Most Tuesday evenings, I attend a community dinner hosted by my local church. It’s one of five, offered weekly in town, all with the intent to provide a free warm meal. And that’s where I met Stephanie.
Stephanie never misses Tuesday’s Table. That I will see her in the fellowship hall of Winfield FUMC on Tuesday evenings is as close to a guarantee as it gets. I know that if I want to be with Stephanie, I can go to Tuesday’s Table.
Which reminds me— if I want to be with God, I can go to the means of grace.
Grace is God’s power for our growth, and the means of grace are the ways by which we experience it. I like to think of the means of grace as spiritual meeting places—locations we go again and again because God is there. Tuesday’s Table is a space prepared by volunteers to nourish bodies. The means of grace are spaces created by God to nourish souls. I don’t know about you, but both my stomach and my spirit growl when hungry.
Wesley divided the means of grace into two categories: works of piety and works of mercy. The works of piety are practices of devotion that encourage personal holiness. These are things like prayer, the study of Scripture, theological conversation, and worship. The works of mercy are practices of service that contribute to social holiness— visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, to name a few.
Don’t get hung up on that word: works. There is no magic spell that conjures up God’s presence, no performance that earns us God’s grace. It’s already been settled that God initiates this relationship and extends grace without condition. Perhaps, if he were here, we could ask Mr. Wesley’s permission to substitute places for works—the places of piety and the places of mercy. Because, in as much as they are things we do, they are also places we go. This upholds God as the agent of salvation while also acknowledges our call to participate.
We participate by showing up. If the means of grace are places, and if God is already there, then all that’s left to do is show up. Going to the places of piety is showing up for ourselves, receiving God’s grace. Going to the places of mercy is showing up for others, extending freely what we’ve freely been given. Commitment to both is what faithful discipleship looks like. It’s collaboration with God to transform ourselves and the world around us. It’s working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
Just like Stephanie at Tuesday’s Table, God is there, in the means of grace, whether we go or not. We don’t have to, but what a waste when we don’t! God has named the places—the means of grace. It’s up to us to make the time. When we do, we communicate that we know our need of God and we want grace for today.
Let’s show up.