Part 4 of our 4 part sermon series – What We Believe
Our newest sermon series focuses on our Methodist beliefs. We’ve talked about giving, grace, and works of mercy. Today we continued our talk about how to stay in God’s grace – by practicing what John Wesley called “the means of grace.” We focused what Wesley called works of piety. Hope you enjoy!
I never thought my favorite drink would be the center of controversy.
I’ve been drinking milk since I was a baby. At least I assume so. My memory is good, but it doesn’t go back THAT far. But I love milk. Whenever we’re at home, I have at least a glass a day. Milk tastes good with pretty much everything and there’s nothing like a nice cold glass of milk when downing some piping hot chocolate chip cookies. And I’ve been drinking the “good milk.” Since the 1970’s I have been drinking skim milk instead of whole or even low-fat milk. The USDA took until 1985 to push skim milk as a healthy alternative to the fat-laden whole milk. So I’ve been ahead of the curve. But recently, the benefits of milk have come under fire. Is it really as good for us as we’ve always been led to believe? While the controversy between pasteurized and raw milk or whether we should drink milk at all is still primarily on the fringes of debate, there’s no doubt that more people are calling into question whether or not milk does indeed do a body good. I was shocked to find out that even Dr. Benjamin Spock – yes, THAT Spock – questions the benefits of milk. There is no doubt that milk provides essential vitamins and nutrients, but is it as good for you as the milk industry would have you believe? There is one milk though that nobody debates – baby milk. Nobody questions the benefits of breastfeeding your baby. It strengthens the immune system, decreases disease, and helps to protect children from developing allergies. Later in life, these babies have fewer cavities, less likely to be obese, tend to have fewer problems related to blood pressure, and tend to be more mature and assertive. The evidence is so strong for all the different benefits of baby milk that there are even milk banks where mothers can donate milk to other mothers who can’t make their own – but that’s a debate for another day. Suffice it to say that everyone generally agrees that milk is essential for young developing babies. Milk is essential for our development out of infancy. At least for infants, milk does a body good.
A statement which the Bible heartily agrees with.
If you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phone, please find 1 Peter 1:13. We are going to read from two different but related passages this morning – 1 Peter 1:13-16 and 2:1-2. Milk in the Old Testament largely referred to God’s promise of a land overflowing in abundance, but in the New Testament, milk is seen as spiritual sustenance. It’s the building block for a strong spiritual life. Just like milk is a necessity for babies who grow up to be adults, spiritual milk is needed to help our faith life develop into something strong and robust. Our passage this morning is just one that refers to spiritual milk but its one that sheds light on what that milk will do for us. If you would please rise as we read together from Peter’s first letter in the Bible. Let us share from 1 Peter 1:13-16 and then 2:1-2. Hear now the Word of the Lord.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.” Please be seated.
Crave pure spiritual milk.
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that BY it you may grow up in your salvation now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Spiritual milk is essential for our faith and Peter writes here that we should crave it! We should crave those things that feed our faith and help to keep away all of those things that would rob us of salvation – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Peter hopes that because we have tasted this spiritual milk that it will be enough to keep us craving more. What he means by having “tasted” spiritual milk is that there was something in us that turned us toward Christ and away from all the other temptations of the world. There was some part of our life that Jesus’ message of hope and salvation connected with, and Peter hoped that was enough to fuel us wanting more to keep craving that spiritual milk that is so essential to grounding us.
And this is where John Wesley’s ideas of the means of grace come in.
Wesley believed that God provided us with many ways to find this spiritual milk and to keep connected to Christ. He felt that even when we felt distant, that if we practiced these means of grace that we would eventually find out way back, that we would be sustained until we were past whatever crisis separated us from God. Last week we talked about works of mercy, which are part of these means of grace and today we’ll finish by talking about works of piety. Works of piety are those personal practices that help us grow closer to God. Works of piety are those personal practices that help us grow closer to God. Things like prayer, reading the Bible, going to worship, taking communion, taking part in Bible study, sharing our faith and fasting; these are the practices that Wesley felt would help connect us to our faith. Regularly doing these things, regularly praying or reading the Bible or fasting or going to worship creates in us a foundation for a life grounded on faith. It’s like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You don’t even think about these things any more as part of a list of things you need to do. You’ve been doing them for so long that they are simply a part of what you do every day. But doing them makes you a healthier person and much more enjoyable to be around. The truth is, doing these works of piety will have the same effect.
I know we don’t always feel we have time for these things.
We don’t have time to go to Bible study. We don’t have time to make it to worship. We don’t have time to read the Bible. But is it really that we don’t have time or that we don’t make it a priority? I know in some ways, these things feel like a burden. Not that we wouldn’t want to do them, but with so many other things going on in our lives we feel like we CAN’T do them. Again, though, I want to challenge you to dig deep and ask yourself, “Is it because I don’t make it a priority?” To bring up again taking a shower and brushing your teeth, you could skip these things too if you were seriously short on time. We might be able to squeeze in a few more things we think are important. The average shower lasts 8.2 minutes. Assuming we take one every day, and please don’t tell me if you don’t, that means if you stopped taking a shower, you could save yourself nearly 3,000 minutes a year! That’s more than 2 full days of time! But we would never do that, right? We feel taking a shower is that important. Now here’s something to think about. Almost all of these things we’ve talked about as works of piety – prayer, worship, Bible study, communion, sharing your faith – all of these take less than or about the same amount as taking a shower every day. Almost all of these works of piety take less time or about the same amount of time as taking a shower every day. If we value our relationship with God, then why wouldn’t we schedule that into our day?
Dave Ramsey is most well known for being a Christian spokesman about handling money.
He tells the amazing story of two guys, same age and same financial situation who behave in two different ways. One guy decides to begin saving at the age of 20 and saves $2000 a year every year until he’s 26, then he decides to do other stuff with his money. The other guy doesn’t save a penny at age 20. Instead, he’s partying, having fun, going out with his friends and living to the max during those first six years, and then decides that maybe the first guy got it right and starts to save his money, too. HE puts away $2000 a year every year for the REST OF HIS LIFE AND NEVER CATCHES UP! And the first guy? The initial $12,000 he puts away turns into over $2,000,000 by the time he retires. Now, there are some people who dispute this example but the point is that starting earlier rather than later has more benefits than we often realize. I think the same is true for our faith life. Why is it that people often leave their faith until they have kids old enough for Sunday School and then return? They say it’s because they want their children to grow up with the same values as they had when they were young, to give them a solid foundation. But if they had gone all along instead of only when their kids were old enough, they would have been grounded in a deep faith life. They would have been better role models for their children. They would be able to answer all of those questions their kids have been asking. God isn’t Starbucks coffee. God is toothpaste. God isn’t Starbucks coffee. God is toothpaste. Meaning that God isn’t some luxury you buy when it’s convenient or you’re craving for it. God is an essential part of your life and something you need everyday. Just because we don’t always realize it doesn’t make it less true. And it’s never too late to start because better now than later.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially when it comes to prayer.
I pray actively everyday. I pray in the shower it seems a lot. I also rehearse my sermons in their too, which is why my showers tend to take longer than the 8.2 minutes other people seem to be totally fine with. So I’m not lacking in prayer. But I have really felt I don’t spend enough time doing it. When we were challenged in our book study on Vital Mergers to put prayer first, I really thought a lot about what this meant to me. When I asked Ginger to be in charge of it, I knew I was pointing to the right person because she has such a heart for it. When she said she was going to start this with Aiko and doing it on Thursday mornings for an hour, I felt confident this was the right thing. And when she said they were going to have it at First UMC so that I could be a part of it, I shuddered in dread. My first thought was how busy I was. How could I squeeze in ANOTHER hour of prayer? But even with as much praying as I already do, I have felt at times that my prayer life was lacking. That I wasn’t spending enough time really focusing on God. Often my prayers were in times of my convenience and there’s something to be said for setting aside time for God that’s different than just praying when you feel like it. And so I committed myself to joining and doing it. If these wonderful people could take time out of their busy days, so could I. And to be honest, it has been much more rewarding than I thought. Ginger doesn’t force us to pray aloud and on the other hand, it’s not a whole hour of silence either. We’re kind of working together on what this time is and how we can best pray for one God’s direction for our church. Jerry is there, too, taking the time to join in and I would like to encourage you to do the same. You don’t have to come every week, certainly there will be some times when I can’t make it either. But I would like to encourage you to try it at least once. To set aside time specifically for God and see if you feel like I feel what a difference it makes to be intentional in our works of piety. Like the milk we crave as infants, our spirits crave nourishment also. Give it what it the nourishment that it needs and be amazed at how your spiritual life will grow. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.