The Means of Grace

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                        John Wesley taught his poor bands of early Methodists the effectiveness of prudent means of grace, ways by which to receive the freedom, love and faithfulness of God.   By precept and example he taught fasting, abstaining from food Tuesdays and Fridays—he exercised the body, mens sana in corpore sano.  By precept and example he taught the full study of Scripture, truly trying to live as homo unius libri, a person of one book.  By precept and example he applauded Christian conference, ordinary conversation if engaged with heart and mind.  By precept and example he commended the sacraments of baptism and the lord’s supper, not endlessly quibbling about their theological nor the proper modes of celebration:  use them, use them, use them, he exhorted.  By precept and example he coveted prayer, the sitting in silence before God.   You struggle and stumble, it may be, do to lack of nourishment, unintended abstinence from grace in exercise, study, sacrament, talk, and prayer.  Find meaning this winter in the means of grace!

 

1. Fasting

 

Fasting is a way to discipline the body.  Many of you do so through regular exercise.  (Having been caused to stand for 7 minutes for the gospel as ung, you may feel your work today is done!) Several here will run the marathon April 21.  Some here will walk in the winter along the river.  A few here will walk or take the T this afternoon to the Common to skate at 1pm, our annual Ground Hog Day observance.  Yesterday here at Marsh Chapel several dozen students exercised their voice in all day choir practice.  Yesterday here at Marsh Chapel several dozen other students exercised their minds in study retreat on the theme ‘the blueprint of life’.  Let us find grace this winter in exercise.

 

2.  Scripture

 

Scripture is holy especially when pursued in holiness.  What a loss not to fall in love with Scripture, not to befriend Scripture, not to be guided by Scripture!  Read in college Plato, Shakespeare, and Bible.  Prize your time now you have it.   Listen today to Micah.

 

The twelve minor prophets (named) include the prophet of righteousness, Micah ben Imlah.

 

Since we are in the middle of some old time religion winter weather, with school children sleeping in school in Atlanta and temperatures cascading in Albany and wind sweeping the frozen plains of Arkansas, we might hearken again to the prophet Micah, whose own voice carries three thousand years later with the harsh, crisp and freezing jolt of a blizzard.

 

Other windswept, snow covered scriptural peaks stand at the same height as Micah 6.   Deuteronomy 6:5 stands just as tall:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  Leviticus 19:18 stands just as tall:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Jonah 4:2 stands just as tall:  the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Amos 5: 24 stands just as tall:  Let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as an ever flowing stream.

 

                        Then there is our joy, our memory verse for today (and you will want it memorized):  What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?

 

These verses are not religious.  They are helpful to religious people.  They are beneficial to religious communities.  They are nourishing to religious sentiment.  But they are not in themselves religious.   They require no creed, save that common to all people.  They demand no cult, save the culture of the human being at her best.  They depend on no special experience, no esoteric experience, just that shared by every mortal, of three score and ten years.  They rely on no foundational history, save the history common to the planet.  These verses are not religious.  They are merely true.

 

Look for a minute at Micah.

Let us find grace this winter in Scripture.

 

3. Conversation

 

Luncheon awaits us, and group life, and conversation, today.   More than we regularly admit, in this brief life, conversation among friends is lastingly meaningful.   To say ‘good morning’ and really mean it.  To inquire about another’s well being and tune to the response.  To journal and record memorable phrases, odd silences, dream sequences, and the mind waking in the morning.  We greet one another in communion, and then following service to acquire the knowledge of names.  It is all right to ask more than once.  We are all more human than anything else.  For all our vaunted differences, we utterly resemble each other, as we admit and relearn in conversation.

We are all more human and more alike than we regularly affirm, all of us on this great globe.

            We all survive the birth canal, and so have a native survivors’ guilt. All six billion.

            We all need daily two things, bread and a name. (One does not live by bread alone). All six billion.

            We all grow to a point of separation, a leaving home, a second identity. All six billion.

            We all love our families, love our children, love our homes, love our grandchildren. All six billion.

            We all age, and after forty, its maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. All six billion.

            We all shuffle off this mortal coil en route to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. All six billion.

Let us find grace this winter in conversation.

 

4. Sacrament

 

                        Today in community, or later in the week in pastoral visit and communion, we will receive the lord’s supper.  Two sacraments and five sacramental rites.

 

One such, the moment of memorial, 600 of us entered, last Saturday in remembrance of a son of Boston University, Dr. Kenneth Edelin.   The truth and love in the afternoon made of that cold day a warm sacramental gathering.  Listen to the voices of those who spoke:

 

Governor Patrick:  Justice is what love looks like in real life.

 

Rev. Liz Walker:  Truth without love is brutality.  Love without truth is sentimentality.

 

                        Ken Edelin:  the seamlessness between doctor and patient (or, I would say, between pastor and parishioner, minister and congregation).

 

                        30 standing as students who were studying medicine through his influence and support.

 

Barack Obama, Gloria Steinem, Jeh Johnson (later on The State of the Union address).

 

Charlene Hunter-Gault:  The Lord is my Shepherd

 

                        Arthur Ashe’s physician:  Days of Grace

 

                        All days are days of grace and all days of grace offer means of grace

 

Let us find grace this winter in sacrament.

 

 

5. Prayer

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

 

            Let us find grace this winter in prayer.

 

Wesley taught us prudently to use the means of grace:  exercise, scripture, conversation, sacrament, and prayer.  But let us use them, use them, use them!

 

~Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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