Undoubtedly if you have ever been a part of a Stuck in the Middle gathering, or any of our previous youth positions in other churches, you have heard the three words that make up this post. In fact, I recently had the joy of getting to hang with some former students and I asked them, “What three word phrase would you always hear whenever we got together?” And almost in unison they replied, “Grace and Peace”. You see, in every youth gathering/service we had together we would have a time of passing the peace. But instead of uttering the liturgical phrase “The Peace of Christ to You” we pound fists with our neighbor as we utter “Grace and Peace”. And I couldn’t be more excited to have any other words associated with our ministry. But for me the real joy is when the students begin to understand why those words are integral. The significance of this phrase isn’t even probably found where you think it might be.
For better or worse our theology and practices in the modern church in America are probably shaped more by the writings of Paul than by any other writings in scripture. In fact, sometimes I see the main difference between the Modern church vs the Postmodern church is that the former is more Pauline in it’s theological sway while the latter tends to be more Christological. And a lot of this shaping through Pauline doctrine has been amazing. We understand church discipline, organization and morality better through his eyes. We are able to wrestle with justification, atonement and sanctification because of the texts given to us from his letters. However sometimes Paul has been used to oppress and deride members of society; even inside the walls of the church. His writing to Philemon regarding the fair treatment of a slave may have been a crutch for slavery and fodder against the abolitionist movement. His writings in Timothy have led to the oppression and subjugation of women both inside and outside the church walls. And I think the problem isn’t necessarily just a cultural interpretive issue…I think the problem is that we don’t read Paul sequentially.
In every one of Paul’s letters, before he gets into any issues with the local churches or leaders, before he even begins to weigh any theological discussion, we find some variation of the following phrase, “Grace and Peace”*. It was so important for Paul to lay the proper foundation with these churches that it is mentioned in every epistle he wrote! Now think about this with me…before Paul uttered one word of correction, before he gave one jot or tittle of instruction he ushered in Grace and Peace into the lives of his listeners.
What a concept! What would the reputation of the Church in the world look like today if we simply followed that model? What would we look like if before we entered into political arenas or workplace discussions we simply offered Grace freely (for truly that is really the only display of Grace) to those with whom we are about to engage? How effective would we be if in every situation we encounter we were actively seeking to build/make peace (not keep it, there is a significant difference) in creative and non-violent methods? Maybe then we might be getting persecuted and ridiculed for the right reasons instead of accusations of being judgmental and hypocritical. Maybe then people might scoff at us because we are trying to make a difference by offering Grace and Peace in a world that really understands neither…or maybe we will find ourselves on a cross. But isn’t that where this all begins anyway?
* Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1Thessalonians 1:1, 2Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon1:3