I have a significant collection of blank cards—about twenty boxes or so—all of which have roses on them in some form or other. I don’t remember how it started, but it has been a fun little thing to keep an eye out for in bookstores and stationery shops. Like any collector is inclined to do, I could easily go a little crazy, but I have two general rules to keep things reasonable: they need to cost less than one dollar a card, and I can’t buy more unless I’m well on my way to using all but one of each set I’ve previously purchased. Which has led me to a bit of a problem. See, I want to be someone who writes letters or notes to people. But sometimes I think the only reason I actually do write notes is that I just want to buy more cards.
We see clearly in the New Testament that Paul was a letter writer, and a good one at that. He wrote to people and churches all over the empire about all sorts of things: to the people in Philippi about what really matters in life and finding joy in the Lord; to those in Ephesus about unity, baptism, and Christian behavior; and even to the Christians who were already found so far away in Rome itself about how to get along and what the gospel looks like. Some of the people reading his letters were those whose conversions he was present for and others would be people he would never have a chance to meet.
When Paul writes to the Corinthians, as we see in the introduction of the letter in today’s reading, he begins with line after line of amazing support and encouragement. Later in the letter Paul will have some correction and instruction to give, but for now, he has nothing but good things to say. What would our world look like right now if we started every communication with such language? We’re not exactly a culture of letter writers, but what would it be like if every time we corresponded with someone, even via email or social media, we began with one or more of the elements we find at the opening of this particular letter:
- An actual greeting—Good morning! Hello!—and using the person’s name;
- A statement of our basic identity in Christ—I am first and foremost a beloved child of God;
- By naming what we might have in common—we are both parents on the PTA, we are members of the same church;
- An offer of grace and peace—literally!
- With a list of things we like or appreciate about the person or group.
In the midst of the flurry (and fury) of modern communication, we would do well to model a different way, one that is marked by gracious and generous speech, acknowledging the personhood of the other and offering the peace of Christ which is infinitely more powerful than any of our discourse or disagreements. I might get to buy a few more cards this way too.