From the Elder, To the chosen one and her children, whom I love in the truth—and not only I, but also all who have come to know the truth—because of the truth that lives in us and is with us forever:
May grace, mercy, and peace be with you in truth and love, from God our Creator and from Jesus Christ, God’s Only Begotten
There are many things I have to tell you, but I choose not to use paper and ink. Rather, I choose to visit you and talk to you personally so that our joy may be complete.
The children of your chosen sister send you their greetings (2 John 1–3, 12–13).*
To My Sisters and Brothers,
Hot Springs. Prairie Village. Stony Point. Montreat. Massanetta Springs. Huntsville. Princeton. Orlando. Mo Ranch . . . Since the end of April, I have traveled to many places to meet face-to-face with women and men preparing themselves (and others) to dig into the General Epistles with the help of Dispatches to God’s Household. There are many more faces, over the year, that I will have the pleasure of greeting as well. The experience of travel adds so much to my curiosity about what the early church evangelists underwent as they spread the Good News throughout Asia Minor. When they began their travels to distant lands to share the message of salvation through Jesus Christ with strangers, were they nervous about the “cold call,” dropping in on homes and villages unexpected? Or was the urgency of their message sufficiently powerful to overshadow any jittery feelings? Would concern about the “word on the street” in areas where their reputations preceded them have occupied their thoughts? Did they anticipate any of the fears, joys, concerns, and questions that affected each of the communities, and did they feel confident that they could address them?
Based on the affectionate and affirming tone communicated throughout each of these epistles, it appears that the messages and the messengers were received warmly, and that “family ties” were established firmly; so much so, in fact, that in the cases of the authors of 2 John and 3 John, the authors longed to see the believers “face-to-face,” preferring the gratification of in-person communication over the greater distance and separation that written correspondence, by nature, represents. Given the popularity of blogging and social networking sites (not to mention the fact that I have crafted and posted this digital message), we continue to strive to find ways to connect with one another in the most immediate ways possible, despite our physical distances.
Communication is the glue of human relationships, be it among families, teams, organizations, congregations, even PW circles. Within the Epistles, at least two forms of communication are named: written and face-to-face. Other methods of communication exist, of course, and we practice them all the time: nonverbal (body language, facial expressions); visual (creative and performing arts); aural (music and speech), to name a few. Some people claim skills and abilities in extrasensory communication, or a special connection to the mystical realm. Perhaps it is this level of communication that is described in 1 Peter 1 with regard to the prophets of ancient Israel:
This is the salvation the prophets were looking for and searching for so carefully; their prophecies were about the grace which has come to you. The Spirit of Christ which was in them foretold the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that would come after those sufferings. They tried to find out at what time and in what circumstances all this was to happen. However, it was revealed to them that the news they brought—regarding all the things that have now been announced to you by those who proclaimed the Good News, through the Holy Spirit who was sent from heaven—was for you and not for themselves. Even the angels long to catch a glimpse of such things (1 Peter 1:10–12).
One of the sustaining graces of belonging to God’s household, as believers in Christ, is its extraordinary power to unite God’s children across so many differences and despite so many obstacles. As the early evangelists yearned to join sister and brother believers in person, they maintained relationships still by virtue of written communication, and, essentially, poured their hearts out on their pages. Beyond the sense of the present Spirit in their words, they communicated the presence of their ancestors and united them across time and space with the prophets’ deepest yearnings on their behalf. We, so far removed from our early church ancestors in Asia Minor by distances of time and space, are grafted into relationship with them as we read and receive these letters in our scriptural canon.
Many lessons present themselves on how to “speak the truth in love” throughout each of the General Epistles, and we will encounter them as we journey throughout the nine lessons of the Horizons Bible study. Even in places within the text that challenge or defy description as loving words, the abiding witness of the Holy Spirit in moving us through pain to the healing balm of love, prevails. For us, as Presbyterians, as Christians, or as curious spiritual pilgrims stumbling upon a study of the General Epistles at (as Mordecai in the book of Esther so famously states) “such a time as this,” it is no mistake that we are called to consider the ways in which we are tied to one another as God’s children, especially as we squabble, squirm, and struggle to even be civil with one another in the midst of our deep differences. To be mindful of the quality of our communication is our crucial calling.
Who knows—we may be laboring for the benefit of others thousands of years after us as we overcome the boundaries that separate us today!
Keep the faith,
PS: For those of you seeking the “shortcut” version of the scripture passages assigned for Lesson One, they are: 1 Peter 1:1–2, 5:12–14; 2 Peter 1:1–3, 3:14–18; 1 John 1:1–4, 5:13–21.
PPS: For those of you looking for a link to downloadable resources in support of Dispatches to God’s Household: The General Epistles, click here.
* Priests for Equality, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation (Government Institutes, 2007).