Monday, September 09, 2013

Sermon on Philemon 1-21, for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, "Charge it to me!"

Sermon Outline:
·         Context of the letter, Paul’s relation to Philemon, Philemon’s reputation, implied backstory about Onesimus. Context of slavery—not directly addressed, because not the main point, but a valuable separate discussion.
·         Paul’s circumstances, how he meets Onesimus. Rises above his circumstances/confinement; in another letter, Philippians, says it even advanced the Gospel. Onesimus’s personal transformation. Dramatic; “useless” to “useful”; “my very heart.” Runaway, loss, damage to his master’s property/finances; reckless? Redeemed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Willing to admit the wrong he had done, and return to his duty to his master. Turned back from the opportunity to run away—Paul aided him in making right what he had done wrong—beyond his own ability to do so. Paul’s affection for Onesimus—saw him now in a totally different light, and desired that Philemon view him no longer as the useless runaway who had caused him harm, nor even as just a slave, but as a beloved brother. In Philemon’s shoes—wronged, angry, maybe social pressure to apply the severest punishment to the runaway—set a precedent, don’t give other slaves ideas, etc.
·         Paul’s appeal:
    • Bold enough to command, but for love’s sake prefers appeal
    • My child, useful to me, my very heart, as though you served me through him
    • Not without your consent—for you goodness not to be compelled, but voluntary
    • Eternal purposes hidden in this separation, events
    • Remember my friendship—treat him as you would treat me
    • Charge it to me! (any wrongdoing or loss)
    • I will repay you (don’t forget you owe me yourself!) (positive vs. negative debt?)
    • I want some benefit from you in the Lord: Refresh my heart in Christ
·         Paul assumes Onesimus’ place, accepts responsibility for his wrongdoing (as far as he is able), promises repayment, and in writing the letter builds a bridge back to Philemon
·         Philemon’s opportunity: exercise faith, love, forgiveness. See a new person in Onesimus, elevate his status—regard him as beloved brother. Who is seeking our forgiveness? Our reconciliation? Onesimus’ shoes? Take forgiveness and run? Or go and admit our wrong and seek reconciliation? Or in Paul’s shoes, to whom can we be mediator or advocate? Can we appeal to one another with the boldness of Paul, and be confident of a goodness that will flow willingly, and not from compulsion? We can, in Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus, you and I can and will be forgivers, reconcilers, ambassadors of Christ. We can appeal for those who have no voice, we can and should rely on one another with bonds of love and friendship that are not shy to help one another or ask for help. Paul said, “Yes brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” Paul and Philemon were held together in friendship by positive debts of love. The love that can never be fully repaid or returned, but should flow continuously between Christians. Redeemed for a purpose—to live out Christ’s love. Our life parallels that of Onesimus—once useless, in the damage he caused, abandonment of duty—we are recalled to faithful and useful service.
·         Runaways from God, lost sons and daughters. Useless; who can measure the harm or loss we’ve done through disobedience, recklessness, hurt toward others (known and unknown). And yet how does God receive us back? How does Jesus send us back to the Father? “Charge it all to me.” Count all their wrongs, their offenses, the damage they have done, to me. Christ steps into our shoes more fully than Paul ever could for Onesimus—Jesus takes our sin and guilt to His credit, applies His good name and His own goodness and innocence itself to our credit, by faith.
·         We come as “letter carriers” to the Father, runaways coming home, carrying the letter, the good news, of the Gospel—the mediating work of Jesus applied on our behalf. The loving appeal of God’s Son to the Heavenly Father, that He receive us back as though receiving Jesus Himself. Paved the way, paid the price, appealed to the Father’s loving and merciful reputation. Very Father who sent Jesus out to bring the lost home; can be no doubt of His willingness to receive back the repentant, the homeward bound. No fear or trepidation that He might not receive us—it is in fact promised to us in Christ Jesus. God has indeed received us back, and He has found in us useful, dear children, so that He can in turn send us out as having “His very heart” and send us out confident of our obedience in Christ, and confident of the goodness that we will willingly do for love’s sake, serving others, and bringing Christ’s love to them as well.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Note:  While slavery is part of the context of Paul’s letter to Philemon, it is not the central point of the letter—which focuses on forgiveness and reconciliation. This isn’t to say that Scripture is indifferent on the matter, or that it’s not an issue which Christians felt a deep motivation to change. If you have The Lutheran Study Bible, read the articles on p. 101 and 2095 about the similarities and differences between slavery in the ancient world, and our more recent American history.
  2. Both Paul, and Onesimus, the runaway slave, faced circumstances of confinement or lack of total freedom. Paul was imprisoned, and Onesimus was a slave to his master. How did their faith enable them to thrive and to be of great use in the kingdom of God, despite their circumstances? Philippians 1:12-18; Philemon 10-13, 15-16.
  3. What qualities of Philemon’s Christian character, did Paul appeal to, in his entreaty for Philemon to receive back Onesimus? Philemon 4-7
  4. Reread the letter carefully. Do you think that Paul is applying pressure to Philemon, to get him to do what is right? How does he wish that Philemon would respond (v. 14)? In light of our sinful nature, do you think that we sometimes need a little extra prodding to do what is right?
  5. In verses 20-21, we see that Paul had a high expectation of Philemon, based on his character, his Christian love, and his friendship to Paul. Onesimus’ own life may have been at stake in the matter, as masters had the legal right to exercise capital punishment against runaway slaves. Are we sometimes too reluctant to call on one another for help, or to challenge each other to big things, and doing what is right in a hard circumstance, for the fear of being in debt to someone (not in the financial sense, but in owing a favor)? Is this a Christian attitude or not?
  6. How is the story of Paul and Onesimus a picture of Christ standing in our place, becoming in all respects like us (except without sin) and making an appeal on our behalf? What is particularly Christ-like about Paul’s words, “charge it to my account” (v. 18)? 1 Peter 1:18-19; Luke 7:41ff

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