I lived south of the Mason-Dixon just long enough to be introduced to the word “Hey” as a greeting – not long enough, however, to become accustomed to it. Here in New England, “Hey!” is the word we use to get someone’s attention, as in, “Hey! You can’t pahk heah!” A simple southern greeting would stop me in my tracks on campus, as I waited for the rest of the sentence.
These days, I’m stopping in my tracks when I read the greetings in Paul’s New Testament letters. There were no “throw away” words in his writing – they all carried weight, and he was very aware that his written words were carrying the weight of grace to his readers:
- grace that would enable them to be peacemakers in times of intense persecution;
- grace to boldly refute false teaching;
- grace to forgive so that relationships could be restored.
Maybe that’s why every single one of Paul’s thirteen epistles opens with the words “grace to you” and ends with the phrase “grace with you,” as if his readers could carry the truth of God’s great love and forgiveness with them when they finished reading his letter.
Is it possible for mere words to be so consequential?
In my world of hurry, I have mastered the quick hello, the cheery smile — and the averted eyes. It’s “Destination, Ho!” even on a Sunday morning when, supposedly, I have gathered together to do my part in strengthening and encouraging the body.
With hair aflame, can I really take the risk of asking, “How are you?”
What if they actually want to tell me how they are?
Without literally using the words, what would “grace to you” sound like in the paper towel aisle at Wal-Mart? In the hallways of a Sunday-morning church? I am pondering the notion that my greetings, though not inspired as Paul’s were, can truly mediate grace to my sisters in Christ.
Jesus is never recorded as having actually used the word grace. He just taught it and lived it, so whether I find in my heart sufficient grace to pour out to others depends on whether I am faithfully taking the unconditional grace He offers to me. When my mind is occupied with odious comparisons, grace-filled words of greeting will stick in my throat. “I’m so happy to see you! Tell me how you’re doing!” will never find its way to the open air if I’m suffocating it behind judgment, impatience, or discomfort in my own skin.
Like Paul, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Trusting that this is true, and that God is at work in me, I find grace to hold a sister’s gaze and to hear her heart, to scribble down an important date or a prayer request, to pray on the spot for an expressed need.
I’ve been asking God to open my heart during the brief moments I spend chatting with my friends. They’re busy too, and maybe they’re even wishing I’d move along and let them get to their Sunday school class or finish their shopping . . . but maybe they’re hoping for someone to stop for a minute to see their pain and to hear their story.
Living in a nation where Rome’s brutal customs mingled with Israel’s preoccupation with measurable and highly visible righteousness, Jesus chose to address the seemingly trivial topic of greetings in His Sermon on the Mount. It seems that He wants me to offer greetings of grace to people I’d rather not even see!
“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Mt.5:47 ESV)
Greetings of grace make for peace, so there’s no ducking behind the Cover Girl display at Target or pretending to ponder the missionary bulletin board in the back of the church when I run into THAT person. If I open my heart to give a grace-filled greeting, I demonstrate that I am a daughter of a grace-filled God who daily pours out grace into the life of this impatient wife, sharp-tongued mother, fretful blogger, fitful worshiper, and inconsistent pray-er. As God’s grace is set free to transform me, I am praying to become an instrument of transforming grace in the lives of others.
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