The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost C: "For Love's Sake"

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost NT   ILT Chapel      Brookings, SD     September 6, 2013

Deuteronomy 30:15-20       Psalm 1   Philemon 1-21        Luke 14:25-30

“For Love’s Sake”

Greetings to you on this day that the Lord has made–a day for us to rejoice and be glad.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

“…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love”s sake I prefer to appeal to you…” (vs. 8)  The Apostle Paul is just as big a sinner when it comes to love as me… as you… as is anyone else.  Paul himself admits to this judgment on himself as a sinner declaring:  “… I am the chief of them!” (1 Tim. 1:15)  For love’s sake, Paul brings a variety of rhetorical devices into play.  For love’s sake, Paul makes use of manipulation instead of proclamation.  For love’s sake, Paul desires a particular end and has lapsed into coveting.

What are the circumstances calling forth such desire and covetousness from Paul?  They are life and death… the life or death of a particular companion to Paul named Onesimus. Onesimus is a runaway slave who has become useful to Paul during Paul’s imprisonment.  In the waning months of his life while under house arrest in Rome, Paul had brought this man Onesimus to faith, enjoyed his companionship, and received his service.  Onesimus—whose very name means “useful”—had indeed become useful to Paul.  But a runaway slave is “useless” to his master and this is just what Onesimus had become to his master Philemon, useless not useful.  Now Paul intends to send useful Onesimus back to his master’s house so that he would be useful there as well.

However, there is a great danger in returning Onesimus to Philemon.  His return is a life or death matter.  Slave owners had an absolute right to the life of their slaves and it was within that right that slave owners could take the life of a runaway slave.  Onesimus risked forfeiting his life when returned to Philemon.

Philemon was more than a slave owner, he was a “dear friend and co-worker” to Paul.  He was a man of substance in the city of Colossae, a member of the congregation there.  In fact, Philemon had the means to host congregational gatherings in his home and support his brothers and sisters in Christ by witnessing to the faith, by prayer, and by acts of love.  Philemon was as much a joy to Paul as Onesimus had become useful to him.

For love’s sake… for his love of Onesimus… for his love of Philemon… for love’s sake Paul desires their reconciliation… for love’s sake, Paul covets the particular end… the goal of Philemon’s sparing of Onesimus’ life so that the useful one can continue in usefulness to both Paul and Philemon.  For love’s sake, Paul makes use of manipulation instead of proclamation.  For love’s sake, Paul is just as big a sinner as me… as you… as is anyone else.

The Word and World journal devoted an entire issue to this difficulty some twenty years ago.  The issue was entitled “Justification and Justice.”  The difficulty addressed receives summary like this:  “Is the justification of sinners through faith alone in Christ alone a sufficient end in itself or must it be a means to an end, which is justice?”  The summary itself is a restatement of the question raised in the Reformation era:  “Does justification by faith alone impede or abolish good works?”  The Reformers gave at least two sorts of answers.  One sort followed Luther’s lead and connected good works inseparably to faith.  Good works are the “hilaritas” of faith… the laughter of faith… bubbling out from faith as surely as hilarity flows from humor.  Good works and faith are two aspects of the one Christian person as certainly as heads and tails are two sides of the same coin.  Good works and faith are as inseparable as are hearing and doing.  Faith’s good works are as inevitable as good fruit from a good tree.

The other sort of answer from the Reformers came to be epitomized in the Formula of Concord which, with maddening casino online succinctness and brevity, simply declares:  “Good works are necessary.”  Necessary for what?  Salvation?  Faith?   Necessary for whom?  God?  The sinner?  The new creature?  This flat, unnuanced declaration is certainly not good news… not gospel; but as law it lacks specificity… lacks online casino information.  We sinners… we fill up that lack of specificity… we supply the missing information… we sinners establish our own schemes of justice… own definition of necessary works… our own acts of love.  And, just so, we sinners, you and I, we sinners join Paul in his coveting a particular end… desiring a certain outcome… and for love’s sake resort to manipulation instead of proclamation.

So, how does Paul resort to manipulation?  He uses his rhetorical skill and deploys several techniques against Philemon, manipulating him to the end of reconciliation with Onesimus.  Paul makes use of sympathy, duty, flattery, guilt, and peer pressure.

For love’s sake, Paul makes an appeal to Philemon’s sympathy saying:  “I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus…” (vs. 9) Paul, suffering the ravages of old age and imprisonment for Christ’s sake makes a play for sympathy from the younger Philemon who still enjoys freedom.

For love’s sake, Paul makes an appeal to duty… to obligation, saying in effect:  “If I am your partner (and this is how Paul considered their relationship)… If I am your partner, receive him as you would receive me.  If he owes you, I’ll pay back any obligation.  But remember, you owe me your very life… your eternal life” (cf. vss. 17-19).  Paul, having distributed the benefits of Christ to Philemon, now wants some benefit back from him, appealing to Philemon’s Christian duty and obligation.

For love’s sake, Paul makes use of flattery to soften up Philemon… to put him in a good mood… to establish congeniality between them before he “pops the question” of reconciliation with Onesimus.  Paul begins by saying “I hear of your love and faith toward Jesus and the saints… I pray the sharing of your faith is effective… I have derived much joy and comfort from your love…” (vss. 4-7)  Paul flatters Philemon with praise and thanksgiving establishing him in a more compliant disposition.

For love’s sake, Paul lays the implication of guilt upon Philemon:  “…I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” (vs. 14) and also Paul says, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (vs. 21)  If Philemon doesn’t reconcile with Onesimus, he will be guilty of disobedience and of disappointing Paul.

For love’s sake, Paul enforces all of these appeals with peer pressure.  Paul addresses the letter not only to Philemon but also to Apphia, Archippus, and the church in Philemon’s house.  Paul thus ensures that the letter with all its appeals will be public knowledge and Philemon’s peers, his brothers and sisters in Christ, will hold him accountable to the appeals on his sympathy, duty, flattery, and guilt.

For love’s sake, Paul desires a particular outcome and falls into coveting.  In that coveting Paul drives a wedge between faith and good works… the wedge of manipulation.  Paul inserts his rhetorical skill between Philemon’s justification and Philemon’s justice.  For love’s sake, Paul separates the inseparable… for love’s sake Paul puts sympathy, duty, flattery, guilt, and peer pressure between Philemon’s hearing and Philemon’s doing.

For love’s sake, Paul compromises Philemon’s freedom and binds him to the response… the outcome… the end Paul desires:  reconciliation between Onesimus and Philemon so that the life of Onesimus would be spared.  For love’s sake, Paul becomes a sinner… the chief of sinners as he himself acknowledges.

Paul, who once declared “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1), asks Philemon to submit to the yoke of Paul’s desires.  Paul, whose Lord once promised:  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36), compromises Philemon’s freedom by binding him to Paul’s notion of freedom.  Paul, no doubt, had much to confess to his Lord… especially, when for love’s sake he makes use of manipulation instead of proclamation.

So, too, you… you have much to confess to your Lord, especially your coveting of a particular end… your desiring of a certain outcome.  No matter how good that outcome may be, you have much to confess to your Lord.  Like Paul, who admitted to being the chief of sinners… Like Paul, who in desiring the life of Onesimus witnesses to that admission… Like Paul, you are a sinner in need of salvation… even from the coveting of your own good works.  And, like Paul, you do indeed have a savior.

You have a savior who for love’s sake did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped… who for love’s sake took on your mortality… who for love’s sake went down into death… the death of a sinner… because for love’s sake, your savior took on the sin of the world… for love’s sake, Jesus Christ became the curse itself… for love’s sake, Jesus Christ came to be your Lord so that in him you would have faith… in him you would have freedom for freedom’s sake alone… in him you would be the new creature who cannot help but bear good fruit… in him your hearing and doing are inseparable.  For love’s sake, your Lord Jesus Christ came to end the coveting of all your human ends… For love’s sake Jesus Christ came to be the one reconciliation that accomplishes all reconciliation and ends every reconciliation from sympathy, duty, flattery, and peer pressure.

For love’s sake, Jesus Christ has come to be your proclamation… both the proclamation you hear and the proclamation you speak.  For love’s sake, Jesus Christ has come to be your forgiveness… your forgiveness even when you covet another end.

Thanks be to God!  Amen

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