Worship Service – June 28, 2020

Dear Church Family & Friends,

Our scriptures this week are from Romans 6:12-23 and Philemon 8-17 Romans 6:12-23 12.“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.13. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. 15. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16. Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey— whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17. But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 19. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21.What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Our 2nd Reading is from…… Philemon 8-17 8.Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9. yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul–an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus– 10. I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12. I am sending him–who is my very heart–back to you.13. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good– 16. no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. 17.So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 
This is the word of God. For the people of God. Thanks be to God.

My message for you today I titled…
Who or  What  Is Yanking Your Chain?
In our living room, behind the lazy boy chair, where I usually sit, we have a pole light. And on the end table next to the couch, where Bonne usually sits, we have a table lamp. Both of which have chains to turn them on. One little tug and presto, we go from darkness to light.     Recently we were given a beautiful pole light. In an attempt to find the right place for it,  Bonne tried several locations. No matter where she placed it you could not turn it on without standing up. You see it had a push switch instead of a chain to turn it on. I could have replaced it with a chain switch to make it more usable, but we decided instead to give it away. Maybe I should have changed it and made it more useful, but I didn’t.

This week somebody asked what the sermon was about. I said, “I’m preaching about slavery.” That was a good way to stop a conversation. Slavery. In our first scripture reading in Romans 6, Paul talks about slavery. It was an established institution of his time. There is no evidence that he tried to reform it or change it to make it more useful. Like our decision about the pole light.

Our second scripture this week is from a letter written to a slave owner named Philemon. During one of his vacations in jail, Paul met a runaway slave named Onesimus. They got to talking, and Onesimus became a Christian. When his sentence was up, Paul put a letter in his hand, and sent him back to his owner, who was also a Christian. And Paul says, I am paraphrasing, ”Now you get him back, as more than a slave – he’s a brother.” It was a nice thing to say, but the young man was still a slave. Paul did attempt to change Philemon’s attitude towards masters and slaves in the case of Onesimus.      You might remember that Paul likes to give advice in his letters. Sometimes he gives advice to all the key figures of a household. “Husbands, give your lives for your wives. Wives give yourselves to your husbands. Children obey your parents. And slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 5 and 6).     Paul was a preacher. Even if he were so inclined, there was no way he could reform an institution like slavery, which was the economic backbone of the Roman empire. Slavery sounds strange and repulsive to us, but it was a part of his life and his culture. So much so, that he could see slavery as an image – or a picture – of some of the fundamental relationships in life.

He starts his letter to the Romans with the words, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:1) The word “servant” in Greek is doulos. That can be translated “slave.”

Paul believes that he has a master. In fact, if you listen to this whole passage from Romans 6, it sounds like Paul believes that everybody has a master. Somebody owns us.

 That sounds strange to people like us. We live in a land where freedom is always defined as independence. I think about this because Independents Day is right around the corner. If you are free, it means you are independent. In 1776 we declared independents from British rule. That has become the governing metaphor for American life. I am free. I am my own person. I don’t need anybody else. I am an island unto myself. That is what a lot of people want: to become: INDEPENDENT!

They do not want someone, something “Yanking their chain.”

Years ago, Bonne and I sat down to watch the Miss America pageant. We were watching the pageant for different reasons; you know, I was watching to hear all those meaningful speeches, right? Bonne pointed to one of the candidates. “Watch that one,” she said. “She is going to win.” Why I asked? “Because she gave a really good speech about being her own person.” Sure enough, she won. Our culture would like us to believe that stuff: You are free to do whatever you want, go wherever you wish, buy whatever you desire. Meanwhile, there are a lot of people telling us what to do, where to go, what to buy. We think we are free; what we are really doing is merely letting someone or something else yank our chain. Especially during this pandemic. It almost feels like we are back under Roman rule.

Last Summer  a friend of mine, told me he saw a group of teenagers at the local ice cream store on a summer night. It was a good night for ice cream. It was a typical scene: clusters of teenagers orbiting around one another, trying to think for themselves and trying to fit in. He said. ”If you asked them, everyone would value independence and freedom. But as he looked at them: all the girls were wearing the same jeans. All the boys were driving their dad’s expensive cars and trying to look cool. All the while trying to be their own person.”     “Be your own person” means, “Don’t be a geek. Buy your clothes at the Gap and borrow your dad’s Vet or Mustang when you go for ice cream.” Paul is right. Even in a land of freedom and liberty, somebody or someone has shackled us in chains, whether we know it or not.                                             The question is: Who or What Is Yanking Your Chain?

Some people are slaves to shopping. They cannot pass up a sale: It is 30% off at Khols! Even if they have a house full of things they do not need. Some people are slaves to cholesterol. They have never met a donut or a piece of bacon they did not like. I included. Some people are slaves to their jobs. They do not like their jobs, but the company is paying them too much for them to quit, so they go to work in golden handcuffs. Some corporations are slaves to greed. Everybody answers to the bottom line. If the bottom line is not high enough, somebody has to go. In the last few years, we have had all kinds of revelations about that, but it is not news to anyone.

This Sunday we welcomed new partners to our church family. And there are a lot of things in church that seem like slavery. We come here, and pray for forgiveness, and somebody tells us we are forgiven. Then across the aisle we see somebody we would rather not ever spend any time with. And we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” and we think, “Oh, I don’t want to forgive him or her. I’m not going to forgive him or her.” But we have said those prayers, and we are bound to those words. There are some things we learn through the church that feel like burdens. We get to know somebody, and discover that they are hurting, and we do not know what to do. We do not know how to help. It would be a lot easier to slip away and ignore them. But we cannot do that because we are bound together through Christ, even when we would rather go our own way.

There are some occasions when the church decides it has to do something. A widow with seven kids comes to our neighborhood. She speaks with an accent. We do not know how we are going to help them. We are wondering how much money this is going to cost, and what else is going to be put on our plate. But we know it is the right thing to do, and we are bound to the work of evangelism, justice and new beginnings. Believe me, friends, there is no greater slavery than serving only yourself. Paul says he is a slave of Jesus. He struggles with his own urges, just like anybody else. But he knows in his gut that no good can come from listening only to his own desires. He is bound to a greater purpose than following his nose or listening to his stomach. He belongs to Jesus Christ. That is his identity. That gives him a purpose. He says this because he knows if the only thing he does is what he wants to do, if the only opinion he listens to is his opinion or his friends’ opinions, if the only purpose for his life is to cover his tail or save his skin, then he is in a whole lot of trouble. The power of sin is so pervasive that it can take and twist our best impulses into something foul. There are so many kinds of sin that work on us and bind us. It is hard to be free from all of it. But it’s possible. If it is only Christ ,“who is yanking our chain.”
There are a lot of times when it would be easier to do our own thing. To play it safe. To back away. To retreat in comfort. Then we come to church and remember that we are bound to Jesus Christ. Not only that! He has bound himself to us! We are never free from Him.
The good news, of course, is that in this kind of bondage, this kind of slavery, there is great freedom. And the only one “Who is Yanking our Chain” is Christ! Welcome New Partners. I pray that you will become slaves to Christ with us. Knowing that only He is the one “Yanking our Chain.”

In His Service,

Pastor Joe

Listen to Audio: Sermon 20200628

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