Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Trying not to burn the cargo to win the race (Philemon 15-16)

SCRIPTURE: Philemon 15-16 – larger reading Philemon
Maybe it's all for the best that you lost him for a while. You're getting him back now for good - and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That's what he was to me - he'll be even more than that to you.

Clovis Chappell, a minister from a century back, used to tell the story of two paddleboats. They left Memphis about the same time, traveling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail's pace of the other. Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became vicious as the two boats roared through the Deep South.
One boat began falling behind. Not enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough for a race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship's cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but burned their cargo.

It has been shared too many times as far as I am concerned. The statements usually goes like this: “Oh, I haven’t talked with my (insert parents, sibling, child) for (insert a number of years).” It is shared more as statement of fact than with little to no regret. It is shared with no expression of wishing to heal the relationship. It is painful to hear because that is not the way God intends life to be lived. What they are doing is “burning their cargo” called family. What is achieved? Nothing, absolutely nothing! The person talking usually goes on to say: “Well, they know where I live if they want to make it right.”

Philemon is a short book of only 25 verses. It was a letter pleading for a slave owner, Philemon, to accept back a slave by the name of Onesimus. Unusual circumstances. Onesimus had stolen from his owner and ran away. Philemon had every reason to be angry. We couldn’t blame him. Paul is writing for Onesimus not asking for Philemon to free Onesimus from slavery, but to free him from anger. Grace always trumps justice. Love always wins over anger.

Here in this short letter Paul appeals to a higher law that sets all individuals free regardless of their previous acts or deeds.

Is there an “Onesimus” in our life that needs our grace and not our justice? Is there someone who needs to receive our love and not our anger? Or, maybe we can be the “Paul” for someone else – pleading a case for grace.


Guide us oh great Jehovah that we will give grace to the “Onesimus” in our life and step in to be the “Paul” for others. Help us oh great Jehovah, help us to be a healing force in the world.

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