One Side of a Conversation (February 6, 2013)

…Opening To…

If you look at a window, you see flyspecks, dust, the crack where junior’s Frisbee hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a Holy Bore and those who see it as the Word of God, which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past into the depths of ourselves. (Frederick Buechner)

…Listening In…

From Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and from Sosthenes our brother. To God’s church that is in Corinth: To those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus, who are called to be God’s people. (1 Corinthians 1:1-2; context)

…Filling Up…

The third word that we say quite often when we talk about the Bible is “Epistle.” This is a fancy word for “letter” (the kind you put in the mailbox, not the kind on the keys of your keyboard). The bulk of the New Testament after the accounts of the Gospel is letters from various early followers of Jesus to various other early followers of Jesus. Some letters are written to specific individuals, others to communities. Here are a few things to know about “Epistles.”

First, in the ancient world, letters followed a particular format, not unlike the modern email convention of “Recipient, Sender, Subject, Body.” The Apostle Paul identifies himself first in his letters, then he names his recipients, then he presents a glimpse of the subject of the letter in the form of a thanksgiving to God for the recipients, and finally he gets on with the balance of the text. Knowing this standard formula helps interpreters like you and me discern when letter-writers break the formula, thus giving us a clue into the writer’s intentions. For example, Paul’s letter to the Galatians has no thanksgiving paragraph because Paul is really mad at his recipients.

Second, we only have one side of the story that the letters tell. We have two of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, but we have no letters from the church in Corinth to Paul. Interpreting the letters is akin to listening to someone on the telephone. You hear only that person’s responses to the caller on the other end of the line. It falls to you to piece together what the other party says.

Third, Paul and the other writers of the letters in the New Testament had no idea they were writing “Scripture” when they penned their correspondence. We get little bits about preparing a room to stay in and sending along the coat I left at your house. These little human touches are great, and they make the letters more accessible than if the writers were consciously writing the Bible.

These letters were written when the new church and the Christian faith were in their infancy. They give us clues to what the early communities of Jesus’ followers were struggling with, what they were worried about, and what they were celebrating. As we read them nearly 2,000 years later, our own struggles, worries, and celebrations are reflected in theirs because the same God makes the letters alive for us, animated through the power of the Holy Spirit.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the catalyst behind the human desire to connect with one another. Help me to maintain my connections with friends and loved ones, even those who live at a distance. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, endeavoring to learn more about you, learn more from you, and learn the best ways to be your child in this world.

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