When I was away at college (and that was a long time ago), every week without fail I would find in my Post Office box at Kenyon College a letter from my father. He has a beautiful but distinct cursive writing style that many found hard to decipher.
He would write to me about what Mom and he were doing. He would encourage me to do my best and focus on my studies. Mom would often write a postscript and add a great quotation about life and keeping on the path or add some of her own wisdom such as, “This too shall pass.” They always signed off with the word, “Love.” I really don’t think dad missed a week in four years.
I love letters. I know we write emails now and Facebook, text and Skype – all very good things, for sure. But I still love letters.
Paul was a letter writer. He didn’t know he was writing scripture. He didn’t know that for 2,000 years after his death believers and cynics, scholars and pastors would comb through his letters with such focus, parsing each word and phrase, weighing tone, judging meaning that we now call his epistles THE WORD OF GOD! Paul was just trying to share some good news!
Just like the letters I received from home, I remember bits of wisdom from Paul’s letter: “All things work for good for those who love the lord who are called according to his purpose.” (8:28) “And not only that, we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us.” (5:3-5); “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:38-9).
Yes, just like my father’s letters there are some stuff that I roll my eyes at, but I pay attention to because I know it is important. There are parts I have to struggle to understand and apply… just wait until you read chapter 1, verses 18-32. But don’t be so quick to think you know what he is talking about. And PLEASE don’t put the letter down at that point.
I just happened to find a letter from Paul to Forest Hill Church, right here. (I promise it isn’t as long as Paul’s letter to the Romans – I will get you out of here in good time!)
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle…To all God’s beloved at Forest Hill Church, who are called to be Saints. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Mother and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have heard about you in Cleveland Heights, your faith is proclaimed around Northeast Ohio.
I remember you always in my prayers. I long to visit you and someday I will but for now I am headed to Washington D.C. – they really need me there! But next trip, on my way to Denver and L.A., I hope to stay with you and share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Look, I know it and you know it, that sometimes it seems as if the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Makes you wonder, what the hell is going on, so to speak. And I know it and you know it, that even though the beauty of nature makes you sense that there is a magnificent hand behind all things, (I was in Utah hiking last weekend – it was wonderful) most of the time with all the division and all the violence, and all the religions and all the “us v. them” it is hard to fathom what is going on. Everyone is pointing fingers:”It’s your fault,” ” it’s their fault,” “do this,” ” do that,” “follow this,” “buy that,” – even when we are seeking to do our best, we often mess up, feel out of sync, unloved and unlovable. Everyone feels the tension in their gut sometimes.
But I want to tell you something – and I know it may be hard to believe sometimes – and it doesn’t get the headlines, but God is doing something grand and wondrous in the world and with you – yes, YOU – just as you are, really. God wants you to live into your call to be apostles and live the kingdom life and spread the good news!
You at Forest Hill Church seem to get it. I heard about a garden named “Abundance Acres.” I hear you are inclusive and open and trying to be more racially diverse. You are planning a trip to D.C. next month, drop in and say hi! Keep at it! One thing I really want you to remember is this: in Jesus there is no Greek or Jew, Slave or Free, Male or Female… and of course that means no Gay or Straight, Rich or Poor, Black or White – not that you don’t celebrate the differences… viva la difference! But I want to tell you that to God it doesn’t matter. I have heard that you are committed to social justice. That’s good, Jesus would want that!
I hear you are curious about things of the intellect and the heart. Many of you have been through “Faith Leader” – fantastic! And this Kerygma course sounds really good. It was my best letter! I love it that your imagination is large and you are life-long seekers after truth. I have heard about that Associate Pastor and the Music Director that you all love so much and the ways in which they are working, your Director of Christian Education and your Youth Director- trying to equip and teach and encourage.
You are a traveling bunch – to Haiti and to Rome. (Be careful in Rome – it didn’t work out so good for me there!)
With all that is going on that is so good, just be careful not to boast that you are a better church than any other, or that you are finished growing in numbers and in spirit. Don’t take pride in being a progressive or liberal church, although I lean that way too! Remember who you are and whose you are first. God loved you before you did anything – it is a mystery but true.
And not only you, but every Jew, Moslem, Hindu, every Tom, Mist’a and Ahmed, every Julia, Juno and Jamika, … because God is all about bringing everyone to the table… the whole world is groaning for this kind of togetherness and it is yours if you would just act it like it, and trust it and live it. Yes, our faith story tells us that in Adam all died… but let me tell you that Adam’s fall is NOTHING compared to the fact that in Jesus Christ ALL are made alive. ALL means ALL! That is as much a fact as that the sun comes up every day even if you can’t see it because of the clouds.
Don’t fall into the temptation of cynicism or fear. Lighten up. You can do this, really!
Be open, gentle, don’t fret. And please don’t hold grudges; speak kindly to one another. If you like a martini, good. If you don’t, that is good too. If you are a vegan or LOVE that T-bone, don’t fret it, it doesn’t really matter. BUT be sensitive and healthy. Build each other up, pursue those things that make for peace, don’t try to push your own way.
Finally, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. I feel so confident about you, so GO FOR IT!
Say hi to Lynda and to Stavros, Michael, to Dele, to Doris and Mark, Clover, Anne, Liz, Kristen! My co-worker Timothy greets you. Tertius is typing this for me as I speak.
Now to God who is able to strengthen you be glory forever.
See you soon,
PS… Stewardship season is coming up…. Increase your giving! I hope you contribute to the needs of the saints!