the one where we know what to do...
September 5, 2016, 8:00 AM

Sermon from September 4, 2016

Scripture Text: Philemon and Luke 14: 25-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock, and our redeemer.

So, as I looked at all these scripture texts this week, I was completely drawn to Paul’s letter to Philemon. First, apart from four verses, we read the entire ‘book’ of Philemon this morning. The final few verses we didn’t read center mostly on salutations and such to individual people (they don’t add too much to what Paul is trying to write). But, I was also drawn to this short ‘book’ because in many ways Paul isn’t just writing to Philemon. In many ways, it feels like Paul is writing to us – to me – to you.

How many of us have been ‘put’ in our place before? Specifically, in the way where we knew what to do, we didn’t want to do it, but we also knew we had the power to enact the thing that we didn’t want. Kind of a tongue twister right?

Paul sends his new friend and fellow brother in Christ – Onesimus – back to his ‘master’ Philemon. With him, he writes a letter to Philemon and lays it on THICK about what Phil should do. He sent Onesimus to Paul as a ‘slave.’ Paul is appealing to him in love – to welcome him back as a brother. Shed the titles, the pomp, the societal roles – welcome Onesimus as an equal.

Throughout this letter, Paul is saying, “I know you probably don’t want to do this. It’ll make you look weak and soft. I know those in high standing around you won’t understand – they may even mock you or treat you unfairly. I know you’ll ‘lose’ something out of this request and appeal. I know this. You know this. But, you know what should be done, right? Don’t you…”

Paul appeals out of love to Philemon to welcome Onesimus as an equal. Something unheard of during his time and dare I say during the vast majority of our history. Granting freedom to one who is your ‘slave’ was dangerous. Perhaps they wouldn’t stay. Maybe they’d tell others, and then more would be asking for their freedom. The less ‘help’ you have, the more ‘work’ you are responsible for on your own. If he stays and continues to work, now you’ll have to compensate him for what he does give to you.

There are a whole host of reasons that it makes sense for a ‘slave owner’ not to grant freedom.

In spite of that – you know what you should do right?

There are a whole host of reasons that financially, within our families, and within social circles, it would be wrong to grant someone ‘life’ that otherwise wouldn’t have it. To welcome someone into our lives as an equal – as a family.

In spite of that – you know what you should do right?

There are a whole host of reasons why we shouldn’t stand up – or in some cases sit down – to bring attention to important issues within our world and lives. What will people say? What will you lose? What good will it do?

In spite of that – you know what you should do right?

There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t do something that goes against what the world thinks, proclaims, and has set up.

But, I feel like I’m invoking Paul when I say, “But, you know what the right thing to do is – right?”

I wonder at times what we know we are getting ourselves into when we profess our faith in Christ. Sure, we are gifted with this wonderful blessing of new life, the knowledge, and faith that we are loved, honored, cherished, and accepted. That all of what we have done, are doing, and will do will be forgiven. We are incredibly blessed by God and as Lutherans, we understand that blessing as a free gift given to us in our faith in Christ our Lord.

We’re unworthy to receive it, we haven’t merited it in any way. We are given this gift.

Out of thankfulness, we get to live a life for others and not ourselves. For God and not ourselves. Looking out instead of looking inwards.

But, that’s where we tap the brakes a bit. When we begin to understand exactly what we are giving up.

We read Paul’s words, which is another way of stating what we read from Jesus this morning.

Living into this life of faith – this free gift that God has given us – is not easy. It means denying that which comes easily to us. It means going against the grain of the world.

A world that says – profits over all. No matter what.

A world that says – the football season is starting – nothing is more important.

A world that says – sure you can speak your truth, stand for your cause – but, only do it in a way that the majority thinks is appropriate.

A world that says – convenience rules over everything. Everything must bend to your schedule, your demands, your life.

A world that says – if you’re not from here, you don’t belong to us, you don’t belong here, and one way or another – you’re going to leave.

Jesus is calling us to deny that way of life. That way of life that seems so tantalizing and good. That life that is safe and comfortable. That life that feeds our ego and strokes our pride.

Jesus calls us to take up the cross and follow him.

In many ways, we hear this and think of the ‘cost’ of discipleship. In fact, one of the great Lutheran theologians – Dietrich Bonhoeffer – wrote a book with exactly that title. And it is a GREAT read. I highly recommend it. A book that centers on discipleship and what it actually means for us who profess faith in Christ our Lord.

But, whenever we think of the ‘cost’ of something, we think of the bad stuff. What we have to let go of in order to ‘do this.’ What we ‘sacrifice’ in order to achieve something.

The cost of taking up the cross is that you ‘don’t get’ to do some of this other stuff that you like.

Some have made that point to be dancing, associating with certain people, enjoying things, being accepting of who we are.

I don’t dance well, and I don’t often dance (believe me, Erin’s tried), but it doesn’t mean I don’t think dancing can’t be fun. Sometimes – lots of times – dancing is good.

But, what if we look at this as – both in what Jesus says and in what Paul is asking – not so much as the cost of discipleship, but the choice of discipleship. The choice of carrying the cross.

Choosing life instead of death.

Knowing that that choice is probably more for others than it is for you.

What if we looked at this in such a way where we say, “I’m choosing discipleship.” The ‘burden’ of carrying that cross just might mean life for someone else.

Choosing to follow into the life of faith in which we are called just might mean others are cared for and loved – loved by and through you and others. It just might mean you are cared for and loved by and through others. In choosing to follow Christ, by carrying that cross, acknowledging the sacrifice from the world it requires – we choose life and not death.

We choose invitation and not deportation.

We choose to listen instead of shouting over.

We choose to go against the grain and welcome the one who others say is ‘beneath’ me as an equal.

We choose the formation of our faith life, the deepening of what God has called us into by and through the Holy Spirit over the loud beckoning call of the football game.

We choose to be here, to be with one another, knowing that it could’ve meant a few extra hours of sleep, perhaps an earlier start to preparing for something else.

We choose to proclaim to those around us – you are loved. I love you. God loves you. No matter who they are, no matter what others say.

We choose to proclaim this with the help of others. We choose community – a community that is diverse and invites all to be a part of it.

We hear this message; we see what it means to carry the cross, and when the rubber meets the road, we hear Paul in the back of our mind.

“I know you might not want to do this because it won’t be easy, but you know what you’re called to do, right?”


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