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Spiritual Growth

Wesley Bible: A Study Guide

Journey of Faith: Session 9

By Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D.

"It is better to be merciful in the name of the Buddha than to be cruel in the name of Christ. It is better to become a neighbor with a Samaritan theology…than to desert the beaten victim with Jewish theology." v ~Kosuke Koyama in No Handle on the Cross

(Facilitator should prepare for a simple love feast at the end, with crackers and coffee/tea or water in individual cups). 

Journey of a white sheet
Scripture Acts 10: 1-48

A journey of a sheet? Yes, that can be a key metaphor for this chapter, and a word-picture for our journey ahead. This story is about an intersection of two journeys by two different persons. One, by Peter, a veteran Jew, another by a Cornelius, a gentile military officer. 

This story from the Bible is an invitation to us, Christians, to embrace the journey of a sheet and may be, to allow the sheet to guide us in our journey, as the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud that guided the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness. 

Lectio Divina adapted for Weselyan Reading

1. As Wesley says, let us take time to pause and examine ourselves by what we read.
2. And whatever light we then receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. 
3. Let there be no delay. Whatever we resolve, let us begin to execute the first moment we can. So shall we find this word to be indeed the power of God to present and eternal salvation.

What do you see in this story?
What does Peter see in his vision?
What does Cornelius hear?

What are the crucial moments in this story? 
What are the gaps in comfort and ease that you see among the characters? 
What are some of the differences in belief and food habits involved in the two major characters in the story? 
What could this story represent in your context?

What is the focus of this story?
Where is God in this story?
Was Peter already a believer and a follower of Jesus? Why? Why not? 
How does God expand the concept of Peter's notion of God's chosen people?  

Can we say that God is at work only in the church? Why? Why not?
Do you think we are to recognize God's presence in other faiths also? 
How does a meal bring people together? 
How can people of different faiths come together? 
Around a meal? Community Thanksgiving?

For reflection:
God's revelation came to us in its fullness through Jesus Christ. That is God's disclosure. However, there are things that we, as human beings, cannot fully understand unless God continues to nudge us and reveal to us our own limited grasp of God. 

God listens to Cornelius's prayer while the latter was not yet a Christian (Acts 10: 4). Later on, in this story, we learn that in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God (Acts 10:35). Often, in interfaith relationships, especially, we are to live into the mystery and unknowability of God, apart from God's self-revelation to us in Jesus. 

In our journey towards God, sometimes, our eyes are opened to see the journey of a sheet from above. At such times, the Holy Spirit brings about a transformation in us, even though we are already a follower of Jesus. The Holy Spirit makes us see our own cultural prejudices. We also see the presence of God in someone who may be an outsider from our perspective.  

Whether we understand fully or not the mystery of God, we are called to be carriers of love-in-action. 

"It takes a whole world to understand a whole Christ."

Wesleyan Core Term: Love
John Wesley called love God's reigning attribute. To love is to promote well-being, and biblical writers often call this the establishment of peace or blessedness. God's love is unique in its relentless loyalty to promote well-being. ..Our refusal to love offends other creatures and offends God. (page 180) 

Wesley & interfaith understanding

In this sermon "On Charity," John Wesley says, "But it may be asked, "If there be no true love of our neighbour, but that which springs from the love of God; and if the love of God flows from no other fountain than faith in the Son of God; does it not John Wesley says, "But it may be asked, "If there be no true love of God flows from no other fountain than faith in the Son of God; does it not follow, that the whole heathen world is excluded from all possibility of salvation? Seeing they are cut off from faith; for faith cometh from hearing; and how shall they hear without a preacher?' I answer, St. Paul's words, spoken on another occasion, are applicable to this: 'What the law speaketh, it speaketh to them that are under the law.' Accordingly, that sentence, 'He that believeth not shall  be condemned,' is spoken of them to whom the Gospel is preached. Others it does not concern; and we are not required to determine any thing touching their final state. How it will please God, the judge of all, to deal with them, we may leave to God himself. But this we know, that he is not the God of the Christians only, but the God of Heathens also; that he is 'rich in mercy to all that call upon him,' according to the light they have; and that in 'every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of him'" (Sermon 91: 13. 1872 edition).

In his sermon on "Living without God" John Wesley says, "From hence we may clearly perceive the wide difference there is between Christianity and morality. Indeed nothing can be more sure than that true Christianity cannot exist without both the inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth; and this alone is given in morality. But it is equally certain that all morality, all the justice, mercy, and truth which can possibly exist without Christianity, profiteth nothing at all, is of no value in the sight of God, to those that are under the Christian dispensation. Let it be observed, I purposely add, "to those that are under the Christian dispensation," because I have no authority from the Word of God "to judge that are without." Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is "the Father of all the spirits of all flesh," who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made." (Sermon 125: 14. 1872 edition). 

Wesleyan Core Term: World as a Parish (The Wesleyan Study Bible, page 1322)
When Wesely writes that he looks "upon the world as my parish" (Works, "Journals," June 11, 1739), he is offering an expansive view of ministry…Wesley insisted that we share the good news of God's love and do good in all places. God is pulling us to participate in God's work in the world. God is always ahead of us in ministry, down the block, across the country, and around the world. The church as the body of Christ is never holed up inside a building but is sent to the world to proclaim the good news.

Love Feast:
Instead of Holy Communion, this Bible Study can come to a close with a Love Feast. Tht is ordinary bread, rolls, crackers and water, coffee or tea can be shared in individual cups.  Participants share their story of God's grace in their lives over such a simple meal blessed by lay women. This is an early Methodist practice. 

Facilitator says: 
Wesley believed that not only human being but also the whole of creation could be renewed. Therefore, mission of God's people is to spread scriptural holiness over the nation. "The renewal of the creation and the creatures through the renewal of the image of God is what Wesley identifies as the very heart of Christianity. 'Ye know that the great end of religion is to renew our hearts in the image of God'" (Theodore Runyan, New Creation, John Wesley's Theology Today, page 8. Qtd. from Sermon 44, "Original Sin," III.5, Works 2: 185)

The role of God in bringing the journey to completion
"God's presence is steadfast. God is always with us. God provides what Wesley calls "means of grace" to sustain us on the journey toward wholeness and the new creation. As the Hebrews celebrated the Passover as a reminder of God's faithfulness, so we gather around the Lord's Table and remember the One who endured the wilderness and sustains us in our journey. God's presence goes before us, is present with us, and will bring the journey to completion." (The Wesley Study Bible, page 173). 

In the Jewish tradition, in some communities, there is a tradition. They pause at the Bar'chu,  call to communal prayer), and look into each face, and say to themselves, "This is the face of God. And this is the face of God. And this. And this. And this is the face of God."

(The facilitator asks each participant to look at each face and say to themselves. "This is the face of God. And this. And this. And this. While this is being done, the facilitator says, "When we have done this several times, it becomes harder for us to forget that the faces we encounter every moment in our neighbor here and the community out there are God's faces. We are made in the image of God, friends. And therefore let us restore the image of God in each other and thus act out our conversion. 

Closing Prayer:

A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition: United Methodist Hymnal # 607
I am no longer my own,
But thine
Put me to what thou wilt,
Rank me with whom thou wilt;
Put me to doing;
Put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee, or brought low for thee.
Let me be full,
Let me be empty;
Let me have all things,
Let me have nothing;
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in Heaven. Amen.   

This Bible study was also published by United Methodist Publishing house; a print-friendly PDF can be downloaded from their site.

Last Updated: 03/17/2014

© 2014 United Methodist Women