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The Voyage Home We Never Wanted

The Voyage Home  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  19:49
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We thought we could stay comfortably in Rome (in the Empire) and set up our lives there. But we are (and have always been) invited to voyage to a different home, a home outside of empire's rule, a home where we belong in God's loving arms. To voyage there, we will endure hardship, persist through pain, and strengthen the bonds of friendship as fellow travelers.

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The New Revised Standard Version Results of Justification

5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Imagine, if you will, a world of imperial rule. A world where allegiance to the power of Rome, the power of the government, very often would decide your fate, a life and death situation.
Imagine a world where patronage and allegiance were to be offered to the “divinely appointed leader,” Caesar. And not simply a divinely appointed leader, but a leader who was himself named as “son of god.” All trust and all honor belonged to Caesar, to the powerful ruler of the land. And to question any part of the law, the social status of one people group or another, or especially to worship another God besides Caesar was to question the core foundations of the Imperial state and the divine leader himself.
Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to try to pursue a faith in a crucified Jewish man named Jesus in this context. While perhaps you might not always face outright persecution, imagine what it might be like to have to worship in your homes, in secret, in isolation. Imagine the loneliness. Imagine the despair. And imagine the great hope it would spark in you to hear a word of encouragement from another Christian, a letter from Paul, a word of reassurance from a spiritual leader who also understood your plight.
Imagine, again, a divinely appointed leader like Caesar who devised social structures that would benefit those who paid him allegiances and did not question his authority. Imagine a militarized imperial state which pursued the “Peace of Rome” throughout the known world, conquering and subjugating other people groups in the name of progress and security, the Pax Romana, an undying, everlasting peace from the state.
Imagine what this would all be like, if you can or if you must. This is the backdrop to the book of Romans (and many of the New Testament letters). Christianity has left Jerusalem and spread out into the big wide world. And in this world, followers of Jesus have discovered the challenges of being at home in a world that demands their allegiances to the Empire first and foremost. They have found a world that will tolerate their fringe religious movement, so long as it is always unquestioning of Caesar.
And, into this world, we have a beautiful letter of hope about taking a voyage home into the heart of Christ. A voyage home that can be taken from right where we are. A voyage home into a kind of home that is not limited by place, but rather a belonging and homecoming into the loving arms of Christ, who undermined all that power and pomp and instead brought all who believe in him a new kind of being human and at home in the world altogether.
This Summer, we are going to study through the book of Romans. With our lectionary cycle and the way Pentecost and Trinity Sunday fell this year, we jump in at Romans chapter 5 and from there, we will move through this rich letter piece by piece, exploring what it means to worship Christ amidst the demands of Empire worship. To be devoted to Christ amidst a system that demands unquestioning devotion to Caesar.
There is a dissonance built into the Christian way, a tension that must be lived into. Because so much in our world today, as with the world of Imperial Rome, demands that we follow a path of party or duty or civic responsibility that can, very often, challenge us with a choice: will we protect ourselves and our family’s interest by bowing to Caesar or will we hold our ground and devote ourselves to Christ and suffer the consequences? We must live into this tension, as the Christians in Rome did.
I want to turn to our text today to begin to unpack what it looks like for us to take The Voyage Home with the Christians of Rome and discover the liberating love of Christ welcoming us in.
We begin in Chapter 5, vs. 1 and immediately we have a bit of rich theological witness to what Jesus is up to in the midst of a world demanding allegiance and honor from people, a world that looks for us to act and bow before Caesar.
Practical thinking would tell us that in order to get on the good side of Caesar, of the powers that be, and probably, we guess, God too, is to act in accordance with the laws, live a perfect life, obey the rules, and earn points for good behavior. Right, that’s how you survive: you behave.
But vs. 1 of chapter 5 beautifully blows this thinking all up. “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ...”
We read this with the lenses of obeying the rules and believing the right things. But the beauty, the power, the amazing love built into the original language of this text is that it is by faith, by pistis…the Greek word often translated as “faith”, but which can also be reasonably be translated as “allegiance.” Ok, bear with me, I’m getting somewhere here:
Therefore, since we are justified by allegiance, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
What we get to open this amazing journey home, through the book of Romans with, is a proclamation that it is allegiance to Christ which justifies us and makes us a part of God’s family. Not our acts, not our beliefs, not our adherence to social rules: It is actually because we have simply aligned ourselves with Jesus that we, as Paul continues on: “have obtained access to the grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
We are sharing in something Jesus is doing for and on behalf of us. It is Jesus’ faith and fidelity to us, in fact, that makes us welcome in the house of God.
Let’s back this up for a second and reconsider a world where allegiance to the Empire is what gets us what we need, it gets us power. If you say “Caesar is Lord” or if you obey Caesar’s rules or don’t question Caesar’s authority, then you belong. You can be at home in Rome. Unquestioning fidelity gets you access to the powers of the empire.
And then we hear that it is allegiance to Jesus (and Jesus’ allegiance and faithfulness to us) that gives us access to the amazing grace of God? What? You’re saying that Jesus’ allegiance is for us: like…it doesn’t matter what I’ve done, but what matters, rather, is that Jesus is faithful? Like…perhaps I can belong without regard for my merit or position, honor or privilege? Like…perhaps we can come home in Christ and share in God’s glory simply because we are loved by God?
What kind of a world is that?!?! What kind of world do you get everything for so little, something for nothing? Grace and welcome because Christ is aligned with us before God? Not because we are rightly aligned, but because Christ’s allegiance lives in us? Wow, ok, that’s awesome.
And…before we move on…this is awesome, and it’s also super subversive. Do you hear it? We have access to God’s grace not because of all that we do or how we act, but because God’s son, Christ’s faithfulness is for us. Imagine, again our Imperial world of Rome and what this must have sounded like: Under the grips of empire, where obedience and allegiance to the powers of the state were expected and were never to be questioned, a world where alliance was held in place by military and social powers…imagine in this world an underground religious movement that said the privilege and powers that were attained through such power-grabbing methods were no necessary. Imagine a bit of Good News that promised belonging in a home, with all people of all walks of life, a home that was God’s home, a home filled with grace.
Wow. I want this. Don’t you?
Let’s continue on. So now that you’ve heard that it’s Jesus’ faithfulness that justifies us, we discover freedom to suffer and to celebrate and to live amidst all the ups and downs and turmoil and disruption and hopeful moments and find that we have strength that we can boast about in God’s home.
“We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.”
Friends, this is going to be a long journey. A long Voyage Home. And friends, can we all agree — this is voyage we never wanted to take. We didn’t want to have to find a way to return to that beloved house of God. We wanted to just be there, we wanted to be gathering together as we normally would have. We didn’t want to suffer, to isolate, to be underground and to be enduring a world pulling itself apart.
We feel weak in this season. Don’t we? We feel frayed, weary. The wind has been let out of our sails. We’ve been beaten down by a world of anger and frustration. We’ve watched as our nation struggles and burns and coughs and sputters.
And to the citizens of Rome, who felt the dissonance of watching the imperial rulers control with might and bravado, who rule with a sword and demanding worship and fidelity, they would have felt weary and longed for something else. For those who had heard the whispers of the Good News of Jesus, this would be like fresh water on parched tongues, hope amidst all the chaos.
Thankfully, Christ understands our weakness, all of humanity’s weakness and struggle. Continuing on with vs. 6 — “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
Let’s just make sure we’re being honest — none of us are gods. We know that, but hey…Caesar, looking at you…you’re not God.
Continuing on — “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
As it ends, the text doubles down on Christ’s allegiance and fidelity on our behalf. Notice the bit of rhetoric Paul uses to make his point: “So, friends, normally, it’s pretty rare that anyone would die for another person…even if they’re righteous. I mean, sure, there are the few organ donors or soldiers in battle or the mother who sacrifices herself for her child…but these are rare occurrences. So it’s especially remarkable when Jesus does what he does: He dies for all of us, all who have sinned, who’ve missed the mark…while we were still imperfect. Who does that? Who would die for a righteous person, let alone a messy person like me?”
Do you see what’s happening here: To a world where power and honor are doled out to those who suck up to Caesar — we have a promise of hope in Christ that meets us in our frailty and welcomes us.
Friends, we’re going to journey with this text over the summer and discover this new home in Christ that we are welcomed into.
The veil is very thin between the world of Rome and the world we inhabit. I hope you’ve picked upon that today. We proclaim Christ is Lord, amen!
It is fitting that we are apart from each other today, pilgrims longing to reach home together again. This isn’t a journey we had planned. But as we take each next step, I hope you find that you are being welcomed into the heart of God a bit more each day, knowing that Christ is for you, demands not obedience but the love of your heart.
Let’s pray.
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