of the way your parents brought you up? What good things can you see in your own life that you believe came from your childhood home life? Were you part of a loving family as a child? Did your upbringing cause things you’ve had to overcome as you grew older? Are you or have you been a parent? Based on these verses, how well do you think you’ve done? What would your children say about that? Will their opinion change as they get older and have children of their own to raise?
Read Psalm 68:3-6. These verses say that God steps in when families are broken or flawed (which all are, to a greater or lesser extent). In what ways does it say God steps in? Can flawed families cause scars on children? Has God ever provided the “family” you needed? In what way? How can we become the voices, arms and legs of God in extending ourselves to those whose families are imperfect? Can we bring God’s comfort to some of those people? Do you know people who you could bless by extending God’s love and support?
Read Zechariah 3:1-4. What did it mean when the Lord called Joshua “a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Joshua was a leader struggling with the responsibility of rebuilding Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Does this suggest that Joshua was troubled, but the Lord was saving him? Has God ever “snatched you from a fire” in your life? Has God’s grace and mercy shaped your sense of your life’s purpose? Are you grateful for life, even when life has handed you some extreme difficulties? Do you tend to remember your pain and suffering to the same degree as when it was happening?
Read Romans 8:18-28. What do these verses mean to you? Do they apply to your own life and how you feel every day? Verse 28 says that God can take all things, even the painful and difficult ones, and bend them to serve a good purpose in your life. Do you believe that, if you place your life in God’s hands, this will be true? Have you ever experienced something bad in your life that God has transformed into something good?
From last week: Did you pray every day for the discernment to know Christ’s plan for you and your mission in the world? Did you make a list of what you are currently doing in service to God? Did you make another list of the gifts, talents and skills that might make you unique in your ability to serve others? Did you consider any areas in which you might need additional training or study? Did you think about whether you need to alter or increase the degree to which you serve and the areas you might be best suited for service? Next week, share with the group whatever you discovered.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, August 18, 2013:
John Wesley’s father, Samuel, was a pastor in the Church of England. For nearly 40 years of his life he served the St. Andrew’s Church in Epworth. The church still stands. Portions of the building were built as early as the 1200’s. Wesley served as associate pastor here under his father. And, after his death, Samuel was buried here. Wesley famously preached from atop his father’s grave when the new St. Andrew’s priest would not allow him to preach in the church.
While it was Samuel who preached and shaped the faith of his children in the church, it was clearly John’s mother, Susanna, who had the greatest impact on the faith of John and her other children. She is often referred to as the “mother of Methodism.”
Susanna was the beautiful and smart daughter of a popular Puritan priest in London. He insisted that his daughter receive a classical education–something most unusual at the time. She was a brilliant woman who in turn insisted that her daughters learn to read and write and receive their education.
If you go Epworth you’ll visit the Epworth Rectory, which is the home where the Rector, or pastor of St. Andrews and his family lived. The one there today was built when John was 6, the previous house having been burned down. It was in the kitchen that Susanna educated each of her children for six hours a day. It was there she held family devotions on Sunday afternoons. At one point, while Samuel was in London for a prolonged period of time, the townsfolk asked if they could join her Bible study and lessons, the associate pastor being a rather dull preacher. She had more people crammed into her house to hear her teach than were coming to church in the morning to St. Andrews.
Susanna would have a profound continuing influence on the faith of each of her children. This week I purchased a book published by Oxford Press with Susanna’s writings–I had never read anything but snippets of her work. These are mostly letters and journal entries, but they also include several extended works–catechisms. What is remarkable is how intentional she was about forming the faith of her children and continuing to invest in their faith when they became adults.
Susanna was a commanding presence in John’s life. He sought her wisdom. He valued her insights. And there were many occasions where he changed his mind about some matter of leadership due to her intervention. In one case in particular a layman had begun preaching and John was against having any but ordained clergy preach. It was Susanna who challenged her son to listen to the man preach, noting that God was working through him. Wesley did as Susanna suggested and from that time on lay preachers became an important fixture in Methodism.
Among the beautiful things that Susanna Wesley did with her children was a commitment to spend one hour each week with each child, asking about their faith, their fears, their hopes and dreams and the state of their souls. This was to shape Wesley’s later practice of asking Methodists to meet together in small groups weekly to enquire of one another’s progress in the faith.
But I might add that Susanna was not what we would consider today the perfect mother. I offered a trivia question in my e-note this week asking what it was that Susanna served at breakfast, insisting her children partake of each morning, for which she might be arrested today, or at least considered a bad mom? Any guesses? That’s right, she made them drink beer! She also believed in the importance of breaking a child’s spirit, and in children not being allowed to cry. But these were all practices of many in her day who thought this was good parenting.
But what struck me in reading Susanna’s words, and the words of her children about her, was how important the faith, prayers and influence of a parent are in the revival of faith in many of our lives. When Charles Wesley, John’s hymn writing brother, was asked to what he attributed his conversion in college and newfound spiritual vitality, he said he believed it was due to his mother’s prayers!
Who was John Wesley?
John Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, England, the 15th child of Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna Wesley. His father was a graduate of the University of Oxford and a Church of England rector. In 1689 Samuel had married Susanna, the 25th child of Samuel Annesley, a Dissenting minister. Wesley’s parents had both become members of the established Church of England early in adulthood. Susanna bore Samuel Wesley 19 children, but only nine lived. In 1696 Wesley’s father was appointed the rector of Epworth.
At the age of five, Wesley was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a “brand plucked from the burning” quoting Zechariah 3:2. As in many families at the time, Wesley’s parents gave their children their early education. Each child, including the girls, was taught to read as soon as they could walk and talk. In 1714, at age 11, Wesley was sent to the Charterhouse School in London (under the mastership of John King from 1715), where he lived the studious, methodical and—for a while—religious life in which he had been trained at home.
In June 1720, Wesley entered Christ Church, Oxford. He was ordained deacon in 1725 and elected fellow of Lincoln College in the following year. He received his Master of Arts in 1727. He was his father’s curate for two years, and then returned to Oxford to fulfill his functions as fellow.
The year of his return to Oxford (1729) marks the beginning of the rise of Methodism. The Holy Club was formed by John’s younger brother, Charles Wesley, and some fellow students, including George Whitefield. The holy club met weekly and they systematically set about living a holy life. They were branded as “Methodist” by students at Oxford who derided the methodical way they ordered their lives.
Wesley…took to open-air preaching in a similar manner to George Whitefield. In contrast to Whitefield’s Calvinism, Wesley embraced the Arminian doctrines that were dominant in the 18th-century Church of England. Methodism in both forms became a highly successful evangelical movement in Britain and later in the United States. His work also helped lead to the later development of the Holiness movement and Pentecostalism.
Wesley helped to organize and form societies of Christians throughout Great Britain, North America and Ireland as small groups that developed intensive, personal accountability, discipleship and religious instruction among members. His great contribution was to appoint itinerant, unordained preachers who travelled widely to evangelize and care for people in the societies. Under Wesley’s direction, Methodists became leaders in many social issues of the day, including prison reform and abolitionism.
Although he was not a systematic theologian, Wesley argued in favor of ‘Christian perfection’ and opposed Calvinism, notably the doctrine of predestination. He held that, in this life, Christians could come to a state in which the love of God “reigned supreme in their hearts”, allowing them to attain a state of outward holiness. His evangelical theology was firmly grounded in sacramental theology and he continually insisted on means of grace as the manner by which God sanctifies and transforms the believer, encouraging people to experience Jesus Christ personally.
Throughout his life Wesley remained within the Established Church and insisted that his movement was well within the bounds of the Anglican tradition. His maverick use of church policy put him at odds with many within the Church of England, though toward the end of his life he was widely respected and referred to as “the best loved man in England.”
Read much more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley
This week, read the selection from Pastor Hamilton’s sermon (above). Read more about John Wesley and the Methodist movement from the extensive history available at http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nl/newsletter.asp?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5399351. Carefully and prayerfully consider the life and teaching of Wesley, and the effect he has had on your beliefs and your life. Next week, share with the group whatever you learned about him and yourself.