Wesley’s Means of Grace: Acts of Mercy
February 19, 2017
by Rev. Chris Carr
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(Re) Discovering Grace Sermon Series
James 2:14-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Faith without Works Is Dead
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[a] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.
Wesleyan Means of Grace- Acts of Mercy and Compassion
Rev. Chris Carr
This weekend is the NBA All Star Game. This is where the best of the best of professional basketball get together and have some friendly competition. There are shooting competitions, basketball skills competitions, and a slam dunk competition. Tonight there will be a game where all the best players compete, have some fun, and also do a lot of, what we might call, trash-talking. Trash-talking being defined as generally good natured ribbing about how much better a player is than another player. Some are very creative and sometimes it sometimes gets personal, so I am not glorifying this by any means. This type of banter happens in most sports on all levels in some way shape or form. Sometimes the goal is just to be funny or make jokes, but there is a also a component of psychological manipulation that is an important aspect to the trash-talking. According to most basketball players over time, one of the best trash-talkers was also, arguably, the best players of all time, Michael Jordan. Another legendary trash-talker from professional football is hall of famer former Viking, John Randle. It is said that they were creative and had the best lines to get inside another players head, to talk about how much better they were then their opponent, and then prove it with their play.
One of the reasons why he was so effective was that he could back up everything he would claim. If he said Jordan said he was going to make the shot in your face to win the game, he often did just that. John Randle said he was going to knock you over and sack the quarterback, he would follow through and do just that. When they made a claim, they would back it up, or they would give it all they had to make it happen. The mantra is, “if you are going to talk, you actions better back it up.” And they did.
Now, whether or not these athletes are worthy of being role models or not is a conversation for another day. But one thing that we can look to in them is this; that they back up what they say. If they make a claim about who they are or what they do, they are going to give all they have to follow through on demonstrating it to be true.
We have been focused on this conversation on perspective on this idea of Grace, God’s enduring love and forgiveness for humanity and Creation, through prevenient grace (or the grace that has been gifted to all of Creation since its inception, justifying that we are connected to through relationship with God, and sanctifying grace that is magnifies holiness into the world through our activity in relationships.
As we look at the Wesleyan means of grace,which Wesley calls. “outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to humanity, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.” (sermon 16- “The Means of Grace)
The ways God’s grace is channeled into the world, through acts of piety, which encompasses the ways that we can personally strengthen our connection with God through spiritual practice, prayer, fasting, devotional engagement, etc.
We now dig more deeply into the Wesleyan means of grace that he would define as acts of mercy and compassion. And this hearkens us back to the Michael Jordans and John Randles of the world who claim the aforementioned mantra, if you are going to make a claim about who you are, your actions better back it up.
As we look to the scripture of today, James, is operating under a similar mantra. If you are going to claim this thing called faith, then there are actions that should be backing that claim up. If we understand faith to be a claimed belief system in that which is rooted within the Spiritual realm and
To use the words of James,
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
There are these pesky things called relationships that humanity gets involved in, whether it be with a blood relative or person
Now, we need to set up some distinctions in terms of the language here. My friends in the Lutheran church may be freaking out right now when we get close to suggesting that we are made righteous or saved by our actions. The term works-righteousness is the churchy word that is often used. The push-back against works-righteousness goes back to Martin Luther and his separation from the Catholic church, which had, and still does in some ways, operated with some understanding that the sacramental practices of baptism, confession and absolution, and atonement were actions that a Christian must be active in if they are to experience salvation and eternal life. Luther’s pushback to this was to say that we can do nothing in our sinful human form to earn our salvation and it is ONLY through Grace and our human acceptance of this Grace in belief in Christ that allows us access to salvation.
So, as John Wesley comes out of the tradition of the Anglican church, which was another reformation at the same time as Luther that also came out of the Catholic revisioning of theology and practice. So Wesley comes along a couple hundred years later and is working in a middle ground of Grace, which we experience without condition as we are in our imperfect state, but also how humanity is an agent in the world of God’s Grace and humanity must be an active force for pointing out God in our midst. His motivator was looking at his community and seeing a bunch of people who claimed to be Christians, but weren’t doing a whole lot with it. They talked a good game, but did little do back it up.
He received challenge in his time saying that he was telling people you are saved by your works, as the reformation had pushed back against. “It has been objected that “This is seeking salvation by works.” Do you know the meaning of the expression you use What is seeking salvation by works In the writings of St. Paul, it means, either seeking to be saved by observing the ritual works of the Mosaic law; or expecting salvation for the sake of our own works, by the merit of our own righteousness. But how is either of these implied in my waiting in the way God has ordained, and expecting that he will meet me there, because God has promised so to do”
…expecting that he will meet me there, because God has promised so to do
We back up what we claim as Christians when we wait in the way God has ordained by, going back to the language of James, showing our faith through our works) and expect that God will show up in those moments, because that is what God has promised to do.
This is not a conversation about salvation and our eternal experience after death, for there is Grace enough for us all in that. This is about our eternal experience with God that starts now, today, in the living to seek out God where God is already present, in words of love and acts of mercy to demonstrate that abiding grace to the world.
God meet us there.
As you heard this morning, Krista talked about the journey our church is going on through the Healthy Church Initiative process. This process is centered around this very idea. Who are we in our creation as a church, and how do we actively seek out ways to back up what we claim in our actions, so that we are meeting God as God has promised to do. If we are following our Call as a faith community, then it is our goal to have an encounter with the Holy in all that we are and all that we do and to pursue this with everything we’ve got. Out time our talents, our gifts, our finances, our energy, our blood, sweat and tears go into showing others the presence of God in their lives.
God meets us there.
Again to go back to the text this morning, this is not just about saying If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
Also the Message transliteration of scripture reads this way:
“You come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”
We are called to embody a faith in Christ, not just in words and intentions but in action. And not just in action, as we often do in an inclusive and expansive theology, but also in words and intentions. It matters why we serve, not just that we serve. It matters why we give, not just that we give.
The “why” is that God meets us there.
I could give you a list this morning of activities and ministries that this church or overall community are involved in and can connect you to in ways that you can serve. But that is all posted on the walls in the hallway, or in our announcements in the bulletin.
If you seek the experience of the Holy, of God’s love built up in you, in awesome, new and powerful ways, think on these for your everyday life experience:
When you stop yourself one comma before ending your sentence, either in conversation or social media with a critique of someone or hurtful name for being black, white, brown, or even orange,
- God Meets you there
When you take the time to have the conversation with the child who has been bugging you with a question and you have a million other things to do
- God meets you there
When you choose to not to fight dirty, and to stand up with strength and conviction for the victimized, not in patronizing ways, but out of a genuine sense of love for them as God’s children
- God meets you there
When you grant mercy and forgiveness to someone who has hurt or wronged you, not excusing the injury, but actively show them grace
- God meets you there
When you take a deep breath before cursing out the person who cut you off in traffic, and grant them mercy
- God meets you there
When you push outside of your comfort zone to find a person, a community, or a ministry in need and invest in them fully, in relationship and in support
- God meets you there
When you take the time to listen to the other side of the argument, truly listen and respond with the pursuit of understanding
- God meets you there
And when you do these things, look past just the immediate and surface-level impact of them. Understand that there is a deeper more Holy impact from who you are and what you do.
Claim your identity, as you are with all of our human imperfections, but also as an image of Christ into the world, and back it up, live it out, and change the world. And God will meet you there.