in Your Heart
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
This is the first
Sunday of Lent, and typically in each Lenten season I look for some
theme for the Sundays leading up to Easter. This year I decided to
focus on the lectionary readings taken from the epistle readings -- the
letters of the new Testament. This year, all of those readings are
taken from the letters of Paul.
The selection for
this Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, is from Paul's letter to the
Romans, which is the first letter in our New Testament. Not
because it was the first to be written, indeed, most scholars believe
that it was most likely the last of Paul's letters to be written, and
consider it his 'last will and testament' so to speak. But it is
placed first in the New Testament because of its significance, its
In the text for this
morning, Paul compares the righteousness that comes from observing the
law to the righteousness that comes from faith in Christ, to support his
claim for the sufficiency of the latter. Martin Luther called this
'justification by faith alone'. And he quotes from the Torah, the
Jewish law, from Deuteronomy 30, in the passage for this morning,
‘The word is near
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because
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. 10For
one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses
with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture
says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 12For
there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord
of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For,
‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved'.
There are more themes
in those five short verses than I could cover in a month of Sundays, and
I'm under strict orders from our planning committee for this afternoon's
event to keep it short J.
So I'll not try to do that. Instead I just want to focus on what
is the meaning of this confession of the heart and of our lips, that
Jesus is Lord.
Those who have been
in this congregation for awhile, hopefully will know by now of the
importance that I place on understanding the context of any passage of
scripture. And even though we can read Paul's letter, particularly
this passage, without any knowledge of that context and we can glean
much from it, I think that we gain so much when we understand that full
context. The extra effort and time and energy it takes to
understand that context is well worth it.
For most of my
ministry, I have tended to focus on understanding the context of Jesus'
teaching, that of first century Palestine in ancient Israel. But
for the last few years, I have found myself focusing more and more on
understanding the context of Paul's ministry a couple of decades later
in the Roman world. Why?
Well, consider the
difference. Jesus was a citizen of a small, occupied country, with
no military, a country that had little influence beyond its own borders,
and whose religious traditions were often in conflict with the occupying
power. Paul, on the other hand, is a citizen of an empire that was
the only super-power of its time, that had an enormous military, and a
religious tradition which blessed its world domination as manifest
I ask you, which of
those two contexts comes closer to our own? Surely it's that of
Indeed, I'm so
convinced that we have so much to learn from how the early Christian
movement interacted with the Roman world, that is, the world of Paul,
that I submitted a proposal last year (with the encouragement of our
Pastor/Parish relations committee and support of the Board) to the Lily
Foundation for a sabbatical in which I would immerse myself into that
world of first century Rome. Now, of course, that would mean I'd
have to travel to Italy, and Greece, Athens, visit the beaches of Greece
where I know Paul took his vacations and things like that J.
The whole point of that proposal was to prepare for a pilgrimage for the
entire congregation. Not that we'd all be able to go, but that a
sizable group -- 20, 30, 40 of us -- would make that journey and spend a
couple of weeks in that world. Travel to Italy and Greece and
Turkey, that we might fully better understand that context.
Well, the grant was
turned down L.
We talked to the folks at Lily, they said 'You know, sabbaticals are
supposed to be about renewal, relaxation, recharging your
batteries. This sounds like a lot of work!'.
So, we thought maybe
we'll rewrite the proposal and if I have to spend more time on those
beaches of Greece in order to meet their requirements. . . . .
somebody's got to do it, right? We'll see how that comes out.
What I wanted to do
this morning was to illustrate with this text what we have to gain from
understanding that context.
"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". Now we take for granted that we know what it means to
say "Jesus is Lord". We don't often ask -- what did Paul
mean? That phrase "Jesus is Lord", or "Christ is
Lord", or "Lord Jesus Christ" or "Lord Christ",
or "Lord Jesus", whatever combination you want, occurs a
little over 100 times in the New Testament. 70 of them occur in
the letters of Paul. None of them occur in the gospels. The
gospels do refer to Jesus as 'Lord', but not with that particular
In other words, this
is Paul's shorthand for the message of the good news -- Jesus is Lord.
Now, I have known for
most of my adult life that 'Lord' was a title used for Caesar, as I
suspect most of you do. And that to say "Jesus is Lord"
is a way of saying "Caesar ain't". But the significance
of that confession really did not hit home until I made that pilgrimage
of my own (with the encouragement of Leitha and Mel after they did it)
to Turkey in 2003 with Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.
I've shared bits and
pieces of that pilgrimage with you in the last few years. Those of
you that have attended any classes I've taught in the last couple of
years, including the current class on the life of Jesus based on Marcus
Borg's latest book, have seen some of the pictures that I want to show
to illustrate just precisely what it means to affirm that Caesar is
Julius Caesar -- a
little history lesson here, in case you're a little rusty on your Roman
history -- was assassinated on the Ides of March in the year 44 before
the common era (44 BCE). That July, his adopted son, Octavian,
sponsored games -- you might think of a precursor to the Olympics -- in
Rome to honor his slain father. It turned out to be impeccable
timing, because in the middle of the games, in the night sky, there
suddenly appeared a comet. And Octavian pointed to that comet and
said 'See, it is a sign that my father has ascended into the heavens and
has been welcomed as one of the Gods'.
Now remember after
the assassination of John F. Kennedy he became more popular, and the
whole mythology of Camelot emerged? So too the assassination of
Julius Caesar. He became more popular, so much so, that within two
years of the appearance of that comet, the Roman Senate had to give in
to the wishes of Octavian and they officially deified Julius
Caesar. Named him as a God.
And so that star,
depicted here on this coin (below), that proclaims the divine Julius,
and with his son on the front of the coin, that star became the symbol
used by Octavian thereafter to not only proclaim the divinity of his
father, but what does that make him? Son of God:
Octavian went on to
defeat the assassins of Julius, Brutus and Cassius, and then ten years
later Anthony and Cleopatra. He then became Caesar Augustus, and
Augustus from which we get the name of the month of August.
He coined a new set
of coins when he became emperor, those depict August Caesar on the front
of the coin, and on the back of the coin is Lady Victory. And on
each of the backs of those coins, in Latin, appears "The Divine Son
And then Octavian, or
Augustus, went on to begin his brutal campaign to subjugate the rest of
the Mediterranean world and much of western Europe to the Roman
Now recall the
beginning of the birth story of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. When
Luke says that a decree was issued. . .by who? Emperor
Augustus. That the whole world should be enrolled. The scope
of his reign is depicted in this inscription found in stone as far away
as Egypt, that proclaims of Augustus:
And then in Priene,
Turkey, where we visited in 2003, there is a road with a series of
little street vendors. And in this particular location, they found
another stone that was a decree issued by the Governor of Asia for the
entire region. In that decree, it states:
[Notice the word in
Greek for "good tidings" is "euaggelia", that is the
word from which the English word "Gospel" comes]
This is, then, the
Roman gospel. Caesar is the God of time and Lord of the world.
In Ankara, Turkey,
you will find this temple (below), erected shortly after the death of
Augustus (erected by the next Caesar). Augustus died in 14 C.E.,
would have been about the time in Luke's gospel when Jesus traveled as a
young boy to the temple in Jerusalem. We think there were four of
these that were erected around the Mediterranean world -- it is a temple
to the Goddess Roma and the God Augustus.
And around the base
of the temple in Latin and Greek is Augustus' autobiography that he
instructed should be distributed throughout the world, that tells of all
his great deeds. And it begins, in part:
And then, in Ephesus,
there is this gate, built in the time of Paul. Paul would have
traveled underneath these arches, on his way to the port of Ephesus:
And at the top, in
the left-hand side, there is a dedication to the "Divine son of
abbreviated "Divi F", meaning in Latin, divine son of God.
Then, finally, back
in Priene, in Turkey, there is a temple to the Goddess Athena. A
large marble beam above the entrance of that temple says:
Now, I want you to
think seriously about this. About that inscription (above), and
all of this that you have just heard.
says: "Something special happens, we are convinced, when you
stand on the heights of Priene in the Mediterranean sunlight and read
that huge fallen beam from the temple once dedicated to the Emperor
Caesar, the Son of God, the God Augustus".
Think carefully of
what it means to live in a time and place where everywhere you go -- the
coins you carry, the things you see, everything you hear -- there is one
message: there is 1 God. There is 1 son of God. The
Lord of the Empire and of this world. The spoils of his victories,
the roads and ports of his kingdom. The economic prosperity of his
peace. All of this points to his reign as our Lord.
And then someone
comes along and says to you: that guy on the throne? The one
with all the power and glory? He's just a sham. He's not the
real thing. The real Lord of all, the one God raised from the
dead, is not Julius. Not Claudius, not Tiberius or Augustus or any
of the rest. But the Jewish peasant, crucified by Rome in the
occupied city of Jerusalem.
Who would believe
such a claim? With all the evidence of Caesar's power and
divinity, what evidence was there for this Jesus of Nazareth?
And Paul's answer
would have been: hear the story of this humble man of God, how he
changed the lives of ordinary people. Not with might and economic
power or rule of law, but with the power of love. And come and
meet the people who follow him, who share their food and possessions
with one another, who watch out for each other in a community where all
are equal -- Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. And
then look to your own heart for who you would call the Lord of your
life. And confess on your lips the Lord of this world.
And here we are now,
2,000 years later, living once again in a time of empire. Where
everywhere you go, you can see the influence of the American way of life
-- economically, politically, socially, militarily:
Thus the question we
must honestly face is this: who is our Lord? Who do we trust
in our hearts and confess with our lips? Dare we be as courageous
and bold as Paul, refuting the very basis and legitimacy of the power of
Rome by claiming that God raised Jesus, not Julius, from the dead, and
made him, not Caesar, the Lord of all.
What power, who's
authority, does such a claim challenge today? Do we embrace Rome's
vision for the world as seen through the eyes of today's Caesar's?
Or God's vision as seen through the eyes of Jesus?
Who or what has the
ultimate claim on your heart?
For Paul, proclaiming
"Jesus is Lord" was not mere lip service. It was the
something, the someone, to which he literally gave his life, in Rome,
against Rome, for Christ.
And what about us
today? Are we not called to do the same?
Our Church | Services
Music Programs |
a Group | Interfaith
Ministry | Sermons
| Pastor's Page
Questions or comments about this web site? Contact