Just what did take place on the evening of 24 May 1738?
And what does it have to say to us today?

1. Just what did take place on the evening of 24 May 1738? Was it a conversion? Did John Wesley suddenly, in an instant, become a changed man? Could everyone have seen that a sudden transformation had come over him?

Or was the morning after not dissimilar to the one 24 hours earlier?

Certainly he testified openly to all there what he now first felt in (his) heart’. But he was ‘buffeted with temptations’ on his return home that night. And though Jesus ‘was in (his) heart and in (his) mouth all was not over for John in the transformation we would like to think occurred.

And was it a conversion experience or was it something altogether different to the traditional and perhaps idealised view of conversion?

I believe that Wesley’s Aldersgate Street was similar to Paul’s Damascus Road, but not if we think of the Damascus Road as being a complete turnabout without any prior workings of the Spirit.

I personally believe that Saul was mulling things over from the moment he witnessed Stephen’s death outside the walls of Jerusalem. He then passed that very same killing ground en route to Damascus before everything came into sharper focus as the scales fell from his eyes.

In a similar way John Wesley didn’t arrive at Aldersgate Street without a thought in his head. Evensong had given him time to reflect. His scripture readings earlier that day from 5 am on were pointing him to ‘exceeding great and precious promises. As he left his lodgings the scriptures reminded home that he was not ‘far from the Kingdom of God’. And go back a few days to the fact that Charles had experienced something similar to what John had now felt. Four months previously of course John had returned to England in ‘imminent danger of death’.

None of these can be discounted as factors that led to the heart being strangely warmed. Nor the working of the Holy Spirit in his desire to preach the Gospel in the Americas, to visit the prisoners in Oxford Gaol, the wrestling with scriptures in the Holy Club, and even the childhood nurturing in the faith conducted by Susannah.

But the struggles and the temptations, the relationship difficulties and misunderstandings, were far from over.

One could even wonder if John would be a successful candidate for the ministry in today’s Methodist Church. We might consider calling a special District candidates committee to answer that one!

The bottom line is threefold:
• That John’s experience in Aldersgate Street at about a quarter before nine was a culmination of searching over many years
• That others played a significant part in the nurturing of his faith
• That the Spirit was at work in him even when he hadn’t necessarily realized it

2. And what does this have to say to us today?

I often feel very sad for those of us who, because of what we have found in Christ, dismiss others for what we believe they do not have.

To think that we have arrived at a place where our search is over is nothing less than arrogance and foolish.
To think that we may have arrived at a point of assurance without the example, grace and care of others is again nothing less than arrogance and foolishness.
To think that everything we did before that moment counted for nothing is again nothing less than ……….

Our journey of faith is no better nor no worse than anyone else’s.
If it were deemed to be better, then that would be wrong.
If it were deemed to be of little or no consequence, then that too would be wrong.

We have been where we have been. We are where we are. And we will be where we will be.

What was it that John Newton said? ‘I am not what I was, nor what I should be, but by the grace of God I am what I am.’

Every single day I give thanks to God for those who recognized that I was made in the image of God
• from a toddler to a teenager with angst
• from a confused young adult to a cocky young minister
• from there to now, others have been gracious enough to see in me the image of God, for all my faults and failings.

And what of us, not only how others have related to us and seen in us something of what God sees? But of how we relate to others? And how we might see in them something of what God sees.

To discount others is to dismiss God.
To put people in boxes is not laying the table for the heavenly banquet prepared for all humankind.
To create a world of us and them, to claim we are right and they are wrong, to consider that we have what others do not have renders us far from the kingdom of God.

We come nearer the kingdom when we throw open the doors, not so that others can come in, but so that we can go out and meet the stranger, the alien in our midst, the one whose creed is different to our own on equal terms and find within them truths that have stood the test of time, hospitality that puts us to shame, grace that can only be of God.

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