Editor's note: The following sermon was delivered by the Rev. Liberato Bautista during the opening worship, March 11, at the Baguio Area of the Philippines Central Conference’s annual Aldersgate Mission Conference. Bautista, assistant general secretary of the General Board of Church & Society, directs its United Nations & International Affairs office. He delivered both this sermon and the lead presentation that afternoon, both are focused on the conference’s theme “Overseas Filipino Workers‘ — Ministries Anchored on Discipleship & Evangelism.” The Philippine economy is largely dependent for its foreign currency reserves on the money remittances of migrant and Overseas Filipino Workers. At least 6,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines daily as overseas workers.
I am most pleased at the direction that Bishop Pedro Torio Jr., episcopal leader of the Baguio Area of the Philippines Central Conference of The United Methodist Church, is leading us. This is particularly so in the way we appreciate the importance of John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience in our personal lives, and in the conduct of ministry in our denomination today.
Allow me to revisit some of the key elements of the Aldersgate experience and appropriate that for our concerns today.
Before we claimed God, God has claimed us first. God has sent God’s son, Jesus Christ, to claim us for God. By our baptism, God has claimed us.
This is what the Aldersgate experience is about. When John Wesley declared his “heart was strangely warmed,” he felt once more the saving grace of God that laid claim on him even while yet a sinner.
What a wonderful event we are gathered here for: a celebration of God’s claim on our lives, like what John Wesley experienced.
May it be, that just like John Wesley’s experience, we too, having been claimed by Jesus Christ, realize what a beloved people of God we are. We have been redeemed of our sins and forgiven from our transgressions.
The Aldersgate experience
God in Jesus Christ redeemed us from our sins and transgressions. By putting our trust in God, God saved us and made us renewed persons. Claiming all of us, God has renewed the entire creation. We have therefore become a people charged with the call to make disciples who lives will be evidence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Salvation in Christ must result in good works that will reform and transform the world.
This, too, is what the Aldersgate experience is about. When John Wesley declared his heart strangely warmed, he realized then that salvation in Christ alone is what makes him right with God. This right relationship bid him, as a saved child of God, to exhibit that salvation through good works.
Having been redeemed by Jesus Christ, our Lord, we are then called to reciprocate by making disciples of Jesus Christ unto all the ends of the earth and to the end of the age.
Salvation in Christ must result in good works that will reform and transform the world.
No other calling
When John Wesley declared his heart strangely warmed, he knew then there was no other calling but to also make this experience real in the lives of peoples all over the world: an experience that touched both the personal lives and the social, economic, political and cultural lives of peoples.
A people created in the image of God were claimed by God as God’s children. Pardoned of their sins because of their faith in Jesus Christ alone, God’s children, now a redeemed people, are now commissioned to make disciples of Jesus Christ, baptizing them and welcoming them in the task of reforming and transforming the world.
What an amazing thing this strange warming of the heart did to John Wesley. It could also happen in our personal lives and our communities if we put our trust alone in Jesus Christ, and like John Wesley, itinerate and go about in the world:
- Doing no harm, avoiding evil of every kind.
- Doing good, of every possible sort, and as far as possible, to all God’s people.
- Staying in love with God, by attending upon all the ordinances of God, such as public worship and the ministry of the Word.
Such was the confirmation of John Wesley’s salvation felt personally at Aldersgate that it was not hard for him to realize there was no separation between personal holiness and social holiness. In his journal, he declared, “There is no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”
’There is no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.’
Filipino migrant workers are found in more than 200 countries around the world, in a myriad of jobs and professions. They are a presence of God in these places. Presence that has implications in bringing God’s Word unto all the nations. These implications are at once about discipleship, stewardship, evangelism, mission and advocacy.
For Overseas Filipino Workers, the global public square has become what to Wesley were the itinerant ministry and priesthood of all believers.
Great Commissioning, Great Itineration
If Matthew 28 refers to the Great Commissioning, I call Acts 1: 6-11 the Great Itineration. The nations referred to in Matthew 28 to which we have been called to make disciples are real: like Jerusalem, like Manila and Hong Kong, London and Lisbon, Tokyo and Seoul, Washington, D.C., and Berlin, Paris and Bangkok, Jeddah and Doha, Kinshasa and Addis Ababa, and many more.
The commissioning and itineration are very much the story of Filipino migrant workers spread in all corners of the world, experiencing many joys as much as pains, many trials as much as opportunities, many struggles as much as achievements.
John Wesley’s emphasis on personal piety and social responsibility is an apt portrayal of the demands of the Great Commission, and the other, which I call the Great Itineration.
In his time, Wesley addressed the ills of English society through preaching God’s word. As a result, England was reformed and transformed. Wesley made real our assertion that Christian social service and social action are as deeply spiritual as praying to God and studying God’s Word.
Just like the reminder by the “men in white robes” in our reading in the Book of Acts, the men of Galilee and we who are inheritors of the ministry of Jesus Christ do not have business looking up to heaven. Heaven is the business of Jesus and God the Father.
Rather, having been left behind in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, we have a business to permeate every social, political, economic and cultural life of the nations of the world. And if that is not enough, to minister unto all the ends of the earth, much like where our Filipino migrant workers are widely spread.
Migrant ministry may yet prove to be the fulfillment of spreading the word of God unto all the nations. And In doing so, testifying as well that God desires for the nations and the world love and compassion, peace and justice.
In the Wesleyan tradition, discipleship and evangelism, stewardship and advocacy, are all interrelated. The Wesleyan heritage for social action is the same heritage for evangelism and discipleship. It is no wonder then that John Wesley chose Luke 4: 18-19 for his ordination service.
Wesley did not only choose it, he described these two verses as the summary of the itinerant ministry!
If we made the preaching of God’s Word, the release of prisoners, giving sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed as the core of our ministry, including that of our ministry to Overseas Foreign Workers, I think God indeed will have seen in us the announcement of the favored time when God saves God’s peoples.
Today’s United Methodists are inheritors of this Wesleyan heritage of personal piety and social responsibility. We are God’s people known for acts of mercy equally as for acts of justice.
We are a people whose discipleship is about God — Creator, Son Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit — who is loving and forgiving. The Wesleyan understanding of holiness of heart and life is deeply inward and personal since it is about our love for God.
But holiness of heart and life is equally deeply outward and social since it is about our love of neighbor.
And so I would like to congratulate again Bishop Torio and his leadership team of District superintendents and lay leaders for choosing to focus on the plight of migrants around the world, especially overseas Filipino workers.
An Aldersgate Mission Conference focused on migration is not only spot on. In fact, to me, it is very Wesleyan. We have to remember that it was to a newly industrializing England, embarking on what is now known as the Industrial Revolution, that John Wesley evangelized.
Choice or necessity
In July of 1980, when I was National President of United Methodist Youth Fellowship, my first trip ever outside of the Philippines was to England. I attended the first-ever International Christian Youth Conference organized by the World Methodist Council.
Part of the program at this conference was a tour of Gwennap Pit, a coal mining area where John Wesley attended to God’s ordinance of preaching the Word of God, extended social service by attending to health remedies for ill coal miners, and did social action by advocating for better working conditions.
John Wesley had ministry to the migrants: people on the move, chasing work and capital wherever it was available in an industrializing England. Today, migration is a choice for some but a necessity for many.
People are chasing capital, meaning money, while at the same time, capital is chasing people where they are forced to accept what little money will be given for salary, and never mind benefits like health and insurance. Never mind that people will be put into the many forms of what is called modern-day slavery: forced labor, trafficking in persons, sexual slavery, and the like.
Putting faith into practice
What would it take so that the migrant becomes a neighbor to us in the manner that the Good Samaritan took care of the neighbor in need? Are we not in fact a neighbor one to another and therefore each one deserves the fullness of life, migrant or not? Is it enough of an incentive that when we welcome the stranger into our homes we may actually be entertaining angels unawares?
John Wesley has bequeathed to us a rich heritage that United Methodists today must not ignore. Putting faith into practice means expressing that faith in the form of social service, social education, social witness, and social action. These are areas that are needful of ministry, not the least expressed in our concern for migrant workers.
When Wesley felt that strange warming of the heart, he was not simply experiencing a feeling of a warm breeze passing by. He was experiencing the fullness of life itself, the presence of the Holy Spirit that made him aware of the gush of warm blood that flows through our hearts.
These natural things happen to us that we often take for granted. It is the precious gift of life which, when convicted for Christ, and dedicated to God’s service, will make our world truly God’s world.
The Aldersgate experience was about John Wesley being convicted for Christ. May we experience the same in our events at this mission conference. May we be convicted for Christ ready and willing to fulfill all that Christ has commanded us to do.
May our hearts be strangely warmed. May it be so with us today, like it was with John Wesley. AMEN.