There is no time that is sacred anymore. Before it ever arrives, it's already spent. Like the oil in the foolish maidens' lamps, there isn't enough of it to get us through the night, let alone the next day and the next and the next. And so we are in a perpetual panic, a constant state of unreadiness. It's only when we crash and burn or get sick or our kid is in crisis or we have a parent go to the hospital or to the mortuary that we see how foolish this all is. When we are sitting in the dark because our lamp has burned out, where is Jesus when we really need him? Does he shut us fools out because he does not know us or do we shut ourselves out because we don't know him?
Young people are not all rejecting Christ. Many of them are simply rejecting what passes for Christianity in too many congregations across this country. So it is long past time for a new encounter with Jesus and a new reformation of faith in this land of the free and the brave.
So Wesley wasn't just responding emotionally to the Bible study. It wasn't that he was caught up in the "heat of the moment" as we would say. What Wesley was caught up in was the saving grace of God. And that encounter didn't just change his feelings. Whether he knew it at the time or not, it changed his whole being. When Wesley's heart was strangely warmed, his whole life was being transformed.
If you think this was unfortunate because it forced everyone into one liturgical straightjacket, consider this: Thomas Cranmer and the English reformers were just doing what Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount when he was teaching his disciples to pray. Jesus knew that his disciples were going to be at a loss when he left them. What could keep them together when they came together? Today, Christians all over the world pray "The Lord's Prayer."
Within a few decades, the backlash started to build and that backlash is called the Radical Reformation. The Radical Reformers wanted to be totally free from the authority of the institutional church and the state. As they saw it, the true Church was not an institution that protected its power. Rather, the Church was a group of people who wanted to protect the purity of their beliefs.
Despite Calvin's best efforts, his descendants have not been able to make society look like the kingdom of God. But we keep trying. We just have to remember what Calvin said about power. We have to remind every pastor and every politician to be careful, because all power comes from God and all people who are in a position to use that power will be held to account by God. In fact, it was Calvin's insistence on the total sovereignty of God and the supreme lordship of Christ that gave one Reformed theologian by the name of Karl Barth the strength and courage to stand up to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Luther's focus on faith—not the Church's faith, not the pope's faith—but the individual believer's faith was the fuel for the fire that became known as the Reformation. But it's impact went far beyond the Church. This new focus on the individual is arguably the foundation of modern Western Civilization. From individual faith comes a belief in individual rights and from a notion of individual rights comes a yearning for political, economic and religious freedom and from freedom comes the long march to democracy. So regardless of religion, on the inside of every American is a little bit of Martin Luther.
Paul tells them that this is a test. Paul is testing the genuineness of their love against the earnestness of the Macedonians. And how will he measure their generosity? By a very big yardstick, the standard set by Christ, who "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor." Against that standard, no gifts are too big. But Paul is not preaching to billionaires. He is saying that if the eagerness is there, if their hearts are really in it, then there are no gifts too small, either. Their gifts will be measured according to what they have, not according to what they don't have.
Ministry isn't the only vocation that requires a lot of different kinds of gifts. Any job worth doing requires more gifts than we've got. But that's just God's way of reminding us, in Paul's words, not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Being human is very humbling, and what we humans ought to think is that none of us can have it all. None of us can be it all. And none of us can do it all. Doing what is good and acceptable and perfect is not something that any one of us can do by ourselves. To be "perfect in love," as Wesley used to say, is a group project. We may each have a few marks of the true Christian, but we need the whole Church in order to be remarkable.
I am convinced that the same can be true for us, that all the losses we experience in life will be totally eclipsed by the love. The Son of God is one Sun you can look at, and you don't need special goggles to do it. You only need the eyes of faith to see that, nothing—or as Wayne Williams used to say, absolutely nothing—in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Yea God!