Methodists problem gamblers at heart

We learnt that John Wesley was an enthusiast. As were the early Methodists. And he turned the word from a negative to a positive. From a fanatic to a really alert person engaged with God. And that’s where his sermon The Nature of Enthusiasm speaks volumes today. How do you really truly know you are engaged in God talk?

What is the will of God? What if its just smoke and mirrors? What if its an illusion? Suppose you say I know Gods will for me. Many a folk will laugh at you.

What nonsense they say. John Wesley had an answer for that. Its rather good. First he has a general principle that he rightly says is based on Scripture.

Wesley says quote The will of God is our sanctification unquote. So far so good. He goes a little further. Quote It is His will that we should be inwardly and outwardly holy.

That we should be good and do good. Unquote. But how can that be applied, for heavens sake? How does it work in practice? And, all of a sudden we move to something quite brilliant.

Surely the most practical theology imaginable. In any particular situation, Wesley says you work it out this way. Quote Partly by reason and partly by experience unquote So instead of wasting everyones time.

Dont ask quote what is the will of God unquote. Instead says Wesley say this. Quote I want to know what will be most for my improvement. And what will make me most useful. Unquote. That was the key to the early Methodists.

What would make them useful to others. And what would improve them as people. But now something that embarrasses the Methodist denomination.

Mr Wesley, ever willing to reason, understood some problems might not be solved. What if we couldn’t work out the right thing to do? What then? John Wesley said we should do what they did in biblical times cast lots. That is take a punt.

Have a bet. Or he says if nothing works open the bible at random and pick a verse. And he most certainly did do that on eight occasions recorded in his journals. Most Methodists today are severely embarrassed by all this. But I think it is highly interesting.

And maybe has a relevance which the contemporary Christian fails to see. Let me tell a brief story. When I was a young minister I was sent to a country circuit. There were some seasoned old hands in those tiny rural congregations.

We had to discuss the annual fair. It was necessary to have to raise funds to pay my stipend. It was suggested there be a raffle. A prize of a pig or some sheep. On no account thundered some church members. We are Methodists.

We have nothing to do with gambling. That is the devil’s instrument. And I, being very green and very nervous. And really wanting and needing to get paid.

Bit my tongue. Held my peace. Refrained from saying casting lots had been a John Wesley practice. On the odd occasion, so to speak. The crucial vote was taken. The anti-gambling brigade won the day.

One crusty old farmer said with wry smile. He wasnt surprised. He would look forward to seeing them all.

The following Saturday. At the Ashhurst race track. And had they got their lotto tickets for this weekend? There is a profound question which arises from that.

Is life more of a gamble than Christians like to admit? Or, as it says in psalms. The steps of a good man are ordered by the lord? Which is it? Is everything determined ahead of time by God? Or is there chance and free will?

Wesley opts for chance and free will. We explore a contemporary solution. A hoary old theological philosophical problem indeed. In the next video we look at enthusiasm and strange attractors. I am very enthusiastic about strange attractors.