Printable PDF: 9-6-2020 Pentecost 14 Sermon
Pastor Clark ~ Romans 11:33-36 ~ September 6, 2020 ~ Pentecost 14
When in Rome, don’t do as the Romans…
GIVE GOD THE GLORY
33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
I’ll be you are familiar with this 4th Century quote from an early Church father, Saint Ambrose. (Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi), “If you should be in Rome, live in the Roman manner; if you should be elsewhere, live as they do there.” You know it better as, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”
The point is that the way they do it “back home,” loses its luster when you are no longer “back home.” I learned this firsthand! I grew up in Michigan but when at school in Wisconsin, I learned a drink of water came from a bubbler. I moved to Texas and learned it wasn’t just someone who played for the American League New York baseball team that was called a Yankee. Oh, and boots are not just for wearing in snow – they are a lifestyle.
As part of a new job in South America, one member told me he was invited to a house party. They showed up on time at 7:00 PM and found their hosts hadn’t even dressed for the party. No one there shows up until two hours after the time on the invitation.
The whole point of, “When in Rome” is to fit in. When we go somewhere else and don’t fit in, we come off as anything from ignorant to disrespectful.
St. Paul wanted Roman Christians to be good citizens, to fit in. This was a bridge building opportunity. But there were times to draw the line, times when Roman culture was contrary to faith. Starting today we’re going to examine godly direction Paul gives or WHEN IN ROME DON’T DO AS THE ROMANS DO.
- For his unsearchable wisdom (verses 33-34)
33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
Those are very happy words from St. Paul, a “doxology,” a song of praise, which the rest of Rome would not have understood. In God’s unsearchable wisdom Paul made clear that no amount of hard work, or sacrifice, or piety, or genealogy was going to please God. God was so inclusive that purely through his grace, anyone could become a child of God, no matter how they had grown up, no matter who their parents were, no matter how sinful a life they had lived. Jesus came for them. In God’s unsearchable wisdom all can be saved.
That just wouldn’t make sense to most people. If you gave large amounts of money, or you lived a socially acceptable life or if you didn’t cheat anyone in business, that would make sense. But simply through faith? That made no sense at all.
You and I have seen the same thing. Do people feel it’s narrow minded when you say only one way to heaven through Jesus? When you tell people that innocent little children are born in sin, what reaction do you get? Point out something as clear as you shall not commit adultery or you shall not bear false witness, and people who don’t deny that outright become lawyers describing exactly what that means.
Don’t do as the Romans do! That’s not easy. So what happens in your heart when you see the loss of life in a natural disaster? What do you do when a child dies in a car accident? Our flesh wants repentance to be nothing more than saying you are sorry, so we can have everything go back to the way it was before we committed that obvious sin. Folks, repentance is not an act. It’s a lifestyle.
Do as Christians do. Our God is a God of love. He is a God of inclusivity. He died and rose for all! All who believe in Jesus are saved, something that costs you nothing. But treat it as if it costs nothing, refuse to nurture it, treat your spiritual life as something that should be scheduled around you, and you will go to hell. Don’t do as the Romans do.
Having a hard time seeing God’s wisdom? Perhaps it’s because you aren’t looking in the right place. I was at the Grand Canyon recently. I’ve been there before. I have pictures of it. But seeing it with my own two eyes, made me realize how much more there is in person. In his wisdom God has made his Word and the fellowship of his church more magnificent and more beautiful than the Grand Canyon. Don’t rely on your memory. Don’t do as the Romans do.
- For his abundant gifts (verses 35-36)
35“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans weren’t very good at being thankful. Roman society could be harsh and with no guarantees. The government was corrupt. People who lived in Rome complained about the unfairness of it all.
Even if it seemed unfair, Paul wanted Christians to look beyond all of that to a God who gave them guarantees. They had no reason to complain because they had Christ on their side. Their faith was a deposit, a guarantee of a reserved place where there was no corruption, no unfairness, and no reason to complain. That doesn’t even touch on all the earthly blessings God showers upon us.
We have elements of our society dedicated to pointing out “corruption” and “unfairness.” It is easy to see the bad in the world. Our political system has gone off the rails and the rights we treasure most as Americans can seem selectively applied.
But that is not our focus. Don’t do as the Romans do. You have the warm embrace of a loving God who has forgiven your sins. You are loved and embraced (virtually) by your congregation of believers. We all have our different paths, abilities, and material wealth, but we share God’s love equally. Don’t do as the Romans do. Do as Christ did. Give glory to God. Amen.