I Appeal to You… Show Kindness to….
As you learn of the grace of God our Father, the love and mercy poured out with the blood of Christ… may you show the same kindness towards those who also don’t deserve it…and find the glory therein…
In each of the readings this morning, there is a challenge, a request of the people of God to choose to continue to be the people of God. To commit themselves into God’s hands, into His care…to be His disciples.
Moses asks them to choose life, to choose to embrace the God who delivered them from Egypt, and to love Him and treasure His commands.
Jesus will ask us to be true disciples, to set everything else in life aside, and love life that knows the cost of walking with Him, and chooses to do so, knowing the price.
I think both of those challenges are one’s we need to, as a church, answer this morning. But the challenge in Philemon takes it from being a theological issue, to being downright personal. It will question our heart, our devotion to Christ, the very core of our faith. We will be challenged to minister with great love and patience, to those who’ve betrayed us…to those who have, and who can hurt us.
In other words – discipleship means trusting in Christ when it hurts…and when it terrifies us…
And as Paul challenged Philemon, I quote those words to you….”I appeal to you, show kindness to….(fill In the blank)” Only you know the name that goes there….. The phrase means to come alongside and render aid and support. It is the very word of the Holy Spirit.
Like Paul wrote – this isn’t a matter of command, but a matter of love… Christ’s love.
The Problem of Pain….
This would be an easy task, except for the problem of pain and the anxiety it causes. None of us, once hurt, can easily choose to risk that pain again. Even if we no it is what we should do, we cannot bring ourselves to, we struggle to embrace what we know is right and good, because it will hurt, and maybe hurt worse. Between the pain and the anxiety we can almost become paralyzed, and we need others encouragement, others to minister to us.
Because what Paul called Philemon to do, what Jesus calls us to do, is risky, and we are not sure of whether the risk is worth it. After all – what kind of heroes does God think we are?
The anxiety gets worse, when we realize that others are watching – and what we do might be criticized for the precedent that we set – or we will be judged as fools. Philemon was supposed to make Onesimus a example – branding him, beating him, even killing him. Revenge and an example to others were supposed to be poured out in great wrath. Paul asks Philemon not just to put aside the pain of the betrayal and the theft, but the continued questioning and judgment of the community.
It’s going to take a church to pull around Philemon and His wife. Archippus the pastor will need to build a consensus…and get the church to pull around Philemon and His wife, should they attempt this…
Even then, can Paul or God really expect us to put away our pain? To trust this much? To Risk this all? Does God really know what He is asking Paul to ask Philemon? Does God really mean for us to hear this and act likewise?
The Road of Discipleship
That’s the challenge of discipleship, where being a living sacrifice, where bearing one’s cross is an incredible challenge. Where some people will walk away…and think they can wait for another day.
But those days, spent living in resentment, in building up anger, in not dealing with the problem, that isn’t really living either. Living in the fear, and the anxiety and pain…even re-living the betrayals…
Paul sees the ability, sees Philemon trying to be the man God would desire him to be, and knows this next step is critical – even more for Philemon than it is for Onesmus.
For Paul has been in Onesimus place… he saw the awe and joy in the face of those who he had betrayed. It was the first thing he saw… as a new believer.
What Paul experienced….
Remember, Paul was tasked with arresting and persecuting and killing those who were followers of Jesus. Luke records the story in chapter 9 of Acts, where Paul is blinded by his encounter with Christ and His glory – and Annanias is tasked with being the one to come to Paul and minister to him. He too doubted, here are his words,
11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” 13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” 15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:11-16 (NLT)
As Ananias prays for Saul/Paul, Paul is healed – and will begin to preach, and the people are amazed at the power of God to transform someone. Despite the Old Testament being chock full of such stories, they never seem to lose their power. The one written off, given the freedom of forgiveness from those they threatened and betrayed, are changed. How Ananias’s faith in God’s work must have soared! How the people who trusted in Christ rejoiced!
You want to see God’s power at work? Trust in Him enough to free those indebted to you, believe in His promises, delivered in word and sacrament to forgive those who trespass against you.
Hear God’s appeal to love your neighbor, hear Paul’s encouragement to Philemon to not just not punish Onesimus, but to free him from all debt, to set him free from both the civil law that condemns and the spiritual debt of sin which utterly condemns.
I am asking each of us, me included, to do that which the world would shake their heads at… that they would count us as idiots, suckers and worse. On God’s behalf…
“I appeal to you, show kindness to… “ Show love and mercy.
And here is how… realize that you are being prayed for – and pray for those around you, ask God’s help for you and others, as we go to God for the strength to do this.
Remember Paul’s words early in this letter,
I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good (things) we have in Christ.
That is the key, fully coming to know the grace of Christ we have had poured over us. The forgiveness and mercy and love and peace poured over us when we are baptized, nourishing us as we feast with Him together as the people of God. The transformation, literally the metamorphosis that is occurring within us, as we spend time with Jesus, exploring His righteousness, His love, demonstrated in Christ Jesus.
It’s then, as He is at work in us, that the joy of knowing His powerful love, strengthens us to do these very things. Focusing on His work – on the One who loved enough to die on the cross – for people who betrayed Him, who will betray Him again… to know that is us.. and yet He loves and forgives..
To hear. I appeal to you… show kindness to…
And we can… knowing His kindness..knowing His love… His unsurpassable peace in which He guards us…we learn to love as Philemon did. AMEN