Friday, March 9, 2018

Reflections: The Gift of Letters

When is the last time you received a handwritten letter? Or sent one? I've been thinking about letters this week.

One of our scriptures this week is one of the letters - or epistles - from the New Testament. A giant portion of the New Testament is filled with letters (mostly written by the apostle Paul) to groups of Christians living in places far from Jerusalem to encourage them in their faith or help them address some problem or concern. The disadvantage to reading most of these letters is that we really only know one side of the story - what the letter-writer has to say.  We can only guess at what issues or things going on in that community these letters are engaging. 

This weeks scripture is part of the book of Ephesians, a letter traditionally attributed to being from the apostle Paul to a community of Christ followers living in Ephesus (present day Turkey).  

Let's pretend we live there - far away from Jerusalem. Someone, maybe it was Paul, came to here a few years ago told us all about Jesus.  But now it’s really hard to remember all the things that we have learned and we are really far away from other churches and other Christians.

And we finally get a letter- something that we don’t get very often. Maybe a messenger has brought it on the way to another city. So we gather with our family and the people in our community in someone’s house — to eat, and pray. And then, perhaps someone who is older and that knows how to read will stand up and read the letter.

Read Ephesians 2: 1-10
(This link's to the New Revised Standard translation of this passage.)

Here is the passage from "The Message" bible translation.

He Tore Down the Wall

1-6 It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
7-10 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

I love the second part of this passage - reminding us that God gives us the gift of grace and new life.  God's love and grace is a gift – and we don’t need to do anything to get it—we get it because God loves us so much.  This is a gift that we can show others through the good things we do and by loving our neighbors—like Jesus taught us. We are called to do good works because that is what God created us to do.  We don't earn our way into God's love ( or even into heaven). We receive God's grace and love simply by being exactly who we are and by believing in and loving God. 

Here's what I am thinking about this week:

  • I wonder what it would have been live to wait for and receive a letter like this?
  • Who in my life could use the encouragement of a hand-written letter reminding them of God's love for them? 
  • What are the daily gifts of grace and love from God that I haven't even paid attention to or noticed?

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