Preached this sermon in St. Peter's, Maybush on 9 September 2007. St. Peter's is a gorgeous little church, with some charming Art Deco features (most notably the leaded windows and the light fittings), and very welcoming congregation.
Lk 14:25 – 33
Lk 14:25 – 33
- Rather than the Gospel, I’d like to focus on the reading from Philemon this morning
- Because it lends itself well to a theme that seems to be occupying my thoughts a lot of late … namely the theme of inclusivity and affirmation.
- In our Philemon reading, there are 3 main characters; Paul, Onesimus and Philemon. The letter is written to Philemon – afriend of Paul’s, while Paul himself is in prison, about Onesimus.
- Why was it written? That’s not immediately apparent simply from reading the text, but is rather to be found in the background behind the text. That’s also where it becomes quite an interesting story. Onesimus was once Philemon’s slave. To make matters more interesting, Onesimus had stolen from Philemon and then run away … matters which clearly were not befitting for a slave.
- Onesimus ended up where Paul was in prison, and was of assistance to Paul, and so Paul writes the letter to Philemon, encouraging and affirming him first, but then asking him that he do welcome Onesimus back, but even more, welcome him as a brother, not a slave. So he was asking for Philemon to not only forgive Onesimus, but to free him.
- A bit of a tall order, perhaps?
- But, then Paul saw something in Onesimus that others couldn’t see.
- He recognised Onesimus’ potential and sought to empower him to reach that potential.
- And do we know exactly what happened to Onesimus, after Paul’s act of kindness? We do know that Philemon forgave and freed Onesimus and welcomed him as a brother.
- After that, things are not as clear. Some scholars believe that he is the same Onesimus that was consecrated Bishop of Ephesus by the Apostles years later.
- We do know that Onesimus has since been sainted by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran Churches
- But who knows where he would’ve ended up without someone who saw him, not for what he was, but for what he could be?
- Our Lord was an empoweror as well …
- He had a small band of misfits as followers.
- I like to think of them as the gang that weren’t…
- The weren’t glamorous enough; they weren’t literate enough or learned enough; they weren’t wealthy enough; they weren’t articulate enough; they weren’t respected enough; they weren’t strong enough; they weren’t brave enough; they weren’t wise enough; they weren’t charismatic enough…
- And yet … He believed in them!
- And look at the outcome of that relationship!
- Our Lord is an empoweror to us as well.
- He believes in our potential, and wants us to reach that potential.
- Are we empowerors to those around us?
- Do we see the potential in others, or do we simply see what they do wrong.
- I think, sadly nowadays, people are far too aware of what other people do wrong, and not able to see the phenomenal potential of the other person
- And so, we are faced with two challenges this morning;
- Firstly, how we can reach the potential that our Lord sees in us; and
- Secondly, how we can affirm and empower others to reach their God-given potential
- The reality is that we don’t live in an affirming society … we’re bombarded with messages and media that tell us all the negative things about ourselves and our lives:
Our young people are disrespectful, not to be trusted and lazy
Our children are not clever, sporty or well-behaved enough
Our young men and women aren’t fit, attractive or glamorous enough
Our parents aren’t wealthy or cool enough
Our partners aren’t considerate, romantic or attractive enough
We’re not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough
The list goes on
- We’re bombarded by negative messages about our lives, our society and our loved ones.
- Sadly, the picture is not much better in many of today’s churches, were too often people are made to feel badly about themselves because they’re not modest enough, conforming enough, pious enough, regular enough in attending worship, giving enough to charity or the Church, “Straight” enough or perfect enough …
… to be welcomed into the Church
- We see far too many churches and church leaders focusing very hard on who they can exclude, in order to protect their exclusive members’ club, rather than on who they can include, to grow it’s sense of family and community and also it’s numbers.
- We see a very different picture in our Philemon reading this morning, and we see a very different example in the life of our Lord.
- We have been given “Good News” after all!
- We have been freely welcomed and should be freely welcoming all to share in that good news.
- So back to our challenges…
- How can we welcome, include, affirm and empower others, in order that they may reach their potential, rather than being dejected, rejected and excluded?
There is an old story that is told about an army (which is the actual collective noun for frogs!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collective_nouns_by_collective_term_A-K ) of frogs that went hopping through the forest one day when two of the frogs suddenly fell into a deep pit. All of the other frogs gathered around the hole to look down on their two fallen comrades. They all began to sadly shake their heads and to croak out dismal warnings. “It’s too deep!” croaked one frog. Another frog croaked that there was no way that they would ever be able to get out of that pit alive.
The two fallen frogs began to continuously jump as they tried to get out of the pit, but the frogs that were watching kept croaking louder at them that they might as well stop because they were as good as dead and just wasting their time. One of the two frogs finally gave up and heeded the pessimistic advice of the frogs at the top. He quit leaping and literally “croaked” and died. The other frog just kept right on jumping and leaping harder than ever in spite of all the loud croaks of disapproval from the frogs around the top of the hole. They kept croaking shouts at him to quit jumping and save himself from all the pain and suffering he was incurring as he leaped and fell back down to the bottom of the pit over and over again. Finally, he jumped even harder than ever and to the surprise of all the other frogs he leaped right out of the deep pit. The other frogs asked him, “Why did you keep leaping even though we croaked and yelled at you to stop?” It was then that the frog explained to them that he was deaf and he had thought they were cheering for him and shouting words of encouragement to him the entire time!
- Our words and actions have the power to help others to rise above where they are and achieve their full potential.
- We need to not stop at what we can see, but rather to ask for the grace to see what each person’s God-given potential is. Then we have to WORK hard at keeping that up, because it can be easy to resort back to judging and belittling them when we don’t see them living up to their potential.
- We need to remind ourselves of the grace we received, and of the fact that they are God’s beloved, perfect in His eyes.
- The second challenge we had was how we, ourselves, could reach our potential.
- This is, for many of us, a harder challenge, partly because we’re so accustomed to seeing our negative points. We’ve been conditioned to do so … it’s how businesses sell products to us.
- So, it’s vital that we extend the same grace to ourselves, that we’ve just discussed extending to others.
- We, too, are perfect in God’s eyes and perfectly loved.
- We, too, need to realise this, ask for the grace to see this, and then ask for help to affirm this within ourselves.
- And we could try spending a bit more time with people that affirm us, rather than those that judge us (making sure that we return the favour).