Monday, December 31, 2007

Grace to You, and Peace

A few months ago, I was reading the epistles (letters) of the New Testament, and came across this phrase (or a variant of) repeatedly: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philemon 1:3). A simple search on "grace" and "peace" in the New Testament will turn up several such instances.

Now, of course, grace (unmerited favor) and peace are offered by Christ to those who trust in Him. He lived an obedient life before God and died on our behalf to make forgiveness and it's benefits possible. 'Nothing new there. But what struck me about this phrase, for the first time, was that it was a custom of the early Christians to offer grace and peace to one another.

This realization came to me at a time in which I had been reflecting on my past, and not finding much to be proud of; indeed, what I saw was a rather sad pattern of repeated faults and failures, improper motivations, gross inadequacies, and so on across the span of events in my life. In short, I have screwed up a lot. I have fallen short of what might of been, what should have been. And I'm in need of forgiveness from God, but also from others.

I take it that my experience is not unique. We all screw up; we make mistakes; we act either incompetently or immorally at times. Unless we are going to live as hermits, isolating ourselves from one another because of the ways we fall short in our relationships and obligations, we are in need of forgiveness--we need grace. If we wish to remain in community with other people, we need to actively offer grace and peace, like the early church did, to one another. We must be ready to put conflict and grievances behind us, ready to forgive, reconcile, and move ahead, united again.

Like many things, this is not something the church has always done well. Many times it has failed miserably. But I hope to make a new start of it, and to offer grace and peace to those around me, and to you who read my thoughts here.

I think this teaching of the New Testament epistles may be particularly needed now, as political races have heated up, and elections are looming. There will be mistakes and there will be wrongs committed in the craziness of weighing the candidates, their positions, and their records. We need to exercise charity now, in the way we approach this process, but also afterwards. Grace and peace will be needed. To my Christian brothers and sisters--whatever party you are in, Republican, Democrat, or independent--be willing to extend grace and peace to those who lined up differently than you.

Grace and peace, in Christ.