I was moved by the ad where a child was standing by the grill with his father and the child asked, “Dad, how much did these hot dogs cost?” The father immediately pulled out his phone and found a picture he had taken of the rows of white tombstones at a National Cemetery, and he said, “This much.”
Today we remember and give thanks for all who have gone before and paved the way for us to be here today. That’s a good thing to do. For most of us, however, remembering truly touches the heart only when it becomes more personal – when we are able to say a name or make a personal connection. I’ve walked through Arlington Cemetery a couple of times. It is moving, in general, and then I see a tombstone with a Methodist cross and flame on it, and I am touched at a whole different level. Or, I walk through a family cemetery and make my way to a well-known spot where I am moved with remembering and thankfulness.
It is good to remember. It is a good thing for us to dot our own personal histories with heroes -- and we all can. We all have our roots in people who did something that made it possible for us to be here and to be able to live by certain virtues and blessings. So today we remember and give thanks.
A few weeks ago in a Bible Study class, we were talking about how we feel sometimes when we gaze up at the stars. We all, at times, had the same experience: a feeling of lowliness or insignificance. In this vast universe we are just a speck, if even that -- small, insignificant, nothing. But in this sea of stars, where there are not just billions of stars, but billions of galaxies, spanning more light years than we could count, where light years are like grains of sands – against this background there is a God who is big enough to know you by name and care about you. We exist in the universe where your every thought, your every value, your every love is stored in the heart of God. I invite you to imagine that and hold this truth in your heart – You are loved by name, personally, with an everlasting and eternal love.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once said that, "Faith is a divine evidence and conviction not only that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,’ but also that ‘Christ loves’ me and gave himself ‘for me.’ In our lesson from Paul, it is made clear that God does not regard us from a human point of view. Through Christ, God sees us as a new creation, as one reconciled to God, as one who is loved with an eternal love. To be clear, this reconciliation is not just some big abstract theological concept. It is not just an idea. This truth comes alive only when we experience it personally. We are able to say, God has done great things for me. God loves me. I am worthy of God's love and God's personal attention.
On May 24, 1738, John Wesley went to a Bible Study on Aldersgate Street and we commemorate what happened there this week. On the Methodist Calendar, this is Aldersgate Sunday, with May 24 being Aldersgate Day. In his journal, Wesley tells us that he went to the Bible Study “very unwillingly.” At this point in his life, he was a well-respected priest in the Church of England, but he was going through a time when there wasn’t much joy in it all. He was going through the motions of faith, but it all seemed like more of a burden than a blessing. But on this night, something happened. To use his language, he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” He felt (note the feeling words, not just thinking words) trust in Christ and came to know an assurance that God had saved him …“saved even me,” as he said. “Even me.”
In this series, we are exploring the witness of the Holy Spirit – all that the Holy Spirit communicates with our spirits, that we are loved, that we are a part of God’s family, that we will empower to bear good fruit. In conjunction with the witness of the Spirit, we also recognize the witness of our own spirits. It is not just believing that God loves us and saves us in some general sense; it is that we know these blessings deep inside and they change our lives. Our theme verse for this series says that the Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are beloved children of God and this witness leads to heart-felt joy; it changes us from the inside out; it moves us from greed to grace, from fear to faith, from a focus on self to a desire to serve others in the spirit of love. Has this flame been kindled in your heart?
John Wesley gives this witness of his own Spirit after his Aldersgate Experience. And he wrote it down in his journal. There is something powerful about writing a word or a note to help us remember and possibly to inspire others long after we are gone. And so, I want to give you an assignment today. In your bulletin, you will notice a blank box, with the Title “My Aldersgate-Like Experience.” Using Wesley’s journal entry as a model, I want you to write a brief word about a time when God moved in your life, when you felt God at work in your life. If possible, name the time and/or the place and what happened - just a brief account, a few sentences. You can do this during the Offering Time, in a few moments, or make it a part of your conversation over lunch, or find a quiet place this week to do this reflecting.
I’m going to share mine right now, just to give you an example, and maybe to inspire someone here. “I was in college, struggling with what to believe, when I decided to read the New Testament until I found some clarity. By the end of the Gospel of Matthew, late into the night, I felt God’s presence and knew I was being called to give my life to growing in God’s love.” That’s my Aldersgate-Like Testimony.
As you reflect upon this, I invite you to remember Wesley’s witness for you to hear. God doesn’t just love everyone, in some abstract way. God loves you. God wants you to know this love and to allow this love to transform your life. May that be the witness of your spirit. Amen.