Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, and companion of St. Paul is honored in the Eastern Church as "Apostle." Tradition says he followed St. Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus.
1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 18:1-11
The prophet Jeremiah uses the metaphor of the potter. (The prophet Isaiah uses this metaphor as well, although spread out in four places: 29:16, 41:25, 45:9, 64:8). The point is clear: the Lord is in utter control of his people. Yet, like all good metaphors, there is a sense in which the comparison holds true, and a sense in which it does not, for unlike the clay, Israel has a choice, and that choice can affect the Lord’s choice: (see the “if…then” clauses in verses 8 and 10). Amendment and mercy are part of how the relationship between Israel and the Lord work. However, verse 12 (which we do not read this morning) makes it clear Israel’s choice has been made: “We will follow our own plans, and…act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”
18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
Psalm 139:1-5, 13-17 (Track 1)
The first seventeen verses of Psalm 139 are among the most effective poetry in the psalter. They are a meditation on the individual’s deep relationship with the God who seeks us out and knows us. God is not only the creator of all life, but of each individual life as well.
1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14 My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number
than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.
2nd Reading: Philemon 1-21
We read almost the entirety of this letter, short four verses which comprise some personal remarks. Philemon is a reminder that reading the letters of the New Testament is literally reading someone else’s mail. You only have half the conversation in hand. It appears from this half that Onesimus, a slave of Philemon of Colossae, has run away to Paul, who is either in Ephesus or in Rome in prison. Has he literally “run away?” Or is he in trouble and needs a third-party mediator (not considered “running away” under Greek slave laws)? At any rate, Paul is asking Philemon to take him back not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, an equal. Paul is at his diplomatic best in making this request. The main point of the letter for us is that Baptism changes our status with one another. Social status among us is erased. We are all one. Why didn’t Paul take this a step further and declare that slavery is wrong? We don’t know. We can only own up to the fact, mourn, and repent that the Church also failed to take this further step for almost 1,500 years.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. 8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 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. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 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; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 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. 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Gospel Reading: Luke 14:25-33
Our Gospel reading does not comfort, it disturbs. Jesus is probably using hyperbole (exaggeration), a common device in Semitic discourse of his day. Jesus can’t actually mean for us to hate parents and abandon children, but he certainly means for us to be serious about our priorities, and not to be surprised when living the Gospel causes conflict even among our closest family and friends. This is a Gospel passage about making hard choices in following the way of Jesus.
14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website. And like us on Facebook!