by: Micki Gowdy
This week our devotional looks at the "means of grace." What on earth does that mean? "Means of grace" is a distinctly Wesleyan concept. John Wesley knew that God is love and is actively trying to save people, to create a relationship with us. Wesley knew that God's gift of grace (prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace) was available to all persons. But how can we get in touch with this grace?
Wesley identified practices that convey God's love and grace to us; practices that can aid us in getting in touch with God so that God is present with us and can connect with us. Means of grace are things (practices) that we do or participate in, which open us up to God and position us so that we might be drawn closer to God. Then God works through these practices to transform and make us more like Christ.
There are several means of grace we will examine. Two are often called "special" means of grace because they are sacraments - religious ceremonies or rituals regarding as imparting divine grace. For us Methodists, we have two sacraments, baptism and Communion (Roman Catholics, by way of contrast, observe seven). Sacraments are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace offered by God; sacraments have a special significance in the Christian life.
1. Let's begin by preparing our hearts and minds for this time of devotion. I encourage you to pause and listen to a favorite hymn. Or, I offer this suggestion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O269cn5aS0A
2. Means of Grace: Baptism. "Remember your baptism and be thankful." These are words Wesley repeated often and encourages us to say. You may be asking, particularly if you were baptized as an infant, how can I do this when I don't actually remember my baptism? It's not the specific event you are called upon to remember; it's the fact that you were baptized and that through your baptism God washed away your sins and brought you into the family of God. Baptism, for Methodists, is a one-time occurrence. Baptism is not about what we do or a decision we make; baptism is about what God does in us. God does not make mistakes - therefore, there is never any need to be "re-baptized." Ephesians 4:5-6. We remember that we have been baptized and that in our baptism God's grace came to life within us. And, we are thankful. Baptism, by the way, is commanded in the Bible (although we do not believe it necessary for salvation). So, if you attend IUMC and have not been baptized, let's have a talk!
3. Means of Grace: Communion. Communion is our repeatable sacrament. It was established for us by Jesus at the Last Supper where he transformed the Passover supper into a remembrance of his sacrifice for all humanity. But Communion is much more than a remembrance. It is a powerful means of grace. In Methodist churches, the pastor consecrates the elements by offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God for all that God has done. But then these words are spoken: "Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood." What do these words mean to you? In Communion, we invite the presence of the Holy Spirit and are to expect the presence of the Holy Spirit in our gathering.
4. Means of grace: works of piety. These can be both individual and communal. Individual practices include reading, meditating on, and studying the Scriptures; prayer; fasting; regularly attending worship; and sharing our faith with others. Communal practices include regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study. John Wesley said, "Christianity is essentially a social religion, and that to turn it into a solitary religion is to destroy it." What do you think he meant? In what ways do communal practices strengthen our faith? How are you keeping your faith communal during this time of coronavirus? It is in worship that we remind ourselves who we are and whose we are. Are you keeping these means of grace? Are you encouraging others in their walk in faith to keep these practices?
5. Means of grace: works of mercy. These can also be individual and communal. Individual include doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others. Communal include seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor. In works of mercy, we engage with the means of grace to offer those means to others. Right now, we can't really visit people. Can you perhaps write a letter or make a phone call to someone who might need to hear a word of encouragement? What is something you can do this week as a work of mercy to another?
Next week we will talk about transformation! Have a blessed week and may you connect with God in a very real sense as you engage in these means of grace given to us by a God who loves us more than we can imagine.