A family address given today, June 28h, at Uniting Church Sketty (Methodist/United Reformed), Swansea.
Happy Birthday, Jackie!
Let me ask you a few questions.
• Do you like it when someone is a bossy-boots?
• Do you like a cup of tea? What would you say if someone told you that drinking tea is a bad idea? That he’s a bit of a bossy-boots?!
• Do you like a good joke, a good laugh?
• Do you like pop or rock music, the songs Badger and Emma play on The Wave? Do you like opera?
• Do you think that it’s right to copy another person’s work without giving them credit for it? Do you know what that’s called? [Plagiarism]
• Are you superstitious? Are you scared of black cats? Do you get nervous on Friday the 13th? Do you think a rabbit’s foot brings good luck? I mean really?
• Finally, does anyone have a birthday today? …
Someone very famous has a birthday today, someone we all know, and someone very dear to us. Any guesses?… Here’s a hint: he’s 312 years old! John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
John Wesley was born on this day in 1703, in Epworth, Lincolnshire. His father’s name was Samuel, and his mother’s name was …? [Susannah] Guess how many children Susannah had altogether … [19!] Do you know what she called John?… [Jackie]
I guess most Methodists can tell you that in 1709 a fire burned the Wesley home to the ground, and that 5-year-old Jackie was pulled to safety just before the roof collapsed. Susanna said he was “like a brand plucked from the burning”, and Jackie himself, when he grew up, liked to use that phrase as a picture of his – and our – salvation. And, of course, when Jackie grew up, as “John” Wesley he became a “great” man, a “great” Christian, and did “great” things, and we could spend hours and hours talking about them. But for me, the greatest thing he did was … – well, I can tell you that only after I tell you what many people don’t know about John Wesley, or if they know, don’t like to mention.
• He could be a bit of a bossy-boots: even his own preachers called him “Pope John”.
• He said that drinking tea was a waste of time and money – though, as we heard at the Launch Service of Uniting Church Sketty a month ago, he did have a cuppa while passing through Swansea. But did you know that he liked a glass of wine or beer?
• He didn’t much approve of joking and laughing.
• He didn’t like the modern music of his day, and he was even suspicious of opera.
• He did indeed sometimes pass off other people’s writing as his own.
• And superstitious: would you believe that he made the decision to get married by pulling bits of paper out of a hat? He married a widow called Molly. The marriage was a complete disaster. Molly was known to insult him, even strike him – in public! Eventually they separated. What a mess!
Now I can tell you why I think John Wesley was such a great man, a great
Christian, a great saint. An immense admirer of John Wesley, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, once said of Wesley’s life that it contained lots of “muddle and silliness”. And that’s true, because let’s be honest, whose life doesn’t? But what John Wesley understood, that very few people do, is that even in his “muddle and silliness” God still loved him and indeed used him to bring precisely that good news to the people of Britain at a time when they desperately needed to hear it: that God loves each of us, even in our “muddle and silliness” – and a lot worse too! – and that God wants to use us to share this wonderful news – this wonderful love – with others.
When he was dying, do you know what John Wesley said? He said, “The best of all, God is with us!” The best of all, God is with us! Absolutely! So happy birthday, Jackie! And thank you, God, for John Wesley, your gift to us, to the church, to the whole world.