We all have expectations. Our past experiences, knowledge, conversations shape what we expect. I remember when a favourite restaurant of mine stopped doing the dish I absolutely loved. Or the times I’ve been for chips outside the Black Country and they haven’t done orange chips. We all have expectations. So did the first disciples of Jesus. They expected a messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel. We see this early in the gospel narrative. And even, after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and all his appearances, and teachings, they still expected the same. But Jesus turns our expectations on their head. As they waited for Pentecost, they had no idea how transformational God’s Holy Spirit would be. Are we expecting the wrong things when God’s Spirit is ready to move us in a different direction?
I wouldn’t be Methodist if I didn’t mention John Wesley once in a while. But there is something remarkable about the way in which God’s Spirit transformed his life so that he became a witness of God’s love. What strikes me is that even after his training, his ordination, his methodical work, he still doubted his own salvation. He was so focussed on his own worthiness that he did everything to try and prove this. It was only when his heart was ‘strangely warmed’ that he felt God within him and became assured of God’s love and salvation. But prior to this, it took years of failure in his own strength to realise that he needed to depend on God: once he did this, the rest is history as they say—well not quite, but the power of the Holy Spirit, through a few ordinary people, did spark a movement known as Methodism, and continues to transform lives today.
Jesus had ascended, gone up, disappeared into heaven. They were once again perplexed and between events. They’d had this once before between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Now it was between his ascension and Pentecost—but they didn’t know this. He’d mentioned something about an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, but they still didn’t know what this meant. So what did they do as they waited? They prayed and prayed. When we’re in a place where we’re waiting for what God will do next, what should we do? Pray and pray and pray.
Reading this at a time when we may not be able to sing together for a while, is difficult. Methodists were born in song were they not? Hymnody has shaped Methodism. It’s our theology. We sing what we believe. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed praising God through song. There is nothing greater than gathering with other voices to sing God’s praise. Only then will we know that our current situation is over and we’ve moved to a new chapter. For now though, know that we’ll sing again!
(1 Peter 5:7)
Not too long ago I had some serious issues with my mental health. Neglecting my own wellbeing, I’d internalised my struggles and ended up in quite a serious state. Thankfully, as I reached out, I realised just how many people loved me dearly despite what I perceived were my weaknesses. But I also found myself drawing nearer to God and in the midst of this the words of a hymn regularly echoed through my mind: My troubled soul, why so weighed down? You were not made to bear this heavy load. Cast all your burdens upon the Lord; Jesus cares, he cares for you (StF 635). This hymn will always have a special place in my heart. With God, it got me through a very tough time.
(1 Peter 5:10)
It’s not easy to hold onto hope when we suffer. This letter was written because the early communities were finding it difficult. Their suffering wasn’t ignored. They weren’t told to get over it. But they were offered words of encouragement.