Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
There is just something about receiving a letter in the mail. In this day and age, it doesn’t happen very often but I leap for joy when I do receive one from a dear friend. I have a quirky tradition of going to Hallmark once (or more) a month and buying a number of cards to write a letter in and send them off to friends who might just need mail (just ask Ann Widen). I believe in letter writing. I believe in reading letters. Some of my favorite books are compilations of letters of people I have admired. I feel as though these letters are little glimpses into relationships and emotions you wouldn’t see in history books. There is something about a letter. There is something about written words that communicates something deep and intimate.
On another front, I believe in writing letters to make changes in the world. There is a reason why we are encouraged to “write to your congressperson.” Letters make a real difference in how we are heard. A letter in the political realm is given more importance, I have been told, than just about anything else (email, phone call, etc). A letter is recognized as being a voice for what we believe.
As a Christian community, we come from a rich history of writing and reading letters. We are people of the word. In the Gospel of John, God uses words to bring us into creation. It is almost as if God writes a letter directly to us. I find it interesting that Jesus is that Word. Jesus is the logos or literally the word in the beginning. And to explain all of this, John has written us the gospel. Writing has become the form of how our faith has continued on.
Paul heavily relied on letters to spread the word of Jesus. All of what we have from Paul comes in the form of letters to communities of people. They are responses to how people react to previous letters and they are words of wisdom for how to continue. Where would the church be without this important art of letter writing? In our Epistle lesson, the letter is to a church in Galatia. The Galatians are having a hard time deciding who is in and who is out. The fastest way that Paul can get to them is by letter and his letters inspire and build up the church. Paul’s letters tell us that the law doesn’t matter in this case, what matters is how we live into what the Spirit is giving us. His letters are what carried on the message. We still read and re read them.
Today we will be writing letters. These letters might be to connect with someone in your life and put down in words how you are feeling. These letters might be to someone out in the world who needs your loving words. These letters might be to express a passion of yours in the political realm, standing up for justice and rights. You may just want to write a letter to yourself to remind you of something in the future. Those words will be around. Whatever you do, write something that won’t go away with the next text but will echo true.
Quotes for the Week “It’s funny; in this era of e-mail and voice mail and all those things that even I did not grow up with, a plain old paper letter takes on amazing intimacy.” ― Elizabeth Kostova
“Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” – Lord Byron
“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak.” -John Donne
“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” – Mother Theresa
“Or don’t you like to write letters. I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.” – Ernest Hemingway
Galatians 5:13-23 (Message) It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
But what happens when we live God’s way? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
John 1:1-14 (NRSV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Questions for the Week
Do you write letters? Why or why not?
Do you remember a favorite letter written to you? Why do you remember it?
How can we use the written word to do God’s work?