Let Your Heart Be Strangely Warmed

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Wesley’s Story

Let Your Heart Be Strangely Warmed.  To have one’s heart strangely warmed, is a unique statement significant to those within the Methodist movement, as it is reminiscent of the moment of Awakening for our founder John Wesley, when he felt the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon him, and his heart was strangely warmed. As we gather together on this Sunday, this Sunday of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit poured out upon the people and the gospel of Jesus Christ was spread to the entire world, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has the power to transform us, to enrapture us, and yes make our hearts strangely warm.

On May 24, 1738, John Wesley was at Aldersgate street. He had just returned from his missionary trip to Georgia within the United States. Outside of Wesleyan scholars, many do not discuss Wesley’s trip to the Americas because of how much of a failure it was, because of how he was run out of town, because of how it was a bit of a humiliation.  He had set out to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to this new world, with goals of helping the colonists and the indigenous people.  And yet, as he arrived, he did very little to connect with the indigenous people and he ruffled the feathers of colonists, so much so that he was literally run out of town, running back to England with a bruised ego and his tail between his legs.  He had set out to do what he thought God had called him to do, he had sought out to bring redemption, he had sought out to bring restoration, he had sought out to do what was good, to teach people the preset rituals that make us holy.  And yet he was met with hostility, tension, and violence.  He had pretty much gone through the valley of the shadow of death, because what he once knew was not as simple as he thought it would be. For him, there were specific things that we must do to meet God, specific, rigid, ideas about how the church was supposed to function, which seemed to place God and the people into a small box.  But when he tried to do it that way, he was met with hostility. The world as he knew it was no longer.  He was going out to convince people of God, but he had yet to truly meet God for himself outside of the ritualistic actions that he had grown up in.  He was relying on tradition to inform how to get close and be faithful to God.  And while tradition is not bad, it becomes more of a rote memorization if it is not partnered with a real connection to God and a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

 So, Wesley returned back to the place he had originally come from, feeling like a failure, as if the world had been overturned, and death was sitting with him and knocking at his door. But he had to move beyond this point, he had to press on, but how do you press on, how do you move on?  Move through death and on to the point of life, on to the point of resurrection, and living in the wealth of the new life of resurrection.  On May 24, 1738 was the day he found out, on a day 283 days ago tomorrow, Wesley’s life was changed.  It was on this day that Wesley felt the overwhelming covering of the Holy Spirit and his heart was “strangely warmed.”  It was here that he had his awakening, where he was a witness to God’s grace, where he knew for sure that God loved him, and that his life was made brand new. It was at this point, when the Holy Spirit poured out on him, that his life was transformed because he knew and understood that it wasn’t ritual acts that make our relationship with God great, but it is meeting and connecting to God first, that allows for the transformation that makes our actions holy.  So, the Holy Spirit poured out on him and he was transformed, ready to lead a new life.  His heart was strangely warmed.  Will you allow your heart to be strangely warmed when the Holy Spirit comes to pour out on you?

 Wesley was transformed, but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not unique to the Methodist tradition.  We know of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Azusa street revivals that transformed people and brought together people of different races and from all different walks of life.  We know of the tent revivals that brought people to Jesus Christ.  And we know about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came on that fateful day of Pentecost that birthed the church.

 II. The Disciples’ Story

We have already witnessed that the disciples have gone through so much.  They had journeyed with Jesus, taking in all of his teachings; they had witnessed their teacher, the Messiah, taken away, beaten, and bruised; they had seen their Lord placed on a cross, in an embarrassing death, put on display as a political prisoner; they had mourned the death of their savior as they laid him in the tomb.  They had entered into the depths of death.  And as we stand on the other side, where we know what is going to happen, we ignore the deep feelings of the disciples.  We ignore that they were in the very depth of mourning, they were surrounded by darkness, the light of sunshine even seemed dull because the world carried death and lacked a sense of joy, their closest friend, who knew them more intimately than anyone else had been ripped from them and, for all they knew, he wasn’t coming back.  Who would teach them the things they needed to know, who would show them how to love, and who would love them unconditionally? Life for them was in the deepest, darkest depths of the Valley of the shadow of death.  And then on that Easter Sunday, Jesus was resurrected, got up from the grave, granting new life and their lives were turned around.  And Jesus spent time with them, teaching them more of the meaning behind all that happens. And then Jesus disappears once again as he ascends into heaven. The disciples have gone through the very depths of the death, they had come onto the other side and they are waiting for what is to come.  What should they do as they have experienced the darkness of death, and now they must live in the renewal of life? Its all well and good that we are now in the land of the living, in the era of new life, but sometimes its hard to move on and forget the death that we have just experienced. Death was just hanging over us as an unwelcomed companion.   The transition of emotions is not always that easy.   How do we express joy when the hurt of death is a not too distant memory?

Our scripture opens up at this point. The disciples have gathered together and trying to figure out what life is like beyond the point of death.  What does life look like in the living? What does moving into new life look like, when the wounds of death are still healing within us? How must they proceed in the midst of new life when death is a close reminder, and Jesus has left them once again?  The disciples are shut up in the room and the Holy Spirit comes in with such transformational presence that things are made brand new.  The Holy Spirit came in and the violent sound of wind came into the building and tongues of fire rested on each person and they began speaking in many different languages, languages of the people.  We might imagine that such force rushes into the room, some are knocked over, and everyone is confused.  A loud gush of wind permeates their ears.  They had lost their balance.  And the rush of the spirit disoriented them all for a few seconds. And when they finally were able to focus their hearts were strangely warmed, tongues of fire rested upon them, and they began to speak a language that they once did not know, and what was more eerie is that they spoke and understood these languages with such clarity, their was not learning curve, or need for a translator. The disciples had gone through the depths of death, and the Holy Spirit poured out on them and they were transformed, their hearts were strangely warmed. What might happen to us if we allow the Spirit to outpour us and change us? When the Holy Spirit comes, will we let the spirit transform us and have our hearts be strangely warmed?

We have to admit that we too have gone through the very depths of the valley of the shadow of death.  It is the elephant in the room that we don’t like to talk about.  But we have been distanced for over a year because of COVID and that had held us in a place of getting used to distancing ourselves from one another.  Our state of togetherness has been strained, because of transitional changes, hurt from our denomination and our friends.  And sometimes we have to be honest that it has at times felt like we are distanced from one another, straining, and falling apart.  We are in need of unification as it seems like many of us have drifted away, one by one.  We have been through the very depths of death, and we are coming out on the other side of new life, looking on how to proceed in this newness of now.  How do we move on when life has seemed to tear us down and have its way with us?  We have been at the place where we were asking the question from our Old Testament lesson.  Can these bones live? Can we resurrect this place, this church, this friendship, this person? Can Israel be resurrected?   But from scripture, we know that with the power of the Holy Spirit, dry bones can be brought together and made to live.  The Holy Spirit can restore Israel to its glory and the Holy Spirt can, not only, restore life within us, but the Holy Spirit to move us to action and transform our ways, that we can live in the complete newness of life that connects to the world.  When the Holy Spirit comes to pour out on us, will we allow our hearts to be strangely warmed?  Will we move as the spirit moves us and will we be transformed?

 III. How The Holy Spirit Transformed Wesley

When the Holy Spirit poured out on Wesley he was made brand new.  He had no intention of starting a new denomination, but he broke the chains on the typical structure of how religion functioned on the Church of England.  He knew that one must come into relationship with God and allow the Lord to transform our being.  That relationship with God makes us Holy.  He focused on a very social gospel where he fed the hungry and visited the imprisoned.  He had a ministry that literally met people where they were as he literally preached out in the fields to people.  He was transformed and did a new thing.  And as he did a new thing, as he was doing transformational things, there were those around him that thought he was crazy and out of his mind. When the Spirit comes upon you, transforms you, and your heart is strangely warmed, people might not understand it, people might not understand your transformation.  But just like Wesley we must hold on to the feeling of our hearts being strangely warmed and allow the spirit to keep moving within in us to shape and mold us.

 IV. How The Holy Spirit Transformed the Disciples

In our scripture, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and they begin speaking in multiple languages.  They spoke in the languages of the people who were in the area.  They spoke the native languages of the people around them. Those that heard these newly transformed men, could now hear the gospel spoken in their native tongue.  They could hear a pure translation of the text.  Too often we don’t realize that there are thoughts and concepts that cannot be translated in another language, but in this transformation, the barrier is taken down and people in the area were able to hear the gospel in their own language, without them having to translate it, without any barrier, without any impediment.  This was a moment that ushered in a new way and a new time.  Not only was there this gospel of good news and life, but this gospel was given to all people.  All people of the world could now receive the gospel of Jesus Christ through the movement of the Holy Spirit.  And as the rest of the world looked on, they said these men must be drunk, drunk on cheap wine because they have gone crazy.  But they were not drunk, they were just transformed and prepared to do the work that God had called them to, to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. They were transformed and their hearts were strangely warmed.  When the Spirit comes upon you, transforms you, and your heart is strangely warmed, people might not understand it, people might not understand your transformation, and people may downright look at you like you are crazy.

 V. The Transformation Of the Holy Spirit On Us

So, we learn from John Wesley and the disciples that when the Holy Spirit pours out on us we are transformed, we are made new.  We do things outside of the box.  And the world may say that we have never done it this way, before, but the Holy Spirit can make us do the new things that God calls us to.  The Holy Spirit pours out on us and we are changed, we are made holy, we do things we have never done before, we think about ministry in a whole new way, we set aside our differences and love on each other because the Holy Spirit has brought us together.  The Holy Spirit will have us to go out into the world and do ministry where we meet people where they are, we will feed the hungry, we will visit the imprisoned, we will be unified as a people, as a church. All this happens because of the movement of the Holy Spirit within us.

To allow our hearts to be strangely warmed, we must open ourselves to the transformation of the Holy Spirit.  1) Be open to the ways that the Spirit is leading us even if it doesn’t look like the things we used to do.  We also must step out on faith, and be bold to carry out the message of Jesus Christ.  2) We must be obedient to what God is calling us to, even if the rest of the world will look at us and think we are crazy. And 3) finally we must live in God’s grace, allowing the Spirit to move in us that we are made holy, embodying the ways of Christ and Christ’s love within us.

On that day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit poured out on the disciples and the presence of God was made available to all people.  The Holy Spirit came out as a comforter and transformed all those touched by it.  This morning as we celebrate the moment of Pentecost, there is a renewal of the Holy Spirit pouring out on us, on this day, on this morning, in this hour, at this very moment.   And in this moment will we make ourselves vulnerable so that our hearts can be strangely warmed?  Will our hearts be strangely warmed to the point that we are stepping out on faith and unifying with each other? Will we let our hearts be strangely warmed that we set aside our differences and love on one another? Will we let our hearts be strangely warmed and we love on one another?  Will we let our hearts be warmed and go out into the world to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? Fill us now and let our hearts be strangely warmed.  And as our hearts are strangely warmed let us be moved by the Holy Spirit – Let us sing when the spirit says sing, Let us shout when the spirit say shout, Let us dance when the spirt says dance, and Let us move when the spirit says move. And may our hearts always be strangely warmed. Amen.