Sunday, 3 March 2013

‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near’

Parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree, Alexey Pismenny

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 3 March 2013:

The Third Sunday in Lent (Year C)

10.45 a.m., The Eucharist,

The Chapel of the Mageough Home, Rathmines, Dublin.

Isaiah 55: 1-9; Psalm 63: 1-9; I Corinthians 10: 1-13; Luke 13: 1-9.

672 (Light’s abode, celestial Salem); 566 (Fight the good fight, with all thy might!); 415 (For the bread which you have broken).

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen

The story is told of a one well-known priest in this diocese who was once asked at this time of the year what he had given up for Lent. He replied: “I have given up the slice of lemon in my gin and tonic. But do not fear, I remain as bitter and tested as ever.”

This morning we have reached the Third Sunday in Lent. We are about half-way through Lent, but already, I’m sure, for many of us, our Lenten resolution has faded, and three weeks into Lent our Lenten resolutions are about as resolute as our New Year’s resolutions were three weeks into January.

We hungered or thirsted so much for the little food or the little drink that we gave up for Lent that we soon succumbed. But instead of being made feel guilty, instead of being chided, what most of us need is encouragement and even, at our age, a little bit of affirmation. Both are to be found in our readings this morning, but they also urge us to hunger and thirst for the real food and drink that God offers us.

Our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 55: 1-9) concludes the section known as Second Isaiah, which begins in Chapter 40. It was written during the Exile, after Babylon had fallen to the Persians. The key themes are: the way of the Lord, calling the people to enjoy God’s gifts, a new deliverance, the word of the Lord, the king, heaven and earth, God’s relationship with Israel, forgiveness, and the participation of other nations.

All who thirst for God, especially those who are the impoverished and have no money, are invited to eat freely at the heavenly banquet, the meal that symbolises God’s loving generosity and abundance (verse 1).

We are told that God’s “everlasting covenant,” first with one person, David, has been extended to his successors, then to his people, and is now offered all nations, all people (verses 4-5), even those who have done evil in the past but who now forsake those ways (verse 7). God is not only to be found in the Temple, but among all who seek him:

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near …
(verse 6).

In our Psalm too (Psalm 63: 1-8), we hear what it is to thirst for the Lord (verse 1). But the same mouths that thirst for God in the wilderness, also praise him with joyful lips (verse 5).

That thirsting in the wilderness helps the Apostle Paul to illustrate our Epistle reading (I Corinthians 10: 1-13), where he urges the Christians in Corinth to thirst for the true “spiritual food” (verse 3) the true “spiritual drink” (verse 4).

These are interesting preludes to our Gospel reading (Luke 13: 1-9), where we hear of the chilling and horrific deaths of two groups of people that made headline news at the time.

In those days, it was commonly believed that pain and premature death were signs of God’s adverse judgment. We think like that today: how often do people think those who are sick, suffer infirmities, have injuries die because they cannot afford health care. They don’t die because they cannot afford healthcare – they die because governments prefer to spend money on weapons and wars or giving tax breaks to the rich than spend money on health care for those who need it.

The first group, a group of Galileans, from Jesus’ own home province, believed they were doing God’s will as they worshipped in the Temple. But they were killed intentionally as they sacrificed to God in the Temple. Even in death, they were degraded further when, on Pilate’s orders, their blood was mixed with the blood of the Temple sacrifices.

In a single act of capricious violence, Pilate humiliated the nation, its religion, its culture, and the very presence of God. In a single act, he violated the altar in the Temple; the ritual practices held there; the sacred place reserved for priests; the animals made holy by prayers; the murdered Galileans who had been standing at that altar.

Think of our horror today at people who are murdered at worship: the people in the Gospel Hall in Darkley in 1983; Oscar Romero saying Mass in San Salvador (1980); or think of the innocent children murdered in school in Dunblane (1996), Columbine (1999), or Sandy Hook in New Haven, Connecticut (2012).

The Tower of Siloam, James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Art Museum

The second group in our Gospel reading, numbering 18 in all, were building workers who were killed accidentally as they were building the Tower of Siloam.

Think of our horror today at people who die accidently, not because of their own mistakes or sinfulness; people who died in the Japanese tsunami, who die daily of hunger and poverty; children born to die because they are HIV +, because their parents live in poverty, because of circumstances not of their choosing ...

How easy it is for us, for example, to talk about “innocent victims” – of wars, of AIDS, of gangland killings – as if anyone deserves to die like that.

But in both cases in our Gospel reading – in all these cases – Christ says no, there is no link between an early and an unjust death and the sins of the past or the sins of past generations.

In those days, it was commonly believed that pain and premature death were signs of God’s adverse judgment. At the time, it was commonly believed that severe physical disabilities or an early death were natural and just consequences for the sins of the past, even the sins of past generations.

We think like that today: how often do people think those who are sick, suffer infirmities, have injuries die because they cannot afford health care? They don’t die because they cannot afford healthcare – they die because governments prefer to spend money on weapons and wars or giving tax breaks to the rich than to spend money on health care for those who need it.

In both stories, we could explain away what we might otherwise see as the inexplicable way God allows other people to suffer and die by saying they brought it on themselves by their sins, or the sins of their ancestors … or, in today’s language, by saying they cannot afford to pay for health care, or they bring it on themselves by their lifestyle, or they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

My compassion is the victim of my hidden values, and so others become the victims.

Siloam provides an interesting place for Christ to challenge this “received wisdom” when he meets the man born blind and heals him at the Pool of Siloam, one of the seven “signs” in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 9: 1-7).

Now, we have another story about Siloam, as Christ couples the execution of Galilean insurgents with the tragedy surrounding the collapse of the Tower of Siloam.

Many may have expected him to say that their deaths were in punishment for their rebellious behaviour, in the case of the Galilean rebels, or collaborative behaviour, in the case of the workers who were building a water supply system for the Roman occupiers.

Is Christ indifferent to the political and environmental disasters around him?

Instead of meeting those expectations, Christ teaches that death comes to everyone, regardless of how sinful I am, regardless of my birth, politics or social background, or – even more certainly – my smug sense of religious pride and righteousness. And he goes on to teach how we each need to repent – even when we do not appear in the eyes of others to need being repentant.

And that death need not be physical at all – spiritual death is the most deadening, for it brings with it not only loss of Communion with God, but it brings with it the loss of hope, the loss of trust, the loss of love for others and for ourselves, the loss of true compassion. And sometimes that sort of death comes suddenly and without warning.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near …

It is so tempting to excuse or dismiss the sufferings of others. To say they brought it on themselves offers us an opt-out: we can claim to have compassion, but need do nothing to challenge the injustice that causes this suffering.

Yet, in the parable of the fig tree, we are called in wait, we are urged not to be too hasty on those who seem to do nothing to improve their lot.

It is logical, economic and financial sense for the owner to want to chop down the fig tree – after all it’s not only taking up space, but it costs in terms of time, tending, feeding, caring and nurturing. But the gardener, a worker who is never going to benefit from the owner’s profits, is the one with real compassion, who can see the tree’s potential, who’s willing to let be and wait, knowing what the fig tree is today and what it can do in the future.

I enjoy recalling a T-shirt I once saw on sale in the Plaka in Athens with the slogan: “To do is to be, Socrates. To be is to do, Plato. Do-be-do-be-do, Sinatra.”

Of course there are different types of people: there are the “do-ers” and there are the “be-ers.”

But whichever you are, we need the balance of the other. Emphasising the spiritual without understanding the world we live in leads to us being irrelevant. On the other hand, actively doing good, without any deep and truly spiritual foundations, leads to burn-out and disillusion.

We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5: 6), but wishing is not enough. Christ reminds us in our Gospel reading this morning that we are called to bear fruit too … and he is patient in waiting for faith to produce fruit.

Saint Paul reminds the Corinthians – and so reminds us too this morning – that we are called to be both “do-ers” and “be-ers.” In that way, all may know that they are invited to the heavenly banquet, where there will be eating and drinking for the hungry and the thirsty, and for all.

But we can decide where we place our trust – in the values that I think serve me but serve the rich, the powerful and the oppressor, or in the God who sees our plight, who hears our cry, and who comes in Christ to deliver us.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Eucharist in the Chapel of the Mageough Home, Rathmines, on the Third Sunday in Lent, 3 March 2013.

As shutters come down and shops close, is Terenure a dying suburb?

The Crossroads at Terenure ... over the decades, Terenure has learned to live with change (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

There was a popular but apocryphal story among journalists and photographers that a photographer was commissioned by the Property Editor to go to Terenure and take a photograph of Floods.

It was in the day before mobile phones, and the photographer eventually found a phone in a pub in Terenure and rang back to tell the picture desk: “There’s no floods in Terenure, it’s a bright sunny day.”

“Where are you calling from?” asked a bemused voice at the other end.

“From a pub in Terenure.”

“And what’s the name of the pub?”

“Just a moment,” said the photographer, “I’ll ask the barman.”

He interrupted the flow of conversation to ask: “What’s the name of this pub anyway?”

The amplified conversation could be heard back in the newsroom as the barman asked nonchalantly: “Why?”

“My boss wants to know.”


Floods was up for sale, and the Property Editor was running a feature on the passing of a suburban landmark.

Getting used to change

Parts of the original Terenure Castle and Terenure House are incorporated into the buildings of Terenure College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Over the decades, however, Terenure has been used to name changes. Floods is now Brady’s. The Eagle House had been Vaughan’s, and before that was the Eagle House too. Roseana had long become Leoville before the Synagogue was built on the site. Frankfort gave way to the Terenure Laundry and then the Sunday World. The name of the Classic Cinema is almost forgotten. Even the village itself was known as Roundtown for a long time before it was gentrified as Terenure in 1868 at the behest of the Shaw family of Bushy Park House.

The name of the former Classic Cinema, on the site of a former tram station, is almost forgotten (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Change is a fact of life. Life changes, streetscapes change, names change. But, through all the changes, Terenure has survived. Now, however, the question needs to be asked: are Terenure and the other Dublin suburban villages dying slow and painful deaths?

Part of Terenure’s problem in preserving its village identity while living with change is that Terenure has no single local authority. Although much of Terenure lies within Dublin City, some parts are in South Dublin County, and Terenure is spread across three postal districts – Dublin 6, Dublin 6W and Dublin 12.

A recent development

Terenure’s businesses and residents are trying in preserving its village identity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Terenure takes its name from the Irish Tír an Iúir, “the land of the yew tree.” But the present heart of the village is clustered around a crossroads that only developed after a new road from Rathgar crossed the road from Harold’s Cross to Rathfarnham in the 19th century.

The crossroads attracted shops, pubs, banks and housing, and made the new village an ideal terminus for the new trams. At one time, there were three tram depots here: for the No 15 tram in Terenure Road East; for the No 16 tram in Rathfarnham Road; and the terminus for the Blessington Steam Tramway on Templeogue Road.

James Joyce’s mother, May Murray, was born in 1859 in the Eagle House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a tram terminus, Terenure is mentioned by James Joyce in Ulysses. Joyce knew Terenure well: he was baptised in Saint Joseph’s Church on 5 February 1882, and his mother, Mary Jane (May) Murray, was born in 1859 in the Eagle House, a pub owned by her father, John Murray. The pub still stands at the crossroads, although signs inexplicably claim the pub dates from 1916.

Clustered around a castle

However, the original village of Terenure was located not at this junction but a mile further west at Terenure Castle, where Terenure College now stands.

King Henry II granted the lands of Terenure and Kimmage in Rathfarnham to Walter the Goldsmith (“Aurifauber”) in 1175. But the lands reverted to the crown within 40 years, and King John granted Terenure, along with Drimnagh and Kimmage, to the Barnewell family in 1215.

The Barnewalls continued to live in Terenure until 1652, when their lands were confiscated by Cromwell and leased to a Major Elliott. Terenure then had a population of 20, with a castle and six dwellings, including a mill, but there was no village of note.

After the restoration, Charles II granted Terenure, Kimmage and the Broads to Richard Talbot (1630-1691), Earl of Tyrconnel. In 1671, Major Joseph Deane, a former Cromwellian officer, bought Terenure from Talbot for £4,000. Deane, who was MP for Inistioge, Co Kilkenny, rebuilt Terenure Castle as Terenure House, and his family held the property until the 1780s, when Terenure House was leased to Robert Shaw and much of the lands at Terenure were sold to Abraham Wilkinson.

Robert Shaw was descended from Captain William Shaw, who was granted lands in Co Kilkenny and Co Cork after the Battle of the Boyne.

Shaw rebuilt part of Terenure House. His son, also Robert Shaw (1774-1849), married his neighbour’s daughter, Maria Wilkinson of Bushy Park in 1796. Her father, Abraham Wilkinson, had bought Bushy Park in 1791 and by then had acquired much of the Terenure estate. When Maria married young Robert Shaw, her father endowed her with a dowry of £10,000. He also gave Bushy Park to the happy couple, and they moved in there from Terenure House, which Robert had inherited.

In 1806, Robert Shaw sold Terenure House to Frederick Bourne, who owned a stagecoach business. The Bournes lived there until 1857 and during their time Terenure House was known for its landscaped gardens, extensive glasshouses and a wide variety of trees.

Terenure House was bought by the Carmelite Order in 1860, and there they founded Terenure College, a secondary school for boys.

A generous dowry

Bushy Park House passed to the Shaw family by marriage in 1796 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meanwhile, the Shaw connection continued, with the family living in the other great house in Terenure, Bushy Park, across the road from Terenure House.

Bushy Park House was originally owned by Arthur Bushe of Dangan, Co Kilkenny, who built the house in 1700. The house was known first as Bushe’s House, but when John Hobson bought the house in 1772 he changed the name to Bushy Park, possibly after Bushey Park in London.

In 1791, he sold Bushy Park to Abraham Wilkinson, who was buying up the lands around Terenure. Wilkinson presented Bushy Park to Maria and Robert Shaw when they married in 1796. Shaw was an MP for the rotten borough of Bannow, Co Wexford (1799-1800), and voted against the Act of Union. Later, he became an MP for Dublin (1804-1826) and Lord Mayor of Dublin (1815-1816). He became Sir Robert Shaw in 1821 when he was made a baronet.

Bushy Park House is a Georgian house that once had two avenues – a longer one leading from the house along the present Rathdown Park to Rathfarnham Road, and a shorter avenue leading to what is now Fortfield Road.

When the Shaw family sold Bushy Park to Dublin Corporation in 1953, the council developed a public park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When the new Templeogue Road opened, it divided the Shaw estate in two and a new village grew up at the crossroads. The second baronet, Sir Robert Shaw (1769-1869), built the Circle Cottages that gave the name Roundtown to the new emerging village.

One of those cottages, Harmony Cottage, was given to the impoverished widow of one of Shaw’s distant cousins: Frances Shaw was the daughter of the Revd Edward Carr, Rector of Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny, and her grandson was the Nobel playwright and author, George Bernard Shaw.

In 1868, the Shaw family changed the name of Roundtown to Terenure, to recall their former home at Terenure House which had now become Terenure College. The family maintained its connections with Bushy Park until they sold the house and grounds to Dublin Corporation in 1953. The city council turned part of Bushy Park into a public park but then sold the house and part of the grounds to the nuns who founded Our Lady’s School.

Landmark buildings and shops

James Joyce was baptised in Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, in 1882 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Terenure’s landmark buildings today include Saint Joseph’s Church, where James Joyce was baptised, and Dublin’s main synagogue, which is on Rathfarnham Road. Rathfarnham Church of Ireland Parish has its parish hall across the road, but surprisingly the Victorian church authorities never built a Church of Ireland parish church in Terenure.

Terenure Synagogue was built on Rathfarnham Road in 1953 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Last month, in an advertisement for its futuristic supplement on life in Ireland in 2023, The Irish Times predicted a “new Luas Pink Line … now operational from the University of Terenure to the new City View complex at the peak of the Wicklow Mountains” – complete with signs in Chinese. But, while tram numbers 15 and 16 have been inherited by the bus routes serving Terenure, the Luas never came to Terenure.

Bank branches and building societies have closed their doors and pulled down their shutters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In recent years, bank branches and building societies have closed their doors and pulled down their shutters. Vacant lots on every street add to the sense of abandonment and neglect on many corners of Terenure.

Vacant lots add to the sense of abandonment and neglect on many corners of Terenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part of the circle of cottages that gave Roundtown its name can still be discerned behind the former Rathdown Motors, which closed before Christmas with the loss of 18 jobs. The vacant site is an eyesore but is being marketed as “an iconic location profile... ” In that Irish Times supplement last month, Frank McNally wrote of his annoyance at the word “iconic” being used for “everything that’s even slightly famous.”

Part of the circle of cottages that gave Roundtown its name can still be discerned behind the former Rathdown Motors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Around the corner on Rathfarnham Road, concrete blocks dripping with rust are blocking the padlocked gates at the site of the former Terenure Laundry, Sunday World and Terenure Printers.

Concrete blocks dripping with rust are blocking padlocked gates on Rathfarnham Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Throughout the village, there are estate agents’ signs and frosted shop windows. Yet there are new signs of hope as new businesses try to set up each week, confident that Terenure has a future. In recent weeks, alongside the long-established Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai and Irish restaurants, new Persian and Japanese restaurants have opened, as well as a new bookshop.

New signs of hope and new businesses include a new bookshop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although a new Tesco supermarket has opened where Slattery’s pub, Terenure House, once stood, some of the traditional shops survive in Terenure. Although a vegetarian, I am often in awe at the imagination of two butchers in the village offering real meat and telling customers exactly what’s on offer, from crocodile steaks to kangaroo. There is no cheap horse meat here posing as cheap beefburgers.

Imagination in a butcher’s window in Terenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Shops like these are being squeezed out of our suburban villages by landlords demanding higher rents, and by the sort of supermarket chains that sell cheap meat labelled as beefburgers.

Recently, the former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy described the rise of supermarkets and the closure of small shops as “part of progress.” Asked by BBC Radio 4 if seeing boarded-up shops made him sad, he said: “It does … but people are not made to shop in supermarkets, they choose to shop there.”

Higher rent demands and the “progress” of multinational supermarket chains are squeezing local shopkeepers out of our suburban villages. When they shut up shop, it is difficult to find new tenants. In a decade or two, we may be left wondering why we allowed suburban villages like Terenure to fade away before our eyes.

Terenure has a variety of restaurants and cafés (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This essay was first published in the March 2013 editions of the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory).

With the Saints in Lent (19), John and Charles Wesley, 3 March, and the Third Sunday in Lent

John and Charles Wesley, the founding figures in Methodism, are commemorated in some Anglican calendars on 3 March

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Third Sunday in Lent. The readings in Revised Common Lectionary provided for this Sunday in Year C are: Isaiah 55: 1-9; Psalm 63: 1-9; I Corinthians 10: 1-13; Luke 13: 1-9. On this day [3 March], the brothers Charles and John Wesley are commemorated in the calendars of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in the US.

Charles Wesley died on 29 March 1788, and John Wesley died on 2 March 1791, so both the SEC and TEC moved their commemoration to 3 March because Saint Chad is remembered on 2 March, although they are commemorated in the calendar in Common Worship of the Church of England on 24 May, the day on which John Wesley was converted, or when he felt his heart “strangely warmed.”

John Wesley was the fifteenth child, and Charles Wesley the eighteenth child, of the Revd Samuel Wesley, Rector of Epworth, Lincolnshire; John was born on 17 June 1703, and Charles on 18 December 1707.

The lives and fortunes of the Wesley brothers were closely intertwined. As the founders and the leaders of the Methodist revival in the 18th century, their influence continues around the world and in many Churches.

Although their theological writings and sermons are still widely appreciated, and through their hymns – especially those by Charles, who wrote over 6,000 hymns –their religious experiences and their Christian faith and life continue to affect the hearts of many. I am conscious that this morning’s Psalm says:

I will bless you as long as I live •
and lift up my hands in your name.
My soul shall be satisfied, as with marrow and fatness, •
and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips
(Psalm 63: 5-6).

Throughout their lives, these two brothers remained loyal to the doctrine and worship of the Church of England; and no amount of abuse and opposition to their cause and methods ever shook their confidence in the Church of England and their and love of Anglicanism.

John and Charles Wesley were educated at Charterhouse and Christ Church, Oxford, where they first gathered a small group of friends to practice a strict adherence to the worship and discipline of The Book of Common Prayer. These were the first people to be called Methodists.

The Revd John Wesley was ordained in 1728; the Revd Charles Wesley was ordained in 1735. Together they went to Georgia in 1735, John as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, later USPG and now Us), Charles as secretary to James Oglethorpe, the Governor of Georgia. But the Wesley brothers found their experiences in Georgia disheartening, and returned to England after a few years.

Shortly after their return to England, they both experienced inner conversions, just three days apart – Charles on 21 May 1738, and John on 24 May – at a meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, with a group of Moravians, during a reading of Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

John Wesley received a strong emotional awareness of the love of Christ displayed in freely forgiving his sins and granting him eternal life. He later recalled: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Following these experiences, John and Charles Wesley, with others, set about to stir up in others a like awareness of and response to the saving love of God. And so the Methodist revival was born.

John Wesley toured all of England, much of Wales and some of Scotland. Initially Charles shared these travels, but his less robust health prevented his doing as much travel.

On a visit to Dublin in 1747, one of John Wesley’s preachers, Thomas Williams, a Welshman, formed what became the first permanent Methodist Society in Ireland. Later that year, John Wesley came to Ireland on his first visit in August to meet this society. The early meetings in Dublin were held in rented premises in Marlborough Street and Cork Street.

During that first visit, he preached in Saint Mary’s Church in the city centre, and dined with Archbishop Charles Cobbe of Dublin in Newbridge House, Donabate, in north Co Dublin.

John Wesley went on to pay 21 visits to Ireland, his visits lengthening in time and extent until he had visited almost all the island.

The first Methodist building in Ireland was a chapel at Whitefriar Street, Dublin, built in 1752. The site was later expanded to contain a dayschool for boys, a school for orphan girls, a widows’ almshouse, a bookroom and houses for two ministers. The Whitefriar Street congregation moved to Saint Stephen’s Green in 1845, and now worships in Leeson Park.

In his sermons and elsewhere, John Wesley’s favourite classical source was Horace. There are 27 quotations from Horace in the sermons alone, some repeated in different contexts, compared with 21 quotations from Virgil; Ovid follows with 10, then Cicero (9) and Juvenal (7). There is also one quote each from Aristophanes, Hadrian, Homer, Lucan, Lucretius, Persius, Pindar, Sophocles, Suetonius, Symmachus, Terence and Velleius Paterculus. These are classical sources helped him to develop his ideas about human nature, human volition, and the human passions.

But, while John Wesley found it natural to approach the Gospel with a mind shaped by his classical education, he was quick to recognise the value of other approaches, and the early Methodist meetings were often led by lay preachers with very limited education.

The story is told that on one occasion, an uneducated lay preacher took as his text: “Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man” (Luke 19: 21).

Not knowing the word “austere,” the preacher interpreted the text as speaking of “an oyster man.” So, he spoke about the work of those who retrieve oysters from the seabed. The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water. He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search. So Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with him to the glory of heaven, his torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value he has placed on the object of his quest.

Twelve men were converted that evening.

However, one person present complained to John Wesley that it was inappropriate to allow preachers who were too ignorant to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. Wesley replied simply: “Never mind, the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”

Of the two brothers, John was the more powerful preacher, and averaged 8,000 miles of travel a year, mostly on horseback. At the time of his death he was probably the best known and best loved man in England.

Charles Wesley died on 29 March 1788; John Wesley died on 2 March 1791.

The Wesley brothers wanted to keep their Methodist Societies within existing Anglican structures. The later rift between Methodists and Anglicans occurred after they died, when the Methodist Societies in America, and to a lesser extent those in England, developed separate organisations. However, John Wesley’s uncanonical ordinations of “elders” for America, which was bitterly opposed by Charles Wesley, laid the foundation for this division.


Lord God, who inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervour, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Isaiah 49: 5-6; Psalm 103: 1-4, 13-18; Romans 12: 11-17; Luke 9: 2-6.

Collect (Lent 3):

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer (Lent 3):

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (4 March): Saint Owini of Lichfield, hermit.