October 25 2020

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Learning for Life: Romans 9:30 am

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No Longer a Slave – A Beloved Brother

Listen to the sermon Joel Russell-MacLean

Watch the recent Worship Service

Bulletin: Bulletin October 25

Newsletter: Weekly Letter October 18

Scriptures: Psalm 119:73-80; Philemon.


Joel Russell-MacLean

Did your parents ever say to you, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, you do what you think is best.” No child has ever heard that as “freedom to do whatever I like.” Usually, the child knows exactly what their parents feel is best. In some ways, it is even harder to disobey those unspoken commands.

Our scripture lesson this week involves runaway slave, named Onesimus, returning to his owner. Paul had somehow come into contact with the slave, had introduced him to Jesus, and had asked him to return home. It sounds like the church was serving those with power by keeping those with none in line.

Paul, however, sent a letter along to Philemon, the slave owner. It is a dramatic letter, at once gracious and powerful.

What exactly was he asking Philemon to do?

Paul never says explicitly what he thinks ought to be done. Instead, he tells Philemon to do what he thinks is right: what would be of service to Christ and would be loving toward Onesimus, who through Jesus, was now no longer just a slave but his own brother.

This must have been dynamite in the early church: slaves and slave owners looking at each other now as brothers and sisters, and equally servants of Jesus.

Paul did not denounce slavery, but it is hard to imagine it lasting long in any congregation that worked at this kind of relationship.

Paul asked Onesimus and then Philemon to each do something extremely costly: culturally strange, socially unpopular, economically and legally dangerous.

I don’t think we have anything as challenging to work through as Philemon and Onesimus did. Philemon and Onesimus, therefore, challenge us: what we are willing to do for one another in this church? How far are we willing to go for one another?

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