Philemon 1:1-21 (NRSV)
Chapter 1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, Verse 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Verse 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 4When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God Verse 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. Verse 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. Verse 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
Verse 8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, Verse 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Verse 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Verse 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. Verse 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. Verse 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; Verse 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Verse 15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, Verse 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Verse 17So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. Verse 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. Verse 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Verse 20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Verse 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Our reading for today encompasses almost the entire letter of Paul to Philemon. Although letter writing today is practically a lost art, Paul wrote at a time when letter writing was basically the only way to keep in touch with someone in another location. My husband volunteers for an organization that writes letters each week to men who are incarcerated in ICE detention facilities. They often write back expressing how much they appreciate hearing about his family and life. It gives them a glimpse into the world outside the four walls of their prison cell.
A friend from my seminary years from time to time sends me a letter. It is always such a joy, amid the pile of mostly junk mail, to see that Amy has taken the time to send me a letter. There is something warm and intimate in putting pen to paper and mailing a greeting to someone. Is there someone that you could bless this week with a letter?
Dear God, thank you for always being available to communicate with us at any given moment. We give thanks for your love letter to us in the Holy Scriptures. Amen.