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Sun, Aug 27, 2017

Jesus is Lord

Duration:17 mins 19 secs

This morning we continue with our fall theme, “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation,” as we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Each Sunday during this commemoration I will be lifting up a theme or theological ideal which grows from our Reformation roots as we remember that we are a people of grace, completely dependent upon God’s love for us. This grace is a treasure known in our history which inspires us, for we know that God is not finished with us, with the church, or with this world yet, so we earnestly seek to live the Reformation.

Today, we lift up the essential declaration of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” which was vital to the Reformers. We read from the 10th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, verses 8-13. It would be easy to pull these verses out of context, but it is important to note that in this section of his letter Paul is discussing the faithfulness of God and the people of Israel. Paul knows that God is faithful, so he shares an enormous desire, as one commentator puts it, “that those who so far have been rather cool to the gospel will come around.” The key to that transformation of hearts and minds is Christ, so let us hear the Word of God to us today as recorded in Romans chapter 10, verses 8-13.

8 But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because[b] if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Last Sunday ten students, their parents, Hannah Norris, and I began this year’s Confirmation Class. I may have shared with you before, but I count it as one of the greatest gifts I receive as a pastor to walk with our students as they prepare to make for themselves a declaration of that Jesus is Lord. At the opening session last week we watched a short video of introduction to Confirmation. In one segment teenagers are asking their pastors what exactly confirmation is. One girl says, “So is this just saying a bunch of words so that I can join the church?” To which her pastor responds, with a bit of unexpected passion, “No. Please don’t do that. We don’t need more people in the pew who just say the words and then just sit in the church. We need people who feel it, so I hope confirmation is much more than that for you.”

Somewhere in the history of our Protestant churches, perhaps with the urging by segments of our tradition most focused on a discernable moment of conversion, we have put undo emphasis on just saying the words. Making a confession of faith, a declaration of belief, just saying the words “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.” Those words have become almost like the magical phrase, “Open Sesame” in the story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. If you say the magic words the mouth of the cave opens and unknown treasures can be yours. Yes, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord all the wonders of heaven are suddenly in your hands.

Now I do not want you to think that I am suggesting making a confession of faith that “Jesus is Lord” is unimportant or not essential. It certainly is and we pray that in March our confirmation students will do just that. However, if that is all they do, if that all you and I do, just say the words and then sit in the pew for the rest of our lives, then we have missed out. As Jesus himself recognizes in the midst of a healing miracle in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, even demons can shout, “You are the Son of God!” There must be something more to faith in Jesus Christ than just saying the words.

Thus, for Paul in our text for today, making the declaration “Jesus is Lord” with our lips is essential, but only the first half of the sentence. Hear again verse 9: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” It’s a two-parter: Confess with your lips and believe in your heart. One is not complete without the other. If you just confess with your lips then you become a life-long pew sitter. And if you just believe in your heart but never speak the words, no one will ever know that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. But if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

So what does that look like in your life and in mine? On the one hand it narrows our focus to say and believe that Jesus is Lord. For “Jesus is Lord” is a very particular claim. It requires a bit of courage and even boldness to say those words in today’s world. For there are many others who clamor for our attention and allegiance. There are political leaders who dismiss anyone who disagrees with them. There are those who put their trust in a stockpile of weapons. There are jobs which demand that we be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There are stocks and mutual funds, bonds and 401k accounts which promise that if we invest then our retirement will be secure. There are standardized tests which will determine your future. There are sports teams that punish you for missing practice, much less a match or a game. There are websites which draw you in to a world of lust. And we haven’t even mentioned the lure of own minds and hearts to exalt our own status and importance. For as John Calvin said, “[Our] nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. [Our] mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to [our] own capacity.” Yes, my friends, there are many “Lords” from which to choose in this world.

So to declare Jesus is Lord, not just my Lord or your Lord, not just a Presbyterian Lord or a Protestant Lord or even the Christian Lord; no to confess that “Jesus is Lord,” is to declare that the one who rules the heavens and the earth is the one who will rule our days. He is one who we can trust with our lives. Over and above all others, Jesus is one who will save us. That’s a powerful claim and can even be a critique of the church. As former Columbia Theological Seminary professor Shirley Guthrie once wrote:

Christ himself – not the true Christianity of any one church or group in the church, traditional or contemporary, conservative or liberal, male or female, of any race or class or culture. Jesus Christ alone – not the religious and ethical insights of Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists or Christians, nor even what they may discover they have in common if they work at it hard enough. For there is no other name by which we can be saved.

Jesus is Lord - the one and the only name.

And yet, if we not only say the words but believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead then this very particular claim that Jesus is Lord sends us out of our pews into the world with humility as a witness to the faithfulness of God. For we trust that God has power to conquer death, to bring light and life even into the even darkest and most hopeless situations.

Consider the witness of Derek Lam who has wanted to be a pastor since he was sixteen years old. He was raised in a Christian family in Hong Kong which taught him to love his neighbor as himself and that all human beings are created in the image of God. For his democratic and Christian activism he has been jailed by the Chinese Communist Party despite laws guaranteeing freedom of religion in Hong Kong. The hold of the Party is so strong that he witnessed Christian youth camps in which young people are encouraged to declare themselves as Chinese, to wave the Chinese Communist Party flag, to sing the national anthem, and to praise the “motherland.” So, he writes:

Although there is nothing I would love more than to become a pastor and preach the gospel in Hong Kong, I will never do so if it means making Jesus subservient to [the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party]. Instead, I will continue to fight for religious freedom in Hong Kong, even if I have to do it from behind bars.

Derek Lam not only confesses with his lips but believes in his heart that God raised Jesus from dead and he is willing to go prison for it.

A little closer to home, my friend Jill Duffield who as editor of The Presbyterian Outlook lives in Charlottesville, VA. Two weeks ago Jill gathered as part of a group of pastors from many denominations to provide prayer, support, and a calming presence in the midst of the rally and counter protests. She and others stood in a United Methodist Church parking lot just a block from the park. She found herself beside a young African-American female Episcopal priest. They could clearly hear the chants of hate, anger, and expletives coming from the park where the Unite the Right rally was being held. Jill writes:

My new friend shook her head and looked down. Then she looked up and said something that I didn't expect: "There are a lot of hurting people over there."

She added: "There is no joy over in that park. They are hurting."

Jill says, the woman’s grace caught her off guard and her expression revealed her surprise because she continued: "We have to remember that they are hurting because we need to be the church for them, too. If we forget that, we've lost everything that really matters."

Jill said that in that moment, she felt all her faith fit into a thimble while her new friend’s faith overflowed into the menacing streets outside their protected parking lot: “She was rock solid in who Jesus is and therefore who we are called to be, and no earthly power - no matter how ruthlessly oppressive - was going to make her forget it.”

My friends, as Paul says, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.” If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. And not just you … because grace overflows out of you. We need to stop just saying the words. We need to get up out of these pews and introduce those who are hurting and afraid to the One we know. For Jesus is Lord and there is no other name by which we can be saved.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: 

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