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Do You Need a “Do Over”?
September 04, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 18:1-11 Luke 14:25-33 Philemon 1-21
Have you ever had a chance to have a “do over”?
In the 1991 movie “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal (as Mitch), four friends decide to get away from the city, and get away from their problems for a few weeks by going out west and joining a cattle drive. One of the four friends, Phil, has a crisis because he had been caught cheating on his wife and was, to his mind, about to lose everything that he valued and one evening Phil breaks down in tears by the campfire. Mitch pats Phil’s back and attempts to comfort him saying:
“Hey Phil, come on Philly… It’s OK man, it’s not that bad…”
To which Phil replies, “My life is over! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m at the end of my life!”
Mitch tries to get Phil’s attention saying, “Phil, hey.” And when Phil looks up, he continues with this:
“You remember when we were kids, and we were playing ball, and we hit the ball over the fence out of bounds, and we yelled, DO OVER? Your life is a do over. You’ve got a clean slate.”
Phil’s life was a do-over. At 40 years old he was going to start over again and build a new life. I’m certain that resonates with some of the people in this room, and certainly most of us have family or friends that have lived through divorce, or separation, the death of a spouse, the loss of parents, unemployment, and other situations that led to similar restarts, or do-overs in their lives. But while naming this sort of situation as a “do-over” might be new, the idea of starting over due to a crisis certainly isn’t. In Jeremiah 18:1-11 we hear these words:
18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’
At the command of God, Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches as he spins clay on his wheel and begins to form a pot. But some imperfection marred that pot. Sometimes a tiny pebble remains undiscovered in the clay and, as it spins on the potter’s wheel, the pebble rises to the surface, catches on the potter’s hands, and carves a groove in the clay, or worse. But when that happened, the potter simply declares that the pot is a do-over, crushes it back into a shapeless lump, starts over, and begins to form something new.
And God says that this is what he intends to do with the nation of Israel. Things are not going well. God has warned them to repent of their evil and they have not, and so God is going to declare a do-over, he is going to allow disaster to befall them, to crush them back into a lump, start over, and build something new with the lives of each person and with Israel as a nation. God intends to reshape his people into something new, something good, faithful, righteous, and beautiful.
Most often, do-overs are avoidable. God had warned the nation of Israel more than once about the evil that they were doing and had commanded them to repent. If they had listened to the warning of God and his prophets, if they had followed the commands of God that were contained in his scriptures, then the do-over, and all the pain that went with it, could have been avoided. And that’s exactly the point of the illustrations that Jesus uses in the story of Luke 14:25-33 where we hear this story:
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
The reason that Jesus’ illustrations in this story stand out for us today is because of how these stories stand out in contrast to what we just read in Jeremiah. When we hear Jesus say that someone would consider the cost of building a tower before they started construction, we all think, “Well of course they would.” And when he describes a king as considering the strength of his army in comparison to the strength of the army that opposes him, we think, “That seems natural and reasonable.” But although the stakes were astronomically higher, what we saw in Jeremiah was that no one took the time to consider the cost before wandering away from God. The stakes of their decision were a complete do-over, a total disaster, a complete destruction and restart of their nation, but no one was interested in considering the cost, or in hearing God’s warnings, before it came time to pay the price of their decision.
And Jesus is warning his listeners, and us, of the same thing. There is a cost of following Jesus. We might lose relationships with family members, or friends, or coworkers if we choose to follow Jesus. But, at the same time, there is a cost to not following Jesus just as there was in the time of Jeremiah.
If we want to see an example or two of what it might cost to follow Jesus, we can find them in the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a man by the name of Philemon 1-21. In that letter, Paul writes to Philemon, a man that he knew who had come to faith through the ministry of Paul and his associates and had grown in faith by attending worship in Paul’s house church. And, as he writes, Paul very publicly, asks Philemon to do something surprising.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3 Grace and peace to you[plural] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have 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 ask.
As you may have surmised, Onesimus was a slave that belonged to Philemon but, for whatever reasons, was not a good and obedient slave and eventually ran away. While Onesimus was on the run, he encountered Paul and began to voluntarily work with, rather than serve, Paul and his team. We don’t know whether Paul and Onesimus knew one another from the same time that Paul knew Philemon, but we know that Onesimus’ character changed because of the time that he spent working alongside Paul, studying the scriptures, and ministering to others. In time, Onesimus was convicted by God to return to his master regardless of the consequences and so Paul writes to Philemon and asks him to do the right thing.
For Onesimus, honoring God and honoring the law of Rome, meant returning to his master and risking that Philemon would treat him fairly. The risk that he took in doing so was that his master would be angry and could treat him harshly, beat him, or even kill him.
For Philemon, honoring God and honoring his mentor and pastor, Paul, meant losing money and risking the condemnation of his peers and his community for freeing his misbehaving, law breaking slave. The Roman world ran on a culture of law, honor, and patronage. Philemon would, understandably, lose the money that he had invested in purchasing Onesimus, but in addition to that, while freeing a slave was certainly legal, and not at all uncommon, his peers may not have appreciated the example and precedent that Philemon would be setting, and their displeasure, as well as the potential displeasure of Philemon’s patrons, might cost him a great deal of business.
Both Onesimus and Philemon had a chance at a do-over. They both had a chance to start their relationship with one another over again. But starting over carried risks and rewards for both men. The risks we already mentioned, but the rewards were that their new relationship, outside of slavery, would be more amicable, less hostile, more productive, more profitable, and, most importantly, closer to the will of God.
There is a cost to following Jesus. But there is also a cost to not following Jesus.
Is it time for a do-over in your life that will bring you closer to God?
There will undoubtedly be costs that must be considered.
But as we saw in the story of Israel that we read in Jeremiah, the danger of not starting over is that sometimes God will do it for you.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.