Before I read from Romans there are two key concepts that we need to keep in mind if we are to understand Paul. The first is that we have all be born into the family called sin, but by the grace of Jesus however, we have been adopted into God’s family. So that secondly, we now have a choice as to how we live our lives. We can either serve sin, our old family, or we can serve God, our new family. For Paul, there is no middle ground. So, let us keep this in mind as I read from Romans. Also, in case you are curious, my sermon is based on a true story. From the sixth chapter of Romans, beginning at the eighth verse, listen now for the Word of God...
I will never forget the day he arrived. It was about 2:30 in the morning. Dad walked into my room, turned on the light and said, “This is Travis. He is your new brother.” Now, I wouldn’t have been surprised by this announcement if in fact my mom had been expecting for nine months, and if my dad had been holding a baby in his arms. But, you see, Travis was ten years old and I had never seen him before, though I had heard of him.
The story goes that Travis was born into a terrible, terrible family. His parents were chronic heroin users and it was my dad who was trying to help them. He counseled them, tried to help them get clean. He tried to help them find jobs that would sustain a family. Yet, they simply would not listen to my dad, not for their own sake, or even for the sake of their own child. So, one day, dad was at their house, trying to help them; while he was there, he walked over to Travis who happened to be standing near the telephone. My father got down on his knees so that he was eye to eye with Travis. Then he took a pen out of his pocket and on the wall next to the telephone, he wrote out our telephone number. “Travis,” he said. “If you ever need help, I want you to call me at this number.”
Several weeks later, on that night that I will never forget, the phone rang at about 10:30. It was Travis on the other end. He said to my father, “I can’t wake up my mom and dad.” So, immediately dad raced over to Travis’ house and sure enough Travis’ parents had overdosed and died. So, my dad called the police and he stayed there at the house until they arrived. In the meantime, dad talked to Travis to find out if there were any other family members in the area who they could call. Turns out that there was no other family for Travis. Now, it just so happens that because dad was frequently trying to help people, he got to know the police officers really well. So, he made arrangements with them that he would take Travis home for the night, get him cleaned up and rested and then the next day, they would all get together to figure out what to do with Travis. Well, somewhere on that ride from Travis’ house to our house, dad made a decision. He decided to adopt Travis. I don’t actually know if dad stopped and called mom on the way home. There were no such things as cell phones back then. I suspect that Travis was just as much a surprise to her as he was to me.
The next morning, mom came to the door of my room, well, I guess at this point it was our room. She told us to get dressed and to come on down for some breakfast. Well, Travis got out of bed. Still dressed in his pajamas, he walked out of the bedroom and started heading downstairs. “Travis, where are you going,” my mom asked.
“To get some breakfast?”
“No Travis, that is not how we do things in this family. First you get dressed and then we will have some breakfast.” Travis looked at her with a puzzled look on his face; but, he did as he was told. He got dressed for the day and then the two of us made our way down to the kitchen.
When we got to the table, mom had her hand on one of the chairs. “Travis,” she said, “this is where you will sit.”
“But, I want to sit over there,” Travis said, pointing to my chair.
“No Travis, that is not how we do things in this family. This is where you will sit.” Again, Travis looked at my mom with the most puzzled look on his face. Nevertheless, he sat down where he was told.
My dad, had just finished getting the last of the pancakes off the griddle. He brought the platter over to the table and put it down right in the very center. If you have ever seen a dog go after raw meat, then you would understand Travis’ reaction to that platter of pancakes. He lunged after them. I discovered that morning that my mom is very quick and rather spry because as Travis was lunging for the pancakes, she was lunging for Travis. And she caught him by the wrist, one pancake dangling from his hand.
“No Travis,” she said. “That is not how we do things in this family. We wait until everyone is seated before we serve ourselves.” Again that puzzled look was all over Travis’ face. Nevertheless, he dropped the pancake and sat back down. Then I sat down, mom sat down, and the very moment that dad’s backside touched the bottom of that chair, Travis was lunging for those pancakes. Of course, my mom know what he was going to do and she blocked him off at the pass.
“No Travis,” she said. “That’s not how we do things in this family. We wait until the food is handed to us before we serve ourselves.” For quite a while, mom and dad made sure that Travis was always served last; and, I think they did that for a reason. I think that they wanted him to learn to trust them, trust them that since he was part of the family, he wasn’t going to get left out. You see, I don’t think that there was any trust in Travis’ old family. I suspect that he never really knew when his next meal was coming which is why he lunged after the food on our table. But, mom and dad made him wait and you could just see him watching that platter as it went around the table. No doubt, he was thinking in his mind, is there going to be enough for me. Sure enough, there was always plenty.
As soon as he ate his last bite, Travis got up from the table and started heading back upstairs. “No Travis,” dad said. “That’s not how we do things in this family. We all stay at the table until everyone is finished eating.” Boy, I heard that phrase a lot during that first year. “No Travis, that is not how we do things in this family.”
“We don’t squirt the ketchup into our mouths, we put some on our plate.”
“We don’t throw our dirty clothes on the floor, we put them in the hamper.”
“Oh no Travis, we don’t say those kinds of words in this family.”
It was hard for Travis, learning how to live in a new family, especially since our family was so different from his old family. But he did learn, and I think the reason he learned was because he was so grateful for what dad did for him. He knew where he came from; and, he knew that dad had literally saved his life.
I have to admit that there were times when I resented Travis being in our family. Especially when my parents seemed to make such a fuss over him. I remember thinking what made him so special that dad would adopt him like that. Then one day, I realized, that Travis had nothing to do with my dad’s decision to adopt him. In fact, Travis was helpless to do anything about the situation he was in. It was a hopeless situation until dad came along. Dad’s decision was a sheer act of grace. Dad simply choose to save Travis’ life. In that old family, Travis was as good as dead; but, in our family, he had life once again; and, I think that is why Travis tried so hard. He was so grateful that he wanted to live up to the family name. I think what Travis wanted more than anything else was for people to look at him and see his new family, not his old one which was dead and gone.
It became quite comical as he and I grew up together, me being only a year older. Because you see, whenever I did something wrong, not only did I get in trouble with mom and dad, I also got in trouble with Travis. Oh, he would fuss at me as if to say, how dare you. You have it so good. Why would you even think of dishonoring the family name? I used to think that he was so zealous to do what was right because he was afraid that if he didn’t he would be kicked out of the family. I even asked him about it one time.
He said, “No, that’s not it at all. That night when dad stood next to me and said to you, ‘this is your new brother,’ somehow I just knew that no matter what I would always be part of this family.” So, it turns out that gratefulness was what produced such devotion from Travis.
I would like to stop there; but, you should probably hear the rest of the story. Travis went off to serve our country in Vietnam. He didn’t make it back home alive. When the telegram arrived, it said that in the service of his country, Travis had died a hero. Mom had slumped down in her chair when she read it. Then she looked up at me and she said, “A hero! How did I raise a hero.”
“Mom,” I said. “Isn’t it obvious. That’s how we do things in this family. Travis was simply living up to the family name.”