Tis the Season to Be Vile

Tis the Season to Be Vile!

From the Journal of John Wesley, March 15-29, 1739:  I left London and in the evening expounded to a small company at Basingstoke….I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields…; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.

April 2—At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.

For Wesley, to be more vile in his proclamation of the Good News meant to preach in places that other clergy found lowly and objectionable, even foul and obnoxious. He was a clergyman of some reputation who had preached in the grandest cathedrals of England. To go into the fields of England’s poorest villages and proclaim the Gospel must have seemed an incredible fall from the privilege he had earned as an educated priest of the Church of England—the church of kings and queens!  Yet Wesley and his  Methodists “submitted to be more vile” because it was the most effective way to communicate the Gospel to those who hunger and thirst for the good news of Jesus Christ.

And that’s what got me to thinking about whether or not God was calling our church to be more vile. It seemed a strange idea at first  until it dawned on me that we are in the vilest of seasons—Advent and Christmas. Consider the vileness of the two main characters of these seasons:

¨ John the Baptist. The forerunner of the newborn King Jesus was as vile as they come. He preached in the grand sanctuary of the wilderness. He wore animal skins and ate locusts and wild honey.  His message was revolutionary and anti-establishment. He was beheaded for faithfulness to the vile task God gave him.

¨ Jesus. The eternal, immortal, and only wise God determined that for the world to be saved he must send his only Son in the vilest of forms:  a servant robbed of all divine privilege, born without rank or reputation in a lowly manger. In his ministry Jesus had no home, no place to lay his head. He associated with sinners and was accused of being possessed by demons. For the sake of the world he loved, Jesus submitted to die the vilest of deaths.

So what has happened to those who claim salvation in the name of Jesus? After the first century, it didn’t take long for the Christian Church to lose its grip on the importance of a vile environment in which to plant the Gospel seed. Instead, we increasing moved toward a system where the precious seed was planted only in the sterile soil of formality and disengagement from the poor. It is as if a farmer chose to plant a field of wheat in a concrete parking lot rather than in the neighboring field with its manure and worms and all the elements that cause seed to sprout and produce fruit.

The concrete may be less messy, but messiness isn’t the point… the point is the harvest of souls. We even see this in manger scenes and living nativities at Christmas. Few churches attempt to make their shepherds smell like sheep and dung. Few present the characters in thread-worn clothing. Mostly, we attempt to escape the vileness of the scene for the sake of respectable, non-threatening sterility.

Is God calling us to be “more vile” for the sake of the Gospel? I believe so.

Look at our November 23rd Outreach Sunday. What I saw on that day was a congregation abandoning their comfort zones for the sake of hungry children in our world. We exchanged ties and our best clothing to wear t-shirts and hair nets and package meals for Stop Hunger Now. We brought our sewing machines to the church to make dresses for little girls in Haiti. We made soup and soap and sleeping bags for the homeless. We  abandoned the formality of worship for the vileness of servitude.

Wasn’t it a joy-filled morning! We laughed and worked together and then prayed and sang together not because it was what we were supposed to do but because it was what our hearts compelled us to do. It wasn’t “high” church by any definition, but I don’t believe our hearts and spirits could have been any higher.

In the coming year, let’s join John Wesley’s determination to be more vile. Let’s pray that God would move us further out of our comfort zones. Let’s venture into the vile fields of life where seeds of grace and salvation can sprout and bring forth a great harvest for the sake of the Kingdom of God. help for parents Amen