The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      8th September 2019
Live such that all peoples may prosper
Jan Rushton

Trinity 12  Year C  2019  (baptism / farewell)

Readings: Philemon 1-21;  Luke14.25-34


This morning we baptise into the Christian faith

our latest new member: Leanna Spalding!

Very warm welcome to Leanna, her parents and all her family and friends, here to support her as her parents offer her the very special gift of baptism,

sign and symbol of our belonging in Christ!


We also today have some sad good-byes to make ....

This is Paul’s last day with us before he returns to study in Cambridge.

I think the pleasure of these last couple of months has been entirely mutual!

And later, we will be saying a particularly sad farewell

to David, Lucinda and Samuel, who have graced us

0with their wonderful enlivening talent, these past eleven years. More later.


Joy and sorrow, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes from his prison cell

in his famous poem of this title:

Imperturbable, mighty, ruinous and compelling,

sorrow and joy - summoned or all unsought for - processionally enter.

Those they encounter they transfigure,

investing them with strange gravity and a spirit of worship.


Joy is rich in fears; sorrow rich in sweetness.

Indistinguishable from each other

they approach us from eternity, equally potent in their power and terror.


The enormous joy of the gift of a new child.

New parents in terror of getting it wrong

for the precious, fragile gift of life they have so lately received!


The gaping space in our lives

as those precious to us move on to new pastures.

Absence sharpening the sweetness of all that we have enjoyed.


So what of our gospel this morning with its talk of hatred.

Hatred of parents, children, brothers and sisters - life itself !?

Of course we are not to take this literally!

Jesus loved life, even accused of enjoying life too much!

This last week in Parliament we have witnessed a precise demonstration

of what Jesus means: brother unable to hold with brother -

love each other though they obviously still do.

The issue of our relationship with the European Union has divided us. Divided families, metaphorically indeed,

0cost some their lives - their livelihoods that is, as they take a stand

on how they see the best interests of our country.

To do so, they have been willing to carry the cross of rejection,

expulsion from their long-standing community and political home.

Mostly we are not called to make such heavy sacrifices, but to follow Christ we need always to be prepared that our discipleship may require us

to part from that which is not honouring of our Saviour, of God,

and God’s call to live with justice and mercy together. 

And, a sad reality in some parts of our world, still today,

this does include risking your very life.

In our comfortable homes in north London

we cannot know how we would respond in similar circumstances ....

In utter contrast, our story of the runnaway slave Onesimus,

which we have in Paul’s letter to his ‘owner’ Philemon,

is a story of freedom and the receiving of fullness of life,

a story from the emerging Christian communities

springing up in Asia Minor - Turkey as it is today.  Freedom and service.

Paul  employs his most eloquent speech

to establish and maintain Onesimus' dignity - and obtain his freedom -

even as he Paul sends him back, potentially once more into slavery!

Paul can 'spin it' as fast as any political spin-doctor!

In the very best of causes, Paul uses all his charm -

not a little flattery and some emotional blackmail!

to persuade the wealthy Philemon, leader of his Christian community,

and ‘owner’ of Onesimus,

to receive him back without rancour or retribution,

and even more astonishingly, receive him in Christ as an equal! 

The slave Onesimus has possibly stolen from his master and run away, become a fugitive.  As was custom, he has run for sanctuary

to an authority who may intercede for him, Paul, in prison himself in Rome.

Becoming a Christian he now has a new status.

Paul is also teasing Philemon - and the church, in this matter.

The name Onesimus means 'useful' in Greek.

His slave had been useless to Philemon,

but now, he is returning to him, abundantly useful!!

And Paul concludes with his strong hints

that Philemon might choose to send Onesimus back,

back to be of service to the apostle who has brought Christ to Philemon.

What a challenge this would have been to the high status Roman citizen,

in a hierarchical society where slavery was an accepted part of life.

We may know that Philemon did as Paul requested,

not only because we have the letter to Philemon,

also because Onesimus and Archipus, possibly Philemon’s son,

are mentioned together in the final greetings

of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.


As a Christian, Philemon must let go his possession of Onesimus.

Says Jesus: So therefore, none of you can become my disciple

if you do not give up all your possessions.

Again, Jesus is speaking in extremes, hyperbole, as the custom of his day.  As he is crucified we discover that Jesus himself

had a seamless robe - a robe that is, of the highest quality, so much so,

that the soldiers cast lots rather than divide it.

It is not Jesus’ intention we should have nothing.

What we are called to give up, is any possessive attitude.

It is how we hold what we have, how we use it that vitally matters.

Be that of our open-top sports car! Our swish house! Our top job!

Our enormous freedom to do as we please. Our relationships even.


We’ve heard a lot about possessions over this summer!

They are God’s precious gifts to us, and God does intend us to enjoy them.

We do so always remembering that we need to hold them

with our hands wide open.  We may be required to let go.

We are certainly required to seek such well-being as we enjoy

for those around us.   Live such that all peoples may prosper.

As we trust in the life offered to us by our belonging in Christ,

as we seek to grow into his stature,

we will find that the more lightly we hold our gifts

the more surely they are ours .....

And if this is our attitude, even when they are no longer ours,

the joy of our experience of them, will remain with us.

Will carry us forward into new joy.

We will find that inner freedom no matter our circumstances,

even as Onesimus life was transformed.

What a gift for Leanna is her baptism as she grows into adulthood.

What assurance of blessingfor those to whom we say our sad good-byes this morning.  Amen.

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