Benediction Online

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Are we having fun yet?

Philemon 1-21

Are you having a good time this morning? Are we having fun yet?

Jesus was being followed by a large crowd who were fascinated by him. He had become a first century celebrity. People were getting on the Jesus thing as a way to have a good time, a way to have fun. So today’s gospel is Jesus’ response. “Look,” he says, “following me isn’t a fun daytrip. It’s not a way to get out of the chores at home and hang out with friends while listening to great entertainment. Before you decide to follow me you need to think about what you’re doing, because it isn’t going to be easy.”

Which probably wasn’t what they wanted to hear, anymore than it’s what we want to hear. Some of us have been reading and thinking about a book by theologian Sally McFague in which she challenges the basis of consumerism – the idea that everything is available for our enjoyment and that the more stuff we have the happier we’ll be. It is hard for us to disengage from that mindset because it’s so prevalent – every time you turn on the television, pick up a magazine or log onto the internet, there’s a new opportunity for you to get something that will be wonderful. It will solve your problems or make you feel better or help you have more fun in your life.

It’s rather easy for us to think about spirituality in the same way. Why choose to follow Jesus or why choose to make God the center of your life? Because it will solve your problems, make you feel better and help you make new friends and have more fun.

But Jesus gives a corrective – if you want to follow me you will have to take up your cross. Doesn’t sound much like fun does it? Many of the early Christians did follow Jesus into martyrdom, but many more didn’t, so what did Jesus mean by this?

Our New Testament reading was from the unusual letter to Philemon. This is a personal letter sent by Paul to his friend Philemon, because one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, had run away and ended up in Rome getting to know Paul. Now Onesimus is going back. This must have been a terribly difficult thing to do because most slave owners would punish a runaway slave with severe physical punishment if not death. Why did Onesimus go back? We can’t be sure, but my guess is that he went back because he felt it was the right thing to do. He was still owned by Philemon so he still owed him his life and labor.

I imagine that for Onesimus going back was taking up his cross. Because of his relationship with God, he was no longer able with integrity to be on the run. Going deeper into our spiritual life means that we have to face the things that prevent us from being fully transparent. We have to face the places that scare us as tell ourselves the truth about who we are with all our baggage. That is never easy. We all have shadow places that we’re not proud of, things that trip us up again and again.

Following Jesus means staying with the pain, our pain and other’s pain instead of throwing ourselves into fun activities, over eating or buying more stuff so we can numb out. Staying with the pain isn’t fun.
But following Jesus offers a lot more than an entertaining time. Getting to know God is the only thing that truly fulfills us, because we were made to be in relationship with the divine. It is the one thing that stretches us to be all that we can be.

As we are able to stay with the pain and continue to open ourselves to God, healing happens. Life continues to have times of great pain, but we know that we are held in the everlasting arms. We know that life is full of suffering but it is also full of the overcoming of suffering and so we are able to develop a sense of inner peace which doesn’t go away even when life is definitely not fun.

Jesus said that he had come to bring life abundant and it’s that life which comes from facing our own cross and being willing to carry it, because we never carry it alone. Jesus went to the cross alone so that we might never need to. Jesus took on the matrix of sin and defeated it so that we are walking a path which has already been cleared. We are walking a path which brings great joy.

Fun is light and easily broken, joy is deep and resilient. Joy remains even when fun and happiness are distant. Joy comes as we pour out our lives in service to God and find in that deep relationship that we are truly known and we are unconditionally loved. Relating to our God is not entertainment, it is the deep stuff of which abundant, lasting, true life is made.


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