I love to watch and read stories from the days before television, before the internet, before smart phones, before all of our new-fangled ways of communication. To me, Jane Austen exemplifies an era where communication typically only could take place in one of two ways: talking face to face or a handwritten letter. Austen's use of the letter to create turning points in her stories was genius.Persuasionin particular hinges totally and entirely on a letter.
Some things are just better written than spoken. Some people communicate more effectively in writing than in speaking. I have often felt like I am such a person. I like to be careful with what I say. I like to edit what I communicate. I don't like needing to apologize for careless words that later need recalling.
Handwritten letters have all but disappeared from daily life. We've replaced them with emails, text messages, blog posts, and various forms of social media. Written communication is still important to us, but it has become ever more instantaneous.
The third piece of Scripture in the worship service (second if you skip the Psalm) is the Epistle reading.
Epistle means letter. The books of the Bible that fit this category are anything from Romans to Revelation.
Some are written to churches, others are written to individuals. The Apostle Paul wrote many of these letters. The Apostle John wrote four New Testament letters (including Revelation). The Apostle Peter wrote two letters that found their way into the New Testament. Jesus' brothers James and Jude are also the (likely) authors of one Epistle a piece. And there is the book of Hebrews of which the author is unknown.
Of the Epistles there are 3184 verses that could be covered (Give or take, sometimes the versification skips a verse in the NT. See John 5:4.) and 1692 are covered by the three-year lectionary, making 53.14%.
Much of what gets left out is the book of Revelation, but 2 Corinthians has a lot skipped as well.
For our purposes, the Epistle reading serves to show us how the earliest Christians talked about the most radical, ridiculous change in the course of human history - Jesus. What does Jesus' incarnation, teaching, miracles, death, resurrection, ascension, and return mean for us? For the world? For all creation?
The Epistles also reveal how the early church dealt with problems. Paul yells at the Galatians for abandoning the Gospel for the Law. He rebukes the Corinthians for turning the Lord's Supper into a time of demarcation between the rich and poor. James encourages fruitfulness in place of a lazy, fruitless faith.
The Epistles show us that people are people, and they often get confused and go running after things that are not important and get distracted by petty differences. Dare I say, this remains true today.
I'm not writing Scripture, but I take the time every week to communicate with everyone at First Lutheran in written form through our newsletter. It's an opportunity to communicate things clearly, to give reminders, to supplement Bible studies and sermons, to encourage the congregation towards faithfulness in the midst of all of life's struggles.
Letters are definitely worth your time. Just ask Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot.