Grace and Peace

Philippians 1:1-2,
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The letter to the Philippians begins, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our [Creator] and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the book of Romans, a few pages to the left of Philippians, Paul writes, coincidently enough, to the church in Rome and begins that letter like this, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel [God] promised beforehand through [God’s] prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding [God’s] Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” Try to start off your next email like that. Paul continues, “Through [Christ] we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you…”

The next letter in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians. There is a whole bunch of scholarly evidence that suggests what we have in the Bible as the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians are actually fragments pieced together from three, four or five different letters, but in what we know as 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “From Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and from Sosthenes (if anyone is looking for a baby name look no further) our brother. To God’s church that is in Corinth: To those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus, who are called to be God’s people. Together with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place— he’s their Lord and ours! Grace to you and peace from God our [Creator] and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

By now I hope you are not surprised to learn that 2 Corinthians begins with Paul writing, “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. To God’s church that is in Corinth, along with all of God’s people throughout Achaia. Grace to you and peace from God our [Creator] and from our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If you didn’t see a trend already, the next letter, Galatians, begins, with Paul writing, “Grace and peace to you”. In Ephesians, Paul writes, “Grace and peace to you”. In Colossians, it’s written, “Grace and peace to you”.

In 1 Thessalonians, want to guess what Paul writes, “Grace and peace to all of you.” In the letters to Timothy, in Titus, in Philemon, it’s written, each time, grace and peace.

These letters begin, and always originate and spring forth from grace and peace.

What if we did that?

What if grace and peace is where we decided to always get started?

Throughout the Roman Empire, people would greet one another and say hello by saying, “chairein” which means greetings and salutations. But Paul begins these letters not with chairein, Paul begins with grace, with charis. It’s a subtle different between chairien and charis but it’s just enough to catch your ear.

There is a depth and hope to charis that “hi’ just doesn’t get to. One scholar writes that charis, that grace is, “joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, or acceptance.” Paul writes joy to you, pleasure to you, acceptance to you. Hello seems a little shallow in comparison, right? Another scholar writes that grace means, “A favor done without expectations of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God…unearned and unmerited favor.”

We have been given a gift without any expectation of return and if that’s not enough, it’s grace, this free gift, this joy, this gratification, this hope, and peace to you. The Greek scholar Spiro Zodiates, and I mean Greek scholar in multiple ways because he was Greek and a scholar that devoted his life to studying the Greek language, Spiro defines grace as, “…the absolutely free expression of the Love of God finding it’s only motive in the bounty and benevolence of God.”

Let that soak in for a moment.

Grace is the absolutely free expression of the Love of God finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of God.”

Paul begins his letters writing may the absolutely free expression of the Love of God finding it’s only motive in the bounty and benevolence of God, and peace, be with you because Paul didn’t mind long introductions and run on sentences any more than I do.

Is there a more beautiful hope than grace?

It’s joy, welcome, inclusion, pleasure, the absolute free expression of the love of God.

Peace, in Greek, is eiréné but Paul, as a first century Jew, knew it also as shalom. This peace is harmony, tranquility, restoration, and renewal, it’s everything as it should be in a right relationship. Some have translated peace, eiréné, as every kind of blessing and every kind of good.

Eiréné is an interesting word in the New Testament because only once is it used in reference to the future. Only one time in the entirety of the New Testament is eiréné, peace, every kind of good, about the future. Every other time peace is mentioned in the New Testament it’s in the present tense, it’s about today, right now, this very moment. When Paul writes about Grace and peace, it’s the fullness of the love of God and every kind of good right now.

Philippians, like many of the letters in the Christian scriptures, is a letter written from prison. From jail, Paul writes grace and peace to you, but it’s more than that because these words were most likely written while Paul was awaiting his execution. As Paul begins his last words, start, in this very moment, with grace and peace.

The scholar Elsa Tamez writes in the ‘Wisdom Commentary’ on Philippians and Paul’s imprisonment writes that, “Prisoners suffered greatly. Besides living in poor conditions, they were physically tortured with beatings and whippings along with mental torte such as insults and threats. To be chained was not rare.” She goes on to write, “There were no individual cells in Roman prisons, so that all the prisoners were together in chains in the same space.”

If that wasn’t enough, Roman prisons didn’t provide meals or clothing or any basic necessity to prisoners.

From prison, while awaiting an unjust death sentence for civil disobedience, Paul, in chains, hungry and filthy, writes to the Philippians, “Grace and peace”.

I don’t know how your week was, but I am in desperate need of grace and peace.

I need to feel grace and peace, I need to be reminded of grace and peace, I need to be interrupted with grace and peace, and when I can’t see grace and peace I need someone to show grace and peace to me.

I need grace and peace as much as I need the air I breathe, and as this past week has shown us, yet again, with more cries of “I can’t breathe” we can’t take this breath for granted.

In Acts 20 there is a moment where Paul, the same Paul that wrote these letters, is traveling throughout the ancient near east but he’s stopped for a bit to spend some time in Ephesus. It’s a city where Paul started a church and devoted a lot of his life to training up the people there so they could be the church without him. There comes this moment in verse 22 where Paul explains to them why he has to leave, he tells them this his mission and calling and purpose in life is bigger than staying in one place and so Paul say to them, “compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me. But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.”

What drives Paul to face prison and troubles and misunderstandings and difficult conversations, like, at one point in the scriptures Paul is tossed off a cliff, because people didn’t like what he had to say. When Paul stands up to dust himself off, the people that threw him over cliff start throwing rocks at him. Paul knew struggle and Paul knew difficulty, because Paul was compelled to live with and witness to grace and peace. Paul knows that wherever he goes he is not always going to win fiends and influence people because when Jesus said pray for you enemies, Jesus didn’t say that we won’t or shouldn’t have enemies. God knows that this message of grace and peace challenges and confronts the status quo and yet Paul is so inspired and compelled and driven and passionate that the purpose of Paul’s life is to testify to the good news of God’s grace and peace wherever he goes.

Paul says we are here to confirm and witness to and share and make tangible the the absolutely free expression of the Love of God and every kind of good in all that we do because what else is there for us to do as followers of Christ?

Sometimes we share and witness to grace and peace by pointing it out to one another. Every now and then it feels like we’re walking around in the dark at night, stubbing our toes wherever we turn and we just need someone to help us turn on the lights. There are moments when, even though this grace and peace is already ours, we refuse to accept it about ourselves, and we need someone to be grace and peace for us, they have to point out to us the unearned and unmerited favor that God has for everyone and everything.

In the Gospel of Luke there is a moment when Jesus is on the cross in chapter 23. His friends have deserted him, he’s been betrayed and now he is slowly suffocating on the cross. While Jesus is watching his executioners torture him, as the soldiers are dividing up his clothing for souvenirs, Jesus prays, God, “forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Did anyone else spend some time in the comments section online this week? Is there any place in the universe that is more kind, compassionate and understanding than a comments section of the news while they live-stream peaceful protests? I doubt I am the only one that had moments of grace and peace, as well as moments of anything but. In one comment section a person sarcastically wrote, “Why are they still protesting this?” and I wrote back, “they’re all asking themselves the same thing”. I hate to say it but I can imagine Jesus’ crucifixion streaming online in the first century and someone typing, “I know it looks bad but he must have done something to deserve it.”

We are in this moment where we find ourselves inescapable from the promise that Black Lives Matter and yet the reality that Black lives have not always been granted grace and peace is too much to bear for some.

Sometimes it is my role to have all the answers, but when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement and what it looks like for our siblings to live with grace and peace, it’s not my role to have the answers and show up as the white savior that is here to save them, because we already have a savior and Jesus wasn’t white; I’ve never met a Jew from Palestine that was.

So since I don’t have all the answers, I’ll just ask a question. What would it look like if we were so marinated and overflowing with grace and peace that we could forgive one another as quickly as Jesus forgave the soldiers that were murdering him?

A mystic once said, “to understand everything is to forgive everything”.

I do not understand all things and I’m not ready to forgive all things. A church friend from another community reached out to me this week and said racism is a subtle problem.

I did not respond to their words with grace and peace as much as I did with shock and awe.

I try to tell myself, and maybe you need to tell yourself too, that Jesus, the divine embodiment of grace and peace, kept people accountable, opened their eyes to the hypocrisy they tried to ignore, Jesus even turned over the tables and chased everyone out of the temple to prove a point.

Grace and peace, even forgiveness, it doesn’t mean everything goes and we’re in a free-for-all. We’re going to share communion in a moment and when we do we have to remember that every person is welcome but every behavior is not. When we’re gathered around the table we should ask, is there anyone who’s life and dignity is on the table for conversation, but they don’t have a seat at the table? Are our conversations about people or with people?

When we keep each other honest, when we point out the slights and sins that keep our siblings from being able to live with grace and peace we are inviting them to join is in this continued journey to be a people together, of grace and peace. And maybe, just maybe we can attempt to understand the fear, the anger, even the ignorance, of those that don’t know what they are doing.

There might be someone that you’re not ready to say grace and peace to in person, but what if you could picture them in your mind right now and whisper to yourself, grace and peace? What if you could wish and hope and want for them the absolutely free expression of the Love of God and every kind of good, the tranquility and justice that is true peace?

What if, in our moments of conflict, division, anger, as we feel our blood begin to boil, we could take a step back and ask ourselves, what would grace and peace look like for them? What would grace and peace look like for me? And are either of us going to get there if we keep going the same direction we are right now?

Maybe there is a relationship you are in and you need to have a contest to see which one of you will say grace and peace first, and mean it.

Imagine if we interrupted one another’s lives with grace and peace.

Have you every gone on a self-flagellating rant? It is one thing for other people to notice a mistake, that stings a little, but there is an exquisite pain that comes from the loops that we can trap ourselves in as we beat ourselves down. We can tell ourselves, everything is falling apart and it’s all my fault. Or if it’s not that we say we’ll never be good enough, we’ll never rise to the occasion, we never get things right, we are always just in the way and when those thoughts start they can just play on repeat in our heads.

In Romans 8 it’s written, “…there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

What would it look like if we could interrupt one another’s lives and say you are not a burden and I don’t condemn you?

To the pains and the losses and the hurts that that’s we carry, can we, with one another interrupt this broadcast with grace and peace?

Every letter that Paul writes begins with grace and peace, so what would it look like for us as a people together to begin every interaction with grace and peace? Could all of our impulses start with the goodness and the please and the joy and the tranquility that is grace and peace? Instead of wanting to tear anyone down, could we start by asking what does it mean for me to be a person of grace and peace for them?

In Galatians 5, Paul writes about the fruits of the Spirit. Paul writes about the attitudes and habits that should be shaping our lives when we are living with grace and peace. There it’s written that when we are a people of grace and peace, when we are immersed with grace and peace, we will be living a life shaped by, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and by the way, gentleness here doesn’t mean doormat. It’s not a gentleness that means other people can do whatever they want and I won’t stand up for what’s right because that isn’t gentle. Here’ gentleness means strength under control. To be gentle is to be fully aware of your strength and power and privilege and to use it well] and self-control.”

When grace and peace are in our lives, when we speak with grace and peace, when we see what is going on in the world and interrupt with grace and peace, we are living as a people with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

As we live in the Spirit, as we continue to devote ourselves to this life of grace and peace we can ask ourselves, is this loving, is this joy, does this bring about peace, am I patient, does that look kind, does goodness really look like that, where is my faithfulness found, what power and privilege do I have and does it point towards grace and peace, and if not, how can I better find self-control in this moment.

It has been clear this week that our nation and community has not been aligned with the Spirit. Protests in every state and around the world have united millions of voices that are crying out we can do better and we have to do better. Our friends, our family members, our neighbors, are longing for grace and peace.

Even this week, I believe that every day we have been able to celebrate a small step forward, just like I know every day this week we’ve recognized how many steps we still have to go. Systems of oppression, domination, privilege and power do not get dismantled overnight, but we can still loosen the screws in the machinery of racism.

Grace and peace means, not just for us, but for everyone, the absolutely free expression of the Love of God as we live with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Grace and peace has a way of revealing everything that isn’t grace and peace. It has this way of showing us where we have missed the mark, where we haven’t become who God already knows that we are, which is why grace and peace keeps nudging us towards living into the love that is already ours.

In Acts 14, there is this brief passage that gives us a window into one of the rituals and practices of the early church. It’s written in Acts 14:26, “From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God…” That word, committed, could be translated, handed over to, pledged, or abandoned because what sound better than being abandoned to nothing but grace?

To commit one another to grace and peace, the early church would gather together and they would place someone in their midst and they would recognize in and with one another all of the ways that they would be handed over, pledged and abandoned to nothing but grace and peace. They would tell one another, you are completely handed over to God’s grace, we have committed you to grace and peace, and we will keep this commitment with you too. They would encourage one another, pray for one another, share words of affirmation and support for one another. This commitment ceremony would end with the very mystical and holy sense they these people had handed over their lives and well beings to grace and peace.

For you, what needs to be handed over, committed, to grace and peace? Is there something that you need to release and is there something else that you need to commit yourself to?

Grace and peace should be on the tip of our tongue, it’s should be on the front of our minds, and in the depths of our hearts, and because of that we should long to see this grace and peace take root in one another’s souls.

For the rest of this year, could we say that we will seek to be a people, that we will hand ourselves over and be committed to grace and peace? If we can’t make that commitment we’ve got to change the name of this church.

Let’s speak grace and peace.

Let’s interrupt one another’s lives with grace and peace.

Let’s put flesh on grace and peace, remembering, as Dr. Cornel West says, that justice is what love looks like in public.

If we are going to be a people of grace and peace, we have to find it unacceptable that anyone in our midst could fearful, anxious, addicted, impoverished, depressed, lonely, or suffering alone. That isolation, that pain, that hurt, is not grace and peace, so we have to commit ourselves to one another, to this community, and to being grace and peace.

I know is that I do not have the answers and I cannot do everything. There are questions that I don’t have the answers. There are ways to cope and heal and move forward that I haven’t experienced and grown from. And yet, there is, with all of us together, a collective of grace and peace that is bigger than any of us on our own. Some of you have skills and expertise with finances or mental health or physical health or crafts or things that you think everyone should know like how to tighten a screw but I still have to tell myself every time righty tighty, lefty loosey.

We are a community of grace and peace, so let’s live like it. Let’s offer our gifts and be open to accepting the gifts that we need.

One of the gifts of this moment is that even though we are in a pandemic and surrounded by necessary protests demanding grace and peace for our siblings because black lives matter, we are still connected, nothing can separate us and we are here together. More than that, somehow, typing something online can be a lot easier than saying something face to face.

A lot of us are helpers, we’re problem solvers, we’re doers, that’s why we’re church people because religiosity has a way of spurring us towards a cause, but every now and then it can keep us for away from one another.

This morning if you are watching live from our Facebook page, we’re going to keep the feed going for a bit longer than usual so you can share grace and peace with one another. I don’t know what our collective skills, talents, gifts and abilities can solve today, but I know that we can commit ourselves and one another to giving and receiving grace and peace. We can’t do everything in the comments section, but it’s a place where we can still share grace and peace. If you’re not watching on facebook and can’t be a part of the comments there, send me an email. Reach out to me at natenims@gracedesmoines.org and if I can’t help, with your permission I’ll reach out to others, or if you have skills and abilities and dreams to share, I’ll reach out to others with that too.

Grace and peace to you.

The absolutely free expression of the Love of God finding it’s only motive in the bounty and benevolence of God and every kind of good be with you.

May we speak grace and peace.

May we interrupt one another with grace and peace.

May we embody grace and peace.

May we accept grace and peace.

Because grace and peace is all around us and we are made to live with, to share, to experience and to be, grace and peace. Amen.

Philippians 1:1-2

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Bishops and Deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our [Creator] and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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June 8 – 13

Click on the day to expand the guide.

Monday

Read – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

Notice – “Grace and peace to you. The conventional greeting was chairein [greetings, hail, hello], which early Christians changed to charis, ‘grace’. The Jewish greeting (sometimes added o chairein was ‘peace’. Letters frequently included prayers or blessings for their recipients; Jewish people used ‘peace’ as a blessing, meaning that they implicitly asked God to give the recipient well-being.”* Reflect on a moment when someone shared grace and peace with you. What made that moment significant? How did it help you to change your perspective? How can you find a way to share grace and peace with yourself and with others today?

Pray – God, your grace and peace are so needed among us. May we accept the love you have given us and everyone else and use it to transform our hearts and lives to your mercy, justice, and peace. Amen.

*NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, note on 1 Corinthians 1:3, page 1982.

Tuesday

ReadProverbs 18:24, Proverbs 27:9

Notice – While we have been social distancing, many of us have taken the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends over the phone and online. As it’s written in Proverbs 18:24, some of our friendships are closer than family. Proverbs 27:9 reminds us that just as perfume can draw us closer to a scent, advice from a good friend can draw us closer to one another. Is there a relationship in your life right now that needs more grace and peace? If so, what keeps you from speaking grace and peace in that relationship? If you need boundaries, you should maintain them, but even in those circumstances, what could grace and peace look like for you and for them?

Pray – God, thank you for the friends that have become family. So many of my friends have shared grace and peace with me exactly when I needed it. May I extend that grace and peace back to them. Amen.

Wednesday

Read Genesis 2:25-3:10

Notice – In this passage, Adam and Eve showed fig leaves to hide and when we’ve done something wrong, we all try to hide our shame in different ways. When you feel shame, how do you try to hide it? Why do you think we experience shame in moments when, instead of being guilty, our goodness and giftedness are exposed? For example, have you ever felt guilty accepting a compliment? Even as Adam and Eve try to hide, God seeks them out. What does this tell you about how God sees us?

Pray – God, even when I feel ashamed and alone, you are seeking me with grace and peace. With your love, may I find the strength to embrace who you created me to be. Amen.

Thursday

Read Zechariah 3:1-5, Romans 8:1-2

Notice – It is easy for us to forge that God clothes our shame with grace and peace. When we feel dirty or ashamed like Joshua, we can trust that God has taken away our sin and is trusting in us to extend the grace we’ve experienced to one another. What voices or experiences trigger feelings of shame in your life? If a friend was feeling ashamed, what would you say to encourage them? The next time you feel shame, can you picture God encouraging you just as you would encourage a friend?  

A note about ‘Satan’. “In Hebrew, the use of the definite article (‘the’) before satan…indicates that that the author intends a noun describing a function (‘adversary’) rather than a personal name…When Joshua stands in the presence of God, the adversary opposes Joshua because he is covered with the stains of his and his people’s guilt. God’s policy of forgiveness is therefor questioned.”*

Pray – Jesus, you continually reached out to those in your world that others considered dirty and untouchable. It was to those that had been looked down on and cast aside that you began to share your message of grace and peace. When I feel dirty and untouchable, may I remember that you are reaching out to me with love. Amen.

*NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, note on Zechariah 3:1, page 1558

Friday

Read – Matthew 25:31-45

Notice – In this parable, Jesus reminds us that our faithfulness to the grace and peace of God cannot be reduced to thoughts and prayers. After reading this text, how are you challenged to clothe others with grace and peace?

Pray – God, help me to see your image in everyone I met. Inspire my heart and hands to reach out with your grace and peace. Amen.

Saturday

ReadPhilippians 1:1-2

Notice – Paul writes that this letter is, “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi”. In doing so, Paul is calling all the people at the church in Philippi holy. Churches today are not all that different than churches 2000 years ago. Throughout the letters of the New Testament, it’s clear that churches were filled disagreements, struggles, and misunderstandings, or we could say, throughout the letters of the New Testament, it’s clear that the churches were filled with people. At Grace it is our goal to be a people worthy of our name. A lot of the time we get that right, but sometimes we don’t. And yet, in this letter, Paul calls everyone in the church ‘holy people’. How can you remember that you are holy, and that your siblings at Grace are too? What would it look like if when we misunderstand one another, as we struggle and disagree, our first impulse was to see one another as holy?

Pray – God, you call us holy and sometimes I don’t understand why because I don’t feel holy. Yet your love remains. You continually call us to live with and share your grace and peace. Continually remind me of our holy calling so that we can live as your holy people. Amen.

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