03-09-2014 The Means of Grace

The Means of Grace

Matthew 25:34-40, Galatians 6:1-10

        How do we experience God’s grace? We have spent a lot of time talking about grace and we will continue to in the weeks ahead.  It is important for us to gain an understanding of God’s unconditional love for us. We could talk and discuss God’s grace until each of us is lulled into a comatose state, but unless we find ways to experience God’s grace for ourselves, it is like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal as Paul noted in his letter to the church in Corinth.  How do we experience God’s grace for ourselves and our community?  What is grace in action?

Wesley notes several means of grace – ways in which we experience God’s grace. Jesus taught us the ordinary means of grace by example and dictate – ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’  The first of which is prayer.  Jesus spoke often of prayer. When he addressed the disciples, he stated, ‘When you pray….’  This goes beyond just having the option to pray – it is an expectation as a follower of Christ that we spend time in prayer.  During this season of Lent, perhaps it is an excellent time to reconnect with God as we pray for ourselves and our families and church family, as well as those beyond our immediate circle.  But an important part of prayer is to simply commune with God.  Find a quiet place, whether it be during times of worship or times at home in your private place. Wherever you can feel closest to God, engage in prayer – open communication with God. For me, I find a great prayer time in walks around the community.  With the changing scenery comes a renewal of what I should be praying for, or simply listening for God’s communication with me through feelings or inclinations or even outright signs.  To be a follower of Christ is to be in communication with God.  If you find yourself at a loss for what to pray, I would encourage you to pick up a church directory and take a few pages a day to pray for those in our congregation.  Pray for the ministries of the church – those participating in AA that meet here regularly, the parents and students of the nursery school, the recipients of the Backpack Buddies program, Angel Tree, and CBS.  Spend time in prayer to experience God’s grace.

Another channel or means of grace is to spend time studying and contemplating Scripture.  God speaks to us through God’s word, yet many of us spend very little time reading passages of Scripture.  I have heard it said that reading the Bible is boring – lots of begats and such!  I get it. But perhaps you have not spent enough time reading the stories of God’s love for God’s people. If you are just starting to develop a discipline of Scripture reading, I encourage you to begin with the book of Mark.  If you want intrigue, excitement, action, suspense – this is the book for you. It reads like an Indiana Jones movie (for those of you who are too young to remember, check out a few YouTube clips from any one of the trilogy – that’s how action-packed the book of Mark is!  There are only 16 chapters in this book. Since there are roughly 40 days in the season of Lent, perhaps you could take parts of this book each day and complete it before Easter. If you are very versed in Scripture I suggest you choose a book you have rarely reviewed – perhaps the book of Esther or Proverbs or Micah.  Discover just how deep God’s love for God’s people truly is – more than any of us could ever fathom.

Wesley also mentions partaking in Holy Communion, fasting, and fellowship in Christian community as other means of grace.  This season of Lent leads us to examine our hearts as we continue on our Christian journey as followers of Christ.  We celebrate Holy Communion together as a way of truly reenacting Jesus’ time on earth where he routinely broke bread with those around him, sharing a message of love, peace, and joy even to his enemies.  Jesus began his earthly ministry with a time of fasting for forty days which became a tradition in the Church during the season of Lent.  Few still maintain a period of fasting for forty days but Wesley was known to give up a meal once a week and spend that time in prayer and devotion.  Some still maintain the practice of fasting from sundown on Good Friday until sunrise Easter Sunday morning.  Fasting is a way of humbling ourselves before God by giving up something precious to us in order to spend time communing with God.

In this day and age, it is easy for us to ignore the importance of coming together in Christian fellowship. This includes times of worship but also just times of fellowship one with another.  In spite of the push of modern society to live in isolation (aka having a virtual network of friends you never see face-to-face), we need each other.  I wanted to publically thank each of you who came out this week to support the Pancake Supper and the Ash Wednesday service. I do apologize about any confusion as we did violate our own policy for the Pancake Supper by having it Tuesday in spite of the school closings.  We did the best we could to get the word out about keeping the event on Tuesday, and many responded.  However, if you missed it, we have some very tasty leftovers for you to partake during fellowship time.  Christian community exists when we commune with each other in the spirit of love. But this is not an exclusive club meeting. When we reach out in service to others and welcome them into fellowship as well, we are truly serving as the body of Christ.  I received so many thank yous from the AA group that meets here for inviting them to our Tuesday supper.  Many were fed at no charge, simply because we were honoring the beginning of the Lenten season with our time of food and fellowship.  That is Christian community at its best.

Wesley modeled the early church in promoting the use of small groups for fellowship and discipleship.  It is hard to imagine a small group of persons engaged in the act of yoga to be practicing discipleship, but when we welcome those outside of our community to join in a practice of centering one’s mind, body and spirit, I believe we are engaging in Christian fellowship.  When the women of the church gather to discuss a book or teach our younger girls to knit, we are engaging in Christian fellowship.  When a group comes together regularly to review personal budgets and help one another through financial challenges and celebrate successes, we are engaging in Christian fellowship.  When a group of faithful souls come together to practice music for future services while working through the kinks of parts and harmony, we are engaging in Christian fellowship.  When we come together early on Sunday mornings to wrestle with some tough passages of scripture, we are engaging in Christian fellowship.  I encourage each of you to find a small group and become a part of communing with God and your neighbors.

All these means of grace are what Wesley would note as acts of piety – ways in which we draw closer to God. However, acts of mercy, when done as a response to God’s grace, are also powerful means of grace – ways for us to experience God’s love for ourselves.  These include acts such as participating and leading ministries such as Backpack Buddies, Imagine No Malaria, and visitation to those in need.  We are having a bit of fun with our Backpack Buddies program with our different campaigns. Right now I think we are dreaming of warmer places as favorite vacation spots and leaving our donations in the appropriate bins (I believe the Pacific Coast bin is currently in the lead.)  But the reality behind this program is profound.  Some children were sheepishly inquiring if they would be lucky enough to receive one of those ‘special’ bags each week.  These are children whose families depend on the free and reduced breakfasts and lunches for their children.  Those ‘special’ bags help children have something to eat over the weekend. A can of ravioli and a juice box makes a huge difference to someone who cannot feed his/her family.  Sharing what we have with others is a means of grace.

Imagine No Malaria is our conference-wide initiative to wipe out this deadly but preventable disease in the continent of Africa.  With our help, millions of lives can be spared, particularly the lives of the numerous children who die daily from this horrible disease.  When you designate a donation to Imagine No Malaria through UMCOR, all of your donated dollars will be sent directly to this cause. Mark and I personally donate monthly – you can choose to do this through the UMCOR website (details will be on our website as soon as it is revamped.)

We have several folks that are now considered shut-ins because of the difficulty they have getting out and about.  I regularly visit these folks but I cannot get around to them as often as I like. We have another parishioner who regularly visits our shut-ins as well as those hospitalized or in recovery.  Charles, I want to thank you for your gift of ministry.  I know as you are a blessing to others, you are also being blessed by God.  But Charles and I need your help.  I would love for all of our shut-ins and hospitalized folks to receive visits weekly or even more than once a week.  I promise you will be blessed as you experience this very special means of God’s abundant grace.

I know there are others engaged in various ministries here at Mayo UMC and I believe God is using each of us as we experience these means of grace while extending mercy to others.  During this season of Lent, let us seek out ways to experience God’s grace for ourselves while extending the hand of grace to others.  Love God and love our neighbor – we are charged to do no less. Amen.

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