9/6/98, P14C

“Perhaps This Is The Reason...”
Philemon 4-16

 reason, that’s what we want. Humanity’s basic desire is to be able to tame the hand of destiny--- to understand life better.

Marilyn took me out to a movie on our Friday night date. The only thing we thought we could stand was a low budget romantic comedy about the love travails of a Boston nurse who does not believe in destiny at all; thus, she sets out to manipulate relationship circumstances in her search for a man. During the entire movie we see snapshots of a developing scenario in which we know that eventually she will bump into Mr. Right on a train somewhere--- and she does; thus missing her stop, and getting off with her love at first sight at the next stop. Thus, the title of the movie, “Next Stop Wonderland.”

This is what we all really seek, maybe not specifically in love, but in all of life’s basic movements and questions. We want a road map. We want to be able to see up ahead where we are headed so that we might be in control. It is hard for us to trust in God to use the absurdities of life to bring together an eventual harmony.

In today’s text we have preserved a two-thousand year old letter written by the Apostle Paul, with pen and ink in his own hand, to a wealthy friend, Philemon, and his family, and also to the church that met in his house. The early Church included this unique letter in it’s burgeoning New Testament documents because it captured the deep fellowship that existed in the first century Church, and exhibited the spirit of a pilgrim people seeking God’s plan for their individual lives.

Paul’s stated purpose in writing the letter was to persuade Philemon to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, who had been converted under Paul’s ministry and had come to be like a beloved son to Paul. Philemon is encouraged to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. Treat him as you would treat me as the one who introduced you to Jesus, Paul was saying. Furthermore, to paraphrase, “You must remember how Jesus gave his life to provide for your salvation, and in that same sacrificial spirit accept Onesimus back as a fellow believer.” Is our mutual fellowship not based upon having found our way in Christ, after a life of meandering lostness? Do we not have a unique bonding as a Christian family due to the nature of our life together as brothers and sisters in Him?

In his logical development of the reasons why Philemon should do as Paul wanted him, Paul expresses the same question that you and I find ourselves asking, “Perhaps this is the reason he (Onesimus) was separated from you (Philemon) for awhile, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother--- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (15-16 NRSV).

Note that Paul did not presume to say, “This is the reason.” No, he added the word that makes all the difference. “Perhaps this is the reason...”

Pierce Harris, fighting off the lure of the “just down the street convenient Suburban Church” use to say to you folks that “The biggest decision a family faces on Sunday morning is opening the car door, for once you are in the car it does not matter if it takes and extra fifteen minutes to get to Atlanta First Methodist.”

This morning, as you got into your car, perhaps you said to yourself, “Perhaps there is some reason I am driving to Atlanta First Methodist.” Perhaps it was so that you could wallow in the blessed ties that bind us together in Christian love in this special place. Perhaps it was to hear some word from the Lord in this sacred Sanctuary. As you go to work tomorrow, Perhaps there will be some semblance of a reason for the sweat of your brow--- not just a job, but a calling, an opportunity to minister, to touch lives for the Christ that has done so much for you.

We are not weaving along life’s highways as people who are lost and alone. There is a destiny and a purpose as we allow Him to daily guide and sustain. There are bumps in the road, sometimes potholes, sometimes life threatening accidents, and sometimes we wonder. But, as we journey past the temporary detours, we soon learn to look back at where we have been and in that picture of how God has never failed us, even in our own failure, we then know that He will never fail us in the future. We do not have a road map, but we do have a vision and an assurance that he will never leave us or forsake us.

Paul wrote this letter as an older person who had been shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and he had stared down death on many occasions. Philemon knew all of this about Paul, and possibly had shared in some of the same hard times. If Paul could accept this former slave as if he were his son, was it too much for him to ask his dear friend to do the same?

There is evidence that Philemon did as Paul asked. Ignatius, an early Christian martyr, wrote to the Ephesians (about 110 A.D.) making a reference to Onesimus, bishop of Ephesus. Many feel that our runaway slave had been emancipated and had become the leader of the Church of Ephesus. Also, there is the possibility that the first collection of Paul’s letters was compiled at Ephesus and that perhaps Onesimus insisted on the inclusion of his letter so that all might know what the Grace of God had done for him. (The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Eerdmans, 1965, Vol. V, p 665-5).

We never know where life’s road might lead. However, one thing is sure, ultimately He will lead us to the fulfillment of our destiny, as we walk with Him.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/6/98, P14C