“You Are a Means of Grace!” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship celebration on August 29, 2021 — the 14th Sunday after Pentecost. It was part of a five-week-long sermon series on the so-called ‘Means of Grace’, and focused specifically on ‘Mutual Conversation and Consolation’.
“You Are a Means of Grace!”
Pentecost 14 (NL3) John B. Valentine
The Means of Grace: 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 August 29, 2021
“YOU ARE A MEANS OF GRACE”
So ... do any of you remember the theme of the sermon series we’re walking our way through right now???
It’s “The Means of Grace” ... the means of grace.
We’re looking at:
• Those mediums ... or is it media?? ... by which the Good News of the Gospel actually gets through to us ...
• Those tools God uses to stir up faith in the lives of God's people ... and
• What we understand to be God’s particular instruments for making the grace and goodness of God REAL in our lives.
So far ... we’ve look at:
• PREACHING ... and how God uses preaching to get through to us ...
• HOLY COMMUNION ... and how God uses Holy Communion to get through to us ...
• and CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS ... the so-called “Office of the Keys” ... and how God uses those to get through to us!
But now ... today ... we’re going to have a look at what is probably the least-known of the ‘Means of Grace’ ... something the good Doctor Luther called “Mutual Conversation and Consolation”.
And ... in order to better understand this whole “Mutual Conversation and Consolation” ... I need you to conjure up in your own mind’s eye one of those ‘Spot the Difference’ puzzles.
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You know those “Spot the Difference” puzzles???
They used to be in kids’ magazines like Highlights back in the day.
And they would put them on the comics and puzzles page of the newspaper ... back when people actually got the newspaper home-delivered.
Nowadays people post them on their Facebook page as a way to invite you to see if you are as smart as the original poster.
And teachers hand them out in classrooms for kids who’ve already finished their assignments as a way to keep them occupied and not disrupt their classmates.
“Spot the Difference” puzzles invite you to look at two different images and figure out what it different between them ...
• a pocket on a shirt ... or
• a building in the background ... or
In fact ... I seriously debated putting a spot the difference puzzle as the graphic on this week’s worship handout ... but then I figured some of you would get a little TOO engaged in that assignment and stop listening to me!
But ... in any event ... I’m going to need you to use your “Spot the Difference” skills as we consider this means of grace called “Mutual Conversation and Consolation” today ...
Because while there are lots of similarities between this particular means of grace and all the others ...
There are also some key differences.
But before we do THAT ... maybe we should start by asking just what “Mutual Conversation and Consolation” is!
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As a ‘Means of Grace’ ... “Mutual Conversation and Consolation” is grounded in that familiar promise from Jesus that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
And it’s based in the experience that many of us have had of having our faith deepened ... or our life enriched ... or grace and forgiveness experienced ... in conversation with another person.
• It’s not that EVERY conversation we ever have with someone else is a good and godly conversation ...
But SOME conversations sure are.
• It’s not that EVERY conversation in which we share is a means by which the good news comes close to home ...
But SOME conversations are sure like that.
The Spirit sometimes uses conversations to do things like:
• Make us aware of our brokenness ... and/or
• Make us more aware of God’s grace ... .... and/or
• Help us appropriate and internalize a word of forgiveness ... and/or
• Help others hear and internalize a word of forgiveness through us.
And such conversations can be venues for Grace ....
• Reconciliation .... and
• Healing ... and
• Thankfulness and stuff like that.
Now ... just to be clear ... there are PLENTY of conversations that we have that AREN’T a means of the Spirit’s work among us ... including:
• what passes for just ‘pleasant conversation’ ... and
• conversations that stoke cynicism and fear and anger and division ... and
• conversations that manipulate and/or deceive and/or further falsehoods and half-truths.
And ... honestly ...
• many conversations in our society these days ... and even
• many conversations between church members in our society these days ... and even
• many conversations between clergy people these days ...
Seem bent on diabolical ends and are NOT a means of grace ...
After all ... ALL of us would do well to be reminded that Saint Paul was pretty darn clear that enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions and things like these are NOT the work of the Spirit.
But ... for instance ... there’s an AA meeting that happens on our campus most every Monday morning ...
That I suspect ... for many of its participants ... some of the conversations that take place in those moments can be a Means of Grace.
And there’s that Caregivers Support Group that happens on our campus most every Tuesday morning ...
And I know ... for some of its participants ... some of the conversations that take place in that context can be a Means of Grace.
And there’s Cristi Chow’s new Lunch Bunch Group that gathers on our campus most Thursday mornings ...
And I suspect some of the conversations that occur in that context can be a Means of Grace.
• It may be in the context of an honest conversation over dinner or a glass of wine ...
• It may be a phone call with a friend and a letter from someone far away ...
• It may be with a neighbor ... or someone you walk with ...
But the point is ... our daily conversations with others can be avenues within which the Spirit may be working in someone else’s life ... or in our own!
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But now HERE’S where I need you to bust out your ‘Spot the Difference’ skills.
You see ... earlier on ... we identified the five so-called “Means of Grace” as these:
• ‘Preaching’ ...
• ‘Holy Baptism’ ...
• ‘Holy Communion’ ...
• ‘Confession and Forgiveness’ ... and
• this ‘Mutual Conversation and Consolation’ thing.
And we’re discovering that EACH of those things can be an avenue for the grace and love of God ... the promise of the Spirit ... to be stirred up in our lives.
That’s what the SAME about them.
But what’s different?
And specifically ... what’s DIFFERENT between this ‘Mutual Conversation and Consolation’ thing and the other four???
Can you spot the differences????
For one ... there’s the question of WHERE this Means of Grace happens!
For the most part ... the other four ... preaching, baptism, communion and confession ... happen here in our worship space and in worship spaces throughout the world.
It’s not that they couldn’t happen outside of worship spaces ... but it’s in chapels and churches and cathedrals and the like that those other four Means of Grace usually take place.
But this one is different ...
Because ... for the most part ... those caring conversations take place out and about in the world.
Could they happen here in our worship space? Certainly! But their usual habitat is out and about in the world.
And the other glaring difference has to do with whose involved.
You see ... when you called me to be your pastor ... and when you called Pastor Pam to be your pastor ... you asked us each to make a series of promises ... including that we would preach, administer Holy Baptism and Holy Communion and administer the Office of the Keys among you.
You identified that it is OUR job ... the pastors’ job ... the clergy’s job ... preach ... preside at the Sacraments ... and administer the Office of the Keys.
You tasked us with primary responsibility for those things and made US in charge of that!
But you didn’t hand over responsibility for this ‘Mutual Conversation and Consolation’ thing over to us like you did all the rest!
You kept that task to yourselves!
And ... in a certain way ... in so doing ... you acknowledged that this is something that you all called to do in daily life!
To have caring conversations ... faith-building conversations ... reconciling and liberating conversations ... empowering conversations ... not here in this space ... but out and about in your spaces and your places ... WHEREVER they might be and wherever YOU might be!
To build one another up in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!
To be a Means of Grace for others ... and to discover in others a means of grace for you!
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For ... as Tom Henry rather prophetically scribed some three decades ago ...
Be a part of His life; be in touch with His living;
Make it all flow.
Your faith is your light, His Spirit is in you,
Come touch the Son! Come touch the Son!