This morning, on Facebook, I posted some pictures of my dad and me in Rome. I’ve gotta tell you about how we found each other in Rome to start that amazing trip together:
It was January 4, 2016 -- 2 days before Epiphany -- the 10th day of Christmas. I had been up in Assisi, in the Umbrian region of Italy; Dad had just arrived in Rome that afternoon. There was some last-minute concern and chaos that maybe he wouldn’t be able to make the trip because of my Grandpa’s failing condition, but things for him stabilized, and Dad got on that plane after all! But now we had to find each other, and the city was dark and foreign. Rome’s a huge place. (What is it about meeting up in a foreign country that is so thrilling?!)
I disembark the subway at the San Giovanni exit, and text Dad. I start walking around with the battery on my cell phone slowly dying, only a couple bars for reception. There’s this big building in front of me, rectangular -- can’t tell if it’s a church or a government building -- it’s lit up, statues across the top. I wander around that for quite a while. Everyone else seems to know where they’re going. I’m faking it. Walked all the way down one street...and back, thinking I might know where our lodging is, but can’t find anything. (What is it about maps in a foreign country that don’t always seem to work out?)
Finally I get a call, “Dan! It’s Dad! [really?] Meet me at the obelisk at the San Giovanni piazza. Do you see it?” I had wondered by there a couple times, yes. So I make my way back. “I’m just coming up the hill,” Dad huffs and puffs. Now this obelisk, as I recall, was in the middle of a busy roundabout. Maybe you’ve been to or seen one like it in Paris at the Arc de Triumph...cars are screaming around, and he wants to meet there? OK. I venture across Italian traffic and wait for about 5 more minutes. I had been wondering about for almost an hour since getting off that training, but finally there he was, in his signature blue Eddie Bauer jacket! My dad. Waving excitedly, darting out through traffic toward me...we had been dreaming, and then planning, this trip for years! And finally we were together in Rome!
And that big, rectangular building? Yeah, that was San Giovanni, the very first (official public) Christian church...EVER! Dedicated to the glory of God, 5 years after the Edict of Milan, in 318 AD. Predating the Vatican, it actually still houses the “seat of the pope”. And it was once at the very edge of town. You could still see the old Roman wall that once guarded the city. We were, in a way, at the birthplace of the public church -- the church that’s out of the closet, in front of the world. I had been wandering around some of the most historic and sacred territory of the Early Church. I had walked right by (not knowing) the famous Holy Steps that Martin Luther had once climbed on his knees, crumpled up an indulgence at the top and went home to Germany to start the Protestant reformation! I had this thought that the Reformation actually started -- not at the Wittenberg church door -- but right there in the San Giovanni piazza! [pause]
Once thinking I was lost, and then realizing I was right in the center of it all...and found. You have stories like this too? I love to tell them, and on Father’s Day!
“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…”
We, sisters and brothers in Christ, have just wandered into God’s good grace. (We practice infant baptism.) How did I get here? Not really sure. Just kind of wandering around, even a little nervous, to be honest…
But be assured: you are right in the center of it all!
No, it’s not safe! No one said Rome was a safe place! But safety is not the point. It never has been -- when have characters in the Bible, when have God’s people, every been called to stay safe at all costs?! Abraham and Sarah? Moses and Miriam? Ruth and Naomi? Jonah? Deborah? Hanna? Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah? The 12 apostles? Paul and Barabus? MLK? Bonhoeffer? Mother Theresa? Bishop Elizabeth Eaton? Bishop Andy Taylor? You? No one said Rome would be safe. No one said this life in the faith was going to be safe. This life-in-faith is like an Italian round-about. But finding ourselves, realizing ourselves -- despite all that -- in the midst God’s grace at the center: that’s the point. We’ve been there all along. I was there all along, right where I needed to be. Just hadn’t realized it, “this grace in which we stand.” That’s the point.
One translation: “We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand -- out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” That’s the word for “boast”. That was me by the obelisk.
And then it gets even better: We even “boast” that is “shout our praises” in our sufferings. No one said it would be safe. But suffering produces “endurance” -- that translation is a little empty: one scholar suggests “passionate patience”.
“We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us [endurance], and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue [character], keeping us alert for whatever God will do next [hope]. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged [disappointed]. Quite the contrary--we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God so generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
That’s Eugene Peterson’s brilliant work, bringing the text alive in new ways for us! Sucking the marrow out of the Greek. [read it again!..comparing to “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint”]
And this is just the beginning of the trip! Dad and I proceed to share 10 days then of exploring Early Church and Roman imperial sights together. It was like a pendulum swinging back and forth from all the places of power -- the military dominance of Rome and the emperors one day or half-day, and then the swing back to the humble, underground, subversive sites of the Christians -- always at odds with the proud and self-centered powers of the day. God’s grace hurls us into dangerous places, exciting places, community-centered places, poor places, high traffic places. And that’s just the beginning...
[calmly] And we are going to be just fine. You would think we might feel shortchanged, disappointed. “Quite the contrary,” Paul says, “we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God so generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.” [pause]
I was so excited when Dad found me, for all kinds of reasons: It was the culmination...and the beginning...at the very same time. It’s crazy how one of the most memorable moments of an unforgettable trip was the very beginning. [pause] That’s a baptismal metaphor. I was going to be just fine.
Standing in the center of God’s grace, now the fun begins! Now our exciting travels continue, but with an under-current of deep and abiding peace with God, “for this [grace] is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes” (Mt.21:42)! AMEN.
Blessing of Fathers, and those serving in fatherly roles:
God of all creation,
pour out your blessing on all fathers
and those who provide fatherly care.
You have made them in your image
and given them children to love and care for in your name.
Bless them with a heart like your heart:
discerning and thoughtful, bold and decisive,
compassionate and loving.
As they model for their children
the life that is lived by faith and not by sight,
grant them courage under pressure
and confidence in your power.
When troubles threaten to overwhelm them,
grant them your coping calm.
When doubts give rise to anxiety,
shore up their trust in your promises.
When joy fills their days,
grant them a keen gratitude
for your abundant supply of grace.
Season them with a lively sense of humor, Lord,
for it will make life richer for us all.
In all circumstances preserve them as your own.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.