A Little Help From My Friends – Pastor Donna Doutt – 6/2/19

As many of you might know, this past weekend, I returned from a trip to London. Someone said, “It seemed like you did a lot of site-seeing.” True. We did. Contrary to Facebook pictures of all the famous sites we visited in England, we were there to study. The sites we visited were about 80% Wesleyan-related, and 20% tourist attractions like Windsor Castle and the Tower of London.

What you didn’t see in those Facebook pictures was our class gathered together in little rooms at our hotels at 6:00 am for the actual classroom portion of the tour. Who wants to see Facebook pictures of a bunch of uncaffeinated students groggily taking notes and reviewing our required reading for this class?

The first day we arrived in England, our professor gave us this little booklet. “A Small Group Study Guide Following the Early Methodist Model.” I’ve included a copy in each of your bulletins, so you might take it home as a devotional guide.

We followed the “Basic Outline for the Study Group” every morning, pausing to share “how is it with your soul”, share meaningful scripture, and prayer. Then we dutifully recited the entire rest of the booklet, beginning with “A Brief History of Methodist Small Groups.”

“From 1742 until 1898, every Methodist was required to be part of a “class.” They gathered once a week to pray, study the Bible, sing hymns, share fellowship, and give an accounting of their walk with Christ. Together they encouraged one another in the practice of the means of grace, in doing good and sharing their faith. They brought thousands to Christ and lifted themselves and many others out of poverty and desperation.

The Methodist in the small groups watched over one another in love, giving support for growth in faith, hope, and love. Wesley believed and taught that salvation was progressive, a process of growth and maturation. These groups were means to implement the process.”

Then we recited the General Rules for Methodists (hopefully you all have heard these before and recognize them):

  1. Do no harm by avoiding evil of every kind

  2. Do good as often as you can to as many as you can

  3. Practice the means of Grace

What are “means of Grace” you may ask? The means of grace are divided into two general categories: works of piety and works of mercy. It’s important to understand that works of piety and works of mercy go hand in hand.

Works of Piety include:

  • Prayer (private and with family)

  • Public worship

  • The Lord’s Supper/Communion

  • Reading & study scripture

  • Christian conference

  • Fasting or abstinence

  • Peacemaking

 

 

Works of Mercy include:

  • Feeding the hungry

  • Clothing the naked

  • Caring for the sick

  • Visiting the jails and prisons

  • Sheltering the homeless

  • Welcoming the stranger

  • Acting for the common good

It’s in the means of grace that we encounter the presence of God in all its transforming and loving power. As we faithfully participate in means of grace, God enables us to increasingly recover the divine image of love in which we are created.

John Wesley knew people and knew the human frailties we exhibit. He says as much in his famous Sermon #16, “The Means of Grace.” In the book, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, Wesley writes in the introductory paragraph, “…the whole body of Christians being agreed that Christ had ordained certain outward means for conveying his grace into the souls of men” (158) He boldly confronts and calls us out by letting us know in the next paragraph that in the course of time, “the love of many waxed cold” (158). Life, family, work, pressure, our modern lifestyles; all these things cut into the heart of the eager Christian.  

If a person believes they are saved by any of the graces mentioned before this, but are not practicing the “Means of Grace”, perhaps they’re not really on the right path. If we have faith, but not works; if we have faith, but not the moral or ethical behavior to back it up, then our confidence in salvation is not a certainty. The final judgment is based on God’s own justice.

In our scripture today, we find Paul and Silas in a precarious situation. They’re over in Phillipi and are arrested and flogged for casting out a spirit. However, they’re not discouraged, they sing and praise right there in their cells. They could praise God because their joy was not based on circumstances, but on a relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Their revelries shakes the foundations of the prison…doors are opened and chains are unfastened. In the end of this scriptural story, we find each and every person mentioned is saved by the help of another. The young woman was freed from her demons, all the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, are loosed, and the jailer who was in fear becomes a believer. They all had a little help from someone. I love how this story ends:

30 Then he (the jailer) brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord[a] to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

That’s how God’s love works. That’s how mercy, grace, and faith go hand in hand. The jailer assumed spiritual leadership of his family by being the first to repent. By his example, the rest of his family was won. He offered faith and good works. With a little help from his friends, Paul and Silas, he was able show his family how to follow Christ. FAITH!

Forsaking
All
I
Take
Him

 I was at a meeting this week as we were working on programming and planning. I have to admit, it was a bit demoralizing. Why? Because each subject or program we tried to plan resulted in almost the same issue. Not enough interest…no one wants to commit…not enough help…no one wants to do it… no one has time…we don’t have the funding.

In James 2:18 we read, “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.” And then continues in verse 26 by saying, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”

Folks, I fear that we have drifted from our scriptural teachings. I fear that we have drifted from our Wesleyan roots. I fear that we think all we have to do is show up on Sunday morning. I fear that we have forgotten that if we are not “doing” ministry, we are not “doing” the work of the church.

  • There is discussion about discontinuing our ham loaf dinners, an historically important fundraiser for this church, because of lack of volunteers.

  • There is discussion about how can we possibly put on a Vacation Bible School because we can’t get anyone to commit to helping with it?

  • There is discussion about lack of youth programming, yet we can’t get enough adult helpers to commit.

  • We can’t find Sunday School teachers.

  • There is lack of interest in other worship opportunities we attempt to provide for you like our Saturday night “Turning Point” service.

  • Our ministries to our community through dinners, clothing distributions, senior programming at Riverview and other fundraisers are exhausting for those who do serve, because few must do so much.

If you feel that I have a sense of frustration, you would be correct. But… I have FAITH. Because I love this church. I love all of you. I think we just need to stay in love with God and remember what the work of the church is all about. It’s not just about feeding your soul every Sunday. This church is not here to serve you and you alone. It’s not here only for your spiritual nourishment.

We need to nurture and nourish our youth by providing programming that will bring them to know Jesus better. We need to continue our outreach through our Senior and community events. We need to prop up our aging buildings and remember that God loves a cheerful giver! We need you to be a friend to this church…this tangible extension of God’s love right here in this community…a place where people can come to hear, to sing, to pray and praise, to fellowship, to teach, to learn, and to love and care for one another.

Let us all be people of FAITH in the best sense of the word. Let us be a Paul. Let us be a Silas. Let us be the jailer who brought his entire family to Christ.

Not one of us can do it alone, but we can do it with a little help from our friends, and that friend is you.

Amen.

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