As we learn to practice our Christian discipleship and continue the work of the church in new ways during this time of separation, we have an opportunity to reconnect with parts of our Methodist heritage and strengthen our personal spiritual practices. Methodists are rooted in systems of mutual support and accountability, in practices of spiritual development and social change, living out the commandment to love both God and neighbor. We encounter God’s transforming grace and find spiritual sustenance through disciplines, specific practices that are what we call “means of grace.”
John Wesley identified two categories of the means of grace: works of piety and works of mercy. The first includes individual practices like studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith, along with the communal practices of sharing the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study. The works of mercy also include individual acts like doing good works, visiting the sick and those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others, along with communal practices like seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor.
The prophet Isaiah shares God’s word that our light will break forth when we share our bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted. In other words, our personal relationship with God is lived out in our care for the poor, and there is no distinction between social justice and our personal relationship with God – they are one and the same. Wesley understood personal holiness and social holiness to go hand in hand, just as Isaiah joins fasting, an act of piety, with acts of mercy like seeking justice and feeding the poor.
As we approach Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new and bold way upon all the people of God, we have an opportunity to reimagine and rebirth our understanding of what it means to be the church. If we are willing to recommit ourselves to the disciplines of piety and mercy, to a regular practice of prayer, study, and worship hand-in-hand with acts of charity and justice, we have an opportunity to be co-creators with God of a new earth in the wake of this pandemic. If we are willing to make the practice of our faith our first priority God can do great things through us.
Peace for the journey,