Monday, November 26

A touchy subject touched upon

"Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were".
~Cherie Carter-Scott, "If Love Is a Game, These Are the Rules"

"God has done all this. He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships." 2 Corinthians 5:18 (GW).

I had forgotten in the midst of the battles that I face to vocalize the creed to which I believe all children of God are called to…. Ozuyewicasta Hoka Hey. In the Lakota language, it means "Stand fast, warriors", and is what the Lakota warriors would shout as they launched themselves into battle. I believe that we are all warriors in the Army of God and called to battle in various arenas; be it physical, spiritual, or even mentally. We each have our weapons which we can turn to God's use, or devastate our own.

I was sermonizing on Philemon and I was frightened because of the subject matter….well, not really the subject matter but the "S" word that is prevalent throughout this brief letter from a Pharisaic Christian to an Asiatic Christian, and two different lifestyles. It was the "slavery" word that is the gist of this letter, Paul asking Philemon to forgive a runaway slave of his mistake since he was a convert. I have several African Americans in my congregation and more than enough Caucasians that hate that word, either through experience or through cultural awareness. But I wanted to touch upon how redemption was sought by both the person in question, Onesimus, and a brother in Christ, Paul. But, God has a way of bringing into sharp focus that which He would have me to understand.

A friend of mine, dear to my own heart, as Paul speaks of Onesimus being of his heart, has been facing severe trials and tribulations in their life lately. It seems the more they seek the Father's face, the more various aspects of their life comes into painful retrospection or struggling sorrow. And it never seems to cease, unlike it seems to my friend those various Biblical figures finally overcome their own.

And one person directly involved in the struggle my friend finds themselves in, came to them the other day asking how they could ever make up for the pain and sorrow caused. And how forgiveness could be given by my friend to them, so despicable was the sin against them. And my friend, struggling to keep their head above the water of despair, asked me for my opinion and assistance in this question.

And God brought Philemon up for my attention. Many of us find ourselves in Onesimus' position; facing a major problem due to our blindness or wrong choice. In a position of being unable to rewrite the mistake, take back what was lost, and finding ourselves facing devastating consequences if we turn ourselves over to those we've harmed for disposition. Philemon was well in his rights, as a citizen of Rome and a slave owner, to allow Onesimus to be turned over to the authorities to be sent to the mines or work details that usually killed the unfortunates that were so punished. It is even implied that there was more than just Onesimus leaving his slavery without his owner's permission but that he even stole something from Philemon. Not exactly what would make Philemon more amenable to forgiveness, as Paul was asking.

And Paul, despite letting Philemon know that he felt that he could demand (based on the shared Christian tenants they both shared) that Philemon forgive and release Onesimus from his slavery, left open for Philemon to do 'the right thing' in this regard. Forgive or Punish. Although Paul relied heavily on the shared Christian faith and his own personal relationship with Philemon, he did not demand.

And, as we can see by the verse in 2 Corinthians, Paul also showed the redemptive relationship we have in Jesus Christ, that should let Philemon to the 'right action' in Onesimus' regard. Restore the lost relationship, and as Paul says in Philemon, find that the person who is restored is in better shape than they ever were before. True redemption requires repentance and forgiveness, sometimes to the point of waiving the cost of compensation rightly due. Sometimes it takes another, who has seen or been involved with the person who shattered the relationship, to step forward and offer to pay the price for that person to the one they seek forgiveness from.

So, I told my friend this; In light of the forgiveness we received from our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ His son, we have no choice but to forgive so that we can be worthy of the forgiveness given. But, to go further, we need to realize that redemption sometimes requires the act of forgiveness to be complete: including any compensation rightly deserved. Though the restoration process will be long and hard, it is the ultimate repayment of any indebtedness incurred and should be the ultimate goal.

We all have faced our slavery; either slavery of culture, experience, or viewpoint. We all need to seek the forgiveness of our debts to another and realize that we are indeed called to restore the relationships lost, as our Lord and Savior died on the cross to restore ours with the Father.

And instead of seeing the "s" word in Philemon, we should realize that the true word is "Servitude". Service to another regardless of our position or title, rank or financial status. Then, true slavery will never be able to raise its ugly head again on the American landscape.

I hope that I expressed this clearly as I did to my chapel congregation. I neither condone or accept the act of slavery, sorrow with my brothers and sisters of faith in the period of American history where it took place upon our shores, and seek to see that it never again is able to be something we face ever again. Neither do I believe that the Bible endorses slavery, indeed, in Philemon I think we see that Paul recognizes it as a societal problem and an unchristian one.

In peace,

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