Lectionary Passages for Sept.8 Deut.30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33
Sept. 8th will be my first time back in the pulpit since returning from a 4 month sabbatical. It's a coming home after an absence that included significant experiences, some of which will impact how I think and work. The question comes up then, about how I reintegrate into work and share those experiences. How will that sabbatical time, and the changes in me, fit back into First Mennonite?
Philemon is a story of a changed man going home. Onesimus is a runaway slave. (At least that's the assumption of most scholars-there are some disagreements. Whether he is a runaway, or maybe Philemon's estranged brother, it doesn't change that he is going home a different man and he's not sure how he will be received!) Paul says that Onesimus has changed, that he is now a brother in Christ who will be helpful to the church.
Can you imagine how Onesimus felt as he headed home? Perhaps he was constantly checking his pocket to make sure he hadn't lost Paul's letter. He is very unsure of how he will be received. If he is a runaway slave, Philemon is within his rights, and maybe expected, to treat him harshly as an example to others. If he is an estranged brother-he could be going home to a lot of awkwardness, and maybe outright painful rejection. In verse18 of the letter, Paul offers to pay for any "wrongs" or debts Onesimus left behind. That sounds ominous, there is likely some bad blood between Philemon and Onesimus. Paul isn't above a little manipulation here to increase Onesimus' chances of being accepted. (If I was Philemon, I might be a little annoyed with Paul!) It's obvious that Onesimus has a powerful advocate in Paul, Paul believes in him and the good of what has changed.Paul is willing to stand up for him.(In verse 22, Paul uses nice words to tell Philemon that he is coming to check up on him!)
Things could go very well for Onesimus, or this could be a disastrous homecoming. Onesimus is courageously (or desperately) going home.Will that be okay or not? Will the changes in him prove to be helpful for his community, or rejected by them?
I definitely do not put my experiences on the level of Onesimus, but his story has helped me to reflect on the idea of coming home different than I left. Being with homeless people and those who work with them was a profound experience, some of my thinking has subtly changed. I need to figure out what to do with that. How do I share my experiences so that I am useful to my community?
There are many people in our church who have had shaping experiences this summer. Some have lost loved ones, some have travelled to new places and met new people. Some have had time to pray and think, or listen to a friend, or read something intriguing. I spoke with a young person who worked at Camp Valaqua all summer and she expressed that there is difficulty in leaving Camp behind and reintegrating into home and school. There are faith learnings and skills that she's developed that are incredibly good (useful!) for our church community. So while she is sad that camp had to end, she looks forward to moving on with what she has gained.
How is each of us changed by our summer experiences? What do we bring back with us that might be useful to the church? Are there things we are worried might not be accepted? Are we able to be advocates for those among us who have changed, or learned, or are somehow different than they were before? (Or maybe a better question is, are we able to let people change?)