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A sermon by Adam Barcott

Septemer 08, 2019

Good morning! Lets pray, Father thank you for calling us to your Son Jesus Christ, we confess that He is our Lord, and we gather around your word and sacraments this morning because we have come to believe that you alone have salvation. We gather to rest in your great power and steadfast love. Thank you for hearing our prayers and creating places where the heaven and earth can touch by faith in your son Jesus Christ. We rest in your peace that you provide for us today. So calm our minds and our hearts, anchor us in your truth and bless us as we gather around your word and bless you and each other. And we ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

Lets turn to page D in our books and make our confession together as we also recieve absolution together. So if he can, let’s pray together the prayer of confession saying most Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against You the in thought word and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. All mighty God in His mercy has given his Son to die for you and for his sake, forgives you all your sins.

Lord allow us to receive that today and every day and live out of your promise of forgiveness. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

I want to do something else today. This is different, but since you are forgiven, the one thing God has authorized you to do is to announce forgiveness to those who want it in Jesus name. So I kind of want to just see how this looks from up here, but I want you to in the next 10 seconds, 30 seconds to look to the people around you and say, I forgive you for the sake of Jesus Christ. I forgive you. And then maybe give them a hug if you’re comfortable, because these are things we can’t do alone. These are things you can only do when you gather, touch and speak directly. So this is cutting edge stuff, but you don’t have to know what they need forgiveness for.

You just say it and let the Holy Spirit do His work. You’re just saying, I forgive you and then give them a hug. Can you do that? It’s gonna take some courage and faith, not just to your wife or your husband, say it to someone else because we’re all in this together. All right, Lord, bless them as they announce your forgiveness to one another in Jesus name, Amen.

Let me pray before we read the scriptures. Oh, merciful Lord you did not spare your only son, but delivered him up for us all. Grant us courage and strength to take up the cross and follow him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. One God now and forever. Glory be to the father and to the son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and will be forever. Amen.

Our first passage is from Luke chapter 14 verse 25 through 35 this will be our gospel reading for today. So Luke Chapter 14 verse 25 through 35 found on page 510 if you’re following along.

Luke 14:25-35now great crowds accompanied him and he turned and said to them, if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me. CanNot be my disciple. For which of you desiring to build a tower does not first sit down and count the cost whether he has enough to complete it. Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish all who see it begin to mock him saying this man began to build and was not able to finish or what king going out to encounter another king in war will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with 10,000 to meet him who comes against him with 20,000 and if not while the other is yet great, a great way off. He sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And that passage in Luke is going to take years to understand what Jesus is talking about because it sounds counter intuitive to everything you’ve heard growing up, right?

But here it is. The words of Jesus.

Thanks be to God

No, I want you to find today’s reading. Uh, it’s a small letter from Paul. It’s called Philemon. It takes up one page in your Bible. So, if you’re going to follow along, it’s on page 580. You’re going to have to look at the page numbers. Oh, it doesn’t even take up. It takes up the middle of a page. But it is a powerful, powerful letter by the Apostle Paul. So we’ll read the whole letter. We’re reading a whole book of the Bible today. Page 585 Philemon.

Paul a prisoner for Jesus Christ and Timothy our brother to Philemon, our beloved fellow worker and a Apphia, our sister and Archippus, our fellow soldier and the church in your house, grace to you and peace from God, our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers because I hear of your love and have the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints and I pray that sharing of your faith may become effective for full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required yet for love sake.

I prefer just to appeal to you, I Paul an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus. I appeal to you for my child Anessa miss whose father I became in my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me, I’m sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would’ve been glad to keep him with me in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the Gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion, but of your own accord. For this purpose is why he was parted from you for a while or for perhaps this is why he parted from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever. No longer a bond servant more than a bond servant, as a beloved brother, especially to me.

How much more to you both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me if he has wronged you at all or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I Paul, write this with my own hand. I will repay it to say nothing of your own me even your own self. Yes brother. I want some benefit from you in the Lord, but refresh my heart in Christ confident of your obedience. I write to you knowing that you will do even more than I say at the same time, prepare guestroom for me, for I’m hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus sends greetings to you and so do mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Be with your spirit”

The reading of God’s word. Thanks be to God. You shouldn’t have to whisper. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God. That’s the word of God. Whew.

We’re talking about how faith works, so we’ve received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings faith and today what the Lord is saying to us through his scriptures, to His church, which includes you and me is this, you have gone from useless to being useful.

You are useful. You’re useful to the Lord. You’re useful to his people. You are useful to his plans to reunite heaven and earth. You are useful. Maybe you’ve had times where you were useful in your work or people needed you and you made money maybe or you got something from it, but now maybe you feel a little useless or maybe you’re concerned about the future. Am I going to be useful in the future? My best useful days are behind me or are they ever going to come and as a person of faith in Jesus Christ, the message to you, the letter written to you today is you are useful to God and to his people. How am I useful? This is what we’re going to talk about. But first and foremost, you’re useful to God the way that, how many of you have pets? How is, how are your pets useful to you? What do they bring you? Joy? What grace, emotion, joy? How are those babies that you’re all having? How are they useful to you?

I heard a economist and historian talk about the nature of children. This is a side note, but historically children were economically priceless and emotionally kind of like whatever, useless. But in our culture now, children are economically useless, but emotionally priceless. But, but my point with this first part is you’re useful to the Lord. Why? Because you’re his child and that means your use for him is joy. You give him joy.

Remember God says to Jesus, at his baptism. This is my beloved son with whom I’m well pleased Jesus hadn’t done anything yet. How can God say that? What had Jesus done? He just grew up and he got baptized. He hadn’t done one miracle, he had done nothing yet, but God says, this is my son with whom I’m well pleased. Why? Because God has a use for the joy that you bring him. You are useful in yourself. I love you and you bring joy to me. That’s the first use. But this only happens by faith in Jesus Christ. When you’re born again into this family, you are child in the family of God.

The Second use is to love one another. Just like when you had brothers and sisters, you have great use to God when you administer his love to one another.

What you did already today when you told someone I forgive you. God says that’s, Oh, that’s so much use to me because I’m trying to love and save all my children and I’m trying to do it with you that this is a relationship. This whole thing is about a conversation between God and his creation. It’s always been that way. He’s not interested in slavery. He’s not interested in making you, forcing you to do things. And he’s like, I created you to worship me, to have joy and to love one another. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, I’ll restore this humanity to you. So you’re useful to me in loving one another. And you’re also useful to me because God has a plan in place and he’s like, you know what? God’s number one plan is? It’s not just to make money. It’s to rule the world.

And he says, you’re useful to me in taking over the world because you know what we’re doing right now. We’re doing church, we’re doing life together and we’re not alone. There’s all these little cells. I’ll use that language. There are holy set apart cells that Jesus Christ set up all over the world to take it over. We are a little cell, but we don’t use force. We don’t use weapons. We don’t use intimidation. We’re going to kill and take over the world with kindness and love, just like our savior who washes his disciples feet and dies for us. See, we’re a little cell of God’s Real Eternal love and forgiveness, so you have great use. I know we all, I feel useless. There’s so many times we feel useless because we don’t see what we don’t see anything happening. I’m never gonna Change. I can’t predict the future. There’s so many things that I don’t predict and I can’t hold in order, but that’s God’s work. God holds things in order. That doesn’t mean you don’t have use. That just means God knows what he’s doing, but he has a use for you.

How? How does this happen? This is why he gives us the Holy Spirit. This is why he creates the church. Our faith will always work life together with people. You cannot have faith in Jesus Christ and then expect to walk in that, alone and isolated because faith produces life together. Always does. That’s the nature of it. That’s just what’s going to happen. It’s the first thing you fight against in your faith journey. People are so hard, so difficult. Everybody’s story breaks down. They had a bad experience at church because why? Cause there’s people there. This is where your faith grows because faith will produce life together. Partnership has to be done together. So church is where we get informed about God and the Holy Spirit, but it’s also where we are formed. Church is where you become formed and learn how to be a person of faith. Learn how to do life together.

Here’s how, lets consider this letter from Paul. There’s three characters in this story. Onesimus, Philemon and Paul. We’re going to look at each perspective today. It’s very interesting. Onesimus, his name means useful. His name means the useful one. The background of this story. Paul is in prison. So He’s experiencing the amazing success of an evangelist (joking of course). He’s in prison and he writes this letter. The other letters he’s writing, he always says, I’m an apostle. This one, he doesn’t. He has to say, I’m an apostle in the other letters because, I don’t know if you know this, but the word that we gather around carries what we call Apostolic Authority. That Jesus gave it to the apostles and he entrusted this message, the True Gospel of Jesus Christ. Very simple. But Jesus Christ died and rose again, it’s the apostles creed. He gave it to those guys with authority to go out and tell others. And so we just go back to the original source, the apostles.

So Paul would often say, I’m an apostle, I speak with authority. This is the true Gospel. But in this letter he says, I don’t come with authority. I come as an old man, as a prisoner for the gospel. I come with my heart and my love, and this is gonna show us how to do life together. And so the letter he has to write first is for Onesimus because he has a problem, he has an issue. He was a servant in the house of Philemon. Ancient slavery is much different than the slavery we had in America based on race. Let me just say this, it’s good for you to hear it over and over again. The slavery in Rome was not race based, often it was voluntary. Sometimes it was when you fought another country, you took their prisoners of war as slaves, but the term meant like an employee in someone’s house.

And you could do it for six years. You could do it until you’re 30, you could use it to get Roman citizenship. It’s much different. It wasn’t race based at all. It was, I’m in debt. How do I get out of debt? Can I be your servant for the next 10 years to pay it off? And I kinda like the person I owe, sometimes it was good. And of course sometimes it was awful. I’m not trying to defend anything here, Christianity didn’t set up Roman slavery. Romans did, so don’t get confused. But Onesimus was someone who was important in Philemons household, probably managed money, probably stole some, and he ran away. That’s equivalent to someone stealing all your cars, stealing your house or something. This guy was very important to Philemon. He ran away. Roman culture says, Philemon could kill Onesimus. It’s capital punishment. That would be the extreme. So that’s just the background. Onesims finds Paul in Rome and is gloriously saved. He comes to know Jesus and he is serving Paul because Paul’s in prison and needs food and needs comfort and Paul says, Onesimus has become like a son to me. He’s my very heart and at some point, this is where we’re talking about faith. At some point Paul said, hey, on Onesimus you know you need to go back to Phileomon.

You know that crushed Onesimus, but we’re doing so good here. I love Jesus now it’s forgiven, right? Paul’s like you have to go back, you stole a significant amount from Philemon and you have wronged him. But I could die. Paul’s like, I know I’m in prison for preaching the Gospel. I know, but faith produces life together and life together means there’s times of repentance and you face it and it takes seeing that God is above it all. It takes the joy that you know will come from sacrificing. It takes discipline. It takes the courage. Remember the courage last week? We said, how do you have courage? The only question you have is not, is it good? Am I good? It’s will you be with me? So Onesimus has to employ all his faith and say, God will you be with me as I go back to Phileomon and see what happens? And God always answers that question, to those who care where God is, what does he say? Will you be with me God? Yes.

That’s why we need each other. Because that’s how we answer it. We answered it with even more timidity during the week when we’re all alone. Yes! Yes! That’s the one thing we know about God. I will be with you. I will not forsake you. I will not leave you. I am with you. I’m following you. Cross that river into the land of giants. Take that land. That’s not yours. I’m with you. Yes, yes, I’m happy here. It takes faith, but it takes each other. So the first thing that your faith produces is going, I have to right my wrongs. I have to go back to him. Yes. So Paul says, I’m going to write a letter to go with you Onesimus. And in this letter, Paul writes, his beloved friend, he’s friends with Philemon, like beyond friends. Philemon has a house church. And so Paul is like, hey, I’m coming not as an apostle, just as another brother and I remember the work we did together, we are brothers and sisters in the Gospel. It’s beyond flesh and blood. What we do here is more powerful than flesh and blood.

It takes a while to believe that but it’s true because we’re families, eternal families in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus says, hate your mother and your father. Get ready to cut. Get ready to lose. Why? Just trust me. Because the Holy Spirit’s working this faith of eternal life. That’s better than what you can work here. So trust me. It takes courage. And so Paul writes this letter for Onesimus to Philemon. Ahead of him saying, Philemon, I want you to know that, oh, Onesimus is my very heart. He’s been a huge help to me. I’ll repay anything he’s stolen from you. Please do what’s right. Forgive him please. I know you’ll do what’s right. I don’t want to force you to do it Philemon, I don’t want to tell you again that I saved you. I brought the Gospel to you. You kind of owe me, I don’t want to say that, but please trust me, Onesimus has changed. He’s no longer a bond servant. He’s no longer a servant. He’s a brother. And there are times in your faith walk where God brings us life together and Christ is writing this same letter for you. You can insert your name in it. It’s pretty fun to do actually. But Christ is constantly writing this letter on your behalf.

Let me just try it. Verse 10. Let’s pretend this is Jesus on behalf of me. We’ll use me. I appeal to you for my child, Adam, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you but now he is indeed useful to you and to me. I’m sending him back to you. I imagine Jesus writing this to God on my behalf. Insert your name, sending my very heart, I would have been glad to keep Adam in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the Gospel. Jesus is writing this letter for you. We are Onesimus and that’s where we start. Most of us start our faith there and we’ve received forgiveness and I want to encourage you, this letter is written for you. Jesus is saying, God, forgive them. Forgive Adam.

The letter is written for us daily by Christ and it brings us into life together. But then let’s look at the next perspective of this letter. It’s written to you.

So the letter is written for you. The letter is also written to you. How many of you are Philemon and or you’ve been where Philemon. Somebody has crucially wounded you, stolen from you, maybe things, but maybe a lot of emotional things. They have stolen from you and now you’re getting a letter from someone you love saying, Hey, they love Jesus now, so how about you forgive them? Takes a lot of courage and faith to be Philemon right now to read a letter like this about someone that I hate and I’m allowed to kill. I have information that could destroy them. It would be like my asscociate Matt Fitzpatrick writing me a letter about someone who’s hurt me saying Adam, you got to forgive. I trust Matt. I Love Matt and I’m like, Matt, are you sure? I got stolen from? I’m humiliated and now I have to forgive him? Do I always have to be the victim here? That’s where I would be if I were Philemon.

But the faith, that the Holy Spirit is working in Philemon and in you when you receive these letters. How and why? Because you remember, Oh, Christ is writing this letter for me. I’ve been forgiven and now I’ve been authorized. The one thing I have authority to do on this earth now as a sinner saved by grace is I’m authorized to forgive you and it’s a great risk and it’s at great cost and I might be humiliated cause you might do it to me again, but it doesn’t matter because I have the god of the universe with me and behind me saying I’ll replenish, I will heal. But what if I lose everything! I know that’s what my son, Jesus Christ walked through for you. He did lose everything, but now you’re in a position like Jesus on the cross. Father, forgive them. So sometimes the letters written to you, but again, notice it’s always people. Faith draws us into these relationships. Why did I ever have to know Onesimus? Why did he ever have to get saved? If anybody has a reason to be like, church burned me Philemon would be like, church is burning me.

I got to forgive this criminal. But the Holy Spirit works so that Paul at least thinks Philemon is a brother in the gospel. We’re brothers and sisters under Christ and he’s going to figure it out and forgive because this is the hallmark of Christianity. This is the hallmark of the witness to the world. It’s not that we can love them, they don’t want forgiveness. When you go out to the world, the most offensive thing you can say to anybody in the world is, Hey, I’ve thought through the many ways you’ve hurt me and rejected God and I choose to forgive you.

You know how they respond? Some of them my be courteous, but outside the church it’s blank you. Why do you need to forgive me? Inside the church, this is for inside the church. You’ve heard me and you know it’s wrong and you’re coming to me for forgiveness and I forgive you. We say thank you, in the world, the things you’ve done, the things you wrote on Facebook when you were 20 or posted, they come to haunt you and destroy your career. The world is not like, we forgive you. We wish the world were like that, but Christianity is counter-cultural. We do some of the most awful things, but Christ saves us and then we become the people. Ridiculouslyt by faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit saying, we forgive you. Now we’ll have to do a whole nother sermon on forgiveness. It doesn’t mean just do whatever you want. The Lord pays for it, but we’re the people of forgiveness and it’s hard. That’s why it’s counter-cultural. Culturally, we want to keep everyone accountable for everything they’ve ever said. You need to be under the law and you did one thing bad, so the hundred good things you did don’t matter because you’re bad. That’s my experience with the world.

Maybe you’ve had a better experience. I don’t know.

Sometimes the letters written to say, you gotta forgive. Try to imagine a world where we forgive one another by the works of Christ.

Faith will draw you into that, so be ready. Then there’s a third person perspective of Paul.

There’s the hope that maybe we become the people who aren’t always just needing to repent like Onesimus. Maybe we’re not always needing to forgive others like Philemon. Maybe we become by faith the people writing letters, giving a voice for the people without a voice. We’re the ones who write the letters and say, I receive back my brother and sister. Now they totally made a mess of their life, but they are a brother and a sister to me now. How can I write those letters? Well you spend time with people? You can’t just meet someone twice and go, they came to church once. Let me tell you to receive them. No, I got to know you and see the Holy Spirit in you, in worship with you and serve with you and see who you are. Now I can write a letter on your behalf and this is another useful thing to God.

He’s like, I want you in the church. You’ll know. They’ll know you’re my disciples by the love you have for one another, but you become now by faith the people writing letters on behalf, advocating for your brothers and sisters to God and to others, and you do that now. You don’t have to be as great as Paul, but this is what we do when we pray for one another. When you pray for one another, say God, forgive them, Jesus, payback all that they owe you and bless them. That’s writing a letter. By faith, you have faith that they really know Jesus, and I really care for them. Now the letter is written through you, that Christ writes this letter by you for others, and all of this leads us to what faith will produce. Life together. And yet it’s what we all fight and kick against because it’s hard.

Apart from the Holy Spirit, it’s very hard. Apart from the forgiveness, having that letter daily written on your behalf by Christ. It’s hard to love one another and to believe this kind of community can exist, but by Jesus Christ and by faith in him, it does. And you’ve gone from being useless to being useful. In this little community, let me tell you, you may not feel useful, but you are. We need you. I need you. We need one another. We need to see each other’s faces. You’re useful to God when you just show up. We have a real interaction. God’s like, you are useful to my kids. They see people of faith. You’re useful to my parents. They are loved and cared for. Someone talks to them. You’re useful when you just listen. You’re useful when you praise God together. When you love one another. Could you do more? Yes. Could we love God more? Yes. That’s why we say God forgive us for what we’ve done and what we’ve left un done. He forgives us and you’re still useful to him and his kingdom and to one another. So do not lose faith?

We all know you’re a sinner. I’m a sinner too, but Jesus has forgiven us and you are now useful to him. You bring him joy, you love his other kids and you’re part of the method by which he’s uniting heaven and earth. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven that’s happening in you and because we’ve been baptized into him, we’ve died with him. We die with him in our baptism. Our life starts from a position of death and we move to life.

The world they start with life and they’re waiting and trying to escape and fearing the future, which is death. We go death first then to life! Without Christ it goes life to death! Start to think this way. You’re very useful in the death and life community. This is where life together begins. Christ writes a letter for you. Sometimes he’s writing it to you and sometimes he wants you to write letters for those who are in tough real world decisions. The Kingdom of God is not about just being saved spiritually. It’s about living under the reign and rule of Christ Jesus and these are the rules. This is the ethic of his kingdom. We love one another. How do we love one another? We forgive and this is pleasing to God. He loves it and he loves you.

Let me pray.

Father, thank you for your word. Thanks for writing this letter on behalf of all of us.

We need it.

Forgive us, Lord. We struggle. We want to know that we’re making a difference and we’re loving and we don’t feel that way all the time. So Holy Spirit, would you pour over us the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, the fact that we’ve lost our saltiness,but your holy spirit has restored it. Jesus Christ has restored our saltiness thank you. We have ears to hear that, less we’d lose all hope. Apply the work of Jesus Christ to our hearts, the washing and renewing of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit at our baptism. And may we pick our heads up as forgiven, authorized dealers of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ to one another and to the world.

Thanks be to God. In Jesus name. Amen.

Receive God’s blessing now. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May The lord look upon you with favor and grant you peace now and forever. Amen.