Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Means of Grace and the Hope of Glory

If you want to bake a cake you need the proper utensils.

If you want to make a table you need the proper tools.

If you want to write a letter you need pen and paper

If you want to send a text you need a mobile phone

Those utensils provide you with the means to bake a cake.

Those tools provide you with the means to make a table

That pen and the paper provide you with the means to write a letter.

That mobile phone provides you with the means to send a text

The Church I grew up in at home was a little bit quirky for a Congregational Church.  Each Sunday morning we sang a set of responses – I always thought they were ‘feral’ responses.  Closer attention to the hymn book showed they were Ferial responses.  But I am still not exactly clear what that word ‘ferial ‘ means.   We also chanted the Psalms with the quirky pointing system devised for Congregational Praise.

And we said the same prayer each week.

It was the General Thanksgiving.

I can still recite the words …

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men;  We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

One of many phrases that sticks in my mind from that prayer is the line that says …

… for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And it is the first of those two phrases that I want to home in on today.

The means of grace.

I think it is a wonderful phrase that gets to the heart of something that we very easily overlook when we think about our Christian faith.

It’s so easy to talk about putting Christ at the centre – of our lives of our town.

But how do we actually put Christ at the centre?

It’s so easy to talk about the presence of God?  But how is the presence of God real.

This is the wonderful thing.

It’s easy to talk about the amazing grace of God, the forgiveness of Christ … but how is that grace made real in our lives.

The thought in that wonderful line from that prayer is that God offers us the things we need to help make that grace real, the things we need to help make that free forgiving love of God in Christ real, the things we need to put Christ at the centre.

He offers us ‘the means of Grace’.

There are lots of things you can think of as ‘the means of grace’.

God’s grace is a message to us  .. he gives us the means of grace in the Bible – we need to read the Bible if we are going to hear God’s word for us.  People sometimes say they haven’t heard God’s message for them for a long time … and they don’t read their bible – it’s no surprise maybe that God’s word is not heard!

Prayer is another means of grace – people can say that they don’t sense the presence of God with them, do they have a regular pattern of prayer – a day with a rhythm of prayer for that kind of set of praying is one of those means of grace.

Gathering together for worship is another of those means of grace – people say they don’t sense the presence of God in their hearts – it is important to meet with other people and sense that presence together.

But most important of all maybe is one particular ‘means of grace’ that is right at the heart of all we share today.

And it is something very tangible and very real that we can actually do that makes a difference to us – and it is a means of the grace of God in Christ that can really help us to put Christ at the centre of all the things that we do.

And that means of grace is what we are going to share in doing during our service this morning.

It is the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion.

In the breaking of bread and in the sharing of a cup we have perhaps the most wonderful of all ‘the means of grace’.

Most wonderful because it was commanded by Christ.

Do this in remembrance of me, he said.

And as we do this thing what we are doing is something that Jesus commanded us to do.

We are never more than a couple of weeks away from a moment when what we actually do together is something that was done by Jesus with his friends and his been done by those followers of Jesus ever since continually – and it is something we can do.

So much happens in Communion that makes what we do the means God uses to make that grace of the Lord Jesus Christ something very real, that keeps Chrsit at the centre of our lives.

First, it is in the gathering together and in the parting at the end that we are reminded in the most powerful way of the promise of the presence of Christ with us.

We can only put Christ at the centre of our lives, of our families, of our town, of our world as his presence is with us.

The real presence of Christ is let loose as we meet together in his name and claim the promise he made that where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them.

It is in the actual meeting together in the name of Christ that the presence of Christ is made real.

How does that help?

I think we will all be different as we come together.  Some will be at a good place where all is going well in their journey of faith.  Some will be in a bad place where their journey has taken a turn for the worse.  In coming together we share one another’s joys – and we share one another’s sorrows and concerns.  That way we build each other up not just in each other’s strength, but also in the strength of God.

And then as we go our separate ways comes another promise of Christ.

Those last words to his disciples.

Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.

As we go our separate ways we take that promise with us into those joys and into those sorrows.

I have grown in my liking of and respect for Tracy Enim as an artist since visiting the new Tate Gallery in Margate - a wonderful contribution to the regeneration of Margate that owes much of its inspiration and no small amount of its funding to Tracy Enim as she longs to see the re-birth of her home town.

Recently she was commissioned to do a piece for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.  She spent a day in the Cathedral and then did her piece in response to all she had felt as she had shared in the rhythms of that place of worship with its stillness, its noisiness, and its daily round of worship.   It has been placed under the West Window and is one of the last things you will see as you leave that place of worship.

In neon lights it is a statement in her own handwriting ...

"I felt you and I know you loved me."

A wonderful sense of the presence to take with you as you leave.

A very real means of grace whereby we keep Chist at the centre.

It is in the breaking of bread and the sharing of a cup.   This is something tangible – great symbolism to do as Jesus did and keep that memory alive, that remembrance going.  But it is for me more than symbolism.

The bread we break is real and I feel it going down!
The cup we here has the fruit of the vine and I taste it as I drink it.

Something real.  The love God has for us, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is no less real.   But I cannot see it.  As the bread goes down, as I drink of that jice I know it’s real … and I know that the love of God, the grace of the lord Jesus Christ is just as real.

You don’t need it – maybe not.  But it is the insight of Chrsit. That we do.  And I for one go with his insight.  A constant reminder – of just how real this Christ is for me.

For Christ to be at the centre the breaking of bread, the sharing of a cup so important.

And one more dimension in what we do.  Communion, the Lord’s Supper is based around what Jesus ordered us to do, commanded us to do.   In our Congregatinal way of understanding things this is what makes it special.  It becomes an ‘ordinance’ of Christ.   An order.    And at this table we remehber the new commandment he gave to his disciples as he washed their feet and set them the example of service – a new commandment I give you that you love one another.  The communion collection is important for us.  It goes back to a dark time in this country’s history when religious persecution was the order of the day and our forebears in the 1580’s would go from their illegal communion service to the prison where fellow members of their church were and take supplies for the coming week.  You see reference made to a communion collection then later in our tradition again in dark times in our land when there was no social security, no welfare state in late 1700’s and early 1800’s and the church would have a pastoral fund supported by a communion collection.  And for many years we support a local charity.  

And this month it is the local branch of the Multiple Sclerosis society.  A tangible reminder of the commitment we have to people’s needs beyond our fellowship.

The menas of Grace to keep Christ at the centre in the new commandment he gives to love one another.

Christ at the Centre
Christ at the centre
In our gathering together
And in our parting
Christ at the centre
In the breaking of bread
In the sharing of a cup
Christ at the centre
In the new commandment he gives
To love one another
Christ at the centre
In our gathering together
And in our parting

Christ at the centre

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