Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Place for Doubters

 This picture was taken just outside the Museum of London and is known as "The Aldersgate Flame Memorial." The date at the top reads "Wednesday, May 24, 1738," and the inscription continues, allowing one to read the words printed in John Wesley's journal on this particular day.

Mr. Wesley is the founder of Methodism - the one whose image is reproduced in stained glass windows in our sanctuary and whose bust appears throughout the world as a man of deep faith. His mark is felt in churches of all shapes and sizes. His teachings have had and continue to have a profound impact on countless people learning about the way of salvation or experiencing grace that comes to us long before we hear the name of God spoken aloud.

But Mr. Wesley was not always filled with faith. In fact, he wrestled with doubt for a significant portion of his life.

In his journal, Mr. Wesley wrote how he opened his Testament to 2 Peter and then walked to St. Paul's where he heard an anthem, "Out of the Deep have I called unto thee...If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amif's, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is Mercy with thee." After printing the words of the hymn, Mr. Wesley continued to write:

In the Evening I went very unwillingly to a Society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a Quarter before nine, while he was describing the Change which God works in my Heart thro' Faith in Christ, I felt my Heart strangely warm'd. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my Salvation: And an Assurance was given to me, That He had taken away my Sins, even mine, and saved me from the Law of Sin and Death.

Mr. Wesley was an ordained clergyman who was preaching regularly and leading people to have faith in Christ. He was born into the church, the child of a pastor who could be found on the front pew. And yet, he did not have faith. He was 35 years old when he wrote these words. He could have easily given up and left the church but he kept heeding to the advice of a friend who suggested that he "preach faith until you have it."

We in the church regularly speak of faith as something that is easy to find. We talk about God with words that can lead others to believe that we have seen God with our very own eyes, never mind the belief that even Moses could only see God through a burning bush.

But what if faith is a gift - a present that some of us are given at an early age while others have to wait decades to receive?

What if our seasons of doubt can lead to the richest seasons of faith imaginable?

What if you are not the only one who is doubting? What if the person preaching in the pulpit is preaching until she or he has faith again?

What if the best thing to do when we are doubting is to keep showing up - keep going to church - keep searching the scriptures - keep trying to pray even if we do these things "very unwillingly" like Mr. Wesley did?

Perhaps we in the church need to make as much room as possible for doubt, believing that God is still at work whether our picture of God is clear or blurry - whether we know God to be alive or believe God is dead - whether we have experienced the gift of a heart strangely warmed or have determined that we can live without faith in God?

It takes a long time for some of us to get to the Amen Corner. That's why we keep going - even unwillingly - to places like the Society at Aldersgate.

No comments: