An Encouraging Word

The epistle this week is the Salutation from the first letter to the church at Corinth, and it is both conventional and extraordinary. It is conventional in its form, suited to its time. But it is extraordinary in its testimony both about Jesus and about the people of Corinth.

Paul writes to the young church, and if you read ahead you know he's going to have to get serious later about their issues, but in this opening he provides them with quite an encouraging word.

I'm thinking of the opening chapter of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, in which the heroine meets her new neighbor and knows the vicar will except her to "say a word," or rather to invite the new neighbor to church. How often do we pass up the opportunity to say a word? Not just in terms of inviting someone new to church, but among ourselves as well?

I've been on a campaign to point out the good qualities of the people in the church I've been serving for the past year. But I'm thinking this morning how much more it means to see it in writing.

Not that everyone who heard Paul's letters actually read the words. We can picture the people of the First Church of Corinth gathered together, one of them reading his letter aloud. It's a very long letter, so I imagine they must have read it in sections, taking breaks along the way. We sprinkle this letter through the lectionary, giving ourselves time to ponder its various sections, dividing it into chapters and verses. If they read it all the way through the first time, I wonder how many people managed to hang on every word?

I like to see the words in front of me. I'm not a good listener when someone else is reading aloud, even when I try my best.

A few months ago I received a letter from a friend, a hand-written note sent for no particular reason except to tell me how well she thought of me. It gave me an indescribable feeling: one part amazement and one part delight and one part astonished relief that someone seemed to know me well and want to tell me so.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:4-7, NRSV)

I won't be writing a letter today, at least I don't think so, but I will be writing an Annual Report. And perhaps it needs to take something of this form.