Summary: This sermon introduces a new sermon series exploring the Roman Road of Salvation and the purpose of Paul’s writing.
Last Wednesday, I took my last final exam of the semester. The public schools’ last day of classes is a week from tomorrow. Mother’s Day has gone, Memorial Day is just around the corner. The weather is warmer and the days grow increasingly longer. Summer is upon us.
And that means vacations, trips, a time to get away from the usual schedule. This summer, on Monday evenings at Grace Church, I would like to invite you to take a trip with me. Let’s take a trip to Rome.
Reta Halteman Finger shares with us these words about our journey:
“Come with me to the ancient capital of the Roman Empire. It is a spring evening in 56 or 57 A.D. In the crowded warren of streets next to the Tiber River, Christians of one small house church are gathered. They are packed into a space probably smaller than the size of your living room. During the day the room becomes a small shop where cloth or shoes or clay pots or tin tools are produced. But when darkness comes, the group congregates for an agape meal, worship, and study. The highlight for tonight is the reading of a letter from an apostle named Paul. It is a long letter, and it has been carried nearly 1,000 miles by sea and land from Cenchrea, the port city of Corinth, by a deacon named Phoebe, one of Paul’s co-workers (Romans 16:1-2). Phoebe, or a reader she has brought along for the purpose, will read the letter in its entirety.”
Through the next several weeks of this summer, we will explore Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. I invite you not to miss a single week as we explore Paul’s unique correspondence to the Christians of that ancient city.
Most often Paul wrote to churches he had helped to establish. In each case, there has been an issue Paul has written to address, often in the form of a reprimand. But the letter to the Church in Rome is a unique letter.
One of our favorite programs at home is Everybody Loves Raymond. Its a sitcom about an Italian family living in the suburbs of New York City. Marie, the matriarch of the family, saved up her money and paid for the entire family to take a trip to the homeland of their family to visit relatives in Italy.
Debra, her daughter-in-law, would look at the Italian countryside...
at the Mediterranean ocean...
at the crooked and narrow stone streets...
at the ancient stone buildings and the sidewalk cafes...
at the children kicking a soccer ball around in the streets...
at the open market place...
and she would sigh at the collective beauty she found in Italy. Debra was so excited to go to Italy. There was a yearning to see the countryside in her.
Paul had a yearning to go to Italy, as well. But it wasn’t for cobblestone streets or ocean side viewing.
Paul had a yearning to visit the Christians in the church in Rome. What is unique about this letter of Paul’s, is that it is written to a church Paul has never seen, never visited.
Paul longs to go to Rome. In the introduction to this letter, he shares how he wants very much to see the Roman church, and has planned many times to go there. However, at the writing of this letter, Paul has not yet been to Rome, and must first make a visit to Jerusalem.
So why does Paul write to Rome? Why does he write to a church he has yet to visit and is not even going to visit now?
First of all, Paul writes to a church he hopes to visit someday soon. He writes a letter of introduction, a letter of testimony to his faith.
The letter to the Romans is understood best that way - as a personal testimony. Paul shares the essence of his faith and beliefs.
He writes this as a way of introducing himself, and it seems he does so for a couple of reasons.
He writes to express his longing for Rome. And he also writes seeking aide.
Paul longs for Rome, because at that time it is the greatest city in the world, but also because it is the gateway to the west. From Rome, Paul looks forward to evangelizing and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in a missionary journey to Spain. He writes to the church in Rome seeking their financial support.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul writes. It is important for him to make his position clear. He writes a carefully constructed summation of his faith, making it clear his beliefs about Christ.
This letter is known as the “Roman Road of Salvation.” In the words we have read tonight, Paul basically tells us why he believes in the teachings of Jesus and what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus means for us.