Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

September 21, 2014

He
knocked on the door wondering how he’d be received when the door was
opened.   His name was Onesimus and he
was a slave who had run away and was now returning, returning to what he wasn’t
sure.  We don’t know a whole lot about
what happened between the time Onesimus had escaped from slavery and the point
that he returned, what we do know is found in the letter to Philemon, part of
which was read this morning.   
And the
reason the letter was written was to ask for grace and forgiveness for
Onesimus.
We have
25 verses to tell us the story and this is what we know.  Onesimus was a slave who belonged to
Philemon, he escaped and ran to the Rome to lose himself in the largest city in
the world at that time.  We know that
somehow he ended up in prison with Paul and during that time Paul introduced
him to Jesus.  And we know that
eventually the story came out that Onesimus, which means useful, which by the
way was a very common name for slaves back then, belonged to a friend or at
least an acquaintance  of Paul’s and a
fellow Christian. 
And so
Paul and we presume Onesimus felt they had to do the right thing and that
Onesimus would need to be returned to his rightful owner.  And to that end Onesimus was sent with this
letter, which by the way is only one of two personal letters in the Bible.
I know
that I had said that 1 and 2 Timothy were personal letters, but they were a
different type of personal.  Those
letters more properly called pastoral letters were sent to the leaders of the
church with advice about leading the church. 
This was a letter sent to a friend with a personal request. 
You are
probably wondering why Paul didn’t write Philemon and tell him how wrong
slavery was, berate him for owning slaves and inform him that he wasn’t sending
Onesimus back, no way no how.  And the
reason would be that at this point Christianity was still very young and
slavery was an institution in the culture they were in.  As a matter of fact slavery was an
institution in every culture at the time. 
Slaves were a part of life. 
You
could become a slave if you were taken prisoner is war, if you owed a large
debt that you could not pay, if your parents owed a large debt they could not
pay or if you were born into slavery. 
Had Christianity, in those days started denouncing this institution that
had existed since the beginning of recorded history and demanded an end to
slavery Christianity itself would have been destroyed. 
Instead
they did something almost as radical, they demanded that slaves be treated
fairly and kindly and in the case where both the master and the slave were
Christ followers they insisted that the relationship go beyond that to a
spiritual kinship and that was just bizarre.
And
that is the situation that Onesimus and Philemon find themselves in.  Onesimus the escaped slave, and his former
master, reunited not as slave and master but as brothers.
It is
interesting to note that when Ignatius was on his way to be martyred he spoke
of the Bishop in Ephesus, a man by the name of Onesimus, the same man?  We don’t know, however church tradition has
held that they were one and the same.
So what
would be the changes that both master and slave would notice in their
relationship?  Now that they were family?  Well I suppose to answer that first of all we
need to discover what a family is.
What is
a family? And does it really relate to our Christian walk and those around
us? 
Collins dictionary defines family as; “a social unit consisting of parents and
their children, the children of the same parents, or a group of people related
by ancestry or marriage.” 
Let us
begin our spiritual dissertation this morning with a deep and profound
thought.  You realize as well as I do
that we are not always impressed with our family.  They are not always our favourite people and
sometimes they’re not the type of people that your mother would want you to
hang around with.  Right, you still with
me?  I’m sorry Denn, that may be what
your family is like but my family is not like that I am proud of everyone in my
family.  Thomas
fuller said, “He that has no fools, knaves nor beggars in his family must have
been begot by a flash of lightning.” 
Look
admit it, every family tree has some sap running through it.  So please keep that in your mind as your
engrave this deep thought provoking concept deep into your memory, you ready? Got
your pen out? Right, here goes, “You can pick your
friends, but you are stuck with your relatives.”  And folks that profound thought goes
double for the relatives you have in the family of God. 
They
may not be your friends but they’ll always be a part of your family.  So let’s look at families. 
1) 
Families are related.
 Deep isn’t it, sometimes I
wonder where I come up with them.  If you
are family, then you are related, somehow, somewhere you are related.  Now you can talk about third cousins on the
left four times removed but they are still related to you. 
My
family is from a little island in the middle of the Bay of Fundy.  Now I love Grand Manan Island, it’s our
traditional family home and even though I have never lived there I am
considered an islander, on the other hand if you went there as a child of four
and lived there until you were a hundred and two you would always be a stranger
from off the island.  And everybody on
the island is related, which if you know anything about Grand Manan probably
explains a lot.  But whenever I introduce
myself, and I’m always:  “oh right, your
father was one of the twins and your mother is Steve Bradbury’s girl”  and then they explain why I am related to
them, “Oh, well your mothers father’s brother was my sister’s husband’s
cousin’s nephew’s first cousin six times removed so we are related.” 
For
example because Angela’s mother is an islander as well, Angela and I are
related, you see Angela’s mother’s, father’s great uncle was my father’s
mother’s great uncle’s brother.  In other
words our great, great, great grandfathers were both the same fellow. We don’t
have a family tree we have a wreath. I mean that’s how I am related to my wife
but the question still remains, how am I related to you?   John 1:12-13 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to
become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting
from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
Now
what John is saying is this, “that if Jesus is our Lord then God is our father
and if we as children all have common parentage then that makes us brothers and
sisters.  Now then I want you to turn to
the person next to you and say “hello brother”, or “hello sister” now do the
same with the person on the other side of you.   
Now
sometimes we think that we’re brothers and sisters because we all attend the
same church, that we are Wesleyan brothers and sisters.  And those other people who attend the church
down the road, why I know that they are related but they’re like third cousins,
on the left, four times removed, I mean they are kin, but not real close
kin. 
People
sometimes ask if Jay Guptill the Pastor at Hillside Wesleyan is my brother, and
the answer is no, I don’t have a brother. 
So then they dig a little deeper and ask if we are related, and the
answer is yes.  All Guptills are related.  So then they want to know how we are
related.  Our great grand fathers were
brothers, and I have no idea what that make us, I think friends. 
But in
a spiritual sense we are brothers.  And
I’m a brother to the Christian believers at the Full Gospel, and Emmanuel
Baptist and St. James and St. Johns.  And
those believers are every bit your brothers and sisters as the person sitting
next to you.  And they ain’t just
in-laws, they are related to you by blood, the blood of Jesus Christ.  
Now
sometimes it is hard to comprehend, and to be truthful sometimes it’s even
harder to accept, but the fact of the matter is it’s not doctrine that makes us
brothers and sisters, and it’s not theology that makes us brothers and sisters,
and it’s not church affiliation that makes us brothers and sisters.  It is Jesus that makes us brothers and
sisters. 
You see
when someone comes to Christ with a contrite heart and asks for forgiveness and
accepts the salvation that only Christ can give, then they become part of the
family, they’re brothers and sisters. 
And sure
we might be different. It’s like my sister and I.  We both have grey hair but there was a time
that I had light brown hair and she had dark brown hair, and I have our mother’s
nose and she has our father’s nose, and I have 0- blood and she has a+ blood,
and I’m easy to get along with and cuddly and lovable and she’s well we won’t
get into that right now. The fact is that we are different as day and night but
I’m still her brother and she’s still my sister and we will never be able to
change that.  We might say that we aren’t
we might deny our relationship but we will always be brothers and sisters. 
Now
hang on to your seats you ready for this you got brothers and sisters who
profess to speaking in tongues, and you got some brothers and sisters who embrace
reform theology, and you got some brothers and sisters who are pre-post-or a
millennial, and you even got some brothers and sisters who call themselves
Catholic.  And you may not like them, but
Christ said that if they have repented of their sins, and accepted his forgiveness
that they are brothers and sisters.  And
I think that that is a
hoot.  Now you are saying “Pastor you are
way off base.” uh-huh, it’s scriptural, because even in the Corinthian church
which was the most carnal, most pagan, unrighteous church in the New Testament
Paul still found brothers and sisters in Christ.  
And you
might be thinking, so we are related, so what?
Galatians 6:2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
2) Families Care About Each Other, or should I say families are
supposed to care about each other.
I remember
a song from when I was growing up that had a line in it that said, “He ain’t
heavy he’s my brother.”  When it comes to
bearing the burdens of one another in the family of God that needs to become
our motto, the world says “he’s too heavy he ain’t my brother.”  But as we look around at the heartaches and
needs in the family of God, we need to say,  
“They ain’t heavy they’re my brother, or sister” 
Now
listen up, if’n you focus on the load it will be too heavy to carry.  If every step of the way you whinge and whine
about having to carry brother so and so’s load, it will soon become too-too-too
heavy for you to carry.  But Christ said
in John 15:17 This is my command: Love each other.
And
love is nothing but a word until it proves itself in service.  You can say, I love that person or I love this
person, but love isn’t love until it cost something, until you reach over and
help the person bear his burden you haven’t loved him. 
You say
“But Denn, I’ve got burdens of my own and I’m waiting until someone lifts my
burden!”  Nope that’s not the way it’s
supposed to work.  Jesus had already
accepted the burden of your sins, when Simon of Cyrene accepted the burden of
Jesus cross. 
Our
responsibility isn’t “who is going to carry my burden”, instead it needs to be
whose burden can I carry?  There is
somebody in this congregation who needs you to lift a burden from their
shoulders. 
Maybe
it’s a spiritual burden: you ever feel to pray for someone, you don’t know why,
all you know is that you feel that you need to pray, don’t hesitate my friend
pray.  That person may be waging a
spiritual battle and your prayer will be the turning point, the point of
victory. It might be an emotional burden, and all they may need today is for
someone to tell them how special they are, they may simply need to be affirmed,
to be thanked for what they do or who they are.  
Sometimes
we feel, “I wish I had of told that person how much they meant to me.” Tell
them now, don’t wait, they won’t be able to smell the bouquets that you throw
when they’re dead.  When I first went to
Truro there was an old preacher who dropped in from time to time to encourage
me, and Lawrence would tell me how wonderful I was, and what a great job I was
doing and would agree with my dreams and pray with me.  And do you know when I realized how much that
meant, and acknowledged the debt I owed him? When I delivered the eulogy at his
funeral, a little late. 
Maybe
it’s a physical need, a senior in the church who needs some work done around
the house, a young mother who could use some free baby-sitting so she can get
out for an afternoon.  At North Point our
church in Brisbane Australia we had a lady in the church who had three year old
twin girls and every once in a while Angela would take the girls for an
afternoon so Tina could go shopping and have a coffee all by herself, you have
thought Tina had been given a million dollars.  
How about those in our congregation who might have a financial
need?  Remember families care for one
another.  
1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV Love
always protects.  3) Families Protect One Another.
When my
sister Dianne and I were growing up we fought like cats and dogs.  I still have the scars to prove it.  Once we got into it and she threw pepper in
my eyes and I couldn’t see so I grabbed her and threw her against the wall but
missed.  Do you have any idea how hard it
is to explain what happened to the picture window in the living room when your
parents come home and find it on the lawn, in pieces?  But I will tell you this, we fought three
ways, constantly, consistently, and courageously, but if’n you took one of us
on you took both of us on. 
I could
say anything about her, and did say most of it, but you’d better watch out what
you said about her.  We had our
differences and we had our fights but we were brother and sister and ultimately
blood is thicker than water.  We don’t
see each other as much as we should but thirteen years ago when my niece was
killed in a car accident Dianne called me in the middle of the night and I was
on my way to New Brunswick just as soon as I could. Why? Because she needed
me. 
I will
never delude myself into believing even for a minute that Cornerstone Wesleyan
Church, let alone Christianity as a whole will ever exist in perfect and
complete peaceful harmony, we won’t. 
My
mother, she had to come to the point that she accepted the fact that we would
never be the Brady Bunch, or the Cleavers, or the Huxtibals, we weren’t even
the Simpson but she always, always, always expected us to defend one
another.  We need to learn to protect one
another, and there has to be a loyalty within our spiritual family.  When someone badmouths a fellow Christian
you’d better be the first one on the spot to stand up for that brother or
sister, instead of being the first one to deny them or say, “Oh really tell me
more so I can pray for them.” 1 Corinthians 13:6 It does not rejoice about
injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  And
when a brother or sister falls, they are still family. 
Just because
they blow it doesn’t mean they aren’t kin anymore.  I had an uncle who was a drunk, “Oh no
pastor, you mean an alcoholic.”  No you
don’t understand I meant what I said, the man was a drunk, he didn’t go to the
meetings.  My daddy said my uncle saw a
sign once that said, “Drink Canada Dry” and that’s what he was trying to do.
And he did it right up to fifteen years before he died when he suddenly walked
away from booze. 
But
when he was drinking sometimes he’d wind up in detox, and sometimes he’d wind
up in jail, but he was still my uncle, and just because he was down don’t mean
he wasn’t kinfolk anymore. 
And
sometime it isn’t real easy to protect some of our Christian brothers and
sisters, and sometimes we don’t even want to admit a relationship.  And sometimes I had to go down to the Grand
Manan ferry and pick up my uncle to take him to detox, and he walked on the
ferry stone sober on one end, and got off my end two hours later dead drunk,
and it would have been real easy to turn the car around and drive back to Saint
John saying he’s no kin of mine, but he was, he is and he will be forever,
whether I liked his behaviour, or approved of his behaviour or not. 
In the
church we never have a shortage of opportunities to defend our brothers and
sisters.
Thirty
years ago it was the scandals with Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggert.  Recently it was the fiasco with Mark
Driscoll, a mega church pastor from Seattle. 
And I am amazed at how quick Christians are to turn their back on fellow
believers who have blown it and now with social media how quick and easy it is
to condemn.  As I have said before, a
hanging always attracts a crowd.
And
when these types of things blow up we are quick to distance ourselves and say,
“Hey they are no kin of mine.” But the fact of the matter is that they are,
they are brothers and sisters of yours and you have an obligation to stand up
and protect them.
Because
remember, where we started, you can pick your friends but you are stuck with
your relatives. But how do I defend them, how do I protect them, how do I stand
up for them?  Good question, when someone
is jumping all over them you can affirm the forgiveness of God, and that fact
that we are all human and that God is bigger than our sins.  You can focus on the positive on the people
who have been saved, and touched though the ministry of those men, and it
hasn’t been all bad.   
And
what goes for the high profile Christians goes double for the folks in your
church.   Listen up “If I ever catch you
back biting, and tearing down a brother or sister in this congregation I might
just ask you to find another church”, cause there ain’t nothing I hate worse in
my church then sins of the tongue.  I
know it’s not my church it’s Christ’s church but if you know your New Testament
you know that I am the elder in charge.  
And so
you may ask how do I become a part of that family and part of the family of God?  Good question, glad you asked, Galatians 3:26-27 For you are all children of
God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in
baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes.
So
where are you at this morning, where do you stand in the family?  Perhaps there’s someone in the family that
you need to ask forgiveness of, or maybe there’s someone in the family that you
need to forgive.