The scriptures read are Isaiah 58-60, Psalm 44 and Philemon.
Isaiah 58. This is the text for tomorrow's sermon, so read that if you want my reaction to this chapter.
Isaiah 59. Quite a litany of wrongheadedness and wrongheartedness. A long list of indictments indeed. Who's going to clean it up? God will. He always does. And he puts on quite a different armor of God than Paul urges us to wear. And he makes a new covenant with the penitent, in which his Spirit and his word are passed down the generations forever.
Isaiah 60. All these phrases in Isaiah keep triggering arias and choruses from Handel's Messiah in my head.
A wonderful picture of Jerusalem's rebirth. Its exiles are coming back, its splendor is restored. Is this hyperbole? Or is Isaiah speaking of the eschatological New Jerusalem?
Psalm 44. A lovely instrumental version from the Genevan Psalter can be heard here. If you want words, however, here is an effective animated version.
Philemon. Onesimus turned up before in Paul's letter to the Colossian (4:9). He was working with Paul. Well, it turns out he was a runaway slave. Therefore Paul was legally obliged to return him to his master (under Roman law, that is; under Hebrew law, you could harbor an escaped slave.) And his master was Philemon, a wealthy Christian who let the local church meet in his house. Paul wants to keep Onesimus but he must return him. And it appears that the slave had taken some money from Philemon to finance his escape. Which means Philemon has every right to severely punish Onesimus. Also, Philemon is probably of higher social status than Paul. So this makes for a very carefully worded letter where Paul uses what spiritual leverage he has to get Onesimus, his spiritual son, freed.
Paul starts by mentioning how gladly he prays for Philemon. He acknowledges Philemon's love for God and for his fellow Christians. Paul says he could on his spiritual authority order Philemon to do what Paul wants but he'd rather make a personal request. Onesimus is close to Paul and useful to his work for God while Paul is in jail. (Paul is making a play on words: Onesimus means "useful.") Paul has sent Onesimus back despite his own feelings in the matter. He didn't want to do anything behind Philemon's back.
And while he left a slave, Onesimus returns as a brother in Christ. Paul is on tricky ground here, calling a slave and his master equals. But they are, in Christ. Paul's said that before, in Galatians 3:28.
Now Paul tells Philemon to welcome Onesimus as he would Paul. He making Onesimus his personal representative to be treated as he would Paul! (Onesimus carried this letter to his old master and was probably nervous as a cat while waiting for him to read it and react.) Paul includes a personal IOU for any cost Onesimus has caused Philemon.
Then Paul says, "And I won't remind me that you, as a Christian, owe me for bringing the gospel and thereby the offer of eternal life to you." (Hint, hint, hint!) He asks Philemon for a favor, adding that it would also be a favor to Christ.
Finally, he says he's confident that Philemon will do even more than Paul asks (ie, not just refrain from punishing him or lend him back but to free Onesimus so he can serve Christ as Paul's great helper.)
And that's how you get someone to do the right thing when the law is all on their side and only God's law is on yours. (And Philemon must have done freed Onesimus or why else would he let this personal letter go public?)
PS. Tradition has it that this was the same Onesimus who Ignatius of Antioch said became Bishop of Ephesus after Timothy. His feast day is February 15.