Summary: Tychicus, Onesimus, and Aristarchus chose to chain themselves to ministries of encouragement, inclusion, and support.
If you follow the rock music scene, I guess I should hurry to assure you that the sermon today is not about a heavy metal group, nor is it about some kind of kinky fetish.
The theme, "A Motley Crew, In Chains" is evoked by the long list of names which Paul singles out as he finishes the Colossian letter, as well as by his poignant reference to his own condition.
This theme, "A Motley Crew, In Chains", I intend to use this morning to speak to you one simple, overarching truth: that though we in the church be different, though we have widely differing backgrounds and personal histories, nevertheless God has called us to bind ourselves to one another. We are free, but God has called us to choose our chains. We may choose to bind ourselves to one another in ways that are redemptive, powerful, and wonderful. We are a motley crew; but we can elect to be in chains, not as an imprisonment, but as a commitment.
Let me call the roll, with Paul’s help:
The essence of prison is isolation. To be in prison means that you are kept away from the community. You are considered to be, as the film title reminds us, a "Menace To Society". So when you are in prison, they intend to isolate you.
This prisoner felt more isolated than most because his feelings for those he left behind had been so intense. If they had been ready to live out their lives on their own, it would have been easier to take. But they were children, mere children, immature, unstable, not fully formed, not ready for prime time. And it hurt to be unable to go to them.
More than that, now they were in real trouble. It was not just what might happen to them, it was what was happening to them. Somebody else, not of his choosing, was raising his children. Somebody wanted to impose on them a way of life that was very foreign to what he had taught them. Somebody else wanted to drag them back into old habits. And the guardian he had left behind was finding it impossible to lead them or to keep their respect. His pain grew deeper day by day, knowing of the plight of his children and dwelling on the fact that he was in prison, totally unable to be with them.
The only avenue left was a letter. A letter of instructions and of reflections, a letter which would both feed the mind and strike home to the heart. In the last analysis, a personal letter, written to real people with real faces and real names would be the bridge across the isolation.
Standing, then sitting on his hard backless bench; lying down on the smelly pallet in order to think, as much as possible, striding back and forth in that small cell, he began to speak his letter to the secretary who had been supplied. His words tumbled out, filled with passion and pathos.
When the letter was at last finished, he asked if he could sign it personally and add just a word or two in his own writing. When they passed him the tablet and he lifted his hand to write, the burden of his chains felt like ten tons of iron, holding down his hand and marring his penmanship.
He could not hide his grief and his burden. With all the determination he could muster he finished his letter with one last plea, one pointed reaching out with shackled hands:
"I Paul write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains." Remember my chains.
There are prisoners in chains and then there are free people in chains. The difference is that prisoners in chains are in isolation, cut off from meaningful relationships; but free people in chains have chosen to bind themselves to others. Free people in chains have chosen to commit themselves to others. When they do so, theirs is not a burdensome bondage but rather a redemptive, powerful, and wonderful commitment. Just look at this motley crew that made up the Colossian church -- how different they all were! -- and yet they bound themselves to one another: wonderful chains!
For instance, there was Tychicus. Tychicus, of whom Paul says, "he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you .. so that he may encourage your hearts."
Tychicus was in chains, just as Paul was. But his chains were not of iron but of responsible, loyal commitment. We read elsewhere in the New Testament about Tychicus .. he appears in Acts, in Second Timothy, and in Titus.. and everywhere Tychicus appears, he is being sent as a messenger by Paul. "I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus .. When I send Tychicus to you.." Tychicus has chosen to bind himself to Paul in personal loyalty and to bind himself to the gospel as one of its messengers.