Romans 2:17-26                          “What to Preach?”

 

            Today is the day when America celebrates Cinco de Mayo. We have the taco bar set up for our fellowship time. It is not a religious holiday, but a lot of the issues having to do with the conquest of Mexico and its fight for independence from Spain and France really relates to our scripture for today in Romans. It is great to celebrate Mexican culture and history, as we can celebrate all peoples of God’s creation. We even have a corn tortilla today to represent the Body of Christ at communion.

            Here is a quick historical review of Mexico: The story begins long before Cortez landed in 1519 as a Conquistador. When Cortez came, the largest city in Spain was Seville with a population of about 50,000 souls. Mexico City back in that time had a population of 400,000–not quite ten times larger. The Aztec Empire at the time was geographically ten times larger than Spain. Cortez had an army of six hundred men. The Aztec armies were at least one hundred times more fighters. This is an incredible story of conquest that you are welcome to read for yourself. I recommend the three volume series The Conquest of Mexico by Prescott which for the most part is a translation of the La Historia de la Nueva España by Bernal Diaz, who was actually with Cortez.

There was a priest with Cortez whose name was Aguilar, who could actually speak some Mayan and Nahuatl. When the conquistadors went into battle (and they fought over 100 battles), The Cross of Jesus was raised by Aguilar. It is said that the cross itself had religious meaning in the Aztec world already as a cosmographic model. Also the helmets of the Spaniards bore crosses. Their uniforms bore crosses. All of this in recognition that the Pope at the time, Pope Alexander, had specifically asked for the conversion of the people of New Spain. This was a military conquest sanctioned by the church.

As the story goes, Cortez was viewed by the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma as the returning god Quetzalcoatl. That is why Moctezuma did not immediately wipe Cortez and his men off the face of the planet. There had been prophecies of the coming of a white man from the East.

 

In our scripture for today, Saint Paul himself asks some questions of the Romans that leads to the statement that by their actions they are blaspheming God. That was our last verse, verse 24, “The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” You notice that it is in quotes. This quote comes from Isaiah 52:5. This verse talks about how the Egyptians and Assyrians had come to despise the name of the Lord, this because of the ungodly actions of those who claim to be of God!

Today we have a perfect example of this phenomenon happening around the world. It is happening on our college campuses today. We have people shouting “Death to Israel” while taking over college campuses. According to the “begats” in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, Jacob (or Israel as he has gained this new name from God) is in the line of Jesus. If you are a follower of Christ, you are in the line of Israel through Jesus.

We can say that the historic bloodline of Israel, and the nation-state of Israel are two different entities; but the hatreds that are being expressed actually do blaspheme God. Note that the protestors could just be shouting “Long live Palestine.” They could just be chanting “ceasefire.” This really does make God look bad to non-believers. If being a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Christian is to mean that I must be filled with hate and call for somebody’s death, then “No Thank You.” That is without a doubt “NOT God.”

Last week I preached once more the line from Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. . .and your neighbor as yourself.” So now I repeat myself again. It is our job to show the love of God.

 

Looking once more back at the conquest of Mexico as it is Cinco de Mayo, and recalling the histories of all of the conquistadors, crusaders, and the inquisitors of our Christian Faith, I have a real hard time judging their Christian Faith. Cortez himself said that he had a “disease of the heart that could only be cured by gold.” So his main goal was to be rich from the spoils of the Aztecs. But, that was not the goal of the Priest Aguilar according to history. His goal was to stop the act of human sacrifice among the Aztecs and to offer the faith of Jesus instead. At the time of the Conquest of Mexico, thousands were being sacrificed at the Aztec temples to Huitzilopochtli, Xipe Totec and the like.

This historical perspective reminds me of what happened here in Hawaii even. If I recall, Hewahewa, the kahuna nui under King Liholiho basically went to him and said “Hey, King, we need to stop eating each other.” You all recall that Captain Cook, who made first contact right in Waimea, was eventually eaten by chiefs on Maui. However, Christianity, that new faith from afar, made it clear that sacrificial deaths were of Satan. Jesus Christ proved that the power of God over death was possible–that one could rise up again after a sacrificial death–life more powerful than death. This was a new and incredible idea now being offered to Hawaiians.

 

Back to Mexico again. Yes, the Spanairds came and conquered and converted Mexico. But, when they gave the inhabitants of Mexico faith in Jesus, they gave them the power to shake off their conquerors! The independence of Mexico from Spain and later France, came when a Christian pastor, a priest by the name Hidalgo called the peasants to revolt in the town of Dolores. That was the start. It was a priest crying out for freedom: “El Grito de Delores.” He called for freedom and went to the church tower to ring the bell to bring the people together to stand up in the name of God against their oppression by a foreign power.

Look out, when you give people the faith in Jesus, you are giving them the spiritual power to decide their own lives and to be free in Christ. The great Indian reformer Mahatma Gandhi always maintained that there is only one true power in the universe: spiritual power. When Paul writes to Rome, it is estimated that 80% of the population of the early church there were slaves! The faith was empowering. That is why Christians seemed like a threat to Rome.

 

In today’s more modern history, what brought down the evils of communism in the Soviet Union? A Polish Pope working with a freedom movement called Solidarity (Solidarnosc in Polish). In East Germany the freedom movement started at the church in Leipzig. The soldiers were told not to shoot at worshipers. The dictator Erich Honecker had to give in to the church.

Why does the government of China persecute Christians so harshly? And why is the church growing faster in China than anywhere else in the world?

 

When Paul was writing this, he had no idea that the pagan heartland of Rome would become the center of the Christian world. The Pope still sits in the Vatican in Rome. In the year 312 the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity after seeing a vision of Christ before a battle that he won. The Edict of Milan in the following year made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. Christianity was spread throughout the known world at that time.

 

Lastly, I want to talk about citizenship in heaven. This is another idea from Saint Paul that we can find in Philippians 3:20. When we talk about the issues and fighting between various groups on this planet, whether they be Israelis and Palestinians or Aztecs and Europeans, we do tend to blaspheme against God–This because we are all citizens of heaven. WE are only passing through this world. We are all aliens in a foreign place. We are all immigrants. Our citizenship is in heaven. Jesu sacrificed on the cross to bring us back home to God. Therefore, anything we do that would stop another from reaching his/her home in heaven with God is blaspheming the ministry of Christ. His death on the Cross becomes nothing if we deny others are also saved. That is why we must welcome all to come home to God through Jesus. We are all created by and called to be saved by God.

 

Amen.