Proper 18 (2022)

Pentecost   •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  17:35
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A little context for you. The book of Philemon is a short letter written by St. Paul in the early 60’s. Paul writes to a wealthy Christian man and church leader named Philemon living in Colassae who’s slave named Onesimus ran away and befriended Paul.
The book of Philemon is perhaps one of the most clear yet scandalous examples of Christian living in the New Testament scriptures. It translates the life and work of Jesus into one of the most remarkable little books. The crucial verse is v. 18.
Philemon 18 ESV
If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
This is the idea that governs most of the Christian Ethic- having ones debts paid off by another.
There are two facets to this idea that we will focus on today:
First, you have to have the credit and credibility, that is the ability to actually pay the debt.
Second, the creditor must freely agree to the terms of absorbing the debt.
Let’s dive into these two ideas.

Credit & Credibility

If you look at our readings today you’ll see that in each lesson the person speaking has put their own life on the line.
Now, you know this about me - I am a bit of a stick in the mud. I am the type that believes that if something is true then it shouldn’t need any embellishment or additional packaging. I’m sure you’ve heard me say ‘If the resurrection isn’t impressive enough for you then I don’t have a bridge big enough to get you here.’
Yet- what makes Moses, David, Paul, and especially Jesus so worth listening to is that each of them were bought in. Each of them have credibility before the people. Moses could have told the people that God’s law was enough. Instead he invested himself with them and with God.
Clement - the first bishop of Rome after St. Peter says this about Moses:

The servant speaks freely to his Lord, and asks forgiveness for the people, or begs that he himself might perish along with them

Moses yoked himself to the people and clement says any Christian and especially any pastor coming after that should do the same.
This is what Paul did in Philemon:
Philemon 17 ESV
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.
Paul creates a syllogism saying you and I are one, so also am I and Onesimus a slave who ran away from you. Paul knows Philemon considers him his brother and he uses that for a benefit to the world. St. Paul has credit.
This is exactly the work of Christ. Jesus condescends - He comes to earth and wears flesh and soul. Experiencing everything we do so that when he makes a difficult or gracious command we cannot pretend like He has no idea what He is talking about. Further Jesus lives perfectly - if anyone has credit it is Jesus. His word and His actions are perfectly in sync.
How do you establish credibility with those around you? How do you repair it?

Assuming the debt

Assuming the debt is part of the Christian ethic. It is that the creditor- the person who is owed- actually knowingly assumes the debt and the creditor NOT the debtor makes sure things are set right. This is quite controversial.
If someone wrongs me I want them to make it right. Hypothetically, If some kid happens to park in front of my driveway last week and blocks my car I want them to come apologize. If someone betrays me or insults me or abandons me I want THEM to make it up.
That is not the Christian ethic. That is a meritocracy.
Again consider Christ;’
Philippians 2:5–8 ESV
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Christians don’t make the debtor pay because we know there is zero possibility of them doing so. They do not have the capacity.
In financial terms they don’t pay because they didn’t have the money in the first place
In relational terms they don’t make amends because they probably have no idea they did something wrong
In physical terms they don’t bandage things because they are actually the unhealthy ones
Think right now of a deep hurt or betrayal in your life. Something you’re still fuming about or ties you up in knots. What could possibly make it better?
Here’s an important concept: Sovereignty. Debtors are inherently not sovereign. By definition they owe something to another. Because of Christ and our new status in life Christians are sovereign - totally in charge of the over the pain caused to us and by us.
This is how we can easily and readily proclaim those confounding words - I forgive you.
Who can forgive sins but God says the righteous pharisee?
Christ is the eternal Lord and as such He can conquer and pardon all offenses we cause against others. He does so by assuming them Himself, by taking them on and then transferring this power to us His church.
We mimic this pattern of taking on the burdens of another and setting them free.
Martin Luther once said:
Luther’s Works, Volume 31 Martin Luther’s Treatise on Christian Liberty [the Freedom of a Christian]

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Jesus says: Mark 9:35
Mark 9:35 ESV
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
This is the heart of the gospel. The one who has the full faith and credit of the Father freely assumes all of our debts, our infirmities, our stupidities and our sins. He doesn’t do it by deleting a spreadsheet or applying magic potions.
He does it by becoming them, actually shouldering our burdens. There is a real cost to this gracious life we live.
We have a tendency to pretend that grace is simply about saying ‘its ok’ or acting just ignoring bad behavior. No, grace acknowledges that something is horrendously wrong and then lavishly bestows status leading to repentance.
Paul acknowledges the Onesimus messed up in running away from slavery but he also pushes Philemon to do the right thing - set him free and you can see him urging Philemon and Onesimus to turn from their old patterns.
Philemon 19 ESV
I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.
This is a free and full bodied embrace of another persons transgression and it is exactly what happens with us. The cross of Jesus is not just Jesus climbing up there to clear a balance sheet, it is his final act of becoming like us. Taking on how we treat one another and how we treat our God. The cross is a very brutal examination of the cruelty of humanity. Look at the sociological studies - if we were given the chance to get away with murder we would.
Jesus freely takes all of that and remains in charge.
Friends live freely knowing that Christ has bound himself to you and by His life you are free.
Friends join yourself to the forgiveness of another as Christ as forgiven you.
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