Philemon 4-9
LUKE 14: 25-33

September 4, 2022

What a mighty God …” now just what were the rest of the lyrics in that first verse of the first hymn we sang. So easy to forget isn’t it? Of course, I am also wondering this morning what the closing words in the chorus of our song of praise were … mmmm “Poor though we are, we have brought ourselves to You …” Huh …

Good morning again, it is LABOR DAY WEEKEND and as one friend this week told me, “It’s a weekend to lay low and do absolutely nothing at all.” That sort of fits with most people’s thoughts towards labor and work doesn’t it … let’s lay low and do absolutely nothing. Breaks at work are always something to look forward to; the unexpected day off because of weather conditions is rarely the cause of complaint; accumulated vacation time or an increase in vacation days awesome; and being told to go home early from work it’s an absolutely delightful cause for celebration. We even teach our kids, from the earliest age, the benefit of their time away from school … that’s the special time; VACATION TIME. Lay low time … do absolutely nothing time.

Jesus told His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Sounds like the ongoing complaint of America’s farmers these last couple of years … they have plenty of crops but no one wants to go out to pick the crops. We still haven’t trained our AI devices to pick tomatoes, lettuce and corn … HEY GOOGLE; go pick the pole beans for me. There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer a few weeks ago about a family that has owned one of the largest farms in New Jersey for generations. Their farm has fed thousands through the years probably you and me but they are selling their Cumberland County farm … for housing developments because they can’t find the workers to do the work amongst other realities.

But, I stand here before you today to celebrate the labor of people of faith who helped to mold me …. People who gave of their time to teach me … People who truly connected me with the words “What a mighty God WE SERVE … “ understanding and teaching that the serving part is the completion of the full circle of the relationship God wants from all of us. After all … we do love God, right? Commandment NUMBER ONE.

I am so thankful this morning and so absolutely full of joy that so many men and women from my life’s journey but men in particular took on the work of the faithful sharing of their love of God with me … perhaps more importantly their love for me and for my eternal life’s direction. They cared about me both as a young boy and then as a man. I have had men through the years being examples for me of the benefits of faith … I had men whose life examples completed the verse … “Poor though we are, we have brought ourselves to You WE ARE YOURS … God … WE ARE YOURS.”

I started thinking about those men … those individuals a few weeks ago when someone who has some troubling realities in their life asked me about the “joy” I seem to have in life. I quickly told this person that I have my very sad days, I have my angry days, and my it’s not all hunky dory all the time days … and I am definitely not referring to the album by David Bowie, which by the way is one of my favorites.

I did tell this person that even on the stormiest of days I have God … I have Jesus Christ … and even when I am not listening I still have the Holy Spirit trying to guide me so I have a special joy and a peace that I don’t always understand. Perhaps as Paul phrased it “is a peace that comes from God that exceeds all understanding keeping my heart and my mind safe in Christ Jesus.”

Church, I do hope that you too have that … on this Labor Day Sunday … I hope that you aren’t struggling in your worlds with troubles that are not balanced out through a real and true faith connection in God with God … loving God. Having Jesus as yours and the Holy Spirit providing you with daily guidance.

I know we are busy and then when we are not busy we don’t like to get involved, we don’t like to engage in work or volunteer that is not of our own distinctly personal choosing, and we absolutely do not like to have someone suggest what we should take on in our lives … but I hope that in these challenging days we are living through … in these days when storm clouds seem to be constantly rising on the human condition that “you are not anxious about anything … that you bring your requests to God in your prayers and petitions along with giving thanks.” Because then that peace will be there for you. I do hope someone has taught you those lessons.

But, you know what? Unless we have a guide … unless we have a teacher … unless there is someone whose example we find appealing … how will we ever know. I am sure that each of you can easily remember that special person who encouraged you to discover Jesus Christ for your life … to realize that God is more than a name and that by being part of a church family where God is worshiped that your life is more complete.

Ah, the work of the faithful … sharing the love. JOY … REJOICE in the LORD ALWAYS!!

I always love asking folks if they know where PHILEMON is? Or who Philemon is. Is Philemon in the Bible or if it is in the Bible is it New Testament or Old? Philemon actually was a man, a co-worker of Paul and that means this 25 verse so-called book of the Bible is in the New Testament because after all … that’s where we find Paul, right? In your Bibles you can find Philemon right after Titus.

WHOA …. Titus you might be thinking. Yea, Titus is another guy Paul wrote at least one letter to that we know of. Titus hung out on the island of Crete where Paul assigned him to as Paul said “organize whatever needs to be done.” That was quite a challenge … quite a work assignment. I wonder how many vacation days Paul gave to Titus.

Some of the wisdom of faith that Paul shared with Titus were to “avoid … as Paul wrote … STUPID controversies, genealogies and fights about the law because they are useless and worthless.” He continued “Our people should devote themselves to doing good in order to meet pressing needs …

Well, it’s Labor Day Weekend, so let’s skip the devotion Paul expects of people of faith to do good W-O-R-K, that’s a four letter word if ever I heard one, in order to meet pressing needs but Paul clearly was valued by Titus because Paul referred to Titus as his “true child in a common faith.

Back to Philemon. Although Philemon gets the title of this one page letter, Paul also wrote the letter to a woman named Apphia, to Archippus and to all of those Christians who gathered as a church in Philemon’s house in Colossae … you remember Colossians … anyhow they lived in what is modern day Turkey.

This short letter is one I often think about when I consider those who have had an impact on my life. Paul writes that he has “great joy and encouragement” because of the love he has felt from these church folks. Yeppers, when people of faith share God’s love they can cause people to have joy in faith, great joy!

Therein lies our challenge today … how many people are beyond these walls in desperate need of sensing the joy we have in our faith. Our ability to break out singing JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD HAS COME!!!

The excitement and thanks we have when we proclaim that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior … HE IS RISEN <<He is Risen Indeed>> … the rush of love for ALL others that can be seen in our words and our actions contradicting the world while bringing great hope. I don’t think it’s work when we get involved with God … it’s more like joining a celebratory party!!!

Are you ready to invite some folks to the party? Are you ready to share your story … to take on whatever needs to be done if it means someone might have eternal life with Christ …. Or joy in this life that goes beyond human understanding because they have God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in their lives because of you. I know I have had MEN and women who shared with me. As an adult, Bill Southrey from the Atlantic City Rescue Mission brought Jesus back into my life through his joy and also through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. If Bill did not do that … I would not be here today.

Paul writes to Philemon and his little church that people of faith, like himself, had their hearts refreshed by the actions taken by the people of this church in Collossae. So how many people can be refreshed, discover joy realize that value of a God connection by the actions of our little church in West Deptford that is literally reaching the world this morning?

Before COVID came knocking at our doors I challenged us to get at least 130 people in this church on Sunday mornings to insure that we remained a vital, energized and missional church for God and Jesus Christ in West Deptford. I keep talking about the year 2035 when I will no longer be your pastor … because I want to know that this beacon of hope, place of joy and love, and stronghold of faith in Jesus Christ will still be actively engaged in the work God calls all of us to as a vital congregation and church!

It does take work … it does require us to not focus on our down time but rather to realize what we have to give back.

As we head to the Lord’s Table in a few moments I will remember Pastor Stanley Lewis, my pastor when I was a boy who stayed my pastor, friend, and mentor once I had God’s call to ministry, teaching me that Communion is my opportunity to really get close with God in a moment that can help me sense love, joy and hope all in the simplicity of a little juice and bread if I open my heart to God. I am so thankful for that man.

David Bowie in the opening song of his album Hunky Dory sings, “[1]Changes … there’s gonna have to be a different man. Time may change me.”

Friends, are you going to allow God to change you? Are you ready to sing with sincerity “What a mighty God we serve?” Will you allow time to change you so that your energy and joy in faith are shown to others; the work of the faithful; sharing the love … Poor though we are, we have brought ourselves to You WE ARE YOURS … God … WE ARE YOURS.” AMEN

[1] Changes by David Bowie

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