Monthly Archives: May 2011
39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Luke 8:39 (NRSV)
I’m struck by how hard life was for the demoniac in Luke 8. So many years of suffering and lashing out. Now for once he’s in his right mind and people don’t want him that way. They want him at arm’s length in the category “other.” He feels it and he wants to hit the road with Jesus. But Jesus says, “no—return home and share your story.” Despite the complications, he does not hesitate. He stays put and tells them what Jesus did for him! Courageous obedience! Life is still hard, but now pulsing with meaning and purpose! The stay-put calling is less glamorous, against our instinct, but truly blessed!
I’ve been posting about the surprising guidelines John Wesley gave to his North American ordained elders in 1784. At the ripe old age of 81 Wesley was harvesting a lifetime of prayer, ministry, and theological reflection.
For Sunday worship he prescribed an only slightly adapted Book of Common Prayer service for Sunday morning and evening. When I discovered this, I was shocked and then assumed he would encourage people to pray the Daily Office at home during the week. But no! Again, surprisingly his guideline was: “…reading the litany only on Wednesdays and Fridays, and praying extempore on all other days.”
By “the litany” he must mean The Great Litany, a nearly comprehensive call and response prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. This is no “now I lay me down to sleep.” It is an all-encompassing prayer, covering a very complete list of needs personal, congregational, even national and international. It can take 15 minutes or more to pray through if you do it with feeling.
I was barely even aware of the litany, so he got me again! Evidently we can gather that the guided prayers twice on the Lord’s Day would provide a template for extempore prayer in the week. But to make sure they weren’t just praying for Aunt Susie’s stubbed toe and a sickly donkey, The Great Litany gave scope and perspective on what Kingdom Praying can be. Yet, church folk and preachers would not just rely on prescribed prayers (a valuable discipline in themselves), but would develop the discipline of forming prayers from the heart. Like a personal trainer of the Spirit, Wesley was providing a balanced discipline, leaving room for the Spirit’s leading, but grounding people in the prayer life of the Psalms. Hmmmmmm…
There’s a lot to reflect on here, especially in light of holiness. You guessed it, that will have to wait for my next post!
I ended my last post with a question: what kind of worship model would you expect John Wesley to have prescribed for his itinerant preachers in North America? I guess I assumed that a revivalist format would be his choice. All prayers extemporaneous, offering, special music, sermon and altar call. But only offering and sermon made the list. I was sort of given the image that Wesley couldn’t wait to get out from under the Church of England and it’s stifling formal worship. It seems that he did feel constrained by the decision-making hierarchy of said church (and it could fairly be said that his passion was hard for them to enfold into church order). But of the forms of worship Wesley says, “I love the old wine…” meaning that he valued the traditions. That said, he did update the language at several points and trim the service down considerably. But for the most part, what he insisted would guide worship was the Book of Common Prayer Morning and Evening Prayer services. That’s right. That Sunday night service your church used to have (and maybe still has…)? Did you know it was originally, Evening Prayer? It takes about 30 min to pray through the list of litanies and collects, scripture lections, and thanksgivings. Sunday morning was Morning Prayer with Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper every week! Even though the Church of England only served the lay people communion a few times a year, Wesley advised a weekly Lord’s Supper! It even included the Great Thanksgiving with call and response. Kind of a mid-church Anglicanism on the wide frontier!
So now, what do you think his recommendation for daily devotion was? Again, you might be surprised and that will have to wait for my next post!
Grace and Peace
The other day a package arrived in the mail. I was excited! It wasn’t a gadget, although i can be a geek for those. It wasn’t a bike part, although managing an aging family fleet of iron steeds occasionally calls for parts. No, it was a rather plain looking book with a white cover: John Wesley’s Prayer Book, The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. I know, you’re drooling already, right? (Maybe groaning is closer…) But as a good Nazarene, I’m a geek for anything by John Wesley. Oh I own his sermons, notes on the Bible, some of his journals, and his theological articles. But this was one of his final publications, just seven years before his death. It was written at the ripe old age of eighty-one. Over 2,000 copies were printed back in c1784. Only 39 survive today. And it’s not easy to get a look at one of those. When I finally found it had been reprinted I was elated. But then it was hard to find it for sale… I wish I had known of it 19 years ago, but it was just off the radar as I was graduating seminary… Yet, sometimes these things happen for a reason. It’s good timing for me just now…
It has been very interesting reading through Wesley’s guide to Sunday services and prayer. It’s both easy to see how almost all holiness theology was fed by his tradition and hard to imagine why his bishop couldn’t see it. Clearly, Wesley saw the U.S. as the place where the message of holiness, separated from certain political forces/hierarchy, could be freely spread. How ironic. At first he came here, as a missionary, to convert Native Americans. He was terrible at it. Then he was very suspicious of the American motives for seeking independence. But after Church of England bishops refused to ordain his trained preachers, America became, for Wesley, the great land of opportunity once again. In the preface to this work he wrote of the Methodist ministers who would be ordained here, “They are now at full liberty, simply to follow the Scriptures and the primitive church. And we judge it best that they should stand fast in that liberty, wherewith God has so strangely made them free.”
It brings to mind both Aldersgate, where Wesley’s heart had been “strangely” warmed, and the spiritual freedom afforded by the work of the Holy Spirit in a fully surrendered life. And now political realities, which had distressed and hindered, became a fresh breeze for this movement.
So how did this fiery, charismatic, oftentimes outdoor evangelist want his preachers and congregations to worship and pray? You might be surprised…but that will have to wait until my next post…