Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown

As we head into our third week of our series on Wesleyan Christian beliefs, this week we tackle John Wesley's thoughts on heaven, the Kingdom of God, and how to get there.  It's a tough subject to tackle, but in his sermon "The Way to the Kingdom" he's pretty clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that is meant to be enjoyed here and now.  It is meant to be pursued in the immediate, that we can experience heaven on earth.

How?  By pursuing the love of God, which is also all around us, running amok in our daily lives whether we like it or not.

Wheresoever therefore, the gospel of Christ is preached, this his "kingdom is nigh at hand."  It is not far from every one of you.  Ye may this hour enter thereinto, if so be ye hearken to his voice, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel. (John Wesley, The Way to the Kingdom)

For me, it kind of strikes me that God has actually been in pursuit of us all along, that God has already done all of the hard work of reconciliation, and that all we must do is say "Yes" to the Kingdom's entrance into our hearts.

I've been spending time this week with the text of Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown, by Charles Wesley, a stirring and emotional text that describes Charles' own faith journey, mirroring the struggle of Jacob with God at Peniel.

Stanza one (UMH 386):

Come, O thou Traveler unknown who still I hold, but cannot see!My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee.With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle til the break of day;With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle till the break of day

And stanza four:

'Tis love!  'Tis love! Thou diedst for me, I hear thy whisper in  my heart.The morning breaks, the shadows flee, pure, Universal Love thou art.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.

It's one of the few hymns that we have in the hymnal by Charles that actually includes the full text, UMH 387, it was originally published in 1742 under the title "Wrestling Jacob".  Charles was John's younger brother, but John outlived him, his partner in ministry and friend, by three years.  After the full text in the hymnal, there is a short piece of history given in our hymnal:

John Wesley ended his obituary tribute to his brother Charles at the Methodist Conference in 1788.  "His least praise was his talent for poetry: although Dr. [Isaac] Watts did not scruple to say that 'that single poem, Wrestling Jacob, was worth all the verses he himself had written." A little over two weeks after his brother's death, John Wesley tried t teach the hymn at Bolton, but broke down when he came to the lines "my company before is gone and I am left alone with thee."

I've gone on a little bit longer than I intended on this piece already, but that little story gets me every time I read it.  Love pursues us right now.  That's the narrative the church needs to be preaching, without putting stumbling blocks in front of it.