Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
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Friendly Favor

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September 1:

Call: Colossians 3: 12-17
Text: Philemon
Read: Worshipping With Chuck  Week Six

            Friendly Favor


Finally, I think I understand.

Finally, I think I understand
why a simple letter of request from Paul to a friend
has been canonized.

Now, let me be clear:
   In addition to the fact that Paul wrote it,
      Which qualifies the letter as special in and of itself,
   I have always liked the letter that is our text this morning.

In fact, I have always been fascinated by this letter
I have used it as my text several times
      Including twice before while serving Potsdam

But this letter is so different from Paul's other letters
   That it has taken eighteen years and two months as a UMC pastor
   To begin to grasp what role Paul's brief letter to Philemon has in our scriptures.

   But this week
   - perhaps influenced by the way I have spent the last two weeks.
I have at last begun to grasp that it's very uniqueness
      Is what makes this 25 verse epistle so valuable

You see,

It doesn't tell us what to do.
It shows us what to do.

It doesn't tell us how to do it
It does it.

Look at Paul's other letters in our New Testament
   Letters to:    the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galations
   Letters to: the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians
   Letters to the Thessalonians and to Timothy and Titus.

All are theological treatises
All make theological arguments
All tell us about Jesus the Christ
and how we in the church are to respond and interact.

But in this short letter to a friend,
   Paul asks a favor of Philemon.

And in doing so, lives the gospel
   Rather than writes about it.

This letter is a living demonstration and visiual aid
   For us to follow
   If we are to say that we are Christians.

The facts are these:
   Philemon is a friend of Paul
   In fact, Paul is the one who converted Philemon
   There is a bond between them.
Onesimus is a slave owned by - or indebted to - Philemon
   But Onesimus ran away from his master.

Why did he run away?
   I have no idea.  Paul does not tell us why.

What we do know is that the runaway slave ultimately encountered Paul
   And even more importantly,
in encountering Paul, he also encountered Jesus The Christ
      And enlisted as one of His followers.

At the time, Paul was a prisoner
   And Onesimus became a great help to him.

Now, Paul knows that:
As much help as Onesimus has been to him
This new recruit for Christ
   Has legal (perhaps even moral) obligations to his master
   And that that master is Christ's follower as well
      - also thanks to Paul.

So Paul realizes that he has to send Onesimus back to Philemon
   And he pens a letter to his friend
      Asking that he forgive Onesimus
      And that he reconcile with - and forgive - him
             Even promising to pay any debt that the slave owes
   And he Philemon to not only reconcile and forgive
      But to also accept Onesimus as a brother.

This is the letter that Paul wrote:    [ read Philemon]

This is the letter that Paul wrote
This is the example he gave to us.

Paul wants something - a favor - from Philemon

And he begins his letter by noting that Philemon's reputation
   Is as a man who loves all the saints
And   as a person of faith toward the Lord.

He does so
   Because, while Paul wants the favor,
   He wants it done for the right reasons.
   He wants a Christian response
      Not a secular response from his friend.

Because of that, he makes it clear that
 his request to Philemon is not based on
any duty or obligation
arising from Paul's having introduced him to Christ.

Instead it is based on love
   Love for him
   Love for Onesimus
And most of all
   Love for Christ

And that love comes from faith

Love and faith,
the very things he mentions in his introduction or greeting:

He wants the favor done
   From those characteristics
He wants the favor done
   From the very characteristics Christ taught
He wants the favor done
   From the very things with which he told the Colossians to clothe themselves
      Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

He asking Philemon to do what he instructed the Colossians to do
   "Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another,
forgive each other
just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."

And above all,    he is asking the letter's recipient
   To clothe himself with love
   And let the peace of Christ rule in his heart.
      Again, what he expected of the Colossians
      Again, from the words that called us to worship.

But here, instead of prescribing these things
   As he did in that call to worship
He is simply expecting - even assuming -
that Philemon will respond out of love
rather than with:  "What's in this for me?"

And so, with all this in his mind and heart,
   Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus back
      Not simply as slave or servant
      Not as one who is inferior
      But as a brother in Christ.

And he does so,
   Confident that Philemon will grant the favor
   And suspecting that he will do even more than requested.

Paul's confidence comes from
   What he understands a Christian response should be
For Paul sees that committing oneself to follow Christ
   Is a transforming experience.

Paul knows that we Christians cannot write others off
   For Christ did not - and does not - write us off.

Paul knows that Christ's love for us
   Shows a deep mercy
And that our love for Christ
   Should enable us to respond with mercy as well.

We can be confident that Paul knows this
   Not only by his requesting this of Philemon
But also by his inclusion of Mark
   As a fellow worker at the end of the letter.

For Mark is the one who turned around and left Paul and Barnabas
   Part of the way through their first missionary journey

Mark is the one whom Paul then refused to take on his 2nd journey
   Causing a break with Barnabas,
   The man who had welcomed Paul into Christian fellowship
      When others were too scared to do likewise.

But as the inclusion of Mark as a fellow worker reveals,
   Paul had reconciled with Mark
   Out of love - not obligation

And that is what Paul, in an example of Christian behavior now asks of Philemon.

This letter is in the canon to put us in Philemon's shoes.
So,   how do we respond when we receive this letter?