The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship – koinonia – communion – of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV11)

So, what is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?

It may sound like grace is a thing that Jesus gives you. Very many years ago, my youth group gave out warm fuzzies … cotton balls. There was some sort of story to go with it, which I don’t remember. A warm fuzzy I think that was a gift that was supposed to make you feel good. Maybe grace is an invisible spiritual warm fuzzy, a great big ball of spiritual energy that Jesus gives people to improve their lives in some way.

I don’t think the grace of Jesus is like a warm fuzzy. I don’t think it is a thing at all.

Or maybe, the grace of Jesus just means he answers your prayers. Or maybe it means that Jesus just does good things for you and makes your life better, even apart from my asking. That’s true, but I don’t think that’s what Paul means either.

Or maybe grace just means mercy and forgiveness. We Protestants, after all, know that Paul says that we have been saved by grace. God could have been harsh with us. He should have been harsh with us. But instead, he was kind to us. We err, however, when we understand grace to means nothing more than “God lets us off the hook.” In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns us about what he calls “cheap grace” – generic grace – grace as an abstract principle.

Notice that Paul does NOT pray for God’s grace in general. There is nothing generic about Paul’s prayer. Rather, he prays specifically for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Earlier in the letter, Paul uses the exact same phrase and says what that means for him.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV11)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is something he did “for your sake”. And that something, for Paul, was everything that Jesus did in his life, death, and resurrection.

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Why the Trinity Matters

I once belonged to a church whose founding documents claimed, “The purpose of this church is to worship God.” For Christians, to worship God is to worship the Trinity because there is no other God. God is always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And to say that God is always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to say that God is always the God of the Holy Scriptures.

Our forebears in the faith didn’t come up with trinitarian language by sitting around and thinking deep thoughts. They formulized the great creeds of the faith by reading the Bible and doing their best to account for the whole picture of God they saw revealed there. There is no theory of the Trinity in the New Testament, and the word “Trinity” never appears there. But the Holy Trinity is all through the New Testament, and once those early Christians read the New Testament, they started seeing the Trinity in the Old Testament as well.

For Trinity Sunday in 2023, the lectionary gives us two passages that are explicitly trinitarian but express that is different words. In Matthew 28, Jesus calls us to baptize people into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he blesses the people with the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And just in these two passages, we are deep into the mystery of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Matthew. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in Paul. Do you want to do a PhD in theology? There’s your dissertation topic right there.

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A Resolution on Holy Communion that North Georgia Delegates Will Not See

In January 2023, I properly submitted the following resolution to the 2023 North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. On May 4th, with no prior dialogue, the Resolutions Committee informed me that the resolution will not be presented to the conference for a vote. The resolution, I am told, is not necessary and only the Discipleship work area of Connectional Ministries can speak on this matter. The rules for submitting 2023 resolutions are in section 700, page 171 of the 2022 Conference Handbook. I present it, then, for public consideration.

WHEREAS Jesus instituted, and in his holy gospel commanded us to continue, the sacrament of his body and blood as a perpetual memory of his precious death until his coming again [1], and

WHEREAS the Apostle Paul declares that the cup of blessing that we bless is a sharing in the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ [2], and

WHEREAS Jesus said that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you, and that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal life, and he will raise them up on the last day; for his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, and that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in him, and he in them [3], and

WHEREAS the United Methodist Church confesses that the Lord’s Supper “is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death; insomuch that, to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise, the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ” [4], and

WHEREAS “the practice of the Christian church from its earliest years was weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day,” [5] and

WHEREAS John Wesley called Christians to receive the Lord’s Supper as frequently as possible, writing: “If we consider the Lord’s Supper as a command of Christ, no man can have any pretense to Christian piety, who does not receive it (not once a month, but) as often as he can. … Let everyone, therefore obey God, by communicating every time he can; like the first Christians, with whom the Christian sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord’s Day service. … As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. … We must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us,” [6] and

WHEREAS John and Charles Wesley published a volume of 166 Hymns on the Lord’s Supper in 1745, which the Duke Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition describes as “likely the largest single collection in Christian history of hymns devoted specifically to this focus,” [7] and

WHEREAS John Wesley directed superintendents to inquire whether the preachers were neglecting the means of grace through failure to take communion at every opportunity, and to press others to do the same [8], and

WHEREAS John Wesley prepared an abridged version of the Book of Common Prayer to send with Dr. Coke in 1784 to be the liturgy of the Methodists in North America and called on elders to administer the Supper of the Lord on every Lord’s Day [9], and

WHEREAS the weekly celebration of Holy Communion lamentably fell out of favor among American Methodists through a combination of unavoidable circumstances (scarcity of ordained clergy [10], long distances, slow travel) and human misjudgments, and

WHEREAS the 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church encouraged congregations “to move toward a richer sacramental life, including weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the services on the Lord’s Day,” [11] and

WHEREAS the Book of Discipline assigns to pastors the duty of administering the sacrament of the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance and encouraging regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness [12], and

WHEREAS “an ordained elder or a person authorized under the provisions of the Book of Discipline presides at all celebrations of Holy Communion,” [13] preventing the laity from receiving the mercies Christ bestows at the table apart from the sacramental ministry of the clergy,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church grieves for the faithful who are harmed by withholding Christ’s precious gift of Holy Communion, affirms both Word and Table as essential elements of weekly Christian worship, calls on clergy to lead their charges in sacramental renewal, and encourages congregations to take steps toward weekly celebration of the sacrament through leader advocacy, congregational education, experiential learning, and prayerful discernment.

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The Holy Trinity and Metaphor

All human descriptions of God are subject to the limitations of human speech and experience, but not all God-language falls into the same categories of analogy and metaphor.

How can finite human beings ever begin to grasp the infinite reality of God? How can creatures of time and space ever begin to comprehend the divine realities that transcend both? 

Christians believe that we can truly know the one true God because he has revealed himself in the history of Israel that culminates in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the only begotten Son of God incarnate, who now sits at the right hand of God the Father, who with the Father pours out the Holy Spirit on his church, and who will come again in glory to restore and renew God’s creation. 

We truly know God through what he has done and said. However, as finite beings in a finite cosmic home – and that is what we will always be, even after Jesus comes again – we can never comprehensively know God in himself. There is more to God than human minds can fathom or human speech can capture. 

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