Summary: A plea to experience, extend, and expect the refreshment that grace brings

Postcards from the Past:

Finding Freedom in Grace

Scripture Reading: Philemon 1-25

The aging rabbi stood,

his loose-fitting Jewish garb

flapping lightly in the breeze that blew

through his spacious, Roman-style living quarters.

His back was turned toward the dark-haired man

who sat at the desk,

reed pen in hand,

poised, ready to write.

Several feet from the silent rabbi

stood a Roman soldier,

joined to him by the length of a long chain . . .

And, on the edge of a rectangular Roman couch opposite the desk,

sat the youngest in the quartet of men,

a runaway slave named Onesimus,

who months ago had used money stolen

from his master Philemon

to escape to Rome,

putting half the civilized world between them

in his quest for freedom.

Finally, after a lengthy silence,

the rabbi turned,

nodded to the man at the desk and,

as he saw the scribe dip his pen in the ink,

began the letter he’d been pondering.

[Clear throat]

“Paul, an apostle---”

He stopped suddenly, shook his head.

“No,” he said, waving his hand at his young scribe.

“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and,”

he continued, smiling at the scribe,

“Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home.”

The man sitting on the couch stared at the floor, his thoughts going back to that home,

half a world away in Colosse . . .

To Philemon, the gray-haired man of means

whose slave Onesimus had been . . .

a fair man,

a good man, even . . .

though Onesimus had never had time to notice his master’s good qualities--

he had been too filled with hatred,

too busy cursing his fate in life,

unable to accept being any man’s slave.

And there was Apphia,

the lovely lady of the house,

and Archippus, Philemon’s son, who had become a sort of pastor of the Colossian church.

The young man’s reminiscing had occupied only a few moments, long enough for Paul to dictate his customary greeting:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And then, Onesimus watched as Paul, fixing his eyes at a point in the ceiling, began speaking again:

“I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,”

he said, quickly glancing at Onesimus as he emphasized the word “all.”

“I pray,” Paul continued, “that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

As he spoke the words to the distant man of Colosse, Paul’s mind went back to his first meeting with Philemon, thousands of miles from where he stood now.

He remembered their encounter in--oh, now, where was it? He couldn’t remember, but it was not in Colosse, Paul knew that; he’d never been to that city, and he remembered that Philemon had been traveling away from home.

But the Apostle recalled that

Philemon had grasped the Gospel

like a drowning man grips a rope.

And he warmly recalled having heard that Philemon had returned to his home and quickly introduced his wife and son to the living Christ.

It was on a later journey when Paul finally met Apphia and Archippus, when Philemon had dragged them away from home just to meet the tentmaker who’d told him of Christ.

With a half-smile prompted by these thoughts,

Paul turned his head toward the man at the desk

and resumed dictating:

“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”

Then, having prepared the soil

for the seed about to be sown,

the pacing Apostle

gave a confident nod to the listening Onesimus,

filled his lungs with air,

and raised his voice slightly to say,

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 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--”

Onesimus watched, fascinated,

thinking he detected a little melodrama in Paul’s voice, but that wouldn’t come across in the letter...

“I appeal to you,” Paul said, “for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.”

Onesimus noticed that the Apostle moved his foot slightly as he referred to his chains.

They really weren’t that noticeable most of the time. Paul seemed to be used to them, having been under house arrest now for some time, as he moved about the simple house with ease, though always with a Roman soldier a few steps away.

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