I get to talk about one of my favorite characters, the drunk turned evangelist in late eighteenth century Cornwall, UK – Bill Bray! “God’s man with a shout.” His call to the balanced life of spiritual living is key to constant and profound happiness.
Below the sermon audio is the text that was taken into the pulpit.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport
Sunday October 1 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
“A wildly balanced life”
Today I speak to a theme dear to the heart of Episcopalians/Anglicans worldwide – a love affair with balance, a disdain for extremes. Laughter – no, smiles – yes.
I remember leading a youth group in Plymouth, England in which the Holy Spirit moved with vigor and conviction and many young people were converted to Christ. One parent, doubtless voicing the concerns of others, complained to my boss, “I’m glad my son is going to church, but I wish he wasn’t taking it so seriously.” Subtext – he’s becoming unbalanced!
An example of a wildly balanced Christian life was that of ‘Billy’ Bray was born June 1, 1794 in Cornwall, England. Billy Bray, a tin-mining, uneducated drunk would become a famous Methodist preacher known as “God’s man with a shout.”
Mr. Bray was a stunningly balanced man for as he walked his evangelistic journeys he discovered, “As I go along the street I lift up one foot, and it seems to say, glory. And I lift up the other, and it seems to say, amen, and so they keep on like that all the time I am walking.”
Friends, what a glorious way to live a wildly balanced life… a life balanced between our commitment to Jesus and an experience of glorious grace.
This is the balance of which we read in today’s reading from Philippians. Our ears, minds and heart are shocked when we hear Paul say “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” but then in deafening silence, as if our breath has been snatched from our throats, Paul continues… “For God is at work in your to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Listen to the Message Translation (Philippians 2:12-13): “Redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.”
This is the wildly balanced life… a spiritual daily walk composed of ardent commitment to Jesus balanced with a total dependence upon the grace of God; this is to use Billy Bray’s exercise theme… “one step amen (so be it) and the next step glory (the effulgence of grace)”.
This is the wildly balanced life that will be expressed in our Baptism liturgy later this morning. As parents and sponsors are asked to make tremendously demanding and exacting vows they respond… “I will… with God’s help.”
The Greek word for “work out” is katergazomai means to “achieve, accomplish, bring about, produce, [or] create”; St. Paul reminds us of our vocation to work alongside the Lord… to be partners, co-creators. But lest this vocation at times seems too much for our mortal frailties so he continues… for God is at work in you…
Those who work for the Lord without dependence upon His grace are as tiresome as dry drunks… who put aside the bottle without taking inside God’s grace.
The two fellows in today’s Gospel know nothing of the wildly balanced spiritual life. The one makes commitments, probably with all good intentions, but lacks the energy to fulfil his promises. The other, overwhelmed by the task makes no commitment, but then is energized by a power other than his own.
Amen and Glory; I will with God’s help; Work out your salvation for God is at work in you – here is the key for a beautifully and wildly balanced life.
How’s it working out for you?
Today, and for the next two Sundays, we as a church community, a spiritual family, are being called upon to consider our support financially for the maintenance but also for the growth of the ministries of Trinity Church. Three Sundays out of fifty-two is not onerous given that Jesus talks about money and possessions more than any other theme.
Our attitude, our disbursement of our money and possessions is a veritable indicator of our surrender to God, our trust in his care and our readiness to walk as Billy Bray… one foot AMEN and the other foot GLORY!
I dare, am bold, to alter our text slightly… “Work out your financial pledge with fear and trembling… for God is at work in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Years ago I had the inestimable privilege of working with a church member who readily took on the task of stewardship/pledge chair. When I asked Richard to explain his enthusiasm for the task, he replied, “I believe we aspire to generosity.”
Let us aspire to generosity in every aspect of our lives… no less our possessions but far, far, far more.
Let us say, “I will… with God’s help.”