a couple of light thoughts that came my way while doing research for this sermon. “Even duck tape can’t fix stupid, but it can muffle the sound”
This one hit real close to home. “I may get up early and go jogging; I may also win the lottery. The odds are about the same for both.”
And no neither of those two things have anything to do with what we are going to be talking about.
Several years ago I tackled reading what is considered by many as one of the top 10 novels of the 19th century, Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. It was a massive undertaking. The protagonist of the novel is Jean Valjean, a poor man, who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family. He’s caught, convicted, and sentenced to four years hard labor. He attempts escape several times and as a result he ends up serving 19 years before he is paroled. Those 19 years turned Jean into a very hardened criminal, one that none in the prison would confront. With his release came papers that declared him a paroled criminal and none would hire him and no landlord would allow him a place for shelter. He was a resident of the streets, and this made him even more hardened and bitter. Then he met bishop Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel and his daughter, who offered Jean a meal and shelter in their home.
After their meal the bishop and daughter retired for the night and while they slept, Jean rose from his bed, searched, found the bishop’s silver, stole it, and fled into the night. He was captured with the silver and returned to the bishop’s home by his capturers. As the police officers listened the bishop reproved Jean. He asked why hadn’t he also taken the silver candlesticks that he had given as well as the silver? Jean was dumb founded by the bishop’s behavior toward him, this was something totally foreign to his life experiences. The police accepted the bishop’s story that the silver was a gift and released Jean. Bishop Myriel’s only request in giving Jean the silver candlesticks was that Jean would use the money from their sale to work toward becoming a good man.
The rest of the book deals with Jean’s attempts, his setbacks, his influence in the lives of others, and ultimately his contentment with his life as he lay dying.
The books of Philemon and Colossians seem to embrace Victor’s novel or maybe better his novel seems to embrace these two books especially Philemon. In Philemon we are introduced to Onesimus (one who is profitable), a servant (slave) of Philemon, who has fled Colosse after a falling out with his master and probably theft of Philemon’s property. Onesimus finds his way to Rome where he meets Paul, who introduces to the teachings of Jesus and Onesimus becomes a believer and disciple of Paul.
We have little to flesh out Philemon and Onesimus lives together, just what little is written here. We don’t know how Philemon treated Onesimus before he fled, we don’t know how Onesimus rationalized his theft and fleeing, but we can easily surmise they’re some hard feelings and some unfinished business between the two men.
In our Christian jargon we use several different terms that are paramount in the Christian’s life: rejection, intercession, forgiveness, reconciliation, restitution, redemption. We rejected God’s claim over us and live our lives on our on terms causing enmity between God and self. This enmity remained until one interceded on our behalf. We find forgiveness through the intercessory work of Christ, and we find reconciliation (which means to become friends again) when see our lives as God sees them and accept His offered forgiveness. Our redemption (to buy back) and restitution is paid by the one who intercedes for us. We are not only bought back, but we are adopted children of the most High God. Ephesian 1:5, “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will…” “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves.” Romans 8:14,15
One can’t help but to see parallels of the salvation experience with all that Paul wrote to Philemon. In verses 4 through 7 Paul writes of the character of Philemon, of his prayers for him, his love toward Jesus and all the saints, the fact that all that Philemon has that is good in him is from Christ Jesus. Paul intercedes on behalf of Onesimus, one who was begotten while Paul was in prison. The willingness of Paul to make restitution to Philemon for anything owed him by Onesimus. Paul’s desire that Philemon not only receive Onesimus back, but that he receive him as Philemon would receive Paul, himself. Not as a servant, but a brother. The entire letter is reminding Philemon of the one who had interceded for him, and the desire for a reconciliation to take place between Philemon and Onesimus.
This book shows us the things that reconcile us to God, but it is also a primer for how we are to be reconciled with each other. None of us escape without some of relationships being strained or broken. When it’s someone that is truly important to you how can you be reconciled?
They’re four types of reconciliation that can take place in our day to day lives; and we have been given the obligation of the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18. In the ministry of reconciliation we must be ever mindful that first and foremost is the need to reconcile with God through Christ, but we also need to remember that Paul admonish us to live peaceably with all men. Romans 12:8.
Everyone’s reconciliation story is different, but everyone can reconcile in one of four ways:
1 Deep, mutual healing. The first is the one we long for the most in which both people grow and change, and there is a deep healing in the relationship. When this happens, amazing transformations can occur. When this kind of reconciliation occurs, it’s a gift to be cherished.
2 Shifting your expectations. In this type of reconciliation, one person changes his or her expectations of the other person, and the relationship opens up, whether or not the other person makes significant changes.
3 Agreeing to disagree. In this instance, two people have dramatically different versions of past history–like whether or not abuse occurred–and rather than each trying to convince the other that he or she is right, they agree to disagree. They try to find common ground that isn’t connected to the dispute as a way to forge a new relationship.
4 Inner resolution. The final kind of reconciliation is the inner path we travel when direct reconciliation with the other person is impossible. The other person may be dead or may be too drunk, too damaged, or too hostile to make reconciliation possible. The other person may have slammed the door in your face and isn’t about to open it anytime soon. Or you attempt reconciliation, and your efforts fail. In these instances, our task is to grieve for the relationship…” Laura Davis, Coming Together After Falling Apart
The first three are bi-lateral, meaning at least two are coming together, the last is unilateral, meaning only one is involved in the process. One has given up on becoming friends again and one is grieving and reconciling self to the loss.
Feelings may be so strong, that like Onesimus and Philemon, an intercessor, a go between, a Paul will be necessary to get the process of reconciliation to begin. But life is too short, friends too few, and family too precious, to allow a breech to rob us our relationships with each other. Our ego, our pride builds the walls that keep us separated, for reconciliation to take place humility is required. “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Mt. 5:5.
Being a Child of God is a glorious thing, but it is also a demanding thing. God ask us to look upon each other as brothers, family. And He expects us to mend fences when we offend or we are offended…that’s action, not just words. He doesn’t just look upon Jesus as the only one who intercedes, but he expects us to be peacemakers too. Mt 5:9. I wish I could say I always do this, am always trying to reconcile with those that I have offended, but in all honesty I can’t. When I refuse to at least try to reconcile with those I’ve offended or I refuse to attempt to help others reconcile I lose God’s blessings on my life. And yes, if I do these things there may be a cost, but like Jean Valjean at the end of my life what price is contentment?
Oh, in case you’re wondering how things turned out between Philemon and Onesimus, rumor has it that things turned out just fine. Onesimus, the slave, became the bishop of the church at Ephesus.