Two homilies (2) Easter Day

Easter Sunday | Year A | Acts 10.34-43 | Colossians 3.1-4 | John 20.1-18

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Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia.

Praise the Lord.

There, that’s better.

Six weeks of not being able to say Alleluia – and here we are.

Easter Sunday.

We can say joyfully and loudly say “Praise the Lord” because Jesus Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

We will say that again during the Eucharistic prayer.

I will say “Great is the mystery of faith.”

And you will respond “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Great is the mystery of faith.

We’re gathered here today in worship and praise and rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

Christ died.

Christ is risen.

And if you are sitting thinking “resurrection is a pretty odd thing,” then you know what – that’s OK.

Great is the mystery of faith.

And strange is the resurrection of Christ.

In today’s Gospel account of the resurrection, the familiar elements are there – the empty tomb, the grave clothes, the bemused disciples and the witness of a woman.

Like the whole of John’s gospel there are images and echoes backwards and forwards internally and to scripture.

Perhaps the grave clothes are mentioned so specifically to show they are different from Lazarus’ – Lazarus, whom Jesus had already raised from the dead. But Lazarus was still wearing his grave clothes when he was raised.

Jesus, the one who had the power over life and death, was different.

And Peter.

Peter – the favourite disciple of so many of us, because he just so often gets it wrong – went home.

There’s nothing different yet about Peter.

Peter went home.

I wonder why.

I wonder if he was tired. If he was burdened with the guilt of having let down his lord, his rabbi, his Messiah.

Did his ears still ring with the sound of the cock crowing, trumpeting his failure?

Peter saw the grave clothes, but he did not understand.

The other disciple saw the grave clothes and he did believe.

Seeing and believing are strong ideas in the Gospel of John.

In John 1, in the prologue, we read “the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.”

John the Baptist says “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The first words that Jesus speaks in John’s gospel are “what are you looking for?” and his first statement is “come and see.”

But Peter, and the other disciple, go home, leaving Mary Magdalene to see Jesus.

To have him ask her practically the same question as he asked in the beginning “whom are you looking for?”

And calls her by name.

Just as Jesus in John 1 names Simon Peter.

You may all by now be familiar with my desire to highlight the things that women do or say in the Bible that are so easy to miss.

This is one of them.

This is not just a trivial conversational exchange that the gospel writer has scripted.

We are also reminded of the image of the good shepherd in John 10.

He calls his sheep by name, and they know his voice.

And I wonder why Mary Magdelene thought Jesus was the gardener.

Was that the most logical explanation for seeing someone else in the early morning?

Was Jesus tidying up the shrubs?

I don’t know.

But it’s an image worth thinking about.

Is it an echo back to that first garden, Eden?

A reminder of the creation story.

You may have heard before that the name Adam is a play on words.

The Hebrew for ‘ground’ or ‘earth’ is adama. In Genesis 2, God puts the man in the garden to tend and till it.

Perhaps we have this link with the warden of the garden.

Echoes of the creation of the world in the re-creation of the world through the resurrection.

The resurrection changes things.

Peter’s simple statement in Acts shows the change in him.

This is the post-resurrection Peter.

The Peter that has been forgiven by Jesus for his denial.

The Peter that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Peter who seen the persecution of the fledgling church and is on his way to leadership – and his own death.

The resurrection changes things.

This morning at the beginning of the service we renewed our baptism vows.

In baptism, we sign the candidate with the sign of the cross using holy oil.

When I explain this to the children visiting from schools I talk about the identity that it gives us.

I say that they wear a school uniform to show they are part of that school community.

And that even when they’re not wearing the uniform, they’re still part of the school.

And the cross is like that.

It’s the invisible mark that we died and been raised with Christ in our baptism.

Our identity in Christ.

The resurrection changes things.

The resurrection changes us.

We belong now to God’s new world.

We are a new creation.

Paul wrote to the Colossians talking about this new life in Christ.

He tells us what the implication is.

What we need to do, if we have been raised with Christ.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

What does that mean today, tomorrow, when we’re back at work in the thick of life after a holiday weekend?

In baptism we say ‘Christ claims you for his own.’

We recognise Jesus when we are called by name.

Mary recognised Jesus when he called her by name.

Peter was called by name.

I think we need to look and see for those signs of the things from above.

The things that are of God, not of the world.

And we might have to look quite hard.

Because those things of God might come disguised.

Christ might look like a gardener at first glance.

The grave clothes might just look like any other linen.

Love might look like duty or hard work.

The mystery of faith might look like something to be laughed at.

We might fear faith for not understanding, rather than welcoming a mystery to be explored.

The other disciple had a chance to take a breather after his run to the tomb.

He went second into the tomb, and he saw and believed.

Perhaps for us to see and to believe we need to take a breather from our busy lives.

Time in prayer, in study, in fellowship.

Time to hear Jesus calling our name.

Time to become a disciple.

A lifetime’s commitment.

The resurrection changes things.

Will we let it change us?

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

 

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Two homilies: (1) Maundy Thursday

feet-1176612_1280Year A | Maundy Thursday | Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, John 13.1-17,31b-35

May I speak in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want to look tonight about what John’s gospel says. And why it says what it does.

That might be a short sermon, you think, possibly with relief.

Because it’s obvious, isn’t it? Thursday of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday. Passover, betrayal, arrest. We know the story.

And yes. Our familiar landmarks along the way are there in our readings.

But what does John say? Why does he say what he says?

We probably all know that the gospel writers describe the life and ministry of Jesus differently.

There is a general theory that Matthew, Mark and Luke shared some sources when writing their accounts; but had independent sources as well.

So that’s why there’s overlap and difference between the three synoptic gospels. They’re called synoptic because they take a common view. That prefix – syn – means ‘together’. We see it in words like synagogue and synchrony and synergy.

It’s also thought that the writer of the Fourth Gospel knew at least one of the others and based his material on them.

But John’s view is different.

John’s Gospel has been described as the ‘theological gospel’ as if the other three were merely narrative. A useful starting point, perhaps, to measure John’s text, but ultimately not a true distinction. Both John and the synoptics have both detail and theology.

John has been selective.

John gives us many small, significant hints at his message. All kinds of imagery that we perhaps don’t notice or don’t get in translation.

For example, the verb used when we hear of Jesus laying aside his outer robe, is the same as used in John 10 when we hear of the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. The verb τιθημι that’s used is quite specific, not normally associated with undressing, but laying aside. Echoes in the text reminding us of what has been said previously.

Or, throughout John, the words “coming from”, going to, going up, coming down; are used to describe Jesus’ origins.

John shows us the comparison with manna – the bread that come down from heaven – and the bread of life – that came down from the Father.

Water, bread, and wine are threads that run through the tapestry of John’s gospel.

What is the first sign in the fourth gospel?

Jesus turns a lot of water into a lot of wine.

The conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4  is about living water.

John 6 tells us Jesus fed more than five thousand people, with leftovers. Twelve baskets. A lot of bread. Twelve – probably not a number chosen at random.

And that sign is immediately followed by Jesus walking on water.

Which is followed by Jesus saying that he is the bread of life.

In John 15 he talks of needing to be part of the true vine.

The gospel reading this evening talks of water cleansing feet, and cleansing lives.

Wine, bread, and water. The elements of the Eucharist. John’s gospel is awash with the stuff.

But John’s description of Jesus’ last meal doesn’t include the sharing of the bread or the cup. It’s in the synoptics.

And we think the writer of the Fourth Gospel knew those other accounts. The letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest parts of the new testament, so the ritual meal was well known relatively quickly.

So why not mention it?

Perhaps because he knew that the Corinthian Christians had already corrupted it. The letter Paul was writing was to tell them off for making the shared meal a place of inequality.

And John wanted us to think more about what Jesus was like and the legacy he left us, than just a special meal.

I think he is saying that Jesus’ giving of himself was greater. That the incarnation changed everything. The implications are too great to be limited to one sacrament. That the love of God for his creation surpasses everything. Those threads of water, bread and wine in the tapestry of the gospel point to the threads of God incarnate in our world. We sometimes need hints to be able to see them.

We have signs and symbols in sacraments. An outward sign of an invisible grace. The ordinary is blessed and made holy. The oil I gave out this morning at the Cathedral was ordinary oil before it was blessed.

Those signs and symbols are ways to experience and remember God’s love for us.

But they are only signs. They cannot grasp the vastness of the encounter of the word made flesh. We can only see the back of the tapestry…not the full glorious picture on the other side.

John is far more concerned with telling us who Jesus was, than the things he did.

Only John’s Jesus washes his disciples feet.

So if John chooses what he includes for a reason, why include the washing of feet and not the institution of the Eucharist?

It is amusing, perhaps, to imagine different ways in which our faith might have evolved if footwashing was the thing we focused on.

Would our basilicas and churches have reredos and artworks not celebrating the Eucharist, but the washing of feet? Would there be whole swathes of plastic foot buckets for sale with inspirational quotes? Would it feel natural to share in the washing of one another’s feet, not something awkward that we shy away from?

Why include it?

I think because it’s an act of humble service. It puts Jesus in the role of ο διακονος – the word for servant – the root of our word ‘deacon.’ Peter’s reaction demonstrates how difficult it would have been for the disciples to have their feet washed by their teacher.

And like everything else in the gospel this private act of service points us forward to the public, ultimate service, the ultimate humiliation in Jesus’ death on the cross.

It points to Jesus’ love for his friends.

Those friends were the ones from the world. Κοσμος – the world – os another word that is used a lot in John’s gospel. Jesus loved his own. They were chosen from the world; in contrast to Jesus coming from the Father.

Note how the disciples are called Jesus’s own. The text doesn’t say “disciples” here. It says ‘his own.’ If we say yes to Jesus, we are his own.

And what does it mean to say yes to Jesus?

Love one another as I have loved you.

By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus is about to be betrayed. His friends are about to betray him. He knows what will happen. He knows he is going to the cross.

He laid aside his life for us.

He loved us to the end.

Chingford

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This is Chingford Mount. It is the shopping centre, the town centre if you like, of my parish. It’s where people meet; it’s where several bus routes terminate and originate. You can just about see the open space of Albert Crescent, overlooked by Aroma café.

There is also quite a lot of road. This is a busy junction. It is at the metaphorical – if not geographical – heart of the parish. And it is a place of anger, impatience and aggression. Almost every time I cross here, I see signs of this. I see the lights being jumped. I see cars aggressively overtaking. I hear horns blared at pedestrians who take longer to cross than their alloted moments allow. I hear unparliamentary language. I see unsavoury hand gestures. And I fairly often see litter jettisoned through car windows.

We have heard much lately about the absolute crisis of air pollution in London.

But what about the pollution of our souls, our psyche, as well as our lungs? What does it do to a community when this is what lies at its heart?

What is the effect of the daily diet of this negativity, this selfishness and this dominance of car over pedestrian?

The insidious, daily drip-drip-drip of the worst side of people. Dripping into the toddlers that wait patiently for the green man. Dripping into the schoolchildren who dash for buses. Dripping into the elderly and infirm whose right to walk at their pace is negated by the countdown beeps hurrying them out of the way of the cars.

The heart of the parish is given over to the car. Everyone else’s mode of transport and way of being is secondary.

Yes, I drive when I have to, and I no longer have a stressful commute to work, like some of the drivers I encounter. Cars themselves are a useful tool. And I am sure that those people driving aggressively across my patch pay their taxes, call their Mums regularly, parent their children well. But it saddens me to see so much anger, aggression and self-centredness on a daily basis.

Love your neighbour, says Jesus. Perhaps this might be a place to start.

I don’t have an answer to this. Well, not a practical one, since turfing over the junction and planting trees wouldn’t work. I think I just want people to think about what it is that might be at the heart of the parish, and the effect that has on us all whether we are conscious of it or not.

waiting

Today, staffing the Christmas Market tombola, I watched people wait. 

Young fingers, too excited to unfold the small pink ticket. Old fingers, arthritic, trembling; apologising for taking a long time to reveal the number. Pleasure at a win, however trivial. Mothers and grandmothers and Dads and granddads carefully helping toddlers count out their four goes. And children as happy with the consolation pick of a Quality Street as with a ‘real’ prize. Adults, too – perhaps surprised to be offered something they’d seen the children have. 

The simple pleasure of anticipation as the winning or losing tickets are examined. Those who take one ticket at a time, inspect, then repeat. Those who dive in and take all four at once, with an grin or apology for the accidental fifth as it’s returned to the drum. 

We all wait differently. 

Today was quietly moving. 

Tomorrow, we officially begin waiting. Not for a trivial prize but for the greatest gift of all. 

How blessed am I to begin Advent with today’s experience of noticing fingers. Noticing people; seeing how different we all are as we approach the same game. Because in amongst the tombola and the raffle and the cakes and the bric-a-brac and the chutneys and the crafts and Santa and the brass band and the Brownies… there, right in the middle of the hustle and the busle, I see fingers moving. And through the young fingers and the old fingers and the friends’ fingers and the strangers’ fingers, Jesus reminds me why I am there. 

Sermon for Harvest Festival 2016

My tweet is probably the TL;DR version!

Harvest Festival 25 September 2016 Year C
John 6:25-35 | Deuteronomy 26:1 -11 | Philippians 4:4-9

When originally delivered, this sermon was interspersed with stories from users of the local foodbank. I’ve taken them out, in case anyone was accidentally identified, but left the gist of the reasons. Eat or Heat are our local foodbank.

Today we celebrate our harvest festival.

We give thanks for those who provide the food to sustain us. We are t2016-09-27 08.22.06.jpghinking about those who do not have enough. We are going to hear the stories of people that have used the food bank we support. And we are going to think about why Jesus said he was the bread of life.

But first, let’s hear from P. [benefit withdrawal due to mistake by DWP]

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

In many places bread is a staple food.
Can we name different kinds of bread? (White sliced, brown with bits, naan, pitta, flatbread. Bread rolls. Bloomer. Cob)

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Just before this, he’s performed a miracle.
He’s fed five thousand people.

I am going to read a bit here.

One of Jesus’s disciples, Andrew, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’… so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

Geoff’s harvest loaf here reminds us very clearly of that miracle of abundance.2016-09-27-08-23-08

Deuteronomy, a book all about laws, tells the people of God what they should do when they reach the land that has been promised to them. After forty years of wandering in the desert, they should celebrate with the first fruits once they are settled. That’s got to be the first harvest festival.
So we have heard about saying thank you to God for the harvest.

And we are reminded of Jesus miraculously feeding people.

And we have abundance.

We have 24hr supermarkets. Internet delivery. Great British Bake Off.

B said [fighting a work capability assessment]

Food is such an important part of life. We have birthday cakes, mince pies, Christmas puddings. If we can afford it, we go out for meals for special celebrations. We invite friends over to share our food. We share in the Eucharist together, meeting Jesus in the bread we eat.
But when we’re skint, money for food can often be the only thing we can vary. Rent, or debt, or fares to work can’t be changed. But what you spend on food can. So good, healthy, nutritious meals become a thing of the past. If you’ve got very basic cooking equipment – or only a kettle – then your options are limited.
A said [low paid work and homelessness]

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus can be the staple on which we build our spiritual lives. The essential, for everyone.
Let’s just think about those five thousand people that were fed. Perhaps compassionate provision went to some ‘wrong’ people. The ones at the back, making jokes about cheesemakers.

Jesus didn’t check whether everyone in the crowd was properly hungry, or deserving of lunch. He didn’t suggest that handing out short term provision would make people dependent on handouts.

He didn’t separate people into ‘them,’ and ‘us.’
He didn’t judge people for not having the foresight to bring extra provisions.
He didn’t assume that because one person had the opportunity to bring lunch, all the crowd should have also have done.

So, as we bring our offerings for the food bank to God, let us ask ourselves what assumptions we might be making.

K said [working for low pay and facing large expenses]

Do we assume it could never happen to us, because we are not like them?
Do we judge people’s choices and circumstances without knowing their story?
Do we listen to accusations of fraud, or the foodbank being a soft touch, and assume everyone is on the make?

Do we live with guilt and shame knowing we can’t make ends meet ourselves?
Do we forget that everyone is a loved, and chosen, child of God?

If we enforce ever harsher restrictions on who can be helped by our social security, we hurt those who are vulnerable even more. It seems to be that at best, benefit sanctions or work capability assessments create a dehumanising regime designed around the assumption that all claims are frauds. And at worst, they destroy lives.

Jesus is the bread of life.

Life is more than just existing, getting by, being treated as less than a person because you haven’t got a job.

A full life – an abundant life – doesn’t require great riches.

It does require understanding that we are a loved and chosen child of God.

And so is that user of the foodbank. Or that person struggling to find a job.

The crowds following Jesus around demanded signs. They wanted proof of who he said he was. What would be the proof of who we say we are? What do we do, that proves we are followers of Jesus?

Filling a carrier bag with tins can create a lifeline for some. And we should give thanks for our ability to do that…and recognise that for some, contributing to a food bank represents sacrificial giving. 150 people have been helped so far this year; and the foodbank needs more resources – food, time, volunteers. When I visited last week, one of the things they’d like to be able to do is offer a cuppa to those using the service. Tea, a chat, a chance to be treated like a human being. Like a loved and chosen child of God.

I want us to support our foodbank, because it is a practical demonstration of Jesus’ love for all people. But. There is a danger that we can be happy to lovingly help people out of a river, but not investigate why they are there in the first place. Who is up-river, pushing people in for us to rescue? We need to be in both places.

We need to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Questions about WHY the foodbank is needed. About WHY rent is so high, and housing so scarce. I want us to know if whether the businesses we give our money to make people work for free. I want us to question the assumptions behind headlines, advertising, the pressure to borrow and to spend. I want to challenge the decisions made by politicians for whom £20 is a cab fare home, not a week’s supermarket shop.

Are we tacitly supporting of benefit sanctions, because we believe the ways newspapers and television present poverty? That people are poor because they’re lazy?

Do we think that refugees are having the time of their lives, on five pounds a day?
Are we the sort that think, “they can’t be that desperate, they have a smartphone?” whilst taking for granted our access to the internet?

So. To finish.

We give thanks today for the food we have available. We give thanks in the Eucharist – that’s what the word means. So as we approach the altar to receive bread and wine, let us be sustained by that bread of life. Let us take strength in that encounter with Jesus, here, this morning, in the abundance of his presence. Let us celebrate our abundance, and the gifts we can make to the foodbank.

And let us question why we permit a society that forgets that all are loved by God and equal in his sight.

Trains. (Quite delayed).

I found this post in an old Evernote folder, written in July 2015. It marked a moment, and it amused me, so I thought I would share it… even if it is over a year late.

It is strange to sit in Ipswich station looking at the train that was the 17:50 from Liverpool Street and to think how familiar I was with that service and its regulars. To see City people in smart suits and dresses and to think of the dress in my wardrobe that hasn’t been worn for nearly two years. Or to recall the bustle and fuss of Liv St, the dashes into Tesco or M&S for dinner or traingin… the quieter platforms after nights out…the busy platforms during delays and the scary evenings of wondering if I will ever get home.

(this isn’t the actual train, but one very like it…)

That was my life, the routine of season tickets Platform 3 for the 0810 platform 10 for the 1750 running along the river or in the Barbican at lunch; city pubs and pizza expresses for drinks and dinner. The frustrations of a late night at work missing out on things at home… being home in the dark – not seeing the first flowers on my window boxes until the weekend – the bliss of a sunny Saturday in a flat I only see in the dark during the week. All the knowledge of trains and train times.

Feels funny now. How can I be too busy to do stuff, when I used to do Stuff and fit in 45 hours of commuting and office time?

I don’t miss that life; for all the stresses of Westcott it feels like it is right for where I am. I think I miss having nicer clothes – perhaps it is time to spend a while checking what I have and what I wear. Shoes, as ever, being the problem.

I feel more disconnected from that than I have done previously. A good thing. It would be hard to always be grieving for what has been left behind. I still do miss the flat sometimes but I don’t wake up at Westcott wondering where I am; my rooms feel like Home; the daylight bulbs have dispelled the gloom. Just seeing the space with afternoon sun has helped change how it feels. St Leonards is a place I will be welcome, but it is no longer the place I long to be for comfort and for familiarity.

Perhaps Westcott has done the job of being that place of transition… growing me from the person in the pews to the potential leader; the painful part of last year was in feeling adrift and friendless in the place – rootless – and now I am preparing to leave there. Last (ish) term of responsibilities. After Christmas it’s head down, write stuff. Plan exit. Focus on the end. I am a leaver not a newcomer. It’s interesting that I’m called that right from the start of the year – it helps, I think, because I really am.

Sunday 4 September: All-age sermon

scourerspongesmall
Image source: http://www.ycf.net/images/products/scourers/scourerspongesmall.jpg

Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25:33

First time preaching at our main Eucharist here at St Edmund’s, and it was an all-age service. Each person was given a pan scrubber as they came in. I set the children (and any interested adults) to building a tower with them in the middle of the aisle. Using pan scrubbers as building blocks is an idea I discovered during our children’s week earlier in the summer. Current record is 42 for a freestanding tower. I digress. Here’s the rest of the talk.

Jesus uses the example of someone building a tower to try to explain that following him is hard. He says that there is a cost to what he asks.

Jesus says we should hate our families and give away all of our possessions.

I don’t think we need to take this literally today. Wouldn’t it be silly to give our house away, and have nowhere to live? Or give all our clothes away and have nothing to wear?

But

How seriously do we take our discipleship?

Jesus is telling us that those who want to be his disciples must make counter cultural changes. Counter cultural means not doing what everyone else does. And sometimes that’s hard.

September is a time of change for many. Our little ones start school or nursery; older children perhaps moving school or starting the year without a best friend. We want to fit in, find friends, and be liked.

In a world where bullies seize on differences, and can make lives truly horrible, seeking to stand out can be hard. That holds true for work as well as school.
Now, if you had given all your clothes away and were going into work or school wearing nothing but a smile, you would definitely stand out.

I wouldn’t recommend it.

But what if you decide to spend a bit less, and are teased for wearing something that’s not the right label? What if you are at school, and you make a choice that goes against your friends? Or you stand up for a colleague at work? Or call out someone being dishonest? Or walk away from malicious gossip at the school gate?

Those times can be hard.

Is taking up your cross being willing to be a doormat and be bullied?

No.

It’s not about being deliberately, openly, proudly making ourselves a victim.

Jesus asks us to think carefully about our priorities. He tells us that following him will be hard. But the cross he asks us to take up can be a cross of comfort, not just pain and difficulty. The cross shows us that God loves us. The cross gives us hope of resurrection and new life. The cross shows us that change is possible even in very difficult times.

Jesus asks us to be prepared to be different from the crowd.

In our epistle, we see a demonstration of exactly what that looks like.

Paul is asking Philemon to be different from the crowd.

Now, let’s be clear that whilst slave owning is something we find abhorrent. Being a slave means a complete loss of individual humanity. But in Paul’s time, it was an accepted part of society.

Yet the story tells us something important about discipleship.

Onesimus was a slave. And he had run away from his owner, Philemon. Philemon was a follower of Jesus, Paul reminds him at the start of the letter how pleased he is with Philemon’s work. Paul is, essentially, buttering Philemon up, because he’s about to ask him something really hard.

In Paul’s time, a slave who ran away could be killed as punishment. Philemon as a slave owner would not want to lose face, to be seen to be lenient with Onesimus. Otherwise where would it all end?

You let one slave go free, you encourage the others to run away.

Philemon would have to be persuaded to be compassionate.
Philemon would have to be persuaded to bear the cost of discipleship.

We don’t know for sure what he did, and whether he was persuaded by Paul’s appeals. There are reports of various Onesimuses in the history of the early church,

But we can see that from the very beginnings, to live as a follower of Jesus has asked people to be different.

You let one slave go free, you encourage the others.

You let one refugee in, you encourage the others.

You start one food bank, you encourage people to shop for free.

You give one person debt counselling, you encourage poor choices.

Those are all objections I have heard to actions that churches have taken. But aren’t they exactly what Paul was asking?

He’s asking Philemon to value the person, not the status.
He’s asking Philemon to think differently about the values he has inherited from his upbringing.
He’s asking Philemon to give Onesimus his humanity back.

Can Philemon think in terms of love and reconciliation instead of rights and punishment? Can Philemon see Onesimus as a person, beloved of God, a brother in Christ – not just as a useless slave?

Let’s remember that in our Gospel reading Jesus asks us to count the cost; to put him first above our family, security and possessions.

Often it’s hard to do the different, Christian thing.

It’s hard to bite our tongue, and back down in an argument.
It’s hard to find more money to support more charities to help more refugees.
It’s hard to be teased for believing something different, or for believing something at all.

But remember, the cross we are asked to bear is a sign of hope in the darkest times.
Was anything worth having ever gained easily? We built fun towers with sponges…but real foundations and real building takes effort.Perhaps you can take a pan scrubber home, and when you’re using it to do a bit of cleaning, remember that God is with us in the ordinary, and have a bit of a pray about what’s on your mind.

We all have a role to play as disciples. We all have different gifts, talents, personalities and ideas. As we all brought our individual scrubbers to be part of a tower, we all bring our own selves to build the community of the church.

Our parents and carers with a vocation to parenthood know well the personal cost and sacrifice of bringing up children, and grandchildren. But we know there is great joy sometimes – making the cost worthwhile.

If we want to nurture a society that is guided by love, compassion, reconciliation and respect, we’re going to have to work at it.

That means that to fulfil our role as disciple, we need to be prepared for it to be bumpy along the way. And we can’t say that we weren’t warned, for Jesus sets out his terms and conditions very clearly.

So let me leave you with some questions.

Jesus asked us to give up everything to follow him. What might we be unwilling to let go of, and why?

Paul asked Philemon to do something that might make him look strange in the eyes of his society. Are we willing to respond to that challenge today?

Are we willing to accept the cost of discipleship?