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Love and Hate - Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Readings

The Epistle
Philemon 1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-- and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

The Gospel
Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

The Sermon

OK, lets talk about the elephant in the room. According to this bible reading Jesus is telling us to hate our mother and father, brothers and sisters, and even our children, not to mention our casual acquaintances. This doesn't sound like a religion full of love and peace but just the opposite.

When I was putting together this sermon I decided to go to a website titled, Sermons that Work. It is an Episcopal website that offers sermons geared toward whatever the readings were for that week. I figured these learned sermon writers would wisely send me in the direction I needed to go. To my surprise the sermon writer completely avoided the gospel reading and only wrote on Paul's letter to Philemon. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised because on the surface this writing from Luke seems to be the antithesis of the Christian message.

But, it isn't, and here is why. Scripture is translated from Greek text and one of those Greek words is miseo. Miseo can be translated to the English word hate but can be translated also to 'love less' or 'esteem less'. Those two translations fit very well within what Jesus was saying all along as the bedrock of his teachings. Remember, Jesus said you must love your God with all your heart and all your soul. He was saying we have to be 'all in' when it comes to loving our God. We must love God first. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus still wants us to love. He just wants us to love our God most.

Lets take a look at Philemon. There are a few sticky things here as well. As an aside, today's reading of Philemon is the entire book. It is a complete letter written to one person, Philemon. This letter can be a little difficult to figure out because we are only hearing one side. The common belief is that Philemon's slave Onesimus had gone off to be with Paul who at the time was in prison. Paul had great affection for both men and wrote this letter to smooth things over between the two. Paul even goes so far as to ask Philemon to grant Onesimus his freedom.

This is a letter full of warmth and praise. It is also an example of Paul's skill in letter writing and his ability to persuade. We do not know the outcome of this story. Philemon may or may not have granted Onesimus his freedom. History can be like that. A lot is left to speculation.

One point that is often brought up is the institution of slavery in those early times. Why didn't Jesus speak to it. Why was he not outraged. Why didn't Paul take a stand? After all Jesus and Paul were both challenging the system in so many ways. Why not this one. Once again, it is left to speculation. For one thing slavery was a very entrenched institution and slavery was not the chain gang image that we have of it today. One could even move up in the social system and be a slave. In some cases slaves owned other slaves.

In my world. In your world. Slavery is wrong. One person should not be allowed to own another person. It would be sinful to do so. That is the context we live in. It was different back then.

This has been a different kind of set of readings but really it carries the same message. Jesus says to love your God above all else and Paul writes of his love and concern for his fellow man.


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