September 8, 2019: The Risky Business of Discipleship

Philemon 1-21

Sermon: “The Risky Business of Discipleship”

On Saturday, July 21, 2007, I did something I had never done before.

I read an entire book in one day.

The book was Harry Potter: The Deathly Hollows. 

It was released at Midnight July 21st I got my copy at 12:01. 

And I spent the entire Saturday reading all 759 pages.

I did this for two reasons:

Harry Potter was Kristen’s favorite series, and it was a month later we would be married, so I wanted to earn some soon-to-be needy hubby points. 

The other reason:

With the dawn of social media, no secret in a movie, tv show, or book was safe.

And I didn’t want anyone to spoil the book for me.

It’s the same reason I went to see the latest Avengers movie, Engame, at Midnight when it came out. All THREE hours of it!

Reading an entire book in one day is not easy.

But I have great news for you: 

As of 9/11:15 this morning, I am happy to announce that all of us have officially read a ENTIRE book of the Bible!

Yes we did!

The book was our Second Lesson: Philemon.

Now I know some of you will say, “Hey, hey, hey! It’s a letter, not a book.”

But when it comes to the Bible, Letters count as books.

And don’t look a gift-horse in its mouth.

But let’s focus on Philemon and the cost of true discipleship.

That cost is something Paul and Jesus both talk about today in our lessons.

Some background:

Who was Philemon?

Philemon was a Christian whose house served as a house church for Christians of Colossae.

Paul brags about Philemon’s incredible faith.

And in the letter, Paul is about to ask Philemon to take a BIG risk. And Take that faith in a bold new direction.

That risk involves a person named Onesimus.

Who so happens to be one of Philemon’s slaves.

Paul and Onesimus became friends while they were in prison.

And while in prison, Onesimus has become a Christian. (thanks to Paul)

And now Paul is asking Philemon to see Onesimus not as a slave, but as a Christian.

Which fits into Paul’s belief in that through Christ, Christians need to view many subjects differently.

Those subjects included:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Social Ranking
  • And Family

There was a Jewish teaching that if a man taught The Torah to another person’s child, it is as if he had adopted that child.

In several of his letters/books, Paul spoke of the new believers as his children 

(1 Cor 4:15-17, Gal 4:19, 1 Thess 1:11)

So Paul looks at Onesimus, a slave, not just as a friend but also as 

a child of God, 

a member of the body of Christ.

It is the same way Paul sees Philemon. 

So in Paul’s eyes, they are no longer owner and slave.

They are members of the same body of Christ.

The same body that includes you and me.

So Paul is asking Philemon to see Onesimus the same way as Paul does.

Here is an interesting little tidbit:

Whenever a congregation would receive a letter from Paul or another apostle, they would gather, and then someone would read the entire letter.

So there is a crowd who is listening to Paul’s request.

So now Philemon not only has to answer Paul’s request, but he has a crowd looking right at him to see what he will do!

So what does Philemon do?

We don’t know.

The letter ends without an answer.

And I believe the letter ends with Paul asking us the same question.

Are we really serious when it comes to discipleship?

Because if we are, then that means we have to be serious when it comes to our “Yes” to God.

It means we have to be serious 

  • when we say God comes first in our lives.
  • when we say we are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.

It means we have to take the risk and face scrutiny because we are doing what God has called us to do and be.

And it is not easy.

Do you think it would be easy for Philemon to turn his back on Roman society and risk the criticisms of other slave owners by calling Onesimus “brother” instead of “slave”?

But that is the price for what we do and who we claim to be.

That is the whole point in our Gospel lesson.

Where the main characters have choices to make.

Are we really ready to make God first?

Jesus tells us how serious our commitment to God has to be. 

To make his point, he uses hyperbole.

It is a (rhetorical) device in which statements are exaggerated. 

It’s used to evoke strong feelings but is not meant to be taken literally. 

Think about it.

If Jesus really meant we are to hate our families, then verse 26 alone would cancel all the calls to love, care, nourish our own family that we see throughout the whole bible (like the Ten Commandments, or when Jesus starts calling his disciples his brothers)

So what Jesus is calling for is “undivided loyalty” to God above all else, including family.

It does not mean to hate our families, but to love God MORE.

And by loving God, we then love our families by showing them the same love, grace, forgiveness, and service God has first shown us.

So the cost is not a loss of family but a gain of family.

In Philemon’s case, it is not that he has lost a slave but that he has gained a brother.

And is he ready for that change?

Because if he is, life will never be the same for him, for his family, and for his new brother Onesimus.

I want you to look around the church today.

Every single person here is your brother and sister.

Every single person is a family member.

Every single person who visits us on a Sunday morning,

Or shares a meal with us on Saturday Monday or Wednesday 

Or who stays a week with us while finding a new home,

Is a brother and sister.

No matter what society or culture tells you.

And by that, I mean don’t take the words you hear from talking heads on news channels,

Or political leaders,

Over the words of Jesus.

Jesus taught love.

Not hate.

And anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is wrong.

Because the God we worship,

The God we pledge allegiance to,

Is a God who welcomes




And Unites.

And while sometimes a story might end with a cliffhanger,

We know how our story ends.

And who wins.

And that is not a spoiler.

That is the Gospel.


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