Today is May 24th, celebrated as Aldersgate Day in Methodist and various other Wesleyan traditions. Today we commemorate the experience of one of our tradition’s founders, John Wesley, which he recorded in his journal: “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 the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
This profound experience forever changed John’s life. This experience of Christ’s grace and presence in the midst of his life, and the freedom that came with it, put John on a trajectory that changed the landscape of both Great Britain and what would become the United States.
So great was his impact, that we can forget how it started. How all movements of significance start, actually. The most significant cultural movements of history started as and were fueled as grassroots movements among everyday people. In other words, some of the most powerful forces of change are small acts in a big world. This isn’t to downplay the role of systems of injustice or justice, just the opposite. It is to acknowledge that systems are most often changed from the bottom up, not the top down.
The world’s grief and sorrows can feel overwhelming these days. The last thing many of us want to hear is the news. The world was much the same in John Wesley’s day—on the brink of the Revolutionary War, the religious wars of England had decimated the country for decades, the trade of enslaved persons of African descent was at a fever pitch, economic stratification and oppression were rampant, political turmoil was everywhere. His faith in this Christ who had taken away even his own sins and freed him to the power of life drove him to combat injustice in every way he could. It was the small acts of work in small, unknown corners of his community that led to the tidal wave of change.
It was feeding someone hungry. Clothing someone in need of clothes. Giving clean water to the thirsty. Visiting the imprisoned, regardless of their guilt or innocence. In short, it was living into Christ’s call in Matthew 25—to care for the least of these.
The weight of the world’s grief is heavy these days. But what if we turned our eyes off the screens of news stations for just a little while and turned them to see around us—whose hunger would we see? Whose nakedness? Whose thirst or imprisonment? Who would see that just needs to be seen?
The Talmud, a resource of Jewish wisdom puts it this way, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Today is Aldersgate Day. Let us celebrate it by remembering the union of faith in Christ and the work of Christ’s kin-dom. Let us ponder how we can move together as a body toward doing this work. Then, let’s get our hands dirty and do it.
– Pastor Megan