Fredrick Douglas was a black man enslaved into the service of white people. Some of America was changing it’s view towards slavery, mostly those living in the northern portion, but for Fredrick he was stuck a slave. No one expected much of this young man. In fact the general thought of black folk (slave or not) was that they were dumb, slow and uneducated. The system purposefully kept them uneducated, but it was said “they couldn’t learn anyways”. Yet, when Fredrick was a young adolescent he was sent to a different home, in the family line of his master. There, the young white daughter taught Fredrick how to read and write. Fredrick began to find a church and a pastor who would teach him about Jesus as well as education. Fredrick was eventually freed from slavery and became a strong, highly educated voice for the black slaves in the south and began to help get them freed. His story, which he chronicled in his book My Bondage, My Freedom is one everyone should read!
Fredrick Douglas wasn’t expected to become much, but he became a world changer. Jesus changed his life, as did one person willing to invest in his education. He was a man changed. The story we are going to look at today of an obscure man named Onesimus is the same and the Gospel of Reconciliation can and will change this nation!
We in America have not embraced the full totality of the Gospel of Reconciliation that out Lord described. Jesus died so all would be reconciled to Himself, and we to one another. How can we live out the Gospel of reconciliation?
The story of this passage of Scripture is incredible. It describes how we are to live out the Gospel of reconciliation and the first thing we can see is that
Christ is the unifying factor in reconciliation (vs. 10-12; 16)
In a now famous speech, MLK said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”– Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Pittsburgh last week, there was a convention asking the question: “Has MLK’s dream come true?” I would say no, because too often we fall into the flaw of automatically judging people based on there outward appearance. Also, just seeing a person’s character is still not enough. Although his speech is moving and powerful, the end result falls short. If we loved all, (no matter their character or skin color) as family and loved the way Jesus loved his family…his dream (and more) would come true. Jasmin talked about this last week and asked a profound question: “Can you see me?”.
Paul is asking Philemon to see Onesimus differently, no longer viewing him as his slave, but now his brother. He’s deeply appealing for his “son” to be loved and accepted. Onesimus stole from Philemon and ran away. He was the property of Philemon, worth money, not relationship. On his way out, leaving Philemon in the lurch he stole even more of Philemon’s property and now Paul is writing a letter to ask Philemon to forgive the debts and see Onesimus differently. It’s a BOLD statement. It’s a challenge to Philemon to drop stereotypes as well. Philemon, even as a believer must’ve held certain stereotypes against Onesimus and his other slaves. Crippling stereotypes that could’ve caused division. Yet, Paul challenging him to see a brother, not a slave is a place of saying: “let go of your stereotypes and see Jesus in him”.
Just like Philemon, we all hold stereotypes. If I were to name a few scenarios like; you would all automatically put a color to the face I would be describing and in so doing, you’d be guilty of stereotyping. Philemon needed to drop his stereotypes. You and I must drop stereotypes if we are to move forward with the Gospel of reconciliation.
Yet, Philemon is not the only one being changed. Onesimus who was now free was being asked by Paul to go to his former slave master (who technically would still own him) and share his newfound faith and claim brotherhood with Philemon. He knows he stole from Philemon, he knew Philemon before Philemon found faith. He may have been a cruel master. Yet, he is being asked to see Philemon and to love him as family. This is no easy task. The hope of the Gospel has changed Onesimus and the hope of the Gospel can change us. Martin Luther once declared: “We are all Onesimuses!” Declaring that we all were once slaves, but are now set free from sin by the Gospel. Here we see that if we Know Christ, we can Know reconciliation. There is no other place in history where a runaway slave could come to their previous slave master and be loved and accepted as he loved and accepted himself. Only, ONLY through the Gospel is this possible. Christ unifies, Christ brings reconciliation, he is the glue that makes it all work. Paul in his letter to the Colossians, which was where Philemon planted his house church, he writes to the church there: “And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14 ESV). Only through the Gospel of Christ can we find harmony in love. This means, that the church is the only hope of not only displaying the Gospel of reconciliation, but living it out in the culture we find ourselves in. We are the only ones who can live this love, and we must. MLK was a pastor, he understood this reality; it is no simple task, but it is our task. Without Christ, there is no hope of true reconciliation
How can we then live this Gospel of reconciliation out? We need to realize Christ is the unifying factor, we then must love those in the faith as we love our close family. We then need to fearlessly live out the Gospel of love, even if it hurts.
Fearlessly live out the Gospel of Love
Onesimus has every right to be fearful and run away again. What Paul asked him to do is insane. Philemon in that culture would have every right to throw him in jail or have him killed. Onesimus could have been walking to his death. Yet, he boldly went and delivered the letters of Colossians and Philemon to Philemon.
I’m sure that Onesimus was nervously watching Philemon as he read the letter from Paul. They both were men changed by the Gospel, but was that enough to stay Philemon’s hand and even accept Onesimus? In the end, we see that it was. Philemon forgave Onesimus and we see that Onesimus, now set free gave his life to the mission of Christ. He was last known as the Bishop over the churches in Ephesus. He went from slave to bishop because of the Gospel of reconciliation. If the Gospel can reconcile a slave-owner and his previous slave, it can reconcile black and white, Asian and Latino. The Gospel can reconcile anyone from anywhere. Christ’s death and resurrection were and are that powerful.
Think back on Martin Luther’s statement that we are all Onesimuses. If God can reconcile my sins, he can reconcile anything. Sometimes, we need to remember what the power of Christ did in us in order to see the larger picture of what he can do in “them”. No matter our story, no matter our skin color, no matter our past, everyone can be reconciled to God. If God can make a slave a bishop over his church…nothing is impossible.
Heaven is a picture of reconciliation (Rev. 7:9-10)
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)
One of the many flaws of the church universal has been her desire to leave this world and go to Heaven. There should be a yearning for heaven and yes a longing to leave the prevailing sin this world surrounds us with, but that doesn’t mean the only answer is we huddle up and wait for the end. We can and should experience Heaven now. God’s desire is to bring heaven to earth, thus the famous prayer many have prayed before: “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. How often we pray that prayer without the actual desire for it truly. If we were to see God’s will done on this earth, it would be a picture of the multitudes from all tongues and tribes together worshiping God. If our churches is in a multi-ethnic community, we should not rest until our churches reflect that, if for not other reason than it is God’s will in heaven and so it should be on earth.
God has made the means of reconciliation possible. The Holy Spirit is asking us to let Him make us a picture of heaven. Are we ready and willing? If not, let us together ask the Spirit to let His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. To see this beautiful picture of reconciliation will be tough. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Yet, Onesimus was willing to push through. Philemon was willing to push through and the early church was as well. Anything is possible with Christ!