Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Faith Works 12-22-07
Jeff Gill

What Are They Saying About That Baby

“Jesus is Lord.”

Lots of you reading this don’t find that an odd statement. You should, but it’s a phrase that’s been around long enough to lose the edge of strangeness.

Others of you may think “that’s quite a claim y’all make,” but consider your Christmas season appearance at a church to be a time for quiet courtesy, so it goes right on by.

But standing near a living nativity scene or small tabletop manger, the very ease and comfort of the homey display should make this central point of Christendom stand out.

“Jesus is Lord.”

People often make radical, not to say ridiculous claims about their children. Of course, neither of the birth narratives from the two Gospels have Mary or Joseph telling their visitors to look at their future high-achiever infant with wonder and awe.

You can’t say that about some of the Christmas letters that came in the mail.

It was an assortment of the unlikely and unworthy and utterly unexpected who came ready to call this child “Dominus,” Latin for “Lord,” “he who has dominion.”

The claim of “Jesus is Lord” is no less radical, but a bit more understandable when you consider that the Caesar Augustus mentioned at the outset of the Luke, chapter 2 narrative (beloved of Linus VanPelt on stage explaining to Charlie Brown “that’s what Christmas is all about,”) is the adopted Roman son of “Divus Julius,” Julius the Divine. For almost 40 years before the birth in Bethlehem, the Roman Senate had affirmed that Julius Caesar was a god in the Roman pantheon, and it was clear as Mary and Joseph made their way for the census, that the “son of Caesar” would be divinized soon by the same senators.

Caesar was just a guy’s name, but not after the Roman Empire made it a title of office and a label for a man above men, a human who took on the attributes of the gods on Olympus. By the time Mary’s son had left the carpentry shop behind and walked the shores of Galilee, Caesar was “Dominus,” the one who had dominion.

And not long after that empire had him executed, to do business – sell property, get a license, pay your taxes – meant going into a Roman public building, a basilica, and like getting your documents stamped by a clerk today, you then sealed the process by going to the central altar, dropping in a pinch of incense, and repeating the holy words that ordained the Pax Romana: Caesar is Lord. The godhood of the ruler ensured the stability of the rule, and conferred a certain status on the ruled.

It was in response to this environment that some rose out of Israel to say “Jesus is Lord.” The realm they saw before them was not guided by a diplomat-general-soothsayer-adopted-member-of-the-rapacious-Caesar-family, but a government on the shoulder of a gentle shepherd, who kept his heavenly attributes in the service of reaching down the cliff face for that hundredth sheep.

“Caesar is Lord” says that you’re part of the empire which will bring peace with imposed forceful quiet; “Jesus is Lord” speaks of the peace that passes all human understanding, except perhaps that of a child, calm yet expectant, excited while delighted, even as they drop off to a hopeful sleep.

On Christmas morning, children are absolute rulers, kings and queens in this society, and that’s not a bad one-day arrangement. We’ll survive that day. Whatever our faith perspective, as December 26 dawns, we go back to the question which our everyday actions and casual affirmations answer – who do we say is Lord, our “Dominus;” to whom or what do we give over dominion for our lives?

God bless us, every one.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Faith Works 12-29-07
Jeff Gill

Suddenly, Your Church Is Crowded

Here’s the deal – the new year comes right on the heels of Christmas, where all kinds of visitors wander through almost every church.

Let’s hope you didn’t greet them Christmas Eve with any sarcastic remarks about how nice it was to see you . . . for the first time since Easter.

Yes, there are plenty of Christmas and Easter folk still around, and you know what? Many of them really do think of your church as, well, their church. They know they don’t have as many votes as you folk do who come every week, but if they made it from the parking lot in the door, trust me, they feel fairly comfortable in your church.

And if we don’t beat them away with sticks (you laugh, but some churches very nearly do just that), some will come back. They are a few steps behind in knowing when “everybody” stands up, or sits down, or says certain phrases or prayers, but they are back, and they’re looking for something.

The following is not meant as an exhaustive, scientific analysis. It is a prod to those already well-settled into a church to think about how folk think who are new to the pew, how d’ye do?

1. Now that I’m here, what do I do? Who do I watch? Does the bulletin tell me, or is there a person I should be looking at?

2. What are the basic disciplines everyone else here practices everyday, and how do I do them? Are you doing them?

3. The sermon was great, but it’s not enough. I have questions. Is there someone I can follow up with besides pestering the pastor?

4. Yikes, prayer. I don’t know how to pray. I find it very awkward and yet I want to pray, and I try to pray. I’m not really sure I’m doing it right. Can somebody show me how?

5. I want to get involved, but I have a very irregular schedule. I sure can’t teach, at least, not yet. Are there ways I can get involved that are meaningful and important, but don’t scare me so much I’ll run away?

6. If I do volunteer for anything, who defines what is a good job? Because I want to do it well, and I want to find a place here. What are the expectations? (Not a job description. Everyone knows about job descriptions. Ha.) When do I know that I’m done?

7. Mainly, I want to get connected. I’m connected to God I know, but through Jesus – how does that work? And I want to be connected to other people.

8. I know I need to learn more, so what’s the basic stuff I need to read? What are the first things that you read in your faith walk with God that helped you the most?

This list is adapted from a list made up by a new member of a church who wrote them down long before he showed them to anyone, thinking “Someday, if I get really active and end up in leadership with this faith community, I want to remember what these early days felt like.” Bless him!

These are some of the questions new believers ask. Don’t be afraid of them. Embrace them. Bring them in and include them. You’ll be incredibly glad you did.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share your “starting out” story in a congregation with him at

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