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Methods of a mother

Saturday, March 9, 2019

From Luke 5
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"Jesus said to them in reply, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."

The Methodists were in the news last week. Since then, two of my favorite Methodist bloggers have written about the history of conflict, both within their church and throughout the biblical story. Conflict marks points of disagreement but does not need to mark points of dis-attachment. The idea of unity through diversity never rules out conflict. It does, by definition, rule out separation or division.

My friend who is not a Methodist, and who often uncovers relevant and timely historical threads in his studies, shared a definition of sin with me recently. Turns out it was written by Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles, in other words, the “mother” of the Methodist church. Here’s the definition:

Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.

I think this was written to her son Charles, but not so much to rebuke her son as to address “her experience of the depravity of her own human nature, and the grace of God.”

Born in 1669 as the last of twenty-five children, Susanna with her husband Samuel had nineteen children of their own. Nine of them died as infants. Her husband Samuel fared poorly with money, and he was in prison at least twice for failure to pay his debts. He spent another year apart from his family because of a “minor dispute.” At that time, there were six children, and Susanna wrote to her husband:

Though the superior charge of the souls contained in (our family) lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.

John went on to preach in every corner of the British Isles. Charles wrote and published more than 6,000 hymns. The brothers worked together all their lives, even though they often disagreed. Learning from their parents, they turned toward God instead of away from each other.

I look again at Susanna’s definition of sin, and I imagine being her child, “discoursing” once a week with my wise mother as she shares with me her own “relish for spiritual things.” And I realize how grateful I am for each day’s chance to yet again spend time with Jesus.

Lord, this “discourse” is so sweet. Forgive me, please, for forgetting to let you speak. Teach me the art of opening my ears and closing my mouth, and listening, even into the night winds, for your voice. * * *

Susanna Wesley, The Prayers of Susanna Wesley, written in the early 1700’s

Wikipedia articles on Susanna, Samuel, John and Charles Wesley

Several films are available on Amazon Prime Video, including Wesley, 2009

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