My first call was to a small parish along the industrial line on the east side of St. Paul. I soon realized that God was calling me to preach the gospel, but also to be an advocate for the people in my parish. A sociologist from Augsburg spent some time with me and said, "Your calling, Hub, will be to fight for justice on behalf of the poor in your neighborhood."
For six years I spent an average of a half-day a week down at city hall and the courts, speaking for those who had no voice. I was at the Council chamber, the Zoning Board, the Housing Authority and even the governor's office, pleading the cases of my people. I was a community organizer as we established the Phalen Area Community Council. I was not trained for this in the seminary, but Dr. Torstenson was right. "If you preach the gospel you must also use your power to be an advocate for your people."
Paul preached the gospel, but he was also an advocate. He used his power, even while in prison, to plead the case of Philemon's slave, Onesimus. Paul had problems of his own in seeking justice, but he used what influence he had to plead the case for a slave who had become like a brother to him.
This is the week of reviewing our choices. We are urged by this letter to Philemon to choose to be a voice for those who have no voice.
You have given us many sisters and brothers in your family, Lord. Give us the courage to put ourselves on the line for the least of them. Amen!
Philemon 1:1-21 (NRSV)
1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker
2 and 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.
4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,
5 because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints,
6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ.
7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,
9 yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an ambassador and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—
10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.
11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)
12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.
13 I 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;
14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.
15 Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever,
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.
17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.
18 If 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.
20 Yes, 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.