John Wesley believed that works of mercy are means of grace – that we grow closer to God as we reach out in love to other people. I appreciate how encompassing his understanding of God and of human beings was. Some of us are introverts who are more comfortable with the more solitary acts of piety. Some of us are extroverts who love to be around other people and who get our energy from in-person interactions. Wesley saw the importance of naming means of grace for both types but also of encouraging us all to step outside of our comfort zones and meet God in those places where we might not want to go.
As we’ve moved through this series, we’ve focused on prayer, especially contemplative prayer, that helps us to become better attuned to hearing the Spirit speak to us. Well, the Spirit is talking! And she’s telling us to get moving. (Yes, I use feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit. Deal with it.)
Matthew 25:31-46 gives us a list (by no means complete) of works of mercy. Jesus declared that when we do these acts for someone else, we are truly doing them for him. Jesus becomes the stranger, the vulnerable, the marginalized of our present world, and so it is that when we encounter such persons we are encountering God.
I know that I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but let’s face it – for those of us who aren’t comfortable with such interactions, we can find a whole host of seemingly “good” reasons to avoid them. I know this is true for me as I am one of those who prefers sitting in front of my pretty candle with only a Bible and journal for company. But, oh, how much of God we miss when we don’t look for God in our fellow humanity!
Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned – and so many more ways we can be blessed by reaching out in love to others. Jesus’ purpose in his teaching wasn’t to simply tell us what to do. He was teaching us why we are to do it. That will be the topic of the next article. For now, it is enough for us to ponder on the importance of putting feet to our prayer.
One thing we can learn from Pharaoh in the Exodus story is that if we keep turning a deaf ear to God, God will start shouting. And if we still don’t listen, God will find ways to work in spite of us – ways that will leave us mired in mud that keeps us from moving forward into God’s kin-dom.
So introverts, keep on praying – but then do what you hear the Spirit telling you to do. And extroverts, take a break from all that work and make sure through prayer that you are actually doing what the Spirit wants you to do. It’s the Wesleyan thing to do.
Rev. Joyce Day