Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Home About Worship Music and Arts Parish Life Learning Outreach News Contact
Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sermon: September 5, 2010

“Useless or Useful?”
Philemon 1-21

About a year ago we played a game during the sermon called “Open or Closed?” It is time to play another game in the yearly Pulpit Challenge Series. This year our game is called “Useless or Useful?” And once again this game requires your participation. Now I, as the moderator of Pulpit Challenge, will ask you a question. You, for your participation, will raise your hand as to whether you think it is useless or useful.

I have got a good one: Dandelion’s. How many say dandelions are useless? Now, how may say useful? Hmm, let’s look break this one down into its smaller parts.

Dandelion roots. Useless? Useful? The answer is useful. The roots can be ground to make a caffeine free substitute for coffee. It can also be cooked as you would any vegetable.

The taproot is deep, twisted, and brittle, the more you try to weed them up, the faster they grow. Unless you remove it completely, it will regenerate. If you break off more pieces than you unearth, the dandelion wins. That reminds me of a joke, one day two dandelions were talking: "What's a dandelion digger for?" a dandelion asked. "It is a human invention to help us reproduce," another dandelion replied.
- Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places

Dandelion leaves. Useless? Useful? The answer is useful. The leaves can be used in salads or cooked as greens. BTW the Dandelion’s name comes from the notched shape of the leaves. Dente De Lion is French for “lion’s tooth.”

Dandelion stems. Useless? Useful? The answer is useful. The hollow stalk yields rubbery threads. And children have known about throughout the age of time.

Dandelion flowers. Useless? Useful? The answer is useful. They can be used to make wine. There have been many a home winemaker that has attempted to make Dandelion Wine.

[H]erbalists consider [the dandelion] a valuable herb with many culinary and medicinal uses. Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.

In traditional medicine, dandelion roots and leaves were used to treat liver problems. Native Americans also used dandelion decoctions (liquid made by boiling down the herb in water) to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and stomach upset. Chinese medicinal practitioners traditionally used dandelion to treat digestive disorders, appendicitis, and breast problems (such as inflammation or lack of milk flow). In Europe, herbalists incorporated it into remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea.
- University of Maryland Medical Center

So, once again, Dandelions. Useless? Useful? They may by useless to you but they are useful to someone else. Thank you for playing this year’s Pulpit Challenge.

Now let’s turn to a little book in the bible, Philemon, actually it is the shortest book at 460 words in English. It is little in size and little known. It is a book which has been seen by some as useless, but it did make it in the cannon, so others have seen it as useful. Almost the entirety of the book or letter was read this morning as the second reading. All of it except four verses, in which Paul requests a guest room to be prepared and he gives a final greeting and benediction.

The letter to Philemon, is the most personal of Paul’s letters. In it he requests that Philemon accept back a runaway slave, Onesimus whom Paul has befriended while in prison.

The name Onesimus, was common among slaves to be named “profitable” and “useful,” not because the slave was particularly profitable or useful, but in the hope that the attachment of this name of good omen would make him so. (Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F.F. Bruce, p.402)

Slaves were regarded as a tool but, apparently, this particular Onesimus did not live up to his name and was not a very useful tool. Paul says, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me” (v. 11).

Paul takes a great risk in sending Onesimus back, for a runaway slave, would be mercilessly punished for disobedience. However, Paul counts on Philemon’s upright living and belief in Jesus Christ, of which Paul reminds him in the letter. Paul even appeals to what Paul has done for Philemon to evoke some mercy and grace toward Onesimus.

The Apostle Paul realizes that Christianity is not about escaping one’s past and running away from it; it is about enabling one to face one’s past and rise above it. Onesimus has run away. He must then go back, face up to the consequences of what he did, accept them and rise above them.

It is thought “that Onesimus did not remain a private Christian, but became in due course one of the most important figures in the life of the province of Asia - bishop of Ephesus, no less. It was in his (Onesimus, bishop of Ephesus) that the corpus of Pauline letters was first collected and published, and wherever and by whomsoever this work was carried out, Onesimus (if he was bishop of Ephesus) could scarcely fail to get to know about it, and he would make sure the his Pauline letter found a place in the collection.” (Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F.F. Bruce, p.406). Therefore the one who was useless is now useful, not only to Philemon and Paul, but to God and Christ’s church as well.

We, as followers of Jesus, may sometimes think of ourselves as useless. We may wonder, “What good am I in service to Christ’s church? I can’t sing like her, or I can’t do anything creative like him, or I can’t serve a meal like that couple.” We often look at the things we can’t do in order to determine our uselessness. Often we will put ourselves up against others who can do great things, or do things we admire. We often have difficulty seeing our usefulness or our own giftedness, because we are too close to it. Have you ever complemented someone on something they can do (which you can’t do well) what do they say? “It’s not a big deal, or “It’s not that great.” My personal favorite is being with a person who has the gift of hospitality, serving a wonderful meal of at least three or four courses and they say, “I just threw it together.” We often do not see our gifts because they come easy to us.

To make ourselves not feel useless we sometimes may fill our lives with possessions that make us useful. We surround ourselves with stuff that helps us feel better about our inadequacies. Some hide behind clothes, make up, cars, or houses. I once saw a person who was barely over four feet tall, climb into a decked out Ford 350 pickup truck complete with duel rear wheels and jacked up suspension. It looked too nice to be a work pickup truck. I wonder if he was surrounding himself with something that made him feel useful because he really felt useless.

Being in Christ enabled Onesimus to live up to his name and be useful. Our name is Christian, a little Christ, and by God's power we can live up to that name. Our value or worth does not come from inside us and how we feel. It comes to us from the outside, it comes from God, who has come to us in Jesus Christ to give us value and worth and usefulness.

In our gospel reading for today (Luke 14:25-33), we hear some challenging words from Jesus about being his disciples. We hear that we have to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself, in order to be a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:26). Hate is a strong word and challenges our usefulness.

What is Jesus saying here, does he really want us to hate? It seems so un-Jesus like. Some scholars have suggested that this “is a Semitic hyperbole that exaggerates a contrast so that it can be seen more clearly. ‘Hate’ (miseō, in Greek) does not mean anger or hostility. It indicates that if there is a conflict, one’s response to the demands of discipleship must take precedence over even the most sacred of human relationships” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX: Luke & John, p 292).

The call to follow Jesus sometimes will challenge our relationships with people who are closest to us. There was once a young woman who felt God was calling her to the mission field. She was engaged to marry, but as she pursued missionary work she felt more and more certain that’s where she was to go. Her fiancé did not feel the same way. She broke off the relationship to follow God’s call to the mission field. God will use whatever we have to bring the gospel of Jesus to others.

Not all of us are called to follow Jesus in the same way. There once was a farmer who felt God was calling him to become a pastor. One day he saw in the clouds two letters, “PC,” he said God had given him a clear sign to “preach Christ.” So he tried to sell his farm, but couldn’t. But that did not stop him, he rented it out and went off to seminary. He was terrible in seminary, he couldn’t preach, he couldn’t understand the textual criticism, he was failing in Greek and Hebrew. Finally his advisor sat down with him and asked what he was doing at the seminary. He told the advisor about his call and the “PC” in the clouds. The advisor said, “Maybe PC, stands for plant corn. Maybe God was calling you to serve the gospel of Jesus as a farmer.”

Not all of us are called to follow Jesus in the same way. God will use whatever we have to bring the gospel of Jesus to others. None of us are useless in the eyes of God.

So dear friends in Christ, are you useless or useful in the eyes of God? The answer: Useful.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church