06/04/2017 – Matthew 5:1-4 – Happy to be Blessed: “Mourning–>Comfort”

Click HERE for the AUDIO of this message.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:4

06/04/2017

Happy to Be Blessed: “Mourning–>Comfort”

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

At the funeral service for a woman who just passed away, the pallbearers carry the casket out, and they accidentally bump into a wall. They hear a faint moan. They open the casket and find that the woman is actually alive.

She lives for 10 more years and then dies. They have another funeral for her. At the end of this service, the pallbearers carry out the casket.

As they are walking, the husband cries out, “Please watch out for the wall this time!”

I know that’s not actually funny, but it tickled me…. There’s probably not anybody in this room who has not gone through a mourning process, an experience of grief. And sometimes it never completely disappears.

In our series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Today we come to the second one: Blessed are those who mourn. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles I have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last few months. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

Listen with me to these words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-2 and 3-4 ….—-

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,    for they will be comforted.   (NIV)

 

These blessings state a TRUTH that demands a RESPONSE. They present the beautiful structure of the character of Christ. I have introduced you to the idea of the “indicative-imperative” clause. The Beatitudes exemplify this kind of clause. Jesus indicates a truth and then commands a compliant response. First, they describe something of Jesus Himself; and then as His disciples, His followers, His Church (the Body of Christ), they describe something, in perhaps a more longed-for dream than an actual reality yet, of us. That’s the Truth.

Then they demand a Response to that stated Truth.

 

So, let’s decode this phrase so we might claim a better understanding of what it describes, and what it demands.

In Luke’s Gospel these Beatitudes are spoken against the backdrop of Isaiah 61, where the prophet anticipates a time when God’s Suffering Servant would bring COMFORT to God’s exiled people: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to … COMFORT those who MOURN.”

And then nearly 700 years later, Isaiah’s prophecy crystallizes into reality as Jesus unrolls a scroll in Nazareth, reads this passage, and claims to be its fulfillment.

The FIRST Beatitude is about being “POOR in SPIRIT”, acknowledging our spiritual bankruptcy. Jesus then elaborates further with today’s beatitude – because it is IMPOSSIBLE to acknowledge our spiritual debt without MOURNING it! The truth is that when we understand that we ARE poor in spirit; we are commanded to MOURN that poverty!

Yes, I started this message with a story about mourning/grieving the loss of a loved one – and I use this Beatitude in lots of funeral services – and I do believe it applies there – but the context is clearly about our attitude about our sin nature.

When we confess our sin, we are not really confessing particular/specific sin activity (I mean, we might be, but it’s bigger than that). The Bible teaches that it is our sinful nature that we must confess and repent from. So, in this Beatitude, Jesus promises to comfort those who mourn sin! And, it seems, in 21st Century America, that could scarcely be more counterintuitive or countercultural!

Sin, in the world in which we live, is not grieved; it’s not disapproved of; it’s not even frowned upon! Sin is not merely tolerated; it’s expected, and celebrated! Our society does not mourn sin; it mourns those who mourn sin!

And that’s not just “out there”. It’s right here, too. That is part of our sinful nature! That’s why Jesus said this to good, religious people, nearly 2,000 years ago!

But, friends, sin is not trivial! Sin is treason! It is insurrection against the Throne of Heaven. A Bumper-Sticker theology says, “We have never committed a ‘small sin’, because we have never offended a ‘small God’.

And imagine what this means if we actually believe Matthew 5:4 is true: if Jesus really meets repentance with comfort (not with condemnation), then we no longer need to fear being exposed! We no longer need to fear what others think of us, or how others judge our character.

When we recognize that we are poor in spirit, and mourn our spiritual bankruptcy, our “total depravity” (as John Calvin called it), our tendency toward sin, we find ourselves belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven and in the Comfort of our Heavenly Father!

So, ultimately, our comfort is anchored in the reality that Jesus does not simply mourn our sin alongst usJesus conquers sin!

This Beatitude invites you and me into this moral vision where Jesus, the Son of God, dies in our place (blessed are those who mourn that death) so that we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven that is already ours through faith in Jesus Christ!

In a few minutes we gather around the Lord’s Table. As we do so, may God make our hearts tender to mourn our spirit-bankruptcy so that we can better marvel at His comforting grace.

On this Pentecost Sunday, the day we commemorate God’s outpouring of His Holy Spirit on all who know they are poor in spirit and mourn their sinful nature, let’s invite Him in, to rule and to reign, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

Resources:

Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.

Smethurst, Matt; “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 15-16.

05/28/2017 – Matthew 5:1-3 – Happy to be Blessed: “Poor in Spirit–>Kingdom of Heaven”

Click HERE for the AUDIO version.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:3

Happy to Be Blessed: “Poor in Spirit –> Kingdom of Heaven”

05/28/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

How many of you knew a guy in high school, or at work, or from down the street, who thought he could just do anything better than, maybe, anyone else? At least in his stories (please note that I am purposefully using masculine pronouns because it is almost always men/boys for whom this is true), he could throw the ball farther, shoot straighter, has read more, was more musical, was better at math, better with girls, better at making money, etc, etc, etc, better than every one else!

I just started watching Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing TV sit-com. His character portrays this characteristic to a T.

The problem with this self-perception is that, ultimately it cannot be correct – and nearly every episode of Last Man Standing proves this point. At some moment in everyone’s life, we discover that we are not the best and that we cannot be independent and completely self-reliant – we need others, we need each other, we need Someone Better.

We are beginning a series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles I have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last few weeks. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

So, since I have been studying this passage more intently, I have become more aware of the numbers and ways people (including myself) use the “blessing” word, probably, wrongly. Sometimes this word for “Blessed”, Makarios, is translated as “Happy”. Either way, look at what Jesus called “blessed” or “happy”. The first is “poor in spirit”. Blessed? Really?

Listen with me to these opening words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-12 ….—-

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   (NIV)

 

These blessings state a TRUTH that demands a RESPONSE. They present the beautiful structure of the character of Christ. Last week I introduced you to the idea of the “indicative-imperative” clause. The Beatitudes exemplify this kind of clause. Jesus indicates a truth and then commands a compliant response. First, they describe something of Jesus Himself; and then as His disciples, His followers, His Church (the Body of Christ), they describe something, in perhaps a more longed-for dream than an actual reality yet, of us.

 

So, let’s decipher this phrase so we might claim a better understanding of what it describes.

The Greek word Jesus uses for being “blessed”, Makarios, suggests our being SATISFIED and SECURE because of our faith in God through Jesus Christ and empowered by the HOLY SPIRIT.

The place we start, the entryway into these Beatitudes, begs the question about our satisfaction and security in Christ! How does one even find satisfaction and security?

Jesus indicates that we are POOR in SPIRIT, and then He tells us that our compliant response to that truth is simply to RECOGNIZE our spiritual poverty! The truth is that we ARE poor in spirit; the command is to BE poor in spirit!

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? (Btw, in Luke’s Gospel the author records this sermon slightly differently. There Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” [Luke 6:20]). What is it about “poverty” or “spiritual poverty” that makes us blessed?

Many of us think of “poverty” as having a lack of resourcesnot enough money or knowledge or skill to get by. But, even with that understanding, the crux of poverty, of being poor, is a lack of power or authority. Being short of cash to pay the doctor bill means we don’t go to the doctor; not knowing how to fix a flat or repair our laptop means we walk or resort to an encyclopedia; not having the ability to sing or play or work means going without….. But all that can be handled if we have power to change the circumstances.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, because:

  1. We cannot do it on our own! Our salvation is not dependent on our wealth, our accumulation of knowledge or degrees, our skills and abilities. No one here – or in any church sanctuary or standing behind any pulpit any where has a spirit so well in tune that we can “do it” on our own! And,
  2. We don’t have to be self-reliant, independent. Jesus says, in John’s Gospel, that God so loves the world that He gives His only begotten Son, so that any/all who believe in Him shall not perish but gain everlasting, unending, eternal life with Him in heaven (3:16)!

How does God resource those in “poverty”? Not simply by providing stuff, but by providing a means by which we might have authority. Again, in John’s Gospel, He says that all who receive Him and believe Him have the right, the authority, the power to be called children of God (1:12). Immediately after His resurrection, Jesus meets with some of His disciples and says to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”   And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (20:22-24) Talk about authority! Later, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth, or loose on earth, will be bound or loosed in heaven.” (18:18)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven! God resources our spiritual poverty with authority as Children of God, sons and daughters of God Almighty!

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah recognizes his spiritual poverty, his lack of resources/authority to do anything on behalf of God without the power of God anointing him – and in Luke 4 we watch Jesus use Isaiah’s words to describe even His own condition – “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Isa. 61:1; Lk 4:18)

This is what it means to “have” the “Kingdom of Heaven”: It’s not an “ownership” deal; it’s a relationship. We are no longer merely servants of God, we are children of God.

One of our former Presbytery Execs used to chide pastors for talking about the churches they serve as “their” churches; ie, “My church is having a Spaghetti Dinner on Father’s Day Eve…” And he would properly remind us that it is not “your” church, it is God’s Church.

And, while I get that point, and agree with him, in the same way, my alma mater is not MY alma mater – I do not own my high school or college or grad school – it is still “mine” in the sense that I belong to it. We are relationally connected.

That is just as true when speaking of our families: “my parents” does not mean that I own my parents, “my spouse” does not mean that Jennifer is my property, etc – but that we belong together. By relationship, she is mine and I am hers.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”  – means, because of our spiritual poverty, our death to self, we are filled with God, filled with Jesus Christ His only Son, filled with His Holy Spirit. Our bankrupt spirit is filled with Holy Spirit potential in a way that says we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven! We have authority, as children of God.

Our ultimate SATISFACTION is found in God’s heart, and our ultimate SECURITY is bound in God’s presence!

I wonder if one of the reasons I am enjoying Tim Allen in Last Man Standing is because of how clearly I see myself in his character. Am I the guy who thinks I can do it all on my own? Lord, let me hear Jesus’ words as spoken directly to me: “Blessed are you, Wheels, poor in spirit as you are, for the Kingdom of Heaven is yours, too.”

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

Resources:

Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.

Smith, D. Blair; “Blessed Are the poor in Spirit”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 14-15.

05/21/2017 – Matthew 5:1-12 – Happy to be Blessed: “Bless Your Little Heart”

Click HERE for the AUDIO link to this message.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:1-12

Happy to Be Blessed: “Bless Your Little Heart”

05/21/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

From the great Gales of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry

And all their songs are sad. – listed as an Irish blessing from G.K. Chesterton

 

When do we normally hear someone say “God bless you”? [sneeze] Yup, and that’s fine. I’ll take any excuse for someone to give me a blessing from God. Even Atheists will say “God bless you” after a sneeze. And I really do not want to insinuate any of my friends might be insincere with their wishes of blessing – but I wonder if the word has been used so much, so often, by so many people, that it has lost some of the power behind it….

 

We are beginning a series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles I have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last few weeks. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

So, since I have been studying this passage more intently, I have become more aware of the numbers and ways people (including myself) use the “blessing” word, probably wrongly:

Bless your heart;” “have a blessed day;” “I feel so blessed today;” “God bless this mess;” even as a substitute curse on someone, “God ‘bless’ you!” (notice the air quotes around “bless”…). Again, these may be sincere wishes of blessings, but I wonder how often they are simply sayings we toss around without thinking….

 

Listen with me to these opening words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-12 ….—-

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,     for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you….”         (NIV)

 

These are the Beatitudes of Jesus. Do they seem out of reach? Are they impossible goals set before us?

Another word often used to translate the word “blessed” is HAPPY.Happy are the poor in spirit; happy are those who mourn; happy are the meek; etc”. I believe the word is sometimes translated “happy” because it seems easier than to understand it asblessed”. But I’m not sure it really makes more sense. And, frankly, it’s the wrong translation.

Here’s a little Greek lesson: the word Jesus uses is Makarios. There are other words that mean “happy”; Jesus does not use them here. He uses Makarios. The Greek word’s meaning becomes clear showing us that it refers to the believer in Christ who is SATISFIED and SECURE in the midst of life’s hardships because of the indwelling fullness of the HOLY SPIRIT.

So the biblical background to the word for bless has to do with the fullness of our relationship with Almighty God. If we were to look at the very first Psalm, and the very first few lines in Psalm 1, we might get a better understanding of what Jesus is getting at. Listen with me to these words. Psalm 1:1-3 ….—-

Blessed is the one    who does not walk in step with the wicked    or stand in the way that sinners take     or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,    which yields its fruit in season    and whose leaf does not wither—    whatever he does prospers.

 

These Beatitudes are completely consistent with the Old Testament emphasis on the priority of God’s action in redemption before our responsive compliance. God creates and calls Adam and Eve His children (God’s act of love), then God gives them instructions regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil (our compliance). God calls Noah and his family into relationship and rescues them from the flood (God’s act of love), then God tells them how to be prepared (our compliance). God liberates the Israelites, whom He calls His first born Son, from bondage in Egypt (God’s act of love), then God gives them the Ten Commandments (our compliance).

In Psalm 1 God gives us His written Word and His Holy Spirit (God’s act of love), then God expects us to live by that Word, to walk in His Way, to hear and obey (our compliance).

In the Beatitudes, Jesus has already called some of His disciples, and now had hundreds of followers; He is inviting us into relationship with Him (God’s acts of love). Then He starts this three-chapter Sermon on the Mount that begins with some expectations (our responsive compliance)!

 

But, please notice, these expectations are more like descriptive observations then they are required actions. The Beatitudes do not teach us what we must do in order to earn the Kingdom of God; the Beatitudes speak of the blessings of those who have already been redeemed! They describe what we already are in Christblessed, Makarios!

 

This is why the word “happydoesn’t quite work. Happiness is a condition that is dependent on circumstancesMerriam-Webster Dictionary says that happiness is feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc. : pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc – in other words, we are happy when good things happen.

But blessedness is a position reliant on, not a happenstance but, a person, a relationship. Therefore, even when things are difficult, we can be blessed; even when life confounds us, when health ebbs away, when finances vanish, when loved ones either walk away or pass away, we can know we are blessed.

 

Maybe this is how “blessed” and “happy” are connected: When our relationship with God through faith in Christ is real/growing/incepted, we can know joy despite our life’s circumstances! We find we can be “happy” even whilst suffering. Maybe we can look back and discover God has been with us the whole time.

Michael J. Fox, TV and movie star from the 1980s and ’90s, afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, is quoted as saying, “My life is so filled with positives and blessings, and so filled with things I wouldn’t trade for the world. I refer to having Parkinson’s as a gift. People are dubious about this, but it’s a gift that keeps taking, because it’s really opened me up to more compassion.” And then he said something like, “If I was told I could go back 10 years, and live it over again without the Parkinson’s, I’d say to that offer, ‘Take a hike.’” Even our worst medical diagnoses might be seen as Blessings, when we are in a right relationship with God.

 

Ultimately, what these Blessings do is ask us to live in a manner reflected by what/who we already are. The technical language calls this an indicative-imperative clause. Jesus indicates that we are poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, etc., so He then commands us to act as if that were true. God did this throughout the Old Testament. And He continues in the New Testament. When He says, “Be holy, for I am holy,” that, too is an indicative-imperative. We are holy. So act holy.

Peter says, in I Peter 4:14, “If you are being reproached in the name of Christ, you are blessed; because the Spirit of God is resting on you.”

Jesus says, in today’s passage, “Blessed are you, whenever they should reproach you and persecute you and say evil things about you on account of me; be rejoicing and celebrating, because your reward is great in the heavens…

 

As we move into this season of warmer weather, and perhaps more fear of the unknown, let’s continue to lift our eyes from our physical and material circumstances (good or bad), and gauge our blessings by taking a spiritual measure of our soul: Are you in Christ? Does the Holy Spirit of the living God live in your heart, in your faith, in your every day life? If so, understand that God has already blessed you (that’s the indicative). Find your satisfaction and security in the Lord (that’s the imperative). Celebrate and rejoice! Amen.

 

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

 

Resources:

Crowe, Brandon D.; “To be Blessed”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp7-10.

 

Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.

04/30/2017 – Philemon 1-25 – Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Slave and/or Sibling?”

Mark Wheeler

Philemon 1-25

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Slave and/or Sibling?”

04/30/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

When I asked my friend if she was planning to attend church, she just shook her head. “I haven’t gone in a long time,” she said.
“Besides, it’s too late for me. I’ve probably already broken all seven commandments.”

 

What’s wrong with that answer? [TEN, not seven Commandments; it is NEVERtoo late” (remember the thief on the cross next to Jesus?); WORKS righteousness is wrong (“saved by grace thru faith”); she was a slave to sin when she could be a child of God, a sister in Christ!]

 

Our last two months were spent in the New Testament book of Colossians, Paul’s Epistle to the Christian Community in Colossae, and in that letter we met a runaway slave named Onesimus. In today’s passage we are reading the one-page letter from Paul and Timothy to Onesimus’ master, a man named Philemon.

And, just to help us be aware, note that Philemon’s name means “Affectionate One” and his slave’s name, Onesimus, means “Useful”.

 

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to Philemon. Philemon 1-25 ….—-

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker — …   Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers,  because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man (or does this mean “a church elder”?) and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.  He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me ….. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.         (NIV)

 

The meat of this epistle starts in verse 8 (where it says, “Therefore ….”), but the first seven verses are vital to its content. Why? Wherever there’s a “therefore” we have to ask what the “therefore” is there for. The “Thereforelinks the opening seven verses to the reason for the letter. The opening of the letter states Paul’s love for Philemon and his trust in him as a church leader and as a brother in Christ. Because the opening seven verses are true, Paul has the right to make a request of his Brother. So he does.

As an interesting side note, who remembers what Philemon’s name means? Can anyone parse the root word from the rest of the name? “Philemon” means “Affectionate One” (“phile” is the same root as in “pluviophile” which means “lover of rain”, a “bibliophileloves books, etc). Paul appeals to this “Affectionate One’ssense of forgiveness as he treats his slave who has runaway….

 

Onesimus was Philemon’s SLAVE. What is a slave? A piece of human property, with the job of doing what he’s told by his master. When a slave runs away, he is guilty of theft (he has stolen from his master), and the punishment could be severe. But,

Onesimus was also Paul’s spiritual SON. Being a spiritual son means that Onesimus had become a Christian under Paul’s personal tutelage. Therefore, Paul has a stake in Onesimus’ fate here.

In verse 8, Paul says that he could give orders (as an Apostle, with apostolic authority Paul’s directives carried some weight). But, he says, that he appeals to the affectionate One’s basis of love. As “an old man” (or, I believe the better understanding is “as  church leader” – the word is “presb[e]uteros”, from which our denomination gets its name, Presbyterians), he appeals for mercy and grace for his “son” Onesimus. This is where Paul tells a joke. Look at verse 11: “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” Did you get the joke? [CS Lewis, in three of the seven Chronicles of Narnia books, has a character that is introduced like this: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” A cousin of the Pevensie children who have been to the fantastic land of Narnia, Eustace mocks the Pevensies for their faith in Aslan and in the Narnia stories; so he gets nicknamedUseless Scrubb”. That’s the joke here, too. “Onesimus” is a name that means “Useful”; but when he ran away Philemon calls him “Useless”; so now Paul says, “He is not only notUseless’, he is ‘Useful’ to us all!”]

 

And here’s the kicker. Paul appeals to Philemon as a spiritual BROTHER, and he wants Philemon to see Onesimus as a BROTHER s well as a slave.

Paul does not say, ignore the wrong that’s been done to you. He does not say, pretend it’s all OK. And he does not abolish the institution of slavery! He does say, “Treat this slave as if he were your brother – because now he is!” (Some of you might remember that he said the same thing in his Epistle to the Colossians.)

 

Where is God’s hand at work in this story? At verse 15 Paul turns up the intention of the conversation. He recognizes that it was wrong what Onesimus did. He willingly chose to steal from Philemon by running away. But Paul’s eyes are on God and he sees the hands of God working through all of this. “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you [notice the passive voice, yes Onesimus ran away on his own accord, but perhaps it was God who took him from you] for a little while was that you might have him back forever 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” Was God’s sovereignty and providence behind this inconvenient and criminal activity?

When we are in the middle of suffering, any kind of suffering (from a stubbed toe to another two decades unjustly going back to prison, from losing a nickel bet to losing your home to foreclosure, from missing the green light to missing your loved one), when we are in the middle of suffering it is really difficult to see anything other than the pain. But might God use that “temporal” suffering to bring about an eternal consequence?

How did this change the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus? They became Siblings! Co-heirs with Christ! Children of God!

 

Where is God’s hand at work in OUR story? God can do that with us, too. The very last line of the letter says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.Paul writes this letter to one man, Philemon, “the Affectionate One”. But in this final sentence he uses a plural pronoun. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all-y’all’s spirit.

Paul writes this letter not only to his friend, colleague, brother in Christ, but he writes it to the entire Church. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is OURS also, to teach the same lesson of love, and to produce the same spirit of obedience.

 

“I haven’t gone in a long time,” she said. “Besides, it’s too late for me. I’ve probably already broken all seven commandments.”

Noooo. We are more than just slaves to sin – we are siblings in the Spirit, children of God, saved by grace through faith!

 

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means becoming a people who believe like that!!

 

We are a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join Philemon and Onesimus and be that kind of church together.

 

We serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;

we know that He is living, whatever Eustace may say;

we see His hand of mercy, we hear His voice of cheer,

and just the time we need Him He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with us, and He talks with us along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

Let’s forsake our lives of sin, invite Him in our heart!  Amen.

 

Resources:

Ackley, Alfred H.; “He Lives!”; 1933

 

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 102-112.

 

Lewis, C.S.; Book 3 in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”; 1954; P. 1.

04/23/2017 – Colossians 4:7-18 – Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “We Are Family”

Mark Wheeler

Colossians 4:7-18

04/23/2017

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “We Are Family”

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

WWII Private Desmond Doss volunteered with the Army as a Conscientious Objector – willing to go to the front lines, but not willing to even touch a rifle, or a grenade, or any weapon. After a Boot Camp of abuse and beatings and an almost-Court Marshal for disobeying a sergeant’s orders to train with a rifle Desmond Doss became a Medic and was sent to Okinawa to fight at Hacksaw Ridge.

Who here has seen the movie? I’m going to give a little spoiler now – so if you haven’t seen it and plan to, plug your ears until I wave my hands in the air (or stop reading until the next paragraph break).

Desmond Doss was a 7th Day Adventist, a Christian with some moral principles he stood strong for. We might not all agree with what he stood for, but that he did is extremely admirable. At the Hacksaw Ridge battle, Private Desmond Doss rescued over 75 wounded soldiers and brought them to safety, by himself!

At the 100ish minute mark of the 140 minute movie, after those rescues, his sergeant came to Doss and said, “I know tomorrow’s your Sabbath…. Most of these men don’t believe the same way you do…. But they believe so much in how much you believe!

          “And what you did on the Ridge, it’s nothing short of a miracle, and they want a piece of it; and they’re not going to go up there without you….”

The next scene is Saturday, Private Doss’ Sabbath, and won’t go up there – but he prayed with the whole platoon – and they went to battle with Doss’ prayer and faith infused into their collective conscience.

[Wave hands.]

Today is the last Sunday in this series looking at the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae. Paul writes to these Turkish Christians who lived with false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking overremind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.

In this series we have learned some theological truths about the sovereignty of God and Jesus’ role in that sovereignty; and we have read some counsel about how people who follow Jesus might live.  Our last lesson, before Easter, concentrated on God’s faithfulness to us when we pray.

Today’s closing passage contains a list of names to whom Paul is sending reports about and greetings to. And this list shows us something of the way God works in our corporate Christian collective.

Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 4:7-18 ….—-

           7 Tychicus [a close friend who is delivering this letter, as well as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians] will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus [we learn from Paul’s letter to Philemon, this was a runaway slave], our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

          10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus [was with Paul in Ephesus when a riot broke out, “fellow prisoner” probably refers to being in bondage to Christ] sends you his greetings, as does Mark [who knows who Mark was? The Gospel writer, and fellow missionary with Paul], the cousin of Barnabas [another fellow missionary with Paul]. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus [this everything we know about this man], also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras [listen to what we learn about Epaphras: what does this suggest about this friend?], who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor [besides being a doctor, what else do we know about Luke? He wrote the Gospel bearing his name, and the Acts of the Apostles, and he was a fellow missionary with Paul], and Demas [it appears that Demas was another fellow missionary with Paul, but that somewhere in their co-ministry Demas went astray – in Paul’s second letter to Timothy he mentions Demas as one who has been united with the world (that comes as a warning, but a sentence later Paul welcomes Mark who had also left Paul’s side earlier, so this comes as a word of hope – in this letter, Demas is simply named as one who sends greetings)] send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house [the identity of Nympha? No one really knows. Scholars don’t even know if that is a man or a woman. What it looks like, and what the NIV suggests, is that the Church in Laodicea met at Nympha’s house].

          16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

          17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” [Archippus appears to have been ordained to some kind of ministry, probably in Laodicea.]

          18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.     (NIV)

Just a list of names? I don’t think so. Look at your Sermon Notes page. The first question asks how Paul describes Tychicus in verse 7: What do you see? [trusted, faithful, mature, enduring, “fellow servant”]

Now look at the description of Onesimus: What is different? [brand new believer]  This list of names contains people at every step of faith development, and in a variety of roles. This list describes every church – it certainly describes LPC.

This is where experiencing authentic ecclesia gets real. We Are Family. And we need each other – for accountability, to be challenged, to find solace and comfort, to provide sustenance.

But it does not stop with just us. This letter was to be read to the Christians in LAODICEA! Experiencing authentic ecclesia means being united with Christ-followers, fellow believers, from down the street and across the ocean!  It means joining in ministry with Fellowship Church of God in Hillyard and with Child Empowerment Outreach in Kiminini, Kenya!

And the last line of this epistle brings us right back to the main point of the letter. Paul closes with “Remember my chains.” In that simple phrase he is asking for their PRAYERS. But he is also asking them to recognize and SUBMIT to his apostolic authority…. Not as a prisoner of the Roman Emperor, but as one in bondage to Christ!

As such, Paul tells these believers in Colossae, and to we believers at LPC, “Most of these [people] don’t believe the same way you do…. But they believe so much in how much you believe!

          “And what you [do in ministry at LPC and in Spokane and in Kenya], it’s nothing short of a miracle, and they want a piece of it; and they’re not going to go [anywhere] without you….”

 

Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means becoming a people who believe like that!!

We are a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.

Because He lives, we can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because we know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives!  Amen.

 

Resources:

Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 98-102.

Gaither, Gloria & William J.; “Because He Lives”; 1971.

Hacksaw Ridge”; 2016; LionsGate Production Co.; Mel Gibson director; Starring Andrew Garfield.