more about this sight

"you're packing a suitcase for a place that you've never been...a place that has to be believed to be seen"...'Walk On' by U2

WATERSHED: A voice in the wilderness. DARYL UNDERWOOD.

 

The concept of Centerpoint Christianity briefly stated is:

Christianity from the centerpoint outward.

Christianity from the climax forward.

This blog constitutes concepts for a new view of Christianity that begins with what is foundational and moves forward from that point. It is based on the assumption that we are being pulled towards something unseen and pushed from a place that once was.

What Centerpoint Christianity attempts to do is bypass some of the constraints imposed by metanarratives by using the life of Christ and particularly the climactic actions of Christ as beginning points.

It supports the conviction that God is essentially timeless. From this beginning point we endeavor to move outward from the definitive moment of the parousia (visitation) of Christ and forward to the future which functions as a type of magnet to "what can be--and is coming".

When we begin at the life of Christ and move outward as from the centerpoint of a web, rather than in a linear timeline of history, another wide picture emerges.


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Monday
Mar102008

Apostle's view: How Paul is set free: Excerpt two from "Watershed"

Followers

How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change
-”Change” by Tracy Chapman

Paul’s gospel explains the why? of this scene. The thing that makes it possible for Onesimus to approach Philemon and the house church gathered there with this thin piece of paper as his only "weapon of reconciliation" is called gospel. In this act we will see the 'good news'  as really more of a summons with authority, than an invitation with decision.

The question is will it work? Then, and today.

Paul was thunderstruck. Paul did a 180. A complete 180 degree spin and land. It wasn't that graceful or that easy. It took years in the desert. There, as he sat, perhaps sulked, he changed. Midstream. What Paul believes is that we need to turn as well. 180 degrees about face.. And as a result he provoked people, his own, to change, too. What I'm asking people to do is to consider repentance for the part that we currently play in society. To make right that which is wrong. Whether you carry the letter or receive the letter you have the same challenge. Can you embracethat other guy, again?

Now is the moment when one man, a slave walks up to another man, a master with nothing to protect him or shield him but a piece of paper and the hope of the power of the transforming gospel of Christ. And this is shaky ground...

Repentance can lead to resolution and restitution....for the rift between the daughters of Zion and Abraham's sons, the resentment of north and south, ghetto and suburbs, slave and free, rich and well, mostly the rich. A laying down of arms. 

Suppose two men have had a long time feud for one reason or another, they haven't spoken to each other for many years. The bitterness grows within them. And with each occasion for derision or each story open for nuance they spread their poisonous venom of hate. In time, the cancer has included a great many people. The chasm seems too wide to ever heal. Now suppose that one of them is confronted with the truth of the gospel of grace. He realizes he can no longer hold this hate and anger towards his fellow man, and upon introspection he realizes that his greatest enemy is the one that he needs to speak with. If that man were to come to the one he'd hated for all these years and say with sincerity in his heart, “I am sorry for the part that I have played to create this divide between us. I’m sorry.” Is it possible that this could lead to reconciliation?

The gospel of Jesus believes this is possible. The apostle Paul did, too.

The Gospel at Work
I have a letter before me.

It was written by the apostle Paul's own hand.Read the letter and then I will tell you what his dream is as he pens this document. It is a dream that lives on today.I believe this letter speaks.

Letter to Philemon.
Greeting,
1:1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. [1] For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, [2] whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave [3] but more than a slave, as 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, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given 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.

This letter speaks. It speaks first of all about community. We need to know, first of all, that Paul is writing to a man--but not a man who stands alone. He writes to a man who was found in a community. Paul writes this letter as a man in relationship with others who also walk alongside him. He begins the letter “to those that are there” and ends the letter “with these that are with me as I write today”. Paul believes in community and its ability to transform and be transformed.

This letter speaks; of honor. Philemon is a follower of Yeshua a Messiah. He is the leader of a house group that meets right in his home. It's not a small thing in these treacherous times and Paul “gets it” because he is imprisoned not for what he has done so much is what he has said. Ideas can be dangerous to the empire and Paul is seen as a threat to Rome. He knows it takes courage to stand up for Yeshiva in these times of Roman rule. Paul honors Philemon for that and he wants the assembly here to know that. The words written in the beginning of this letter are not just salutations and greetings, prayers and promises, the kind of stuff you do for the sake of etiquette, yada yada yada. It is not simple fodder before the main thing. These words are not appetizers prior to the entrée, but are important to Paul. Anyone who stands for the good news in these days as a leader in this movement has courage and certainly deserves honor. Paul gives him his due respect.

This letter speaks. It speaks of customs and culture, the first thing we notice is that Paul does the right thing by sending Onesimus, who was a slave, to Philemon, who was his master. Some have questioned why Paul doesn't aggressively lash out against slavery. I believe he does but it is not an overt attack. The way that Paul handles this is to speak of the light of the gospel, rather than the darkness of the presiding culture of which Philemon and Onesimus are a part of. In verse 14 Paul says,” I didn't want to do anything without your consent”. David H. Stern in this Jewish New Testament commentary says,

“This self limitation is consistent with Jewish ethical standards defined as desirable behavior of a man toward his fellows in keeping with national practice and accepted social and moral standards, including the rules of etiquette and polite behavior.”

In other words Paul is respecting the culture that Philemon is a part of and that means sending Onesimus back. Paul does the right thing by the culture. He honors standards and mores in the presiding culture while at the same time appealing for the new community of God to live in a new way within that very culture.

A contemporary illustration of this is provided by my postmodern missionary friends Jeff and Becky Waalkes. They have a deep respect for the Islam culture to which they are reaching out. When asked whether they gather on Sunday morning as the norm here in America, they simply replied, “No”. They went on to explain that Friday is the religious day and Kirkastann. So in keeping with the culture they meet on Friday. Now at some point the concept of Sunday as a part of the grand meta narrative can be introduced, but for now in order to win some for Christ they become Jews to the Jews Romans to the Romans and the Kirges to the Kirges people they are trying to reach so as not to create issues which would exasperate cultural norms and undermine what they're trying to do. At the same time they can appeal to those who come into the community to behave in a way that respect, say, the treatment of women. One of the illustrations they use is that in their marriage they want to model a certain behavior between husband and wife so that women are cherished and loved and protected rather than seen as second class servants, things to be used or objectified. The culture treats women as second class citizens. Jeff and Becky model something altogether different in their relationship. They are modeling something that they want their followers to emulate.

And in this letter to Philemon Paul is doing the same. On one hand he is respecting the cultural norms and doing the culturally correct thing by sending the slave back to his master. But that isn't the only, or the primary, engine that drives this train of action in Paul. He is at the same time watering and fertilizing a new “way to be human”, wherein there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free. He is intentionally leveling the playing field so that all can play as one. So while Paul wants to respect culture, he has other things on his mind as he sends Onesimus back to Collosae. He, like Jeff and Becky, has bigger fish to fry. One fish has to do with the exercise of power and rights in the community of the beloved. Philemon has the right to punish discipline and even kill Onesimus under the culturally accepted mores and norms, but Paul will ask that he consider laying aside his right to power and consider living in a new and living way. This new and living way is the way of the Christ. By accepting him back not as a slave but as a brother Philemon lives within that culture but as a part of the transformation of the culture.

When Paul says in the letter,  "I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart", this is no exaggeration for effect. No hyperbole, this is just the type of risk Paul is taking. This is an exercise of his heart because it tis the heart of the gospel. If this doesn't work, this appeal, this paper...it will break his heart for then, alas, the gospel does not work.

At this point we might hear the story of the prodigal son and the elder brother. Why that? Because this is the story where Jesus describes the "new" nature of God. This is the story of celebration for one son and an appeal to the other to accept this "new" way of God.

You might recall the story told in Luke chapter 15. The younger son demands that he be given his inheritance early, which basically means he curses his father as dead, so that he might go out and live his own life outside of his father's home. "Dad, I see you as old news, unable to give me what I need. So just give me the monsy and I will be gone." After living the high life for a period of time he runs out of money, he loses his friends and finds himself employed in a pigsty. Not the place for a good Jewish boy to work and live. When he comes to himself, when it "dawns of him", he decides that he's going to go home to his father and rehearses the speech that he is going to deliver when he sees his him. A speech of repentance, or 180 degree turnaround. It goes something like this.

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son just let me become a slave in your fields.”

While he is yet far off, his father sees him and as he is rehearsing the speech he intends to give something happens; this is the moment the father has longed for since the banishment in the garden; the time He envisioned when He put fig leaves on their nakedness and pushed them into a hard, dangerous world. It has been longer than this story. It is the Story. His heart beats fast. And when the son sees him running towards him his heart beats, nervously.

This story has been told before. Many times. One occasion is in the life of Jacob and Esau It takes place on a mountain.after the violation of theft. In a moment of unpredictability Esau embraces the perpatrator Jacob and "blesses him".

33:1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company [1] that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son just let me become a slave in your fields, please”

But while he's a long ways off, his father still runs to him, He can not stop, literally, can not as in, is unable to. Throwing his arms around him he says, kill the fatted calf, and put the Signet ring on his finger, and a robe on the shoulders, for my son was lost but now he is found, he was dead, but now he is alive. A great party follows. Good times for all, well, almost all.

One of the people invited to attend the party cannot be found. He is out in the fields. He is upset, distressed, angry and pouting. His father goes out to the field and entreats him to come in. He is to accept this other brother back not as a slave but as brother. He could, of course, command his son to do this, but he chooses not to. Instead of a command an appeal is made for the elder brother to do the right thing. The same appeal is given to Israel over and over again. Force isn't nearly as good as appeal. God knows it, Paul knows it, we should all know it.

It is also a way to be truly human and truly alive.

This letter speaks. It speaks of power. Paul knows that he is a certain weight of authority which he carries which would allow him to command Philemon and the entire community for that matter to accept this slave back. But somewhere the echo of a voice says “we are not to rule as the Gentiles do” by force or intimidation or command.Violence, says God, and you can trust Him on this, He has learned it Himself, does not work.

We are not to Lord it over them as the Gentiles do. And God once did. It doesn't work.

Like the poet/ lyricist Gordon Lightfoot writes in his intriguing song “Sit Down Young Stranger” we instinctively know that “war is not the answer that power does not rule”. One of my favorite lines in the outstanding movie “The Patriot” is when Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) says that he does not support the revolution because why “trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 one mile away.”

He’s got a point.

People who are in the world tend to think in terms of power. But not Paul. Not anymore. No, right here right now, the gospel, good news, must be allowed to do its work. So instead of commanding, Paul appeals to the heart, the transformed heart, to do what is right in the eyes of God and the kingdom. He believes and is banking on the gospel. If Philemon truly is God's, then the heart of stone that once beat inside his breast has been softened to a heart of flesh. So Paul is going to let the good news do its work. And he will not rob the gospel of its power and its authority to change us.

The letter speaks. It speaks of our condition. So Paul sends a letter in the hands of the slave. This slave will take the letter to his master personally. If the good news is only a theory, or a dance of ideas that are interesting but not transforming, then it is a failed gospel. And this is the opportunity for all. This is the test case. This is the moment that we have all been waiting for. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. This is when you see if this vessel floats or sinks like a stone.

When Paul says in the letter,  "I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart., this is no exaggeration for effect. No hyperbole, this is just the type of risk Paul is taking. If this doesn't work...it will break his heart for then alas, the gospel does not work.

 
This is the stage, the drama, the point, where we can see the gospel in action. This is on the Gettysburg trail when north meets south after a painful war, this is in the judges chambers where the lawsuits lie on the table, this is where it is...at the intersection of hurt, on the edge of revenge..

Now is the moment when one man, a slave walks up to another man, a master with nothing to protect him or shield him but a piece of paper and the hope of the power of the transforming gospel of Christ. And this is shaky ground. It is a crucible for Philemon as well. Does the gospel work or not is about to be answered. Is it enough? Paul believes it is and he wants Onesimus to know it, he wants Philemon to know it, he wants the entire house church that meets there to know it. Paul wants his friends and fellow prisoners to know it, he wants us to know it, he wants all who see this new community in action to be amazed and confounded by it. He wants everyone to know that the love of Jesus is something that changes us, transforms us, and makes us into a new community. So Paul closes the letter with confidence. Confident in the people, the gospel, and in the power of community. “Refresh my heart” in Christ is the postscript. And he can begin to see the gospel at work while he remains in that prison cell. And in his minds eye the ship does float and behold on the bow of the ship stands two men in warm embrace as the sun settles behind them and Paul smiles with delight for such is the kingdom of God.

The apostle Paul once sent a young man named Onesimus back to his slave owner with nothing but the gospel and a letter in his hand. Paul believed that was enough. He tested the gospel. He tested the good news. It was a real risk. In those days, under Roman law, a slave owner had the right to put to death any slave that had run away and wronged him in the process. Philemon had the right to do away with Onesimus. Paul tested Philemon and the family found with him in Colossi. The letter he sent was a private letter that was read in a public setting, with a man who delivered the letter probably shaking in his boots standing in the midst of the community. Paul had the ultimate confidence that this letter and this gospel was enough to convince the people who heard it that reconciliation was possible, and in fact, a wonderful opportunity.

We must do the same.

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