All are welcome in this place.
- Luke 15:11-32 — Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son
- Philemon – Paul’s Letter to Philemon
Luke a Master Storyteller of the Master Storyteller – Who God is
Luke was a master storyteller who told the stories of Jesus the master storyteller whose life and stories transform our lives and world. Re-created stories re-create our lives.
Luke tells his purpose as a prologue to begin the gospel. Listen to Luke’s beginning:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events which have taken place among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus, so that you might know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. Luke 1:1-4
This is the longest introductory sentence of any book in the Bible, and certainly one of the most interesting opening lines. The story continues.
Rarely does Jesus debate with people, at least after his 12 year old debate with Temple teachers. Instead Jesus tells stories for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
In the middle of Luke’s gospel Jesus tells one of the best known parables that is the gospel in a nutshell. What we know as the Parable of the Prodigal Son is really a story about who God is . It is about God’s nature as a loving parent who welcomes us home.
Paul’s Letter to Philemon – Who we are to be
There is another story that is a complement to Jesus’ parable. It is another kind of father and son story. Paul’s letter to Philemon is rarely read, perhaps because it is a short and seemingly insignificant letter of Paul’s.
When Paul sent a letter to anyone in the first century church, he dictated the letter to a scribe who wrote down what he said. A messenger carried the letter to the community he wrote to and told it to the receiving community. The messenger spoke as if he were Paul and the people heard it told before being given the written word. It was an oral (mouth/speak) and an aural (ear/hear) encounter speaking to a real life situation.
Imagine that we are that community listening to the story for the first time. Listen with pen ears and attentive heart and closed Bible. [Ask someone to be Philemon, Aphia, and Archippus…..Tell…ask questions….tell again….questions/background….Word for us.]
Paul’s Letter to Philemon (adapted by WDN from NRSV & David Rhoads)
Paul , a prisoner of Christ Jesus , and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved friend and co-worker,
to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our co-soldier,
and to the assembly that meets in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator & the Master Jesus Christ.
I thank God always for you, remembering you in my prayers,
— because I hear of your love for all the saints
and your faith toward the Master Jesus.
I pray that the partnership of your faithfulness may be worked out in the
awareness of every good deed possible for Christ.
I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love,
because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you,
although I have much boldness in Christ to order you to do the right thing,
I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love — Being such as I am,
Paul an ambassador and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.
I appeal to you on behalf of my child,
whose father I have become during my imprisonment,
Onesimus , who was formerly useless to you,
but who is now truly useful both to you and to me,
whom I am sending back to you.
Him – Oh he is my very heart – whom I would like to keep with me,
In order that in your place he might serve me in prison for the gospel;
but I did not want to do anything without your consent ,
so that your good deed might not be under constraint but voluntary .
Perhaps that is why he was separated from you for a while,
so that you might welcome him back forever,
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother
—especially important to me but how much more so to you,
both in the flesh and in the Master .
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me .
If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it;
not to mention to you that you do owe me your life.
Yes, brother, I ought to have some benefit from you in the Master!
Refresh my heart in Christ.
Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you,
knowing that you will do even more than what I have mentioned .
One more thing—prepare for me a guest room,
for I hope that through your prayers, I will be restored to you. Epaphras, my co-captive in Christ Jesus, greets you, along with Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers. The grace of the Master Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Do we hear the Story?
It is enough to hear the story and hold it within us and let it work on us for days to come.
It is also good to hear and hold the story together as we reflect on it and listen for what we hear together.
Imagine that we are that community hearing Paul’s letter for the first time:
What did you hear in Paul saying to us?
Does it raise any questions for us?
Who are the characters in this letter?
What is the storyline of the letter?
What surprised you?
What is Paul’s purpose in writing this letter?
How did Paul use the power of persuasion?
Paul has written a letter that is a short story. There is the story line we heard and there is also a story underlying the story.
Shape of the story:
Greeting and blessing all and identifying who from and to
Therefore…..story – upsetting the equilibrium
Admonition….moral question and choice
Greeting from colleagues and blessing of everyone
What do we hear about the story behind the story?
Additional background for Philemon
Paul is in prison….likely in Rome or Ephesus
Philemon – don’t know city; perhaps Colossae or Philippi
House church: Paul’s letter read in Philemon’s house church that meets in his house
Paul likely writing in late 50s or early 60s of the first century
Paul writing to person rather than church while unusual the personal becomes communal
Philemon’s slave Onesimus escapes and ends up serving Paul in prison
Prisons required family/friend to feed and care for prisoner
Onesimus is serving Paul in prison in Philemon’s stead
Onesimus’ name means “useful” but Philemon considered him “useless”
Paul insists that Onesimus is “truly useful both to me and to you.”
Philemon is to welcome Onesimus back like he welcomes Paul
“No longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother!”
Onesimus’ dream of freedom
Messenger may have been Onesimus……fear and trust….
Tell Philemon again
Listen to this biblical story again. And again please do so without a Bible or anything else to read on your lap.
Re-Hearing the Story of Paul’s Word to Philemon
Now that we have heard Paul a second time, let’s again reflect on it together.
Did you hear anything new?
What is the story behind the story?
This morning we are the community of faith meeting at Philemon’s house. We are also Seattle Mennonite Church in 2008 and Philemon is sacred scripture in our Holy Bible.
What is Paul saying to us today?
Or is Paul speaking to us or only to Philemon and that community?
Handout: Letter to Philemon & Song: “All are Welcome”
Paul’s word to Philemon and Jesus’ Parable
How might Paul’s letter to Philemon intersect or connect with Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal?
Father & son
Who God is and who we are to be
Paul’s Purpose in Writing Letters
Paul’s “letters” are stories speaking to stories. That is they are stories that offer encouragement and admonishment for real people in real life.
Jake Elias, Mennonite NT prof at AMBS, has written a very helpful new book called:
Remember the Future: The Pastoral Theology of Paul the Apostle (Herald Press, 2006)
Jake examines all of Paul’s letters to the early church by first explaining his purpose:
“One of my primary goals is to hear the stories that surface in Paul’s pastoral letters. Dynamic listening to the interwoven narratives needs to include discernment of how these narratives intersect with the life and mission of the various communities of faith being addressed by Paul’s letters. A propositional approach to Paul’s theology and ethics cannot do justice to such a dynamic phenomenon. Surveys of Paul’s foundational doctrine’s of faith tend to rely more on a flat reading of is letters, a reading that often pays inadequate attention to the contextual factors that shape their content” (25).
“Paul draws on the slavery metaphor both to warn against certain kinds of enslavement and to advocate an ethical posture of loving service” (Elias, 361). “Letter is a literary masterpiece in which he portrays a complex set of present and anticipated future relationships between himself and Philemon and his slave Onesimus. …” (Elias, 366)
First , this is a story of two sons and a father…Paul as father both to Philemon [who owes Paul his life] and Onesimus [my child, became his father in prison, heartfelt love]…
Second , Paul is in prison and wants Onesimus’ service but even more wants transformed relationships in the church. Nevertheless, “Paul’s desire for help does not preempt Philemon’s claim on Onesimus. Nor does Onesimus’ new status in Christ [and serving Paul] release him from meeting his prior social obligations” (Elias, 367).
Third , underlying Paul’s desire to transform this three-way relationship between himself, Philemon, and Onesimus, he is revealing a deeper truth that God is doing something new in this situation that is greater than paying off a slave’s debt…. transformed r/s …
“Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for awhile…become a beloved brother…in the flesh and in Christ….in the larger scheme of things…God is the primary actor. Something definitely has changed” (Elias, 368).
Fourth , “the storyline includes a vision of a new household, with master and slave in a reconciled new relationship, a household soon to be joined by a guest, Paul” (Elias, 368). “Love toward all the saints becomes primary manifestation of faithfulness” (Elias, 364).
Story and Storytelling
All stories are true, some of them actually happened.