Jesus is Lord


Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 11 August 2019

Readings were Matthew 12:1-8 and Romans 10:1-9

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In this morning’s passage from Romans, Paul tackles head-on what it is to be ‘saved’. It is Paul’s deep desire for people to be saved, but he’s concerned about some expectations.

What’s the problem…? Those who are seeking to establish their own righteousness.

being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. (v3)

These people Paul identifies are trying to build their own faith. They have missed the whole point of the Good News of Jesus: we don’t have to save ourselves; God gives us righteousness. All we need to do is accept God’s gift = ‘submit to God’s righteousness’.

How do we do this? How are we saved? Paul makes it plain – and it’s beautiful (as well as profound and powerful):

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. (v9)

Do we accept this? … that we are saved by acknowledging that ‘Jesus is Lord’? Or is our faith more shaped by a sense of trying to do things for God, so God will do things for us? Sometimes our good Christian practices actually suggest a kind of atheism. I’ve recognised some of my Christian practices can actually be where I ‘locate’ my faith. My earnest arrangement of pious habits can become therapeutic – done (if I’m honest) to make me feel better about who I am and the situation I find myself in. When this is true, our faith becomes something we do, rather than God’s effect upon us.

Sabbath-keeping was commanded by Yahweh to Israel.[1] Then Jesus comes along and (as we hear today) he is a Sabbath-breaker! Jesus is reframing what faith is and how to live it. Jesus shocks the religious experts, declaring he is ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ (v8)

I was at a retreat for Ministers this week, and the leader described how the whole biblical story can be seen as one where God demolishes established patterns of human belief in order to clear space for real faith. Ask Abraham and Sarah, Jonah, Nicodemus and Paul.

We run the constant risk of wanting to take faith into our own hands, control the situation, tame God, and experience our Christianity by way of predictable formula. God comes to break that open. God comes to us only as gift. God comes to us as revelation.

And the main reason I think we need to hear this again today is because of the anxiety many of us live with, when we take too much responsibility; when we try (sometimes really hard) to be okay to God; to ‘establish our own righteousness’. Paul is saying this inverts our salvation. What we need can never come from us – what we need comes from God.

Stop living out of anxiety and submit to God. Let the truth of our confession that ‘Jesus is Lord’ really identify and shape our living. With this as our confession, Paul assures us ‘you will be saved’. Submitting to all Jesus is (and has) is enough – he’s everything we need.

God’s revelation to humankind is Jesus. Scripture tells us Jesus’ authority comes from his obedience to the will of God – which is to save us. So Jesus came from heaven (giving up equality with God), to die for us. (To quote another early Christian confession from Philippians:)

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)

‘Jesus is Lord’ becomes our faith when we declare it – when Jesus is OUR Lord. Doesn’t this suggest that our faith emerges from who we recognise Jesus to be? C.S. Lewis famously summarised the options for how we can respond to what Jesus said about himself. Jesus must be mad, bad, or God (or, if you like: ‘Lunatic, Liar, or Lord’).

We have to decide whether Jesus was:

mad (he believed what he said but was wrong)

bad (he knew he was wrong but said it anyway)

God (he was right about what he said)

Those are the options for who Jesus is (according to Lewis). And to come to the conclusion that Jesus was right about the claims he made about himself is to accept that Jesus was (and is) God. Faith acknowledges Jesus as God’s revelation when (from our heart) we confess ‘Jesus is Lord‘.

A major milestone in my own faith journey came when God spoke to me through a very specific verse of scripture. Up to that point, I had wondered if the Holy Spirit was real and at work in my life. I wasn’t sure I had any evidence of this …until I heard this verse from 1 Corinthians 12:3… Paul says:

I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

When I can confess ‘Jesus is Lord’, when you confess ‘Jesus is Lord’, the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives!

In the recent conversations with our young people about Baptism and Confirmation we considered together ‘Jesus is Lord’ as one of the earliest Christian confessions of faith. What did it mean for those first Christians…? In the context of the Roman Empire, to declare ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to directly contradict the assumption of divinity by Caesar. It is a declaration of loyalty away from whatever desperate despotic power is demanding obedience, in recognition that God’s full revelation to humankind is Jesus.

What does it means for us to confess ‘Jesus is Lord’, when our context is not the Roman Empire; or the Third Reich; where there is no presumptuous tyranny? I think there can be a watering down of this confession –  what we expect it means for us, and what is expected from us. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas mocks the ridiculousness of Christians saying things like:

Jesus is Lord…but that’s just my personal opinion.

We need to recover what it means when we say ‘Jesus is Lord’. There is freedom when we locate our faith in declaring ‘Jesus is Lord’”. I’ve already mentioned the anxiety of assuming our faith comes from our Christian practices – rather than the other way around. There are other anxieties we experience in life, which we can be freed from. When we declare ‘Jesus is Lord’ we recognise the location of ultimate power; true authority is held by Jesus – the Author of life (Acts 3:15).

Following the Christchurch mosque attacks some feared a pro-Muslim response might compromise the influence of Christianity in New Zealand. More common is the anxiety of…

  • decreasing church attendance
  • the missing generation of young people in church communities
  • an erosion of morals
  • marriages that break apart
  • the scourge of social isolation, self-harm and suicide.

Whatever we feel threatened by, is disarmed when we declare again ‘Jesus is Lord’. When fear seizes us, our confession of Jesus’ authority above all else puts into perspective our identity, our reality and our destiny.

We can also be ‘un-free’ when we give ultimate loyalty to those cultural symbols of success:

  • employment
  • romance
  • parenthood
  • independence, or
  • health.[2]

On their own, these can never satisfy our deep needs; they cannot fulfil us. And the more seriously we take them the less seriously we believe that Jesus is Lord. The more space we give them in our lives, the less space we have for Jesus.

Let me make one more comment…and the more thoughtful of you may already be ahead of me… Tomorrow we are hosting an interfaith discussion. Doesn’t the audacious confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ jeopardise any genuine discussion with people who hold other beliefs? If all I’ve been saying is accurate, we must recognise this Christian confession is really outrageous. Despite our Post-Modern instincts, it makes no sense to water it down by saying things like ‘Jesus is Lord…but that’s just my personal opinion.’ The particularity of our confession is offensive, it has always been offensive. But, far from being an impediment to genuine discussion, locating our confidence in Jesus as Lord, enables us to be free of anxiety and to confidently engage with others who are different.

Martin Luther King recognised peace doesn’t come from giving up our specific beliefs. He pressed further into his faith. Tapping deeply the resources of Christianity leads us to be able to love those who are different (as Jesus shows us). As we trust that ‘Jesus is Lord’, we can expect to experience freedom from anything that might otherwise threaten or distract us.

May it be so.   Amen.

 

[1] I’ve recognised such assumptions in contemporary Christian writing encouraging the practice of Sabbath-keeping.…having a day of the week to live differently, more slowly. Good stuff. But much of this literature fails to ground this in a theological basis. In fact it can often be encouraged on the basis of helping us achieve a ‘balanced life’, helping us stay ‘centred’, helping us resist the lures of our consumer culture. Authentic Sabbath-keeping only makes sense within the story of salvation.

[2] Hauerwas: with the help of science and modern medicine I might get out of life alive!

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