The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. 2 John 1-3
I was not brought up in the Lutheran Church. People who are life-long Lutherans will nod their heads at this comment. So, too, will the occasional die-hard Baptist: “I thought there was a hint of Baptist in you,” they will say. I have my suspicions about the reason for such observations – for the better or not. One has to do with the godly piety of beginning my sermons without saying, “Grace and peace to you, from God the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Perhaps too quickly, and very early on, I determined to jettison those sermon starters because they were for me akin to cranking up a car engine: rrrrrrrrrrrrrr…. until it catches and begins running. I figured when it’s time to begin a sermon I should just begin. I try to do so in a manner that involves the hearer and seeks to kindle some interest in them toward what I am about to say.
I don’t imagine I’ll be taking up the practice anytime soon, but I do wonder sometimes whether I rejected it too quickly and summarily. The words are rich in meaning and found in a number of places in the New Testament. They echo Jesus words of greeting to his frightened disciples who were meeting behind closed doors on that first Easter. They express a preemptive good will and message of kindness to the hearers. They are good words.
These words, however, are more than sermon starters. They are more, in fact, than letter openers – which they serve as here. They are expressions of foundational realities of our faith and God’s good will toward his people. The attitude and inclination of God as expressed through John is one of love, grace, and mercy and peace.
Love is a self-sacrificing kindness, appreciation for, and good will toward someone. Love cannot remain unexpressed, and in the case of God’s love, it is most fully expressed in his Son, Jesus Christ. Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, shown in God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. This is God’s attitude toward us: unmerited favor, kindness and compassion, and ultimate good will toward us who cannot recommend ourselves before God, but who have been loved, saved, and granted peace.
John starts this letter with these wishes because these are the foundations of our relationship with God, and one another. If God had no mercy on us; if he had not loved us; if he had not done so not because of us, but because of his kindness and goodness of character, we would have no hope.
This will color what John urges these children to do as they live under these blessings of God. It is my intent, each day, to let that color the way I relate to others as well.