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The following quotes are from a section of Pr. Johann Gerhard’s sermon, Invocavit Sunday on fasting, the text is: St. Matthew 4: 1-11.  Our Lord said, “When you fast…”, not “if you fast”,  but He nor the Scriptures give times and days for fasting.  When churches have done so, then it tends to be legalistic and a religious work that people consider as saving.  Further, considering that when you fast, as in individual prayer and giving to the poor, it is to be done in private, because the aim of fasting is the Lord (see St. Matthew 6: 4, 6, 18).   Fasting is a good discipline for Christ’s disciples and I think Pr. Gerhard’s preaching and teaching teaches the evangelical way of fasting:

Fasting from the lusts of the flesh:

Christ wanted to teach true fasting with His example: It does not consist of a person refraining from certain foods at certain times and regarding that as being meritorious and as a satisfaction for sin. Instead, the following is a true, God-pleasing fast, namely, “The primary, great universal fast,” as Augustine calls it, is a person abstains from the lusts of the flesh which strive against the soul, I Pet. 2:11, where a person then does not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, Gal. 5:16. Also, all members can fast in this manner if they do not give in to the servitude of impurity, but instead to the weapons of righteousness, Rom. 6:13 and 19.

Daily fasting:

Following this there is a daily fast: moderation. With it is observed an appropriate restraint in eating and drinking in order that one becomes adept at praying, skillful at his calling, and in the exercise of godliness. Also, this is of such a vital, essential necessity that Christ speaks with words worthy of reflection and contemplation: However, you be on guard so that your hearts do not become burdened with gobbling food and boozing, lest this final Day comes upon you like an ensnaring trap, Luke 21:34-35. If it were not of the utmost importance, Christ never would have used such stern words.

Fasting for Prayer and Reception of the Holy Communion:

Finally, there is a mourning and prayer fast, especially for when a person amidst general or specific misfortunes—or also when confronted with imminent common need—initiates a fast so that he may all the more be humbly devoted to prayer in acknowledgment of his sin. So also it was a fine practice with the ancient fathers that prior to the high Festivals and prior to the observance of the most worthy Lord’s Supper they would abstain from food and drink on the day before, or only ate one meal. They did this in order to become all the more adroit at prayer, at repenting and pondering the divine Word. Yet, here one dare never prescribe any specific, general rule, nor designate any specific times. Each person has to examine himself and thereby see to it that he also attend to the body so that he does not become lascivious, cf. Rom. 13 and 14.

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 Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, 8 February, 2,015/Text:  St. Mark 1:  29-39

A song lyric by the Rolling Stones:

 

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

 Can you guess his name? The song’s title  is, “Sympathy for the Devil”.  The singer is the devil. Jesus knows the devils and the demons game up close and personal.  Some 4 times in this short Gospel lesson the demons are mentioned.  Jesus knows the devil’s game:  it’s you, even the Rolling Stones knew the devil’s game (and probably better than many a Christian!):  to steal “many a man’s soul and faith”. In the Bible study at the Mayflower I pointed out that sin is separation and a woman remarked, I never heard it put that way.  Separation is also the devil’s game, to wrench us away from the Lord with temptation and sorrow and doubt.  Illness likewise is like demonic possession:  sickness gets us off by ourselves.  Sickness is almost always a quarantine.  When sick, what’s the one thing you want the most?  Yes, to do everyday something.  Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was burning with fever.  She could not get up.  Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  The word in Greek can also be translated, raised, as in resurrected.  She then went about her vocation as a mother and hostess.  Jesus touches her.   Sickness separates us from others while sin and the demonic separates us from God and then each other.  The chasm between us and God is great and Jesus came out to bridge the terrible gulf and conquer the abyss of hell.

 “Do you renounce the devil?  Do you renounce all his works?  Do you renounce all his ways?”  Those are the questions in the Rite of Holy Baptism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church put to the baptismal candidate.  The same questions are asked in eastern Orthodox church at a Baptism and then the priest instructs the person to be baptized to spit upon the devil.  I like that:  spitting on the devil and in the Church!  The Church needs to spit upon the devil.  Too many church bodies don’t spit upon the devil and let the devil’s vile spit of false Bible denying doctrine lavish them in sin and ruin. He lures people first with his niceness. After all Lucifer was an angel, a spiritual being, brimming with God’s good creation, an angel of light.  But he is finally a terrorist, bent in upon himself, using religion as pretext for his own lusts. The last verse of today’s Gospel is  the Lord went preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.  Congregational life and demonic possession goes hand in had. When the Lord sets us His house, Satan sets up his, but the two houses do not form a treaty or marry. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

And still be steadfast to proclaim to them that the kingdom of God is at hand, His hand, His nail-imprinted hand to save sinners and unbelievers as He has you and I.

 Jesus was not puzzled by the devil’s game at all. Jesus came not to puzzle about the devil but knowing his game to muzzle him.  Jesus has NO sympathy with the devil but for men and women possessed Jesus has perfect sympathy, “sym-patheo”. literally “to suffer with”. When the devil comes a knocking don’t answer that door but pray, Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one.. You cannot dialogue with the devil.  Devil and his evil is cast out, muzzled, renounced and rejected, but even that is not enough, for by our own strength we can stop devil and evil. IF we try  we are only fooling ourselves but not the evil one. Remember those questions at a Baptism are prelude to the Baptism itself, the door of Jesus Christ opening the reign of heaven to you and to me.  When the devil says you are not good, you are not holy, you should have more in life, you’ve been gypped by life, just pray to the Lord and pray:  But I am baptized!  I am Christ’s.

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!

Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.

Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled,

And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!   (“God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”, #594, Lutheran Service Book)  

The Door’s been opened and the Lord has come in and you to the Lord.

 All of the town of Capernaum came to the door of Peter’s home at sunset and Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. The folks in Capernaum wanted what Jesus was giving, at no cost, except the cost to Him. Here was Jesuscare: sheer grace for the burdened, free and freeing.  Jesus had already begun bearing the sin of the world.  He began bearing the sin of the world from His birth. It took the Lord 6 days to create the heavens and earth but it took Him 33 years to save us.  As Isaiah foretold the government would be upon is shoulder fromthe get go.Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, preached John:  taking away the sin of the world right then and there. This was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 53: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.  Healing, saving, loving is the essence of the Lord for His people.  Poor Peter’s mother-in-law, it is sunset and the whole town is at her door and  Jesus was at the door of that home turned into the Church that evening.  As the Lord said, I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The huddled masses were at the door yearning to be freed. We think sickness of the body is more terrible than sickness of the soul. He did not heal every sick person in Palestine for He came out, as He put it to preach, to preach the Gospel Word to free from  the terror of the sickness of sin, bind the strong man and free man trying to save himself when he cannot.

 After that evening, Jesus goes to bed then gets up early, before rise of sun to pray. In a sense He retreated. He seems to have planned to this.  Maybe the door at Peter’s house was also a battle line.  The Lord had been fighting the enemy, the terrorists of soul and body.  He was spiritually tired. His coming out into the world for the life of world was about Him and it was centered on His Father’s Word who said of Him, This is my beloved Son. This is what the Liturgy, the Divine Service is all about:  It’s about the beloved Son of the Father.  This is a way of looking at the Divine Service and all the services of God’s House:  a retreat every Sunday morning, away from the battle line.  Jesus, true man, needed to be with the Lord.  He was tempted in every we are, yet was without sin, yet was bearing already your sin and mine.  He needed to pray.  Too many times worship services are conceived as about us.  No.  A retreat is not about more about me and us, but more and ever more about the Lord, more about Jesus. The Lord has given Word and Sacrament for one purpose to proclaim through them of Christ, This is my beloved Son.  The one door is open and all who enter into will find a Father’s welcome and freedom from their sin.  He touches us with bread and wine, His body and His blood as He Himself has done so in His House.  We all need to retreat from the battle lines.  And it is not Peter’s mother in law serving the Lord, but the Lord serving us:  in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

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In January of 1975, on a college trip from Concordia Senior College, Ft. Wayne Indiana, I went on a three-week intermester tour of Eastern Europe studying the Church in Eastern Europe and Marxism.  We saw the above:  the Potsdamer Platz which had been the heart of Berlin, with the Berlin Wall going through it.  I remember thinking that this evil was always there and would be. This is the devil’s own lie.

 The Berlin Wall was built by the Communist East Germans to surround the free city of West Berlin so that East Germans stopped escaping to the west. Today, 25 years ago, 9 November, the wall came tumbling down.  

We visited an Evangelical (Lutheran) congregation in East Berlin. One of our profs met janitor in the previous year and the prof wanted us to meet him.  Our group sat in the middle of the nave while the janitor told us about what it was like to be a Lutheran and a Christian in East Germany.  All the while he was talking, there were people at the edges of the nave milling about and the janitor was looking to and fro, quite skittish…after awhile, he said let’s move over there…in a more isolated corner of the sanctuary.  One thing he said has stuck with me years later:  “You see, in East Germany, church never leaves the four walls of the building”.  This is the way the virulent secularists want the Church to be in our own day and time…but I write this also as introduction.

The link to the  article below is by Uwe Siemon-Netto.  He is an eye-witness to the rise of communism in East Germany and the fall of the wall. It is a must read.  “Oh, this can’t happen here”.  No probably not, that is in the exact same way…We give thanks to the Lord this day for the end of Berlin Wall, remembering always the Scripture passage:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. (Revelation 1)

“And the Wall Down Flat” by Uwe Siemon-Netto

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JS1000416

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

At the end of the Declaration is this rousing paragraph and note that twice God is invoked:

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

President Lincoln in his Getttysburg Address quoted the Declaration of Indepence. We accept, without batting an eye, learning his speech in secular schools with the Declaration’s statement that we are “created”.  President Lincoln’ s speech, as does the Declaration,  flies in the face of evolutionism and secularism and relativism. We can not edit out the Lord from the Declaration as many do so in our public life.

Since we are created, it means we are limited as this points to the Creator. Government is to limit wrong but not freedom.  We are  created  equal in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which government of the people is to defend but  not to inhibit and deny.  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are marks of us, the created. These “self-evident” (like the nose on my face!) and “unalienable rights” are from God the Creator, not the government and that declaration is what is new in the history of governance in the world.

Freedom is to be our natural state.  This came about, though, not by force of reason but by the Creator who sent His Son into the world.  Just think, that at the time of the Roman Empire, the radical quality of these words:  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again toa yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5: 1). Freed by Christ from sin, death and power of the devil, then political freedom is a secondary, and welcome outcome.  Freedom comes from the Lord, not the Old Adam.  It is not only freedom from tyranny, but also freedom for others, to serve and love our neighbors.  Once we think government gives us those rights then the State becomes god, an idol and it’s just as evil as government denying those God-given rights by slavery of any sort, including servitude to the state.

In a world where the tyrannies of a godless secularism that worships only our unappeasable appetites abounds in our nation and in a world in which we see the march of a new virulent political tyranny of the sharia law centered religious state, we must fight for freedom and the words which the Declaration embodies, as first heard and still is in, with  and under, the Word of God.  Let us still be dedicated to the cause for which those men who pledged their lives, fortune and sacred honor this day in thanksgiving to the Lord for the many who died to defend the  proposition that  all people are created equal!

Lord, keep this nation under Your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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The first small town my wife lived in is the one we now call home.  In the lead up to Memorial Day, the VFW were distributing “Buddy Poppies” and asking for a donation.  She had never heard of buddy poppies.  The story behind Buddy Poppies is a poem written by Dr. Major John McCrae, second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery during the Second Battle of Ypres in April and May 1915.  Below is the poem’s text and a video song version of it.   A buddy poppy is a good remembrance.

Dr. McCrae’s line, “If ye break faith with us who die\We shall not sleep” resonates with a Biblical truth:  the Church is a democracy of the dead where the dead have a voice (G.K. Chesterton).  We can not break faith with the dead then we are dead.  For  the Lord is the Lord of the living, not of the dead for all are alive to Him (Matthew 22: 31-33).  On Memorial Day we do not thank a veteran as we should on November 11th, on Memorial Day we thank God for those who gave the last full measure of their devotion.  Keeping faith with the dead, we keep faith with those who live:  the families and friends of those who died in defense of our Constitutional liberty.  As Lincoln said in his second Inaugural Address,

“…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan”.

Remember the oath every member of the Armed Forces gives which begins:

“I,(name) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

It is to defend a document, words on a page (as I heard one officer say at a commissioning).  Every nation will protect their nation. Our armed forces defend our constitutional liberty. In the history of nations, I think our Constitution set forth an idea that at the time was unique in the history of nations shines:  we do not go to war to protect our government, our king, our queen, even our property, we defend liberty.  Many died to defend our freedom. We thank the Lord for their defense. Freedom and liberty are Biblical words and they are worth fighting for. As it is inscribed on the Liberty Bell:  

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXV X  

Support the work of the VFW, the American Legion, Wounded Warriors, etc.  Pray for our soldiers and sailors, especially those in harm’s way.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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The mission’s Bible class has been studying 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 5: 1ff, the Apostle has to address a major pastoral problem:

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.”  

How did things get to this? Yes, people do wrong. This is the reason God sent His only-begotten Son.  The Apostle most assuredly knew that:1 Timothy 1:11!  The Apostle quotes back to the Corinthians one of their theological slogans twice:  “All things are lawful for me” (1 Cor. 6: 12 and 1. Cor. 10: 23).  In chapter 6 Paul addresses another pastoral and theological problem:  prostitution.  By the time the Apostle is constrained to write to the Church in Corinth, they had justified all sorts of immorality, sexual and otherwise. 

How did they get to that point?  My guess is that the Church in Corinth did nothing about it when they  first began to hear about the wrongs and that was the problem.  They saw their brother sin and did nothing.  They were living by a dubious ‘virtue’:  they were “nice”.

 So many have queried in the Church:  “How did we get to the point of same-sex marriage?!?!”  Back in the ’60s, we accepted divorce and remarriage as “no-fault”,  and also masturbation, our children living together, restricting gestation, etc. to the point that these “new moralities” were also justified by theological jargon within the denominations and became dogma.  The old saying is true:  “If I give an inch, you’ll take a mile”.   For instance,  “Living together will make for stronger marriages”  and so less divorce.  It has not. Christians in Corinth utilized what  had become a heretical dogma when intoned by itself, “All things are lawful”, or the Greek can be rendered: “All things are in my  power” (sounds like televangelists!) or “I am free to do anything” (sounds like Americans!).  Yes, Paul says, all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful (1. Cor. 6) nor do they build up (1 Cor. 10).  

“…they failed to understand that Christian freedom from sin and the Law’s condemnation is not freedom to sin, but instead is freedom to live by the power of the Spirit in accord with God’s Law (e. g. Romans 6; 13:10). (Concordia Commentary, CPH, Gregory Lockwood).  

As Luther wrote in  The Freedom of the Christian as his central thesis:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

The editorial cartoon above is descriptive of this process of little by little we allow a wrong until it gets too late.  Politically free  and/or spiritually freed people have to be alert.  Another old saying is true:  The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

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Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the Apostle St. Paul. Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by Your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect Your peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Read an Entire Book of the Bible!  The Book of Philemon (English Standard Version). It’s shorter than many of my blog articles: 

1Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

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

Philemon’s Love and Faith

4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I

became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Final Greetings

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24and so doMark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

 Reflection on verse 11:  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.

“Oh, he’s useless…no good.”  “What a useless waste of time!”  “It’s useless.  I give up!”  At one time or another we have all said something like that and it is a word of judgment, of law: a judgment of others or of our selves. It appears that in the  house and home of Philemon, Onesimus was useless.  We are not told in what ways he was useless as a slave.  Not obedient?  Slothful?  He had talents and abilities he did not use?   Maybe he did alot of, well, “brown-nosing”?  We do not know.  But he was useless.  We do not know why Onesimus ran away.  A conjecture:  like Jonah, the Lord caught up to Jonah as Jonah ran away and Onesimus’ uselessness was catching up to him as he ran away and the Lord found him in a jail…with His Apostle!  Then what a conversation Onesimus and the Apostle had in jail!   The  Apostle Paul knew Luke’s Gospel full well…after all, in Acts, Luke has sections in which he reports  he was there with Paul.  And at the end of Philemon, notice who else is with Paul in Rome! (verse 24)  The Apostle knew the Lord’s command:   ”Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that  repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  (Luke 24:  46-48)  “Yes, Onesimus, your uselessness is real!  You are not doing as you should and so you dig a hole deeper for yourself and you can not get your self out.  And now you are a runaway slave and so are a criminal and the hole is even deeper.  Philemon has his rights under Roman law.  But there is One Who went into the hole Himself, born under the law:  Jesus Christ, God Himself.  The Lord has shown you your sin but better: He has shown you your Savior!  And that hole was His Cross and grave.  Luke told us that Jesus forgave a repentant thief on the Cross.  He even forgave me, the chief of sinners.  You have heard my story. Onesimus, He is risen and by His blood, He makes you right with God.  The Lord became a slave, as we all were enslaved to sin and death and the power of the devil, in order to bear our sin in His own Body.  Onesimus, His commands are not burdensome: repent and believe in the Gospel.”  In Christ Jesus alone, and His decision for us and for our salvation, Onesimus became more than a slave, a brother, Paul’s child and heart.  Onesimus’ name literally means “useful”.  In Christ Jesus, Onesimus became his own name.  He was lost and was found.  Even now.

Post-script:  According to a letter from St.Ignatius to the Ephesians, as he was going to be executed by the Romans for the Faith, Ignatius mentions one “…Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love and…your bishop.” (that is, pastor)!  St. Ignatius wrote this around the year 100. So this means that Paul’s letter to Philemon  was written only 40 prior to Ignatius’ letter.  We do not know if the two men so named were one and same, never the less, it is in keeping with the working of the Lord Who creates out of nothing, from Abraham,an idolater,  to Moses, a murderer and a stutterer, to David, a lad, to Paul, a persecutor of Christians, to a runway slave named Useful.

 

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