Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bring Back our Girls

Philemon 1:1  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. 22  One thing more--prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you. 23  Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24  and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. 25  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

A first glance this is a truly perplexing letter. The Apostle Paul finds himself incarcerated in prison with Onesimus, a runaway slave. They spend time together, resulting in Onesimus’ decision to follow the way of Jesus. This leads to such a close relationship with Paul that he is described as “my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.”  Paul then writes to Philemon, Onesimus’s master. It would seem that Philemon is known to Paul, who then asks him to take his slave back. What is startling is that this letter does not protest the inhumanity of slavery; it does not point out that one disciple of Jesus owning another is incompatible with being one in Christ; it does not even suggest that Philemon think of setting Onesimus free.  Instead Paul assures Philemon that he is gaining a slave who will become as loyal as a brother.
So what do we make of this? This story becomes a useful cameo to remind us that we cannot ‘lift’ stories from the Bible and literally apply them to our time. Two thousand years, and a great cultural gulf separate us from this events in this story. And many, many generations since then have allowed the Holy Spirit to enable reflection on the tradition laid down by Jesus. We are constantly prompted to ask “What would be the most loving, Jesus-like action I can take?” It is to be noted that while neither Jesus nor Paul condemned slavery, our modern understanding of human dignity demands that followers of Jesus condemn slavery today.

Join me is the call to return the nearly 300 girls held captive – and threatened with a life of slavery – by Boko Haram. Followers of Jesus join with all other loving, compassionate, justice-loving humanity in the cry “Bring back our Girls”. And join me in opposing slavery in all its forms, wherever it is to be found.

Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Bob Dylan Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music

Seventh  Sunday of Easter
Life Together
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 178.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


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