Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:2-10
My last day as (Senior) Pastor at St. John Lutheran Church is this coming Sunday, January 31, 2021. I will be sharing a message about God’s grace, based on the passages I’ll be sharing in my blog posts this week.
Those who have heard me preach and who have been in Lutheran churches with any regularity will possibly recognize that I do not begin my messages with the familiar, “Grace to you and peace…” or “May the words of my mouth…” or, “In the name of the Father and of…” I have nothing against these pastoral greetings. Nor do I wish to neglect to offer grace and peace. I deeply desire that my words are pleasing to God. And I believe that I do speak in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I’m not certain I can even articulate why I eschew those greetings. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a life-long Lutheran. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel the need to “start my engine” before beginning my sermon. In any case, however, the practice though edifying for many, is neither commanded nor forbidden by the word of God. I claim no fame by not using the greeting. No one may legitimately say that I am deficient because my practice.
But let me be clear: life and ministry is all about grace. And that brings incredible peace. As I reflect on my nearly 42 years of ministry as a Pastor in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, I am deeply convinced of the vital role of God’s grace in my ministry. From first to last. From message to ministry. From success to failure. From joy to disappointment: God’s grace has sustained, covered, enabled, and guided all that I do.
Some have offered a carefully-worded suggestion that there needs to be stronger law preaching in our churches.” I’ve seen what the Law can do. I’ve blistered some folks in my life, and it can have short-term success. But I’ve also seen what the grace of God can do. God changes hearts and lives through grace. There are times, to be sure, when we need to be silenced before God. But grace wins hearts. Grace saves. Grace is the premier attribute of God.
In the late summer of 1977, my vicarage supervisor preached a sermon based on John 6:37, where Jesus promises that “whoever comes to me I will never turn away.” A young woman came out of the service and said to that Pastor, “Thank you so much for that message. I really needed to hear that.” It was pure grace. Her heart was changed. And I realized that’s what I wanted to do. To the extent that I have done so, I credit God’s grace at work in, through, and on me and those whoever I’ve touched.
That awareness of God’s grace brings me great peace!