As we look at some of the ideas that have energized St. John St. James church (and the two churches that merged to form SJSJ) over the years, one idea that stands out is the idea of appreciating the "grace that is present in everyday life." While we've been looking at church history, the concept of the grace of everyday life is important in the writing of Rev. John Harmon, rector of St. John’s in the 1950s; in Allan Crite's artwork; in the work of the people who created the St. John St. James merger; and in the work with children and families that Fr. Hastie and others led from St. James in the 1960s and from St. John St. James in the 1980s and 1990s. "Grace" is the idea that goodness flows from God.
When God's grace is present, goodness isn't something that has to be forced or struggled with. Through the idea of grace, our best lives are not motivated by a reward-and-punishment philosophy or a following-a-rule-book philosophy, but by a softer, easier, grace that flows from God. The concept of "grace" is at the foundation of Christian belief and practice. We are not a religion based on a lot of laws and rules, but, instead, a faith where goodness can flow naturally from our experience of God.
Christianity is unique that our experience of God is through three expressions of God: God the creator whose imagination and creativity set all things in motion; God the savior who takes on our burdens; God the spirit who dwells in and around us, with all three aspects of the Trinity as expressions of the idea of "grace."
The year 2020 has presented extreme challenges to our city, country and world. A pandemic. Businesses closing and jobs lost. Schools and offices and churches closed down. Police violence and tragic deaths. Confronting racism. Challenges to voting rights. These are all hard experiences. Why would the concept of "grace" be relevant to the church amidst these hard issues? This month's study group looks at several readings about grace, from the Bible, plus one from Chinese philosophy. The reading from Chinese philosophy provides us a fresh voice to help to illuminate the familiar messages from the Bible. Read these passages; think about the following; and share thoughts:
"This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world - just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God's grace.
From the Tao te Ching
"The highest good is not to seek to do good,
But to allow yourself to become it.
The ordinary person seeks to do good things,
and finds that they can not do them continually.
...The kind person acts from the heart,
And accomplishes a multitude of things.
The righteous person acts out of pity,
yet leaves many things undone.
The moral person will act out of duty,
and when no one responds
will roll up his sleeves and use force.
.... The law is the husk of faith ....
.... The master abides in the fruit and not the husk.
She dwells in Tao, and not with the things that hide it.
This is how she increases in wisdom.
June 18, 2020