I wonder what Paul would write to our community. I wonder what he would say to us—to us as we struggle to live as a community of Christians in a post Christian world; to us as a congregation trying to figure out who we are and what we are called to be. I wonder where he’d see the Spirit moving here—now—in this place.
I bet he would in his own way greet each of us individually. Maybe not at the beginning of the letter, but surely at the close. We would know that he knew us—as individuals and as a community. I imagine we would feel him pulling for us.
Perhaps he would start like this:
I, Paul, servant of Christ, greet you in the name of God, living and holy.
Maybe then he’d say something about us as a community of Christians. Perhaps he would praise the steadfastness of our faith—the way we turn to God in season and out, the way we trust that God is at work in our life as a community and our lives as individuals. I suspect he would comment on our diversity—the many worlds that come together in this place. I know he would offer a hearty thanksgiving for our little community of faith.
He’d probably say something about how eager he is to come to visit us, to serve us, to strengthen our trust in God who is always at work in our lives and to deepen our understanding of God’s call to us in Christ.
Then he’d get to the meat of his letter—his real purpose in writing us. I bet he’d picture each of us gathered here in this place—old and young, Hispanic and Anglo, straight and gay, male and female—and would urge us to bring our whole selves to God. I think he might even expand on that encouraging us to present to God our past and our present, our dreams, our hopes, our fears, our griefs, our grumpy moments, our selfless moments and everything in-between. Then he’d remind us how the Spirit works through who we are and what we bring to make a new creation in Christ. Though I don’t imagine Paul’s read the Book of Common Prayer, he likely would appreciate the way one eucharistic prayer puts it—we offer and present to thee our selves, our souls and bodies.
He’d caution us about the world in which we live. He’d warn us not to get swallowed up in consumerist thinking, not to judge success in terms of externals, not to buy into a me-first kind of ethic, not to subscribe to the rampant individualism that seems to rule our world. Then he’d encourage us to follow another way of living in this world—a way of living open to the work of God in our lives, a way of living connected to God and to one another, a wild and risky and unpredictable way of living in the hands of the Spirit at work in us and in our community.
“You’re more than just a group of people gathering together to sing, to pray, to worship God,” he’d say to us. “You—all of you together—are the body of Christ. You are connected to one another. You bring out one another’s gifts. You balance one another. You feed one another. You need one another to be whole.” I think Paul would ask us to look back to the times when we’ve relied on one another, to the times when one person’s faith has sustained another through a dry time, to the times when one person’s cheerfulness has buoyed up another, to the times when one’s person’s steadiness has quieted another person’s soul.
He’d step back and take a long look at us—at us as part of the living, breathing body of Christ. He’d comment on the gifts of the Spirit at work in this community giving thanks, I bet, for the way people pitch in to help and the way people encourage one another. He might even draw our attention to the gifts of exhortation and celebration at work here in this place. I know he’d point out the gift of music and the way it reflects and ties together our blended community. I wonder what other gifts he’d see here in us? I wonder if he might also add a word of advice. You know Paul loves to give advice. I wonder if he might just say, “Watch for the way the Spirit’s gifts are emerging among you. Watch for the new ways the Spirit is at work in this community, for the Spirit is always working.”
I think he’d close that letter as he closes all his letters praising God and sharing God’s love in Christ with us—with you, with me, and with our community. Amen.