Wesleyan Roots: “Patience”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Patience”

A Message on James 1:2-4

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 30, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

 

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

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Today I’m excited to start our new sermon series that I have titled “Wesleyan Roots” because we are using John Wesley’s sermons as a guide to the scriptures.

 

Most of you know that John Wesley was the founder of Methodism. He lived in England in the 1700s and was a priest in the Anglican Church (Church of England at the time). He and his brother Charles started a student group while in college at Oxford. This group met to pray, read the scriptures, ministered to the poor and those in prison, and hold each other accountable to following Christ. They became known as “The Holy Club” and later “Methodists” because they were so methodical in their efforts. (It was not a term of endearment, by the way, but was a term making fun of the group. Nevertheless it stuck…)

 

John Wesley never left the Church of England but saw the Methodist movement as a reform group within the Church of England.

 

Here’s the way I read the history from that time. The Church of England had gotten kind of high-falutin and snobbish. They were very class oriented and didn’t want the lower classes to be a part of the church. It was pretty much a middle-class-and-up church.

 

Well John Wesley, as well as others like John’s brother Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, couldn’t find in the Bible where the church was only supposed to be for the middle class and up, so they made it their mission to minister to everyone.

 

At that time in England there were a lot of coal miners who worked as manual laborers in the mine. They didn’t get paid much and were among the lower classes of society. And they were dirty. (Mining coal will do that to you.)

 

Well the fine, (self-)uprighteous people of the Church of England didn’t want those dirty, stinky coal miners and their families in their church. Horrors!

 

But the Wesleys and company thought that those people needed to know Jesus and so they did something very controversial at the time: they preached outdoors. They went to where the people were and didn’t wait for the people to come to the church buildings. They would go to the coal mines at the end of a shift find a small hill, and preach the Gospel to the miners, sometimes thousands at at time.

 

John Wesley was very meticulous about keeping written copies of his sermons. He also kept a journal which talked quite a bit about the places where he was run off by an angry crowd or where he was banned from preaching again.

 

He was a prolific preacher and writer. Those who research such things say that he traveled more than 250,000 miles on horseback (not in a car, but on horseback, mind you!) and preached about 40,000 sermons!

 

We have many of those sermons and you can find most of them online for free.

 

The one we are exploring today is based on the scripture we read earlier: James 1:2-4, and is titled simply “Patience.”

 

Now in the NRSV translation of the Bible we don’t find the word “patience” in those scriptures, but the word “endurance.” In the NIV the word used is perseverance. In Wesley’s time, however, the King James Version of the Bible was what was available, being printed in 1611. And this is how James 1:2-4 reads in the KJV:

 

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

 

So we have three words, but the same concept. Endurance. Perseverance. Patience.

 

Now here’s something I find interesting: the King James Bible uses feminine language to refer to patience. Does that mean women have more patience than men? Hmmmmmm. But that’s another sermon for another time.

 

I preached on patience earlier this year during the sermon series on the fruit of the spirit. If you remember “patience” is number four in the list.  “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”

 

It was on Father’s Day and the scripture was Psalm 37:7-11. Here is verse 7: “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.”

 

As I said at the time, the problem with praying to God to give you patience is that instead of patience, he gives you the opportunity to practice it. When we pray, “Dear God, give me patience… and give it to me now,” God’s response might be to allow you to be in situations that give you the opportunity to practice being patient.

 

John Wesley took an interesting approach to patience in his sermon by that name. He describes patience as being a virtue of Christians:

 

“We do not now speak of a heathen virtue; neither of a natural indolence; but of a gracious temper, wrought in the heart of a believer, by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is a disposition to suffer whatever pleases God, in the manner and for the time that pleases him.”

 

Wesley kind of runs up and down on patience as you read through his sermon. Here’s an example of what I would classify as down: “We may observe, the proper object of patience is suffering, either in body or mind.”

 

Well, he has a point. If you think of the times when your patience is tested the most it usually involves a bit of suffering.

 

If you are a Texas Ranger fan you probably experienced this year. I’m not saying the Rangers are bad this year… well, actually I am. I checked last night and the Rangers’ record is 67 wins and 93 losses. They are dead last in the American League West standings. Their fellow Texas team, the Astros, are leading the division with 102 wins and 58 losses. The Rangers are only 35 games back of first place. Ouch. I don’t think they are going to make the playoffs.

 

While we talk about being a Ranger fan and suffering it really isn’t. There is some real suffering in the world.

 

One of the things I see in my line of work that combines patience in suffering are medical patients. Someone will be having problems and go in for a test (or several tests). Then they have to go home and wait several days or even a week or more to find out the results of the tests.

 

Those days of waiting are hard, folks. People suffer mentally during that time, some more than others, as they practice patience and wait. I know some tests take time, but often it is a CAT scan for MRI that could re read instantly, but no, patients have to wait for days for the result. (I’ll get off my soapbox now…)

 

But Wesley doesn’t just give the down side to patience, he gives an “up” perspective as well. “One immediate fruit of patience is peace: A sweet tranquillity of mind; a serenity of spirit, which can never be found, unless where patience reigns. And this peace often rises into joy.”

 

Now what’s my kind of patience!

 

That’s the kind I experience when I go fishing. It is said that it takes patience to fish, and I guess that is probably right, but I don’t think of it that way. I met up with Jack Evans this past Friday and we launched our kayaks from his dock on Lake Jacksonville. I only landed one fish, but that was okay. Just being on the water, paddling around, and the weather was cooler… it was just all a “sweet tranquillity of mind; a serenity of spirit,” a “peace” that “rises into joy.”

 

So you see patience is kind of a fickle thing.

 

One of the things that Wesley points out about the patience that involves suffering is that it is tied in close to courage. “And as peace, hope, joy, and love are the fruits of patience, both springing from, and confirmed by it, so is also rational, genuine courage, which indeed cannot subsist without patience.”

 

And Wesley even quotes from 1 Peter to drive the point home.  “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1: 6-7)

 

But the think I find most interesting that Wesley does in this sermon on patience is to connect it to sanctifying grace.

 

Now if you remember in Wesleyan theology there are three expressions of God’s grace. It’s not three different types of grace, but one grace in three expressions.

 

The first is “prevenient grace,” or the grace that goes before. This is where God’s grace is working in a person’s life even before he/she is aware of it. It’s sometimes referred to as the “wooing” grace where God “woos” us.

 

The second is “justify grace.” This grace is when you accept Jesus as your savior. Some people refer to is as being “saved” or “born again.”

 

And then the third expression of grace, the one that Wesley refers to in his sermon on patience, is “sanctifying grace.” This is the grace that happens after you receive Jesus as your savior. It’s what you do after you are “saved.” Being “saved” isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning of living towards what Wesley called “Christian perfection.”

 

Now it’s kind of hard to grasp what that term means. I don’t believe it means “perfection” that means we will never make any mistakes and live perfect lives. I don’t think Wesley means it that way. I think it means being totally focused on God so that everything else in life is seen in God’s reflection. I think that’s what Wesley means by “entire sanctification.”

 

Here is how he ties in patience with sanctification: “But what is the perfect work of patience? Is it anything less than the ‘perfect love of God,’ constraining us to love every soul of man, ‘even as Christ loved us?’ Is it not the whole of religion, the whole ‘mind which was also in Christ Jesus?’ Is it not ‘the renewal of our soul in the image of God, after the likeness of him that created us?’ And is not the fruit of this, the constant resignation of ourselves, body and spirit, to God; entirely giving up all we are, all we have, and all we love, as a holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God through the Son of his love? It seems this is ‘the perfect work of patience,’ consequent upon the trial of our faith.”

 

So, here’s my summation of that: Patience is a virtue that is required as we seek to become more like Christ, as we grow in our faith, and as we seek to do God’s will on earth as children of God. Patience is an integral part of us maturing in the faith. We get better at having patience by practicing it as we develop our faith, especially during those times when we suffer. When our faith is tested it produces patience.

 

Our goal as Christians is to live like Christ as we fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Patience is the catalyst that develops us from where we are today to where we will be deeper in the faith and more like Christ in the future.

 

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by John Wesley and the apostle James, is to look at patience as a way to deepen your faith. Sometimes patience includes suffering, but it also contains joy. The testing of our faith produces patience.

 

And if you want to practice patience by going fishing with me, just let me know.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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