2021 – The Others
Let’s begin this morning by reading the last 5 verses of Philemon. Remember, Paul is writing to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. Onesimus has run away from Philemon; his master. Then, meets Paul in jail. Then, becomes a Christian. Then, Paul writes a letter requesting reconciliation with Philemon. Here is the end of Paul’s letter to Philemon.
Philemon 20-25 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
There is an interesting translation choice in the very last sentence. There is no verb in the Greek in the last sentence. In the Greek it is… The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ ____ with the spirit of yours. Look what happens when you change the “be” with “is”. The grace of Christ iswith your spirit. I think that may be the point of this sermon! The grace of Jesus is with our spirits. We not only live in the grace of the Lord; we are the grace of our Lord!
Let’s circle back to that amazing point, in just a few minutes.
Right now, I want to make up a story. Tanya and I love historical fiction. Every night she reads to me; has for many years. One of my favorite things. Currently, we are reading a novel about England in the 900s. Historical fiction, it’s fun. Let’s imagine we are writing a historical fiction story about the five verses we just read. What happened to Onesimus? How did Philemon receive Onesimus? Did Paul get ever get the guest room at Philemon’s house in Ephesus? Let’s create some historical fiction. Like all historical fiction… it is based on the facts.
Paul sits in his jail cell. It is not as bad as some of the cells Paul had been in. Paul was an expert in Roman jail cells. In fact, this cell is… OK. Epaphras is there with him. Epaphras keeps him encouraged. Helps him stay focused. Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke bring him food and writing supplies. The three amigos, he calls them. They keep him informed about what is going on in the outside world. It’s not bad for being in jail. There is a certain pride in being “a prisoner for Christ Jesus.”
Paul looks across the cell at Onesimus; what a mess. Paul, knows Onesimus has a good heart, but he violated the number one rule… “If it’s stupid don’t do it.” Paul is proud of Onesimus. He repented. He was baptized. That was hard to pull off. He is now in Christ.
Then, Paul thinks about Philemon. Paul remembers a few years ago when he was in Ephesus. He remembers how open Philemon was… well after his wife Apphia believed. She was quick. She saw the truth in Gospel, almost instantly… She convinced her husband. That was a fun day… They changed. They caught the love of Christ. They believed in the resurrection. They stepped into the faith. Their baptism was a delight! They are, now, faith-partners. They share in the hope of the coming reconciliation of all things. Philemon and Apphia are solid. I know they will welcome Onesimus. They are fellow workers. They are siblings in Christ.
Onesimus is about to be released. Well, not exactly released. A couple of thug-looking guards are going to escort him back to Philemon. Onesimus has the letter with him. He is going to give the letter to Philemon as soon as he gets home.
Paul, hugs Onesimus. Onesimus is scared. Runaway slaves that are caught get crucified or tortured. What Paul is asking of Onesimus is scary… trust in Philemon’s love of the LORD! Paul assures him of Philemon’s love… let your guts relax. Paul is asking Onesimus to go back into slavery. Paul has a prayer of grace over Onesimus. The guards shackle him up and take him off.
Paul waits. It could be a long time before he hears anything back from Philemon. In the meanwhile, Paul writes what we call 1 and 2 Corinthians. Onesimus is not Paul’s only problem. He needs get the Corinthian Christians straightened out. They are also a mess. Paul waits… longer.
Finally, Paul is released from jail. The prayers for his release are answered. Paul gathers his entourage; Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demus and Luke. He heads out walking the 5, or so, days hike from Ephesus to Colosse. While he walks, he worries. He is confident of Philemon’s love. But there is lots of pressure on Philemon from the other slaveowners... “You can’t just let them get away with it. All the slaves will runoff if you don’t punish them!” What Paul has requested of Philemon is huge! Welcome Onesimus as a faith-partner. Seriously, that is a big ask. Did he send Onesimus to his death? Has Philemon reneged on his faith? So, Paul walks and worries.
As Paul and his posse approach Philemon’s estate, he sees Onesimus running to meet him… Joy on his face. His arms outstretched. Behind him, a few yards, is Philemon also running to greet Paul! Paul’s heart leaps toward them! Paul’s guts relax! Paul embraces them both, with long, warm hugs!
With his left arm around Onesimus and his right around Philemon, Paul weeps with the joy of being one in Christ. A Jew, a slave, and a wealthy Roman… wait, wait, wait here comes Apphia to join in the hugging. A Jew, a slave, and a wealthy Roman man and a precious Greek woman… is the picture of… being the grace of Christ. This is the picture of reconciliation in Christ! Reconciliation based in relationship with Christ is the revolutionary theology that is changing the world!
At the end of a historical fiction story, there is often a postscript. You know, the small white text that appears at the end of the movie with no music playing in the background, which tells of what happens to the real-life characters in the story… Here is the postscript that scrolls across the screen at the end of our historical fiction…
About 60 years later, Ignatius of Antioch writes a letter. Ignatius is a famous Christian martyr. Here is a quote from that letter…
“I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh…”
Onesimus was a faithful slave of Christ who lived a long life. He was, what we would call, an elder in the Ephesus church of Christ!
Bam, that was fun. A heart-warming story of the reconciliation of a family in Christ!
Remember, I said while Paul was waiting in his Ephesian cell he writes twice to the Corinthians. That part of the story is true. Suppose, as Paul is writing 2 Corinthians chapter 5, he is thinking about Onesimus and Philemon.
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 For the love of Christ controls us,
--Paul knew that Philemon would be controlled by the LORD’s love. Philemon would welcome Onesimus because of Christ’s love for him! We are obedient because of the love of Christ!
…because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
--We all are living sacrifices… Philemon had committed his life to the glory of the Gospel! When Onesimus gave his life to Christ… They became living sacrifices… together!
…and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
--We don’t live for ourselves… Philemon was no longer his own person. Apphia belonged to the Lord… They lived to be… the grace of Christ!
…From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.
--Consequently, Paul’s revolutionary theology destroyed all the Roman Social Pecking Order… Chickens are not Christians. We don’t see race. We don’t value slave over free. We don’t care about Jew or whatever… Women and men are one in Christ. We regard no one… no one… not anyone… according to the social restrictions of the flesh!
…Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
--Because there are no chicken Christians, all are new creations! In Christ all the old categories of the world are destroyed! We all are the grace of Christ as one!
…The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself
--Onesimus became a new creation. He was no longer defined by the world’s categories. He became a slave of Christ! We all are brought into Christ. Where all prejudice is reconciled!
…and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
--Christ began the reconciliation of the world during his ministry. Jesus passed this ministry on to his disciples. Paul, then, picked up this work… He passed it on to Philemon. Philemon welcomed Onesimus! Onesimus preached it through his life! Through the centuries, reconciliation has spread across the world. We have a long way to go. But the hope of world is found in the reconciliation of Christ! We pick it up today! We preach the Gospel… We advance the message of reconciliation. We are ambassadors of reconciliation!
…that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,
--That is our message… be reconciled to God! God has come to this world. God is forgiving. God is erasing the pecking order of the world. God is here… waiting to be one with you!
…and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
--Jesus, who did not sin… is the way through which God will make everything right! God is making the world right through his ambassadors of reconciliation!
Paul as an ambassador of Christ, requested of Philemon to be an ambassador of reconciliation. Onesimus was warmly welcomed into God’s reconciliation. Onesimus became an ambassador… on and on it has gone for all these centuries moving toward the reconciliation of all things!
Seventh principle of interrelating to the Others… I am an ambassador of reconciliation.
The only hope for our congregation… our town… our country… our world is the message of reconciliation! “What are we going to do? Everything is going to Yuma in a handbasket?” We must engage in the ambassador-business of bringing the Others into the faith-partnership where there is reconciliation; where all are one in Christ! That is the good news. That is our theology! That is our purpose. That is our glory! That is the only hope of the world!
I want to explore this idea of us being in the reconciliation business. I am going to read a short article from Richard Beck… it is a bit unnerving… on the edge of the heretical. Where I like to explore. In the context of Philemon and our Seventh Principle of being in the reconciliation business, listen to this article…
Christianity isn't a religion.
All religions--from Buddhism to Hinduism to Judaism to Islam--have at their core a central conceit: That humans can make our way toward God. Or, if not toward God, then, some form of enlightenment. In their essence, religions are pathways, routes we follow toward the divine. The farther we progress down the path--adhering to the Torah, obeying the Koran, walking the Noble Eightfold Path, or following the Dharma--the closer and closer we approach God or enlightenment.
That same goes for non-theistic correlates of religion, all the paths and techniques of self-improvement and self-actualization. You work the program and improve.
Christianity, by contrast, is the end of religion.
Christianity provides no path toward God, no route to the divine, to ladder to climb toward the heavens. Christianity proclaims the exact opposite…
Christianity isn't a religion because it isn't a path toward God, a spiritual regimen to follow. Oh, to be sure, people turn Christianity into a religion all the time, twisting it into a moral self-improvement project. But whenever Christianity is turned into a pathway, gives you a plan to get closer to God, it is no longer a proclamation of the gospel.
Christianity isn't a ladder to heaven you have to climb, a moral mountain you have to scale, an inner fathom you have to plumb. Christianity is history. An event. A report. News. Glad tidings. Christianity is a story, the story of God coming to us…
Christianity isn't a religion because, in the end, there is nothing you can do to get close to God. But here's the news: God has already come close to you.
Be reconciled to God!
The picture of Paul with his arms around Onesimus, Philemon and Apphia is reconciliation. Four, exactly opposite people, are joined by a fifth; Jesus! Jesus welcomes all into his reconciliation! God is reconciling the world by his son. Jesus is making the word… right. God joins all the opposite people of the world together in his Son. We, as ambassadors of reconciliation, are the grace of Christ!
YLT Philemon 1:25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is with your spirit! Amen.
January 24, 2021
Los Alamos Church of Christ
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