Call to Worship
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise.
O Lord, may we open ourselves in worship,
and give of ourselves in worship and service.
O Lord, receive our praise
as we gather to worship you.
Hymn 457 – All hail the power
Prayers of adoration and confession
God of all creation,
you have opened the world around us
and filled it with creatures of your love and purpose.
Each one declares your praise –
the mountain states your majesty;
the ripened field, your generosity.
Birds flying aloft sing of your freedom;
the tiny ant works with your persistence.
And what do we declare about you in our lives?
We pray that our work will honour your justice and mercy;
may our relationships speak of your love and compassion.
So may we praise you, O God, not just in this hour of worship,
but in all our waking and our working.
Challenge us today to live out the praise we offer you
through the grace of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
God of justice and mercy,
we offer you our love and loyalty in worship
yet we admit we do not live out that love and loyalty.
We don’t always act on our good intentions,
we fail to keep our promises,
we hurt each other,
and then refuse to seek or offer forgiveness.
Forgive us, we pray, for not taking up our cross and following Christ.
Friends, let us proclaim good news to one another. In Christ we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Readings – Philemon 1-21
Luke 14: 25-33
Hymn 191 – Do not be afraid
Prayer of Illumination
Spirit of God, present now in each of us, bring forth truth from words spoken and heard, as we seek to follow in the way of Christ the eternal living Word. Amen.
It is often interesting when people come up to read the lessons to hear how they will pronounce certain names. I was taking a service in one of the sheltered housing complexes in Kelso this week and talking about Moses. Afterwards, someone asked me about my pronunciation of ‘Moses’. It never occurred to me that I was saying it in a different way from everyone else. Moses/ Mosis. In Zambia, people liked soft ‘a’s, so Jacob and Abraham were pronounced differently and probably nearer to the original Hebrew. But today we had ‘Philemon’ and ‘Onesimus’. We don’t read from Philemon very often, so it is not one which trips off our tongues, but it is a fascinating book of the Bible.
It is the shortest of Paul’s letters, only 25 verses, and the only one written to an individual rather than a church. That’s because the message was personal. Because Philemon, who was a prominent member of the church, also owned slaves. Now in the 1st Century world there was nothing unusual in that. Slavery was at the heart of the economy of the Roman empire, and indeed all other cultures at that time. It was a given. But one of Philemon’s slaves had run away and had somehow made their way to Paul, who at that time was himself in prison. Being in prison, having his own liberty taken from him, would no doubt have made Paul sympathetic to the runaway slave, but he knew Philemon and knew the punishment if Onesimus was caught, and so he wrote to Philemon, and he said ‘Philemon, you have a problem!’.
The problem was that Philemon had a runaway slave, who may well have taken something when he fled, but this same runaway slave had come to faith and been baptised by Paul. Now he was a brother in Christ. That would make for an interesting dynamic in Philemon’s household. That problem had a name, Onesimus, which means ‘Useful’, maybe a name given to him.
Paul begins his letter with dollops of flattery, praising Philemon’s work in the church, but then has the sting in the tail, as he makes an impassioned appeal for Philemon to welcome Onesimus back, to forgive him any wrong and to treat him as a brother.
Paul doesn’t condemn slavery outright in the letter, but obviously has sympathy with the slave. Elsewhere he writes that in Christ there is no male and female, slave nor free – we are all one in Christ, and many slaves were attracted by the radical message of Christianity. We don’t know what happened, how Philemon reacted. But we do know that there was a bishop in Ephesus in the early 2nd century called Onesimus – was it the same person, or someone named after the slave? The fact the letter exists and was so treasured in the early Church that it was included in the canon, in the books that make up the New Testament, tells us something. I think it tells us that Philemon took the message to heart and welcomed Onesimus as a brother and even perhaps gave him his freedom.
Our Gospel reading today has Jesus counting the cost of discipleship and making it clear to the disciples that to follow him meant complete commitment and sacrifice. He called them to take up their crosses to follow him. It cost to be a Christian, and it certainly did for Philemon.
When Jesus comes into the equation, things have to change. Before he was a Christian, Philemon would have punished Onesimus for running away, but now Christ had entered his life, he had to act differently. He had to show the same forgiveness and compassion Christ showed. It is the same with us; Jesus has entered our lives, so if we take him seriously, we must change the way we treat people. We need to reflect on what Christ would do in any situation- and change accordingly. Take slavery. It is so difficult for us to understand why Christian rulers were so heavily involved in shipping all these thousands of slaves to the Americas from Africa; why plantation owners in the Caribbean or the Southern states in America could go to church, even build churches, while all the time oppressing their fellow human beings. We thank God for Christians like William Wilberforce and others who campaigned so relentlessly to see Slavery banned. However, slavery still exists in our world today. Human trafficking goes on, luring women and children especially with promises of a new life, only for them to find themselves in impossible situations, often having to work in prostitution. A lot of the workers building the stadia for the next football world cup in Qatar may not be classed slaves, but their conditions are not unlike slave labour.
Yet we can just let these things pass us by. It is like climate change, the effects of which are so obvious to us. And yet the enthusiasm to do something about it after the COP conference last year seems to have waned. We need to keep our eyes open to what is in plain sight in front of us.
Paul encourages Philemon to look at Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother. We too need to look around us and see beyond the labels we stick on people, and see them rather as people made in God’s image and beloved to God and work ever that people may enjoy the freedom to know God and to follow.
Prayers of Dedication
O God, we offer these gifts to you. Bless them and use them to heal and reshape the world you love
Hymn 402 – Take up thy cross
Prayers of Thanksgiving & Intercession
Clouds rolling across the sea and land, freedom and space to explore, the soothing pattern and rhythm of our days and seasons grounds us in the Eternal. Tranquillity in early morning rising, delight in green surroundings, joyous laughter of children all remind us of the wonders of our lives. We give thanks for the gifts we witness around us, in green spaces, in music and creativity, support, validation, and love in companionship, our church communities, the wisdom in our shared heritage, and the wonderful example of Jesus.
There is much happening in our world that concerns us and which we bring to you in prayer: the armed conflict in places like Ukraine and Yemen, displaced people who have already lost everything; people who are being trafficked and those who have no freedom at all.
We think of the cost-of-living crisis, raising food prices and impacting those across our world who can least afford it.
God, not only do we cry out for justice and fairness, equity and enough for all people – we pray also that you would show us, how we might be agents for the kind of change our world needs.
We bring our silent prayers for those who lie heavily upon our hearts.………………….
As we answer our call to follow Jesus, be with us in our difficult life experiences and trials; where we fear there can be no hope, may we feel the healing touch of Christ.
We remember all who have sought God before us, Saints and martyrs, their wisdom which shapes our knowledge and understanding today. We pray for our loved ones who have gone through death, that they may know the brightness of everlasting life, and we who are left can continue to grow through their inspiration. Amen
Hymn 192 – All my hope on God is founded