A Welcoming Heart, May 26

A Welcoming Heart

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; May 26, 2019

 

Aldersgate Day was this past Friday.  On the evening of May 24, 1738, John Wesley went to a Bible study on Aldersgate St. in London.  He was almost 35 years old.  He had been ordained 13 years earlier in the Church of England, and he had traveled to the colony of Georgia to preach the gospel; he returned disheartened.  On that journey, he had run into Moravians, part of a Christian church that celebrated God’s grace and love, with an emphasis on that grace being available to any and all who asked.  The Bible study he attended on May 24 was at a Moravian church. Reacting to a reading from the preface to Luther’s commentary on the Book of Romans, John wrote in his journal, “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."  This experience changed John Wesley into a champion for the gospel, preaching the good news of grace everywhere, often beyond the prescribed walls of the church – in open fields, in taverns, to workers and miners, wherever people would listen to his preaching, he preached.  His younger brother Charles had his own call and conversion experience only three days earlier, on May 21.  They and their friends had already been mockingly labeled Methodist when they studied at Oxford, for their structured discipline of Bible study and prayer.  Now John and Charles would give the Methodist label a distinctive identity – an emphasis on both personal piety and social piety, a focus on the centrality of God’s grace for salvation and for ongoing life as a Christian, an enthusiasm for singing the good news of Christ’s love, and a discipline for the life of faith of those who walked in Christ’s ways.

 

John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed – an excellent phrase to remember and claim as our own, O Methodists of Catskill – and that newly warmed heart changed his life, and through his life, changed the world.  In 2001, the United Methodist Church adopted a tag line, Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.  Although we live that imperfectly, it still points to a valuable goal of how we put ourselves forward to the world.  Open Doors is easy to understand.  Anyone is welcome into our fellowship; the communion table is an open table.  As I say each time we gather at the table, it is not our table but Christ’s table, and his invitation and welcome is for all, members of this church, members of other churches, members of no church at all.  You need only want to come and you are welcome.  The larger United Methodist Church is wrestling with welcoming LGBTQ people, but we know they’re welcome here.  We can commit to Open Doors at this church. 

 

Open Minds means that we acknowledge that there are things we don’t yet know.  It’s a deliberate decision to be humble and open to learning new things – how the world works, how to pack a flood bucket or a hygiene kit (we need stuff for hygiene kits; we’ll pack them next week, taught by a video), what other people think or believe about scripture and its meaning – all of these are things we choose to be open-minded about, that our faith and our knowledge might grow and deepen.  We can commit to Open Minds among us in this congregation.

 

Open Hearts – what exactly does that even mean?  John Wesley spoke of his heart strangely warmed.  Jesus spoke to the disciples of the state of their hearts as he was headed into his last hours of life.  Do not let your hearts be troubled; and do not let them be afraid.  Which means that Jesus spoke of the heart as the seat of emotion just as we do.  The specificities of the heart as the blood pump aren’t at issue here.  Our hearts are where we feel.  Jesus knew his disciples were going to feel sad, and they may have been tempted to feel hopeless.  He didn’t forbid either of those feelings.  He did say that they could decide whether to allow those feelings to push their whole selves into trouble or fear.  Because he knew, as we know when we can think about it, that fear closes the heart.  That it’s possible to be grieving and still not close our hearts in despair.  Do not let your hearts be afraid.  Don’t give in to the fear and hopelessness that might keep you from experiencing the Spirit, the Advocate, the Paraclete who is coming after me.  Keep your hearts open.  That’s the Open Hearts we hoped to encourage in that vision statement of the church. 

 

As the church of Jesus Christ, we seek to always be open to the movement of the Spirit among us, knowing that Spirit will lift us away from fear and worry and into hope and joy.  Wesley’s Aldersgate story is precisely about this sort of open heart.  John Wesley didn’t do well at proclaiming the gospel on his trip to America.  People weren’t all that impressed with him, the woman he hoped to love didn’t return his affection, and then he banned her from communion because of it.  Not noble conduct for a minister of the gospel.  He came home.  He might have closed his heart to preaching the gospel and simply done something else.  He was an educated man; he could have studied law or sold purple fabric like Lydia. Instead he kept his heart open, even though it stung from his failure, and he went to study scripture with the Moravians he’d met on the ship.  God warmed that heart, deliberately kept open. 

 

Wesley’s wisdom for those of us who will listen reflects that experience.  We live in God’s grace, and we seek opportunities to experience that grace.  It’s not a vending machine, available whenever we demand it, but there are practices which tradition and experience tell us often lead us to an experience of God’s grace.  Prayer and fasting are means of grace, works of mercy – feeding the hungry and visiting the prisoner – are means of grace, regular attendance at the Lord’s Table is a means of grace.  Living with open hearts and availing ourselves of the means of grace keeps us open to experiencing God’s grace often in our lives.  So yes, we can commit ourselves to Open Hearts, too.  

 

We heard a story from the book of Acts this morning which is like John Wesley’s story of May 24.  Lydia is a merchant, a dealer in purple cloth, fancy stuff.  She listens carefully to what Paul has to say, and she is interested.  Verse 14 ends with the statement, The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.  Because of Paul, she hears the good news of the grace of Jesus Christ.  Her heart is touched, perhaps even warmed, and she and her household are all baptized, welcomed into the church of Jesus Christ.

 

Her experience of the grace of God that leads her to be baptized also leads her to act on her faith, to open her home to Paul and Timothy and those who were traveling with them.  By the end of this chapter, when Paul and Silas get out of prison, they go to Lydia’s home where there are brothers and sisters to say farewell to, a gathering which most Bible scholars identify as a church in her home.  Lydia’s conversion, when the Lord opened her heart to Paul’s teaching, is the beginning of the church in Philippi, the same church that Paul writes to in the letter we now know as Philippians. 

 

Lydia’s faith grew quickly into action, into hospitality, and into leadership in the community of the church in her city.  Hospitality is one of the things we’re good at here at Catskill UMC – we were amazing last week as we welcomed the whole district to an excellent dinner, and I heard kudos and thanks from many people for our hospitality.  There are hungry people in this village, hungry for food and for community.  We can continue our community breakfasts to welcome them, and/or we can find other ways to extend hospitality in the name of Jesus.

 

For this is what Lydia, and Paul, and John and Charles Wesley have in common.  The grace of Jesus Christ rocked their world.  It re-arranged their lives, focusing their actions, their thoughts, and their words on the life of love that grace offered them.  This grace of God isn’t just a nice idea, it’s dangerous, that is, it’s dangerous if we think a mellow life of complacency is safe.  Our baptismal vows not only ask us to embrace an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they also call on us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, to stand on God’s side, to claim love as our place and our tool in the struggle for God’s kingdom to be made manifest in the world.  Grace is powerful, as we witness in the lives of Lydia and John Wesley.  That grace can transform our lives as the church of Jesus Christ in this place, adding to our number, opening our doors wider, molding our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Jesus.  May it be so among us.  Amen.

Acts 16:9-15

9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

 

Psalm 67 (UMH 791)

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,

that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

     for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.

May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

 

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

22I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

John 14:23-29

23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.