This sermon was preached
Readings: Zech 3, Jn 15:9-17
Left: John Wesley
Zechariah 3:2b “Is this not a brand snatched from the burning?”
The Book of Zechariah was written during the exile of the Israelites in Babylon.
It contains God’s promise to his people in exile –
them that the temple of Jerusalem will be rebuilt.
The people deserve the trials which have befallen them –
have been sinful and faithless – but they will be saved.
This particular verse refers to Joshua the High Priest.
Like his people, he too will be rescued -
like a piece of wood snatched out of a blazing fire –
he is a brand snatched from the burning.
He is to be rescued so that he can live to do God’s will.
This is always God’s way.
Always God’s people fail him –
we are sinful and selfish,
we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs which fall from the Lord’s table.
Yet always God is watching over us –
and when the flames threaten to consume us he rescues us,
and says “You are my precious child and I will never leave you to perish –
you are my precious child and I have work for you to do”.
Today is Aldersgate Sunday.
To those outside the Methodist tradition, that may not mean a lot.
It is the day when we give special thanks for the life of John Wesley,
who was the founder of the Methodist Church.
Wesley lived from 1703 to 1792.
He grew up in a village in North Lincolnshire called Epworth –
I know it well – my grandparents were farmers in the next village.
John Wesley’s father was the Anglican Priest.
When John Wesley 5 years old the rectory caught fire –
or possibly, as his father was a very unpopular vicar – it was set on fire.
Everyone escaped – until that is the horrified parents,
counting up their many children, discovered they were one short –
little John was still in the building.
Rushing back, they found him standing in an upstairs window –
some bystanders pulled him to safety.
So it was that in future years
John Wesley frequently referred to himself as “a brand from the burning” –
someone plucked by God from the flames.
His mother firmly believed that little John
had been spared especially that he might be used by God.
All the Rectory books were destroyed in the fire,
but according to tradition on the next morning,
one scrap of charred paper was found swirling around the stack yard –
it was a fragment of the Rectory bible, containing the words
“Take up thy cross and follow me”.
So the Wesleys came to believe that God had saved John,
that he might take up his cross and do the Lord’s work.
Yet not just the High Priest in Jerusalem,
not just Wesley in the Rectory –
watches over us all – ready to pull us from the fire
and give us a a temple to build, cross to carry, his work to do.
And from generation to generation, God saves and calls his people.
We thank God for all the Saints,
give thanks for all who have died in the Lord’s service,
remembering especially today John Wesley
give thanks for all those who continue to work alongside us –
today particularly we rejoice with Ernest
as he celebrates 60 years as one of Mr Wesley’s Preachers -
And as we give thanks for the great list of saints past and present,
So we ask what God wants us to do in the future.
· And maybe someone here today might be
that call to ordained ministry today –
if so – its a huge responsibility but a huge privilege -
please talk to me or Ernest or one of the other minsters here today…
salvation and call are not just for the ordained ministers -
everyone of us – ordained or lay – is called to take up our cross and do God’s work
today’s set Gospel reading puts it –
You have not chosen me – I chose you –
and I have appointed you to bear fruit, to love each other.
We may no
longer believe (as Wesley did)
in the literal torments of eternal hellfire –
but we all know (if we are honest)
how often we contribute to hell on earth for ourselves and for others.
by active wrong,
we stoke the fires of evil and suffering
by thoughtless indifference,
we simply allow the blaze to grow unchecked.
Did you see Tuesday’s Independent?
Tuesday’s edition of the paper had a guest editor, Bono of U2
Bono commissioned a cover from Damien Hirst
it featured a cross made of icons: a skull,
praying hands, a syringe, some pills and, a dove.
The deeply ironic
headline said simply, ‘NO NEWS TODAY’ –
but then beneath it in deceptively small print –
the punchline footnote:
‘Just 6,500 Africans died today as a result of a preventable, treatable disease.’
And above the cross a Biblical reference, Genesis 1.27.
So God created man in his own image,
There is our shame as a human race –
we are made in God’s image to be like him,
and yet so often we ignore the suffering of so many…..
or even stoke the fire,
and find ourselves engulfed by the flames.
we thank God how long long ago,
he spoke to the exiles in Babylon and said:
I will not give up on you and your people –
Even tough you have done wrong,
I will rescue you from the fire of evil
like a brand plucked from the burning fire
and give you my work to do.
thank God that he called John Wesley from a rectory fire
and said: I have work for you to do -
to fight slavery, to visit the prisoners,
the poor and the destitute, and to preach Christ –
thank God that he has called Ernest
to bring God’s Word and God’s love to his world for 60 years and more
thank God that he calls us –
that he points us to the heartache and sin and suffering of our generation –
and says “I have chosen you” – to bear the fruits of the Gospel
and to show God’s love in the world.
So I will save you like a brand from the burning –
Now see what the Scripture says to you -
“Take up your cross – and follow me.”