Homemaking on the Road: Romans 15 and the Bigger Picture

by Brian Walsh

It has been about home from the beginning.
The very beginning,
the beginning of all beginnings,
was about home.
……A good home,
……a rich home,
……a home of blessing,
……a creational home,
……home with God.

And when homebreaking raises its violent face,
the homemaking God makes covenant.
The homemaking God embraces the homebreaker,
with eyes wide open.

The promise was of a homeland,
the promise to Abraham
the promise to the patriarchs
the promise to the slaves
the promise to exiles.

Homelessness would never have the last word
Homelessness would always give way to homecoming.

And Jesus came proclaiming that the homecoming of God was at hand,
exile was over,
the promise was fulfilled,
and the poor hear good news.

………So they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.

The forces of homelessness rendered Jesus most finally homeless,
……the homelessness of the grave.
Some folks are afraid of home.
Some folks will defend their facist architecture,
……their self-enclosed constructs of home,
……their hierarchies of in and out,
………worthy and unworthy,
………us and them,
………privileged and lowly,
………unto death.
But homelessness can never have the last word,
homelessness gives way to homecoming
the grave gives up the dead,
and resurrection proclaims a homecoming
that no one could have imagined.

This is Paul’s story,
this is his song,
and this is his homemaking project
in his letter to the Romans
(or at least it is one take on this letter).

In the face of an imperial home of slaves and freemen,
Paul is a slave of Christ.
In the face of imperial homemaking myths of the gods,
Paul retells the story of Israel,
rooted in the story of Jesus.
In the face of a home that has a lineage rooted in Augustus,
Paul speaks of Jesus, heir of David.
In the face of a gospel proclaimed from the court of Caesar,
Paul proclaims the gospel of God.
In the face of an imperial home subject to the lordship of the emperor,
Paul announces that the risen one is the Lord of all.
In the face of a home rooted in Roman justice and fidelity to the empire,
Paul insists that in the gospel of Christ, the justice of God is revealed,
from faithfulness to faithfulness.
And in the face of a home of hierachical, class and ethnic division,
Paul calls the believers to associate with the lowly,
extend hospitality to strangers,
embrace Gentile and Jew alike.

And so Paul calls the community to be the home of God,
a place where whole lives,
……embodied lives,
are presented as living sacrifices;
a site of worship and transformation;
a body of family members, each with gifts for the upbuilding of the whole;
a community of homemaking virtues
……of love and hospitality,
……of generosity and compassion,
……of rejoicing and weeping,
a community of shalom and harmony.

But this is homemaking in the shadow of empire,
so be careful around the authorities,
subject yourself and their laws to the only law that can make for home,
……the law of love,
recognizing that the night of homelessness is far gone,
and the day is near.

So live in the day!
Be a people of the light, not the dark.
Build a home together that can stand the light of day,
that has nothing to hide.
And do not hide those who are weak in your midst.
Do not avert your gaze from the struggling sister or the fallen brother.
You see, this is a house where all are welcome,
……because this is the house that the covenant God is building.
This is a house where all are welcome,
……because this is the house of Jesus.

Does the empire exclude the powerless?
Does the empire render them homeless because they have no standing in society?
Then be a community that embraces the powerless,
welcome the weak,
build up your neighbour,
transform her homelessness into homecoming.
That is the path of Christ,
that is the imitation of Christ,
that is the scandal of Christ.

Welcome one another because Christ has welcomed you.
It really is that simple.
That’s been the story throughout this whole letter.
Christ became the suffering servant of the Jews
……in order to fulfill the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The homemaking sacrifice of the Messiah fulfills the promises
……and the nations sing praise.
The promise was always one of homecoming for all nations,
……for all creation,
……for the restoration of the loving homemaking rule of God.

That’s the power of the gospel.
That’s the power,
that’s the mighty power,
that’s the power of the gospel.

That’s the power of God dwelling with us in Christ.
That’s the home restoring power of the resurrection.
That’s the embracive, welcoming, forgiving, healing power of gospel.

And that is the power that has taken hold of Paul’s life.
That is the gospel that he has proclaimed
……from Jerusalem all the way to Illlyricum.
That is the power that has given birth to alternative communities,
……an alternative body politic,
……an alternative homecoming
throughout the eastern regions of the Roman empire.
That is the gospel that has been shaping house churches,
……alternative homes rooted in an alternative story,
……homes of welcome imitating the embrace of their Lord,
……bodies of inclusion in the face of the exclusions of the empire.
That is the gospel that gives birth to a generosity and loyalty
of Gentiles to Jews.
That is the gospel born of the root of Jesse and now bearing the fruit
of economic blessing from the far reaches of the empire
to the suffering and impoverished Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
That is the homemaking gospel of Jesus Christ,
and Paul is a careful and bold steward of that gospel,
a minister of the homecoming kingdom of God.

And yet … and yet, Paul himself seems to be perpetually homeless.
He is Paul of Tarsus,
……but he never names Tarsus as home.
He is a Jew of Jews, a Pharisee born of the tribe of Benjamin,
……but Jerusalem is not his home.
He is a Roman citizen,
……but Rome is not his home.

All roads lead to Rome it is said.
If there is to be “home” in the empire,
then surely Rome is that home.
If home is a place of centredness,
then surely Rome is the centre of all things.
All roads lead to Rome.
Rome is the destination.
Rome is the site of arrival.
But not for Paul.

All roads lead to Rome,
but Paul’s road leads through Rome.
Rome is no more the centre of Paul’s universe
than is Jerusalem.
Paul writes to reimagine the shape of home at the very heart of the empire.
But he writes from the road.
He writes as a sojourner,
……on the way home
……and making home along the way.
He writes as an emissary of a home not yet realized.
He writes as one exiled from home,
……deeply not at home,
……even as he calls forth a home-making community
…….wherever the gospel is bearing fruit.

Home is not a place of arrival.
Home is a way of living together on the way.

Incurable homewreckers all,
the invitation remains,
come home.

Come home and be a community of homemaking.
Come home and be a community of healing.
Come home and be a community of forgiveness.

The path may well be one of betrayal and failure,
a path where it all went wrong,
but we’ll stand before the Lord of song,
with nothing on our tongue but Hallelujah.
A cold and broken Hallelujah,
but Hallelujah nonetheless.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

Leave a Reply