Proper 18C (OT23)
340: September 8, 2019
183: September 4, 2016
Previous story is dinner with Pharisees, and re-imagines the social status of dinners, invitations, and seating. This teaching turns the social order of the elites upside down.
Lectionary skips 14:15-24 - People who were too busy or distracted to accept Jesus’ invitation
Ends this passage of choosing to follow Jesus- leads into the parables of the lost next week
This story is “To the large crowds.” To the masses, Jesus says these harsh words, making sure the crowds count the cost.
The next scene is to “sinners and tax collectors,” while Pharisees are grumbling, and he tells the three stories of lost things - sheep, coin, and son.”
Jesus’ terrible marketing campaign continues
Cost - what we are willing to give up in order to acquire something - what are we willing to give up in order to follow Jesus, to be a student of Jesus?
Take up cross (i.e. be crucified)
Give up all possessions
So being a Christian means hating my family?
Rob Myalis from blog Lectionary Greek: “The English term 'hate' generally suggests effective connotations that do not always do justice, especially to some Semitic shame-honor oriented use of μισεω (שנא in Hebrew) in the sense 'hold in disfavor, be disinclined to, have relatively little regard for.' In fact, BDAG even suggests translating it "disfavor, disregard" in contrast to preferential treatment"
Call back to Luke 12:51-53
Think back to last week then the host is told not to invite brothers, sisters and relatives to the banquet, but the poor
Following Jesus means redefining family - when we begin to define who is our family- we necessarily define who isn’t. Jesus is constantly breaking down those barriers (cf. Luke 8:19-21)
Not about forsaking family - about following Jesus ethic of accountability, forgiveness and love in all our relationships.
Love the elderly in your community and congregation as much as you love your own parents
Love the stranger, the addict, the lonely, the prisoner as much as you love your own brother or sister
Love the children in your community who need school supplies and clean clothes as much as you love your own children
Prayer of Mother Teresa
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
(and the meh song adaption “Do It Anyway” by Ben Folds Five)
Take up your cross
Karoline Lewis offers another way of thinking about this - other than “cost of discipleship”
But, is it really a cost? Or a choice? Thanks, Deuteronomy 30:19. When it’s all about cost, it’s all about what you give up. What you sacrifice. What you deny. When faith is cast as cost, we become rather ignorant of the fact that life itself is costly, not just faith. Life is full of choices, of counting the costs, weighing the costs. The cross is not unique but representative of what life is. To carry your cross is to carry the choices and burdens and realities of a life that has made a certain commitment -- a commitment to a way of life that is committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now. That’s certainly what it meant for Jesus.
What a different way of being it would be if the cross were a way of choosing life and not fixated on death. In fact, if Luke is right, carrying the cross might result in life for another. This is not to say Jesus’ death doesn’t matter. It’s to push how and why it matters. How is the cross, especially for Luke, flying in the face of empire? A promise that God’s seeing us does not end in our death and burial? A certainty that release of the captives is a past, present, and future reality, but that that future depends on our choice to carry the cross of Jesus
So, carrying your cross is a choice and ironically, it is a choice for life and not death.
DON’T TELL OTHERS WHAT THEIR CROSS TO BEAR IS
Discipleship calls us to self-denial - not in a destructive way, but in a way which puts forgiveness, love and justice about our own self interests and even self preservation.
Especially hard for churches. We too often focus on survival more than mission
Take up your cross- be willing to die for the sake of the Gospel - goes against every natural instinct - it is the foolishness of the cross
Inherent in our baptism- dying to the old and being born in the new
If you are unwilling to do this, then your are unwilling to fulfill your baptism
“Can’t be my disciple” might be nuanced: D Mark Davis in Left Behind and Loving it Blog: “Here and in v.27 I use the words “is not able” instead of “cannot,” because “cannot” sounds too much like “may not,” as if Jesus is putting the barrier up, prohibiting someone to be a disciple. “Is not able” implies that it is the person’s own inability to let go of one path that disables her/him from being able to follow another. It speaks to the condition”
Seems like the easiest in regards to family and the cross, but think about how much time and energy are spent on possessions
Churches: Church buildings, capital campaign, denominational marketing, clergy robes, stoles, curriculums, etc
Personally: Homes (61% bigger than 60 years ago), cars, clothing, food, electronics, books, shoes, etc.
Trusting in God-ultimately this is what it is about
Thoughts and Questions
How honest are you about the cost of discipleship? Do you talk about it in your new member classes?
What is keeping you from following Jesus completely? What things, tasks, obligations, guilt, prides, overwork, goals or failures are keeping you from being a true disciple of Jesus? Are you willing to let those things go? Why or why not?
“our need to acquire, our yearning for success, our petty jealousies, our denigrating stereotypes of others, our prejudices and hatreds, and more...These possessions keep us further and further away from the Christlike walk to which Jesus invites us in discipleship.” - Emilie Townes, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
What gets in the way of your church fully following the way of Jesus? Finances? Traditional programs? Inward focus? Being nice instead of being honest? Fear of conflict and change? Are you as a community willing to let go of those things?
Isaiah 64:8 not much better. It includes: “But now, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. Don't rage so fiercely, LORD; don't hold our sins against us forever, but gaze now on your people, all of us: Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a wasteland. Our holy, glorious house, where our ancestors praised you, has gone up in flames; all that we treasured has become a ruin.After all this, will you hold back, LORD? Will you keep silent and torment us so terribly?’
CBE calls this passage “The end of salvation history and its culture of privilege” (Common English Study Bible, p. 1207)
This is not the story of a fickle, angry God going back on promises. It is a story of willful disobedience. The people know, and they choose
Hope of God is that the people will turn. God intends good for the people, but as a response to their disobedience, he devises a new plan. God hopes that this plan will not be implemented. Parable of the potter at the wheel shows that God is hoping things can be fixed.
“The process of judgment may itself be the remolding of the spoiled clay. The pot will not work in its present shape, so the potter molds it back into a lump of clay and begins to work afresh with it… God is reshaping blemished clay vessel so that it is right in God’s eye.” It is not that God is discarding the clay entirely (Patrick Miller, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. VI, p. 716).
People’s response found in 18:18 “Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words.”
Balance between Divine providence and free will.
God asserts the ability to “dig up, pull down, and destroy a kingdom or a nation,” but also resists using the power in favor of allowing people to cast their own fate.
As usual, describing what will happen if, not what will inevitably happen no matter what:
Remember the action that God wants for Israel: “If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly with one another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.” (Jeremiah 7:5-7)
Immediately previous passage (17:19-27), Jeremiah is instructed to stand at the city gate and remind people of the Sabbath. He is ignored. Jeremiah tells them “if you are careful and obey me, declares the Lord, and don't conduct business at the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, if you keep the Sabbath day holy by not working, then through the gates of this city will come kings who occupy the throne of David… And this city will always be inhabited… But if you don’t obey me by keeping the Sabbath day holy… then I will set fire to those gates that will completely engulf the fortresses of Jerusalem.”
Thoughts and Questions
This metaphor isn’t really about cracked pottery so much as the smashing of a pot that never gets completely made, but still, the Japanese art of Kintsugi could be a good example. Also look to Jeremiah 19:10, because he’s not done talking about pots after this passage. This is the taking of a cracked pot, and repairing the cracks with gold. The metaphor of God filling in the cracks with grace feels obvious. See some examples and explanations here: http://www.lakesidepottery.com/Pages/kintsugi-repairing-ceramic-with-gold-and-lacquer-better-than-new.htm
When a potter messes up, one has two choices - overlook the mistake and make do, or start over with a new piece of clay. God is choosing a third option, fixing the one God has: “The message from the potter’s house is that “God is faced with the task of working with positive and negative factors in order to shape Israel into the best vessel possible.” The message from the potter’s house is that God will not ignore Israel’s unrighteousness” (Alphonetta Wines, Working Preacher)
The most important step in throwing a pot is getting it centered. Before anything is created of the lump of clay, it must be properly centered on the wheel or it is doomed. If we are all clay and want to avoid the painful crush of getting discarded, perhaps we should take some time to learn to get centered first. Center on what matters to Christ.
Pronunciation: fil-EE-mon, FIL-aye-mon, FYE-lee-mon, FYE-lay-mon // o-NEH-sih-muhs, own-ESS-ee-mus
This is it - this is most of the entire book/letter of Philemon (excluding the Benediction vv. 22-25)
The shortest letter of Paul (and shortest book in the NT)
Traditional interpretation - a letter to reconcile a slave, Onesimus, with his master, Philemon
Was used as a primary text to support slavery in the 19th century, even referre to as the “Pauline Mandate”
Chronological list of events (Interpretation: Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon):
Philemon incurs a debt to Paul (v.19b)
Paul is imprisoned (v.9)
Onesimus runs away and incurs a debt to Philemon (v. 11-15)
Onesimus is converted by paul in prison (v. 10)
Paul send Onesimus back to Philemon (v. 12)
Paul sends a letter to Philemon offering to pay Onesimus’s debt and appeals to him for reconciliation
Onesimus and the letter arrive (implied)
Philemon responds to Paul’s Appeal (vv. 20-21)
Philemon is to prepare for Paul’s visit (v.22)
Onesimus, a slave, offends his master, Philemon, a Christian from Colossae, and then runs away. Onesimus meets Paul and seeks refuge (see Deut. 23:15-16)
vv. 1-3 Salutation - Written to Philemon (some think as a personal letter) but also “the church in [his] house” which makes the letter more of an epistle
vv. 4-7 Encouragement - serves to both prepare Philemon for the later appeal but also to introduce the various elements of the letter: love, prayer, partnership, goodness and brotherhood.
vv. 8-22 Appeal - the meat of the letter and its true purpose - reconciliation with Onesimus
vv. 23-25 Benediction - Paul foregoes the niceties and resorts to heavy handedness calling for Philemon’s obedience (instead of appealing to him) and
Onesimus is a runaway slave and therefore subject to severe punishment and possibly death
Paul hints at Philemon’s Christian duty to extend mercy and welcome Onesimus back, but explicitly chooses to appeal to love.
Note Paul’s description of Onesimus: v. 10 - “my child”, v. 11 - “my own heart”
Paul appeals to love, because he is afraid how Onesimus will be treated when he returns to Philemon
The sticky wicket of Onesimus’s return
If Onesimus is returned and welcomed back into the household without any repercussions, then Paula nd Philemon model a cheap grace that demands forgiveness without any recognition or restitution for wrongs committed (no repentance).
If Onesimus is denied the return or is treated poorly as a runaway slave then grace is denied and retributive judgement reigns - this would be the cultural order of the day, but is not the Way of Jesus
So - Onesimus must be returned and reconciled in way which acknowledges the harm does, allows for restitution, but does so in a way which restores the relationship with Philemon and Onesimus - how? Paul will pay Onesimus’s debt.
Does this put Paul in Philemon’s debt? Unknown as it seems Philemon was already in Paul’s debt.
Thoughts and Questions
Acknowledging the horrific implications and ways in which this passage has been used to promote and defend slavery - can Philemon (the epistle) be redeemed?
Yes - the history should be acknowledged, but so too should the vast difference between slavery in the ancient Greco-Roman world and the systemic horror of the 15th-18th century Transatlantic Slave trade. - Especially considering 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of that holocaust.
How might this letter invite a conversation about reconciliation with God and one another? How might Christ be the one willing to pay our debt for running from God, opening the possibility for us to return to God and be reconciled?
How might the preacher link the need for humanities reconciliation with God with our need to be reconciled with America’s original sin of slavery?
There is an uncomfortability with the transactional nature of this epistle. Debts owed and debts paid flies in the face of God’s amazing grace that does not keep score, but extends love. For all his talk about wanting to appeal to Philemon through love, there is a transactional undertone that - perhaps - needs to be called out. (This is especially seen in Paul’s closing remarks: “Confident in your obedience”)
Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Miserlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.