Louisenie Desauguste (Dezo), preaching —
The Book of Philemon —
Let me ask you this: have you ever been in a situation where you see no way out? Have you ever hit the wall? Or let me rephrase it: have you ever felt like this is impossible, there is nothing you can do to get out of this situation? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t go forward, you couldn’t go back and you couldn’t stand still? We use other words like feeling “stuck,” “trapped.” But all of them mean the same thing – something that just that keeps one from moving. I remember reading an article once where they called it “Gateless gate”. Whatever word you might use to describe it, it’s a feeling that I think most of us have felt at least once.
Hitting the wall, feeling trapped, or feeling stuck can be one of the most exasperating challenges that one can ever confront in one’s life. It is the point where all of your solutions do not work and where everything you have learned is of no value. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how intelligent, talented or influential you are, the WALL does not discriminate. Once you hit it, there is no avoiding. One thing which is very common for us to do when hitting a wall is to push. Push it does not mean it’s going to move, but it’s just a natural response.
This morning, we’ll take a look at how Onesimus hit the wall and how he dealt with it. Who is Onesimus? Onesimus is a man who was considered as useless, a man that all doors were closed for him. A man whom nothing was working out for. He was a failure, he was a slave, and he was hopeless. But the door of freedom was going to open for Onesimus.
Well, to tell you the truth, I did not know too much about Onesimus until recently. His story caught my attention, but his name appears in the Bible (the New Testament) at most twice: once in the story we just read and in Colossians. I had to turn to research to find more about him. I usually say to my friend that Google has all the answers. So here is what I found: Onesimus was a runaway slave. He was owned by Philemon. He was a run away because he was trying to escape punishment for a theft that he was accused of. Lucky him, he found a way to the site of Paul’s imprisonment. After he heard the gospel from Paul, he then converted to Christianity. According to history Paul had earlier converted Philemon also to Christianity. And that’s how the door was opening to Onesimus. That’s how Onesimus was going to find freedom. So the scripture you just read is the letter that Paul had sent to Philemon to try to find a way to reconcile the master and the slave, in order to set Onesimus free from slavery.
What we should notice in the story is that Onesimus was a slave. And you know what else is said about him? He was a useless slave. Does it get any worse? It is bad enough to be a slave, but you are at the bottom of the barrel when you are a useless slave. So how did Onesimus meet Paul? According to research, Paul was a prisoner in Rome at the time, and Onesimus, as a runaway slave was in Rome. He must have found it very difficult to make a living in this capital of the world. He eventually made his way to working among prisoners just to find enough food to survive each day. And there, as a servant to prisoners, Onesimus, the useless thief and slave, found his freedom. In a prison in Rome, Onesimus met Jesus. And everything changed.
As you could see in the letter, Paul was ready to pay anything Onesimus owed, so he could be free. Paul did the same thing Jesus has done for us.
All of us can think of a time where you hit the wall and you had nowhere to go as Onesimus did, but one way or the other you finally find your way out. It does not usually work the same way for everybody, some people stuck between the walls for a few hours, some for a few days and some for years. And it is not a pleasant place to be.
What are some examples of a closing door or where one has hit the wall? You know as Christians you will have time when you feel like you hit the wall. Something happens, and crises in our lives. You can hit the wall in a lot circumstances: divorce, illness, a loss of job (let say you’ve been working at a place for years and suddenly they say they have to let you go), a death of a loved one. All of these things can cause you to hit the wall. When we encounter some of these situations we sometime feel like God has abandoned us. We think maybe He is done with us.
You know a year ago I hit the wall. I actually did not know the expression “Hitting the wall”, until my experience last year. One day my host, Ms. Sarah, caught me crying so desperately in my room and she sat and talked to me. That’s where I learned the expression of hitting the wall. I was in a place where I saw no way out, and I thought it was the end of everything. I thought God was done with me.
Most of you know my story and you are a part of my story. You know where I am from, how I got here in the United States and why. The story is very long, so if there are a few of you that might not know it, I will summarize it. Since I was a little girl I always dreamed to be a Medical Doctor, so I could help my country. When I finished high school it was not possible for me to go to med school, so I studied Business Administration. After I graduated from college I worked with Baptist convention in Haiti. Through my job I got to guide American Baptist mission groups when they visited Haiti. Through that job, I met friends’ from the US who then decided to help me come to the US to get a degree in Health Care. Wow! That was the most amazing news. My dream was about to come true. Things worked out pretty well for me, and moved to the US almost 4 years ago.
To make the story short, I took 2 years pre-nursing and did amazingly well, I got accepted into nursing school in my first attempt which is rare according to what I heard. When I finally started nursing, I hit the wall. Since my first weeks, I could feel like it was not for me. I could not understand that. I felt like I was lost and did not feel it was the right place to be. I was disappointed by God. How God could let me study that hard for 6 semesters non-stop and now he lets me down? I was hopeless, I was depressed, I was discouraged and I thought it was the end. But God was not over with me yet, he was just taking another direction with me. It was just a detour. During that time Pastor Steve kept his eyes on me to make sure things were going well with me. When I finally opened up to him, we then kept having conversations weeks after weeks, then one day seminary popped up in one of our conversations. Through this experience, God opened a door, and I heard the call to enter seminary as a way to realize my dream. When I visited Central to explore and to talk to the president and a counselor, those conversations opened the door further to a wider understanding of professional ministry beyond the pastorate, to engaging in entrepreneurial ministries. Something that I have been running away from. I have had people talking me into going to seminary before, but I never wanted that. But After my visit to the seminary even though I was skeptical about it, I could feel at peace. A peace that I had not felt in a long time. Suddenly a door opened that I had not guessed was there.
In the beginning of the sermon, I asked you if you have ever hit the wall. Now when those moments of impossibility occur, what should we do? Onesimus talked to Paul. And Paul told him it was going to be alright, then he contacted Philemon. When we are stuck we need somebody to tell us we are going to be alright. When we are inside the box we need somebody outside the box to help us out. Somebody to tell us that there is a way out. Sometime we need somebody to just tell us we are worthy.
When I was down, when I was hopeless, when I was in that dark room with only walls, and no doors. I was worrying about all of you all the friends that I have all over the country, because I did not want to let you down. But you all backed off and gave me the freedom to change direction as Paul did for Onesimus. The words of encouragement I got from you all members of First Baptist church: emails, texts messages and Facebook messages. Phone calls from Pastor Greg in Oregon, support of Pastor Matt, Pastor Steve, and members of FBCKCMO and others. Many of you have contacted me to tell me your stories on how you were in my situation, and how you are grateful for where you are now. I am not going to repeat your names, but you know who you are. Your prayers and your words got me out. I was afraid to let you all down. You believed in me and you thought Nursing was for me and I thought the same thing too, but I guess we were wrong. God had other plans. He called me into ministry. He is wiser than me, so he thinks a Masters in Divinity will prepare me better for my dream. He knows how hard he could have been if he did not use that way to get me where he had put me now.
Thank you for making that journey with me, thank you for giving me another chance and thank you for letting me get out. If all of you were not supportive of the change of the direction, I don’t think I could have done it, because the thought of disappointing you paralyzed me. I just could not stand the thought that you all think that I have failed you or my dream. But you have showed me that you wanted the best for me, not a particular dream, but you want to open door for me for whatever God has in mind, and thank you for your flexibility, because I realized it’s quite a change from what it was my vision for ministry when I was here with you.
Now, let’s face it. Life can be tough. And sometimes it feels like trusting God in the face of difficult circumstances is impossible. But no matter where you are or what tough time you are facing right now, no matter what situation you are going through, I want you to know that God wants to help you and see you through! God opens doors where there seems to be no doors. Trust him, he can open a door for you. Be ready to walk through it once it is opened.
What we read about Onesimus showed clearly that he was running away. He could have easily killed by Philemon since he broke the law of slavery, and yet Paul is arguing for open doors for him to pursue his ministry. He recognizes that a slave will be considered by some as half human, but not by God! Paul sees there is a lot of potential and a lot of good that Onesimus can do, because his new found faith and Paul is trying to open a door and have Philemon forgive him, bring him back and accept him as a part of his household. Even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus also Paul does for Onesimus with Philemon. We are all God’s Onesimus, to my thinking. This is the story of us all, I’m sure you will agree, at some stage of our lives.
I had a great experience this summer where I got to go to Mexico to be God’s hands and feet in a women’s shelter. I was there for a month working with the women. The shelter is an open door for those women. Women who have been abused by their husbands, women who have lost everything. Women who were told no matter what they need to stick with their husband. Those women are in bondage. Their marriage was a bondage, they are bound by societal expectations, just like slaves were. They live in a kind of patriarchal society where they do not have a voice. They do not have freedom, the gospel of Jesus argues for them to find their place, a place of ministry, a place of contribution instead of just be held down by society’s expectations that they got to be good wives, obedient wives, no matter what their husbands do to them. At the Shelter they do the same thing that Paul was doing for Onesimus for the women. For someone who was stuck in very difficult place, life threating place, trying to open doors, so that he can live safely, securely not under threat and discover his ministry, and his calling.
There is one story that I would like to share with you about one of those women. Her name is Monica. Monica was sexually abused by her step father when she was 9. When she told her mom, she did not believe her. By the time Monica was 15 years old, she became pregnant for her step father, and her mom kicked her out of the house. The step father then built her a small house and went and lived with her. He kept her in there. He isolated her. He never let her out, unless he was with her. He took her to church, but never let her participate in anything, so she does not talk to people. They had 2 girls. The children grew up, but never knew the story, until one day Monica finally heard there was a way out. With the help of the shelter committee, she finally escaped one night with the children while the husband was not home. Through this, she then became free. In her 30s, she went back to school and she has now become an inspiration for other women. And one of her daughters now is a lawyer. Who would think Monica could have gotten out? No one, but with God nothing is impossible. God open doors.
Paul did not tell Onesimus to go back to slavery and follow the rule of the society, but instead he helped him out. At the shelter they do not tell the women to go back to their abusing husbands, but rather they helped them become self-sufficient to support their children. It is not following the societal, but following God’s call, so Paul tried to represent an open door to Onesimus to turn his life around, so do they at the shelter.
From useless slave to useful beloved brother. From an abusing husband to finishing school to having a daughter who now is a lawyer. From the dark room of despair, to being at peace. We can say unto Him who works all things together for good of his people. God opens doors, my friends. God has a way of turning things around! Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. They say that it is darkest just before the dawn, and sometimes saving grace works in the same way. Are you stuck right now? Do you feel like you are stuck? If things seem to be getting worse, or they seem to be running like Onesimus, or like Monica’s story or like my story, don’t let fear or unbelief slip in. God’s ways are not our ways. We read stories throughout the Bible of people who faced impossible difficulties, like Onesimus who was called useless slave, Moses at the edge of the Red Sea, or Daniel in the den of hungry lions. Without question, humanly speaking those situations were impossible. But we serve a God who opens doors. And we have to remember something very important: With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” As Jesus said in Mark 10:27. Amen!