Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting . . . for Lent

Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are upon us, and with this season many will be taking up additional (or at least more intentional) practices of fasting or abstinence.

I would commend to the readers of Wesleyan/Anglican, especially those who are members of World Methodist Council denominations*, the "Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting." In particular, I would commend the practice set forth in the "World Methodist Call To Prayer and Fasting and to Faith-Sharing."

For years, now, ever since my first involvement with the Order of the FLAME** through World Methodist Evangelism of the World Methodist Council, I have made it a habit of providing for my congregation the bookmarks provided by World Methodist Evangelism issuing this call to all those in the larger Wesleyan/Methodist family. These bookmarks explain the background of the call, provide a short history of the practice of fasting, and provide prayers for preparation for fasting, Morning and Mealtime prayers, as well as a prayer for breaking fast.

The focus of this fast is on spreading the gospel of Christ Jesus through word, deed and sign. The fast consists of going without solid food after the evening meal each Thursday until mid-afternoon (about 3:00 PM) each Friday. (Those who wish, can also use the same practice for a Wednesday fast, as did those in the Ancient Church.) This time of fasting is focused in prayer for the vision of World Evangelism - "To see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation."

Originally, the call to prayer and fasting was intended to take place during the fifty days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday with Pentecost being designated as Making Disciples Sunday. I mentioned to the Rev'd. Dr. H. Eddie Fox, World Director of World Evangelism, World Methodist Council, that, while I understood the Easter season as being a season of "feasting," I would certainly promote the use of the Wesley pattern during the season of Lent, and suggest it as a permanent discipline throughout the year. Since, then, Lent has been suggested as an option when ordering the bookmarks.

The Prayer Bookmarks (cards) can be order FREE of charge in English or Spanish through WME Press (World Methodist Evangelism Publishing) by clicking here. According to the website, they usually ship the next business day.

Again, I join my voice with the voice of the 2001 World Methodist conference in calling upon Methodists around the world (or at least those who read my blog!) to "follow the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting."

*In the United States, WMC member denominations include seven denominations: The AME, AMEZ, CME, Free Methodist, UM, and The Wesleyan churches, along with my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene.

**FLAME stands for: Faithful Leaders As Mission Evangelists

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Loving God Through the Liturgy

As I have mentioned before, I have made it a practice to include the singing of the Wesley hymns during Morning Prayer. I have found Wesley Hymns, edited by Ken Bible and published by Lillenas Publishing Co. (Nazarene Publishing House), to be a most convenient resource. While it only includes 164 of the Wesley hymns, it is much easier to carry about than the 848 pages of the seventh volume of The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley: A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodist. Perhaps, at some point, I will go back to singing through that volume, but, as I have said, Ken Bible's book is much more convenient.

Well, during Morning Prayer, this morning, one of the hymns I sang was Charles Wesley's, O My All-sufficient God. The song is quite short; only one verse. Below the hymn was a quote from John Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. The two, together, make a great reminder for those of us who love the beauty of the liturgy.

The hymn says:

O my all-sufficient God,
Thou know'st my heart's desire;
Be this only thing bestowed;
I nothing else require,
Nothing else in earth or skies,
Not through all eternity;
Heav'n itself could not suffice;
I seek not Thine, but Thee.

And John's quote is as follows:

"One design you are to pursue to the end of time, the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought, and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever you desire or fear, whatever you seek or shun, whatever you think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, or your being."

It happens, occasionally, that there will be those who love the liturgy so much that they end up "worshipping worship" rather than God. They come to love the liturgy more than the God whom the liturgy proclaims. Oh, to be sure, this is not just a problem of the "High Church" crowd. The "Low Church" bunch are also susceptible. They, at times, become so caught up in music or the excitement or the "feeling" of their services of worship that they, too, end up "worshipping worship."

Addressing this very thing, John Wesley wrote, "The nature of religion is so far from consisting in . . . forms of worship, or rites and ceremonies, that it does not properly consist in any outward actions of what kind so ever" (Works Bicentennial 1:219). - Left alone, that quote might give one the impression, then, that the form of worship was entirely unimportant for Wesley. However, such a conclusion would be very far from the truth.

Rather, if one does not mistake "the means for the end" (which is the key point!), then, according to Wesley, Christians should "use all outward things; but use them with a constant eye to the renewal of your soul in righteousness and true holiness" (545). The "end," as indicated above, is God! The hymn and the quote, above, remind us that the liturgy only points us to the God whom we must seek and love with our whole being.

To that end, Wesley says of the liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer, "I believe that there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England" (from the Preface of The Sunday Service). And the chief means of grace, as found in the liturgy, is the blessed sacrament of The Lord's Supper.

Charles Wesley writes:

1. Glory to Him who freely spent
His blood, that we might live,
and through this choicest instrument
Doth all His blessings give.

2. Fasting He doth, and hearing bless,
And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well.

3. But none, like this mysterious rite
Which dying mercy gave,
Can draw forth all His promised might
And all His will to save.

4. This is the richest legacy
Thou hast on man bestow'd:
Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee,
And drink Thy precious blood.

And yet, as the hymn indicates, the object is not the Eucharist, but God. Glory is given to God. In the Eucharist we feed on the Lord.

Therefore, the love of the liturgy and the sacraments, for the true "High Churchman," are a matter of "loving the creature," so to speak, "as it leads to the Creator." It is in the liturgy that we corporately show forth our love to God, and God's presence is manifested to us, especially in the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Coming Soon to a Website Near You . . .

I am happy to bring an exciting announcement to the readers of this blog.  Recently, I emailed Br. Roger Baker, O.S.L., who serves as the new Webscribe for the newly redesigned website for the Order of Saint Luke.  Since the new website included a section for member-related links, and since no links had yet been established, I requested that the site link to my blog.

Last week, I received an email from Br. Roger indicating that a link to my blog now appears in that section of the OSL website.

But there is more!  -  Br. Roger proceeded to asked if I would allow the Order to syndicate my blog onto the O.S.L. website as a recurring column!  So, coming soon to a website near you . . . my blog as a recurring column!

Now, the technical work needed to make this happen has not yet occurred, but everything should be worked out in the very near future.  So, I invite you to check out the Order of Saint Luke website and look for my column.  The link to the website can be found on my sidebar, or by clicking here.

Thank you, Br. Roger!