Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Faith Works 4-15-17 (let's get ahead, shall we?)

Again noting: this is a "get ahead" column for the Easter weekend; you should have just gotten the 4-8-17 column for this Saturday.

Pax, Jeff

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Faith Works 4-15-17

Jeff Gill


A beggar boy and his goods



Their Iesou died a few hundred years ago, but they kept coming. His mother had died when he was a boy, and the beggar child just thought of himself as "Boy" (if anyone noticed him at all, that's what they called him, too), but they all knew HIS name.


Since the emperor's mother had come to Jerusalem a few years ago, the Roman wealthy showed up regularly, in groups from ships down at Caesar's harbor making the long walk up into the hills from the Middle Sea to this, the Holy City.


All the boy knew that was holy to him tended to be gold, but he wouldn't hesitate to take silver, or copper if such was all that was at hand. A gold coin could feed him for a week; depending on whose face was on it, a month, and he was good at judging from faces of shopkeepers which caesar's face he had.


In the heaps of rubble near where a church was slowly going up, massive limestone block by massive hoisted stone, the boy was still small enough to squirm down into the ruins of the temple that had been here before, and into stones that felt, in the darkness, older even than those foundations.


Questing fingers could find the particular cold of iron, and the long iron Roman nails were what he sought: for today's Roman visitors would pay, and pay well, for these corroded pieces of metal. The tale was told that their Iesou had been nailed, hand and foot, to timbers which Empress Helena had already taken away, around the well of which the church was being built. But they did not find all the nails.


The key, of course, was to be not quite clever, and not to show your hand too quickly. He had learned long ago, in his own terms as a child himself, that if you just walked up to a gold-trimmed gown wearing Roman tourist and pulled out a long, thin iron nail and said "here's one of the nails they used to crucify Iesou" they'd give you the back of their hand, hard, and no coins at all.


But if you approached them nervously, hesitantly, and whispered that you thought, you might, a friend could have . . . and if you could get them to leave their friends behind and follow you down streets and turns and alleys and lanes, the farther they went with you, the more they believed that what you had was what they sought, and the more they would pay.


You'd sold dozens of these Roman nails to willing purchasers, always (well, since the unsuccessful beginnings) saying you didn't know for sure, but it had been found very near the Calvary rock, deep in the ruins of the earlier church, and who knows . . .


And who did know? He had been so deep in the rubble pile, down to country rock itself, and found oddly curved and twisted nails that seemed exactly as if they'd been pounded deep into timber and pried out with great effort later. Those, he thought with a chuckle, were the ones people paid the least for, and might be most likely to be what was said of them. It was the long, straight, dark ones that got the gold.


Why did they want these nails? He assumed they wanted to own a piece of the story, the legends, the amazing reports they said again and again to each other about this man: that he was who he said he was, that God Most High spoke through him, and that his death on a cross was, for him, not an ending, but a new beginning.


If he could sell a few more nails, he would relax a bit. Perhaps when Helena's new church was built around the tomb they said he rose from, he would get a new robe, wash his face, and attend one of their services, and learn more about this Iesou. For now, there was work to do, and visitors to greet. Could it be? Who knows.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him your story at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


Faith Works 4-8-17

Faith Works 4-8-17

Jeff Gill


Processions around and in and through



This weekend, Hebron Christian Church celebrates their 150th anniversary with special events through the weekend and a guest preacher, Rev. Dr. Tamara Rodenberg, president of Bethany College, to anchor their Sunday worship.


I was privileged to serve as their pastor for five years myself, and know their history, starting as it does with a returned Civil War veteran named Thomas Madden who wanted something more out of life at age 24 than just a good career.


Deacon Street in Hebron, that runs past the elementary school, is named for him or rather the role he held in the Christian Church; he was never college or seminary trained, but his preaching built up that congregation along with the occasional visiting "trained" evangelist; the church he helped establish there sent a Timothy (a youth raised out of a congregation who goes into ministry) of about 24 to Newark, where George Crites became the first parson for the church that I now serve, founded in 1884. Crites went on into state society work, and Thomas Madden stepped in to help sustain what became Central Christian in Newark through the first decade of the 1900s, skating some eight to ten miles in his seventies during the winter along the frozen Ohio & Erie Canal. He'd preach for us in Newark, then strapped on his skates to be home with Virginia by dinner.


I think about his journeys both winter and summer when I drive Rt. 79 between Heath and Hebron, and the faith that kept him going, which keeps us going today.


Sunday afternoon, and Monday, we have another cycle of "open house" days at Octagon Earthworks, part of the 2,000 year old Newark Earthworks complex, a site of pilgrimage back and forth from Chillicothe, we believe from the evidence, 60 miles one way. The double-walled processional ways can be traced in fields and forests behind the shopping zone in Heath, and on old maps and memories over fields down past Hebron and the National Road.


As we prepare to give tours for the more infrequently opened portion, at the end of N. 33rd St. and Parkview Rd., during the afternoon hours tomorrow and Monday as well, I think about the years we've been doing tours officially now, since 2000. In those seventeen years, we've gained new "friends of the mounds" and had others move on, move away, some pass away – and those memories are even greener in the spring, with the budding trees and flowering shrubs and occasional patch of spring beauties in the grass reminding us of walks long ago, in our memory and in the land's memory as well.


But it is Palm Sunday, after all. The start of a week of Christian observances all well known, if not always generally understood. The beginning is a commemoration of the triumphant entry of Jesus of Nazareth into the royal city of Israel, Jerusalem.


Were they celebrating who Jesus was, or hoping for something more? Do we celebrate with an understanding of the bittersweet nature of the regal symbols presented to the man entering the gates of the walled city, or are we just caught up in a traditional celebration ourselves?


And it's not only Christians who have wondered, on reading or hearing the Gospel accounts, if some of the same cheering voices shouting "Hosanna!" would be jeering out a "Crucify him!" later that same week. They may have been largely different crowds with separate agendas, but I wonder.


A procession, from the Mount of Olives down through the Kidron Valley and up to the Lions' Gate. Well, that's what it's called today, though it's new. It's only 500 years old, which in Jerusalem is new. But somewhere in that vicinity, a triumphant entry on donkeyback, palms waving all around, and a man dimly seen at the head of the parade of people.


Come Friday, a different procession out the opposite side of the city, to a skull-like knoll of rock peering above a garden patch  studded with rock-hewn tombs. No triumph there, only defeat, and desolation, and death.


Yet in time, we would come to see the one obvious celebration as somewhat mistaken, and the sorrowful scene to be at the heart of humanity's greatest triumph. It seems that some processions, some parades, you can't just watch to understand, but you have to find your place and participate yourself to really see where it's all going.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about processions you've been a part of at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.