To my brothers and sisters in Christ…
Last Sunday, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to set up and host online a simple time of sharing and prayer for those who were able to join in. There was a clear joy in evidence as we were able to wave at each other and share our news and prayer requests on video from the safety of our own homes. We then entered into a brief time of prayer, during which we brought before God our prayers for one another and remembered and prayed for every member of Church – and especially those who could not be with us. At the time of writing it is my intention to do this again next Sunday.
In my walk of faith, it’s not unusual for me to ‘carry’ with me a particular theme, topic or passage through the week and give chance for God to perhaps speak into that in my quiet times and musings. I wanted to pick up on something I touched upon in my ‘Sunday message’ from last week – and that is the epistles.
The key pastoral epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), were all written by Paul – at the time an elderly man at the close of his ministry – with a concern for his successors in pastoral ministry and oversight. Paul wrote 1 Timothy to Timothy to encourage him in his responsibility for overseeing the work of the Ephesian church and possibly the other churches in the province of Asia (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul’s second letter to Timothy was written in approximately AD 67, shortly before he was put to death. Imprisoned in Rome, Paul felt lonely and abandoned and recognized that his earthly life was likely coming to an end soon. The book of 2 Timothy is essentially Paul’s “last words.” Paul looked past his own circumstances to express concern for the churches and specifically for Timothy. Paul wanted to use this last opportunity to encourage Timothy, and all other believers, to persevere in faith (2 Timothy 3:14) and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:2). Titus was written by Paul to encourage Titus, his brother in the faith, whom he had left in Crete to lead the church Paul had established there on one of his missionary journeys (Titus 1:5).
I would argue that the other epistles (1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians) are also profoundly pastoral. All of these were pastoral letters written to build up, encourage, challenge and exhort the churches in those areas, speaking with much-needed wisdom into the specific contexts each of those churches found themselves in. I guess the closest we get to something like these today would be a letter from our Diocesan Bishop or Methodist Superintendent.
All of these letters reveal Paul’s deep love and pastoral and spiritual concern for the Church, remembering that the Church is the people gathered. So, here’s my challenge for you all this week. In these very strange times we currently live in, if you were tasked with writing a letter to the Church, a letter to your Church, what would you write? You don’t necessarily need to put pen to paper to do this; simply spend a while thinking about it and then use that letter – your love, your hopes, your concerns – to fuel your prayers. If you spend some time reading Paul’s letters it’s not difficult to pick up how, in the writing of them, he was fervently praying for each of the churches the letter was addressed to. I’ve often engaged with such an exercise myself, and if our words are a window on our heart, the results can be both helpful and revealing.
As believers we often knowingly (or even unknowingly) engage with something called eschatology – the study of the last things. We seek to live our lives in the knowledge of eternity and salvation, and we constantly grapple with the tension of living between times – between the “now” and the “not yet”. When we break bread and share Communion there is that looking backwards and remembering, and there is that looking forward with hope and expectation. But there’s also an invitation, an invitation to step closer to and deeper with Christ.
What occurs to me is that in this time of ‘social isolation’, we are perhaps living between the “now” and the “not yet” in a somewhat different way. We live with the reality of our circumstance “now”, and we live with hope and expectation that this time will pass, that this time will be over – and that’s the “not yet”.
We all know the expression “all good things come to those who wait”. We’re not always very good at waiting, are we? What a glorious day it will be when in faith and thanks to the grace of God we might be partakers of the heavenly banquet, a day we see all of God’s promises fulfilled. What a glorious day it will be too when we can tentatively step outside and physically attend Church once again.
This ‘waiting’ time can be a gift. Time perhaps to pick up things we have long neglected, to try new things, to deepen and sharpen our spiritual practice and discipline. How we weather this storm as a body of believers will be a testimony to our faith and trust in the Lord.
It might be that reading all of the epistles would be a bit overwhelming. But over the course of this next week take a look at 2 Corinthians 4. Thank God for his treasure in our jars of clay!
The Lord is here, His Spirit is with us.
With much love