Season: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Philemon 1 – 21
Luke 14: 25 – 33
Prayer: Christ, you call us to put you first, to make your ways our ways. May the words I am about to speak and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you. AMEN
“Tell Me You’re Kidding”
Many years ago, I was teaching confirmation. One of the dozen kids in the class simply had no interest in the church, confirmation, Jesus, the Bible. Nothing. Nada. I spoke with colleagues, tried to find a way to engage her. Finally, I decided it was time to speak to her mother, so I did. Her mother told me she knew that her daughter wanted nothing to do with the church, but it was her belief that I could change her mind.
To which I thought to myself, “Please tell me that you’re kidding.”
It’s not that I wasn’t willing to do everything in my power to help educate this young woman. It was simply that she in no way was interested. It takes a village to create a disciple of Jesus Christ. No one person can make that happen. Dedicated parents, grandparents, friends, a church full of supportive people are all required. As the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught, discipleship is costly. It requires giving up ideas and values that we might have previously held so that we give our full allegiance to Christ. It is not a cheap grace.
Paul is trying to communicate this in his letter to Philemon about the slave who is returning to Philemon named Onesimus. Paul is clear that both the slave, Onesimus, and the master, Philemon, are “dear to him.” So, Paul finds himself in the sticky situation of asking Philemon to give up his claim as “master” and welcome the slave back as an equal, a brother.
While Paul won’t act on the matter without Philemon’s consent, he certainly has put Philemon in a corner. The letter is copied to two church leaders, as well as the church. Paul also intends to visit his friend Philemon. There is no question that Paul, and his friends are all waiting and wondering what Philemon might do.
Our call, our mission, our identity as children of God, is not defined so much by who we are as by what we do in the face of choices like these.
I can imagine a very perplexed Philemon receiving this letter and thinking, “Tell me that you’re kidding.”
Today is the beginning of our program year. Vacations are behind us and the life of the church takes on its usual rhythm. Youth programs start, we have a new study beginning on Sunday mornings called “This I Believe” at 8 AM. Handbells will be starting again.
And all of this is happening while the basement is being built out to accommodate a new community group that will be using it. There is a lot happening in our little church.
All of these activities are helping us to live out the mission of Faith United Methodist Church.
So, it is a good time to spend just a moment reviewing who we are as Faith United Methodist Church. What commitments we have made…
Who knows that our church has a mission statement?
Who knows what it is?
Our mission statement guides everything we do in the church. It is the ruler, the measure against which we make decisions. So, at least once a year, it is probably a good thing to review it so, like Philemon, we don’t end up in the embarrassing situation of wondering how to respond.
Faith United Methodist Church is an accepting community gathering for the purpose of serving, encouraging, and supporting others in living Christ-centered lives.
Friends, who do we accept?
We focus our local and worldwide efforts to:
- Nurture people in faith, providing meaningful worship for God’s glory,
Friends, how do we do this?
- Serve people through outreach, providing opportunities for people to know, develop and use their spiritual gifts,
Friends, tell me who has done this and how?
- Share the Good News of Jesus Christ, providing education opportunities of faith,
Have we been faithful to this calling?
- Maximize our collective resources and church facilities to enhance our ministry.
Friends, who can share a way we have done this?
The truth is that no one has done any of these things in a vacuum. We are a committed community doing our best to work together for the good of our neighbors in South Burlington and beyond. We have stepped into our discipleship with eyes wide open, with a loyalty and allegiance to Christ over all competing loyalties, including family, self-interest and possessions.
It’s hard to hear Jesus’ words translated as they have been this morning. Thinking about hating family is repugnant, and that is not what Jesus is calling for. Rather, he is asking for loyalty to him, even when family and friends have other ideas. Even when Philemon pushes back about Onesimus being freed.
There is also something much deeper to what Jesus teaches us this morning. While we love our parents and those who taught us, the world changes. Society changes. Things our parents taught us no longer apply to a world of green and purple hair. I’m less concerned about wearing white after Labor Day. Perhaps for some of us, it might be time to come to peace with some mom and dad’s prohibitions. Long hair and wearing jeans to work isn’t the worst thing. Maybe the world won’t end if our child gets a tattoo, or piercings. In fact, I see plenty of this among my contemporaries. Grunge, googling, texting, twitter, yoga and cell phones are now the norm in society. It is doubtful we will be going backward.
In fact, we have come to a place where society asks us to give up judging people by their appearance, and really taking a good hard look at who they are on the inside.
Some of you might be saying, “Tell me that you’re kidding”. No, I’m not. The world is changing. And we are called to change as well.