Have you ever wondered what the Church might be like today without the writings of Paul?
Across the centuries, I doubt anyone’s mail has been held in as high esteem as Paul’s. What I find most interesting is that Paul likely never imagined that his letter writing would be canonized. How could he have possibly guessed his letters would be elevated to the status of Scripture? Now, I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t be Scripture. But I am suggesting that we’d do well to remember that they started out as letters to particular faith communities – living in a particular time and place and dealing with some very specific challenges. With the exception of Romans, Paul wrote to congregations that he’d established and knew well. These were relational documents. It’s clear that sometimes he was writing to address specific questions they’d asked or settle disputes. Sometimes he’s writing because he’s heard through the apostolic grapevine that trouble is brewing and Paul wants to nip it in the bud. A lot of passion comes through in those letters. His letter to the Philippians is filled with gratitude and affection. His letter to the Galatians gives you that feeling of standing in the foyer of your house getting chewed out by your parents when you come home long past curfew without a good explanation.
A lot of the challenges facing the United Methodist Church today – and churches around the world and across the centuries for that matter – are a result of our failure to remember that these biblical epistles started out as someone’s mail. Paul’s letters weren’t just about theology; they were about community and how to live in community. Perhaps more than anything else, Paul’s letters can serve to remind us that the gospel (good news) is experienced at that nexus where the sacred story and our personal or communal stories intersect.
Bring you; bring your story to Fusion on Monday, April 15. Our speaker with be Allegra Smith sharing the story of her love of writing; how writing has been a way of her processing and working through problems; how she has built community through writing; and her experiences teaching others to write. This year’s Lenten artwork will also be on display.