Grace

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

Skimming through next Sunday’s readings in order to prepare this meditation I did not choose:
Philippians 3:4b-14

Maybe I would find a good topic in an Augustine quote? Surfing the internet I read the following:

“Now there was, no doubt, a decided merit in the Apostle Paul, but it was an evil one, while he persecuted the Church, and he says of it: “I am not meet [meant?] to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” (1 Cor 15:9) And it was while he had this evil merit that a good one was rendered to him instead of the evil; and, therefore, he went on at once to say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Cor 15:10) Then, in order to exhibit also his free will, he added in the next clause, “And His grace within me was not in vain, but I have laboured more abundantly than they all.” …

“Nevertheless, lest the will itself should be deemed capable of doing any good thing without the grace of God, after saying [this] he immediately added the qualifying clause, “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

― Augustine of Hippo, On Grace and Free Will

Of course, these two texts speak about different contrasting pairs, Philippians about law vs. faith (in God’s grace) whereas Augustine using Corinthians thinks about grace vs. free will. The latter one, being one of the most difficult theological questions, I am wisely going to be silent about. Let’s focus on grace.

It’s one of these difficultly graspable words that describe what we experience when dealing with God or people who are touched by him. I think it’s so deeply mingled with his love that you can almost use them synonymously. Paul was touched by it and he – fundamentally transformed – spent the rest of his life struggling for words to describe it and spreading the message as widely as he could. Reading our community’s mission statement, you see that we joined Paul in his struggle. Being touched by grace might be the most “not-of-this-world” experience that is possible. I once learned in Sociology that our whole life (if you take out biological “helpers” like hormones and cuteness or puppy protection behavioural patterns) is determined by the law of the market and by the primacy of competition. In the view of sociologists, even our spouses have to (and do) match our own market value.

And then you have this encounter where you are seen, not looked at and measured. There is someone who sees the person you are created and meant to be. You no longer feel the need to play your part, you are even able to honestly look at yourself without excuses and meaningless guilt. Now you can change your gaze, too. Listening to Bishop Trevor on Sunday, I learned that you can describe being humble as looking in God’s direction and not to your reflection in the mirror, focusing your gaze on Christ. So, if being humble talks about the direction in which we look, maybe we can describe a graceful gaze as the way you see people. And this implicates a whole new world enfolding around you. What bears value if you look at it as a follower of Christ Jesus? How do you treat yourself and others if you are freed to break out of our patterns of obedience towards the law of the market? What would this mean for the life in our community – here, now, today?

I would like to finish my thoughts again with Paul’s words:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with you all.
(2 Cor 13:14)

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