Can you think of a word or phrase which has lost its meaning
historic, literally, random
Sometimes it is because of overuse.
Sometimes it is because of loss of context.
There is a great book that is out at the moment called “Speaking Christian”
and it goes through a whole range of words that we often use in the church
and tries to re-capture what they mean, and what’s going on with them
As we get a little bit closer to Easter
with a time that the church across the world will echo with some of the traditional phrases
we are likely to hear, and even join in, one
that may be the prime suspect when it comes to a word that has largely lost its meaning.
“Jesus is Lord”
Let’s go sideways just for a minute …
For those of you who were here last week, I was mentioning one of the problems
when we sit on the surface of some of the scriptural stories
we can unintentionally trivialize their meaning
Using stories to claim that “Jesus is the Son of God”, for example,
just runs round in circles,
because generally when we say that we already have an idea fixed
about what the term “Son of God” means.
So if you think that “Son of God” means unique, specifically different, one and only
direct birth product of the male side of God who created the universe
then you read passages in a particular way.
But what happens if “Son of God” means “one of God’s people”
or what if it means “one in the line of God’s leaders”
When we affirm Jesus is “son of God”, it might lead us in a different direction.
And the interesting thing is that scripture uses those meanings for “son of God
much more than it suggests anything about the literal lineage of a person –
Another term used of Jesus –
probably the most common one, and certainly the most common by Jesus –
is “son of man”.
Again – over time we have allowed one particular theology to intrude on top of this term
As I was reminded this week by Arto
Linguistically (both Hebrew and Aramaic, continuing to today’s usage in the Middle East)
the term really meant son of man = you, human being
And in the Old Testament, it is used with a sense of contrast with God,
not alignment with God. God speaks to and through a mere “son of man”
So it looks to me that the idea of son of man, is about Jesus making it clear
that he is one of us. He is human.
Now – back to where we were a few minutes ago.
What about “Jesus is Lord”
I wonder how many people these days if they use the term “Jesus is Lord”
are thinking about making a deliberate ironic and subversive political statement
about the power of the empire.
Ironically, it is probably a term that is most commonly used
in the areas of the Christian church that are least known as political and subversive.
Maybe that’s all part of God’s great sense of humour
Keith Hopkins points out the idea that “Caesar is Lord” was the Roman imperial theology,
It was how Rome unified all its conquered lands: “
The stories told about emperors were the currency of the political system,
just as coins were the currency of the fiscal system.
The unity of a political system rests not only
in shared institutions, taxes, and military defenses,
but in shared symbols, in the minds of people.
Emperor cults, and all that they involved … provided the context
in which inhabitants of towns spread for hundreds of miles throughout the empire
could celebrate their membership of a single political order and their own place within it
In Roman theology, peace – pax Romana – comes though the roman way of life
with the Emperor at the top, and with the poor, the women, the slaves etc at the bottom
And Jesus comes along and invites people into a new way of being a community.
Collaboratively, equally, inclusively and peacefully
And the early followers of Jesus turn the Roman theology on its head
by ironically claiming the same symbol and terminology for their oppositve view:
Jesus is lord
One of the very early Christians, Justin Martyr said
“We who formerly valued above all things
the acquisition of wealth and possession,
now bring what we have into a common stock,
and communicate to everyone in need;
we who hated and destroyed one another,
and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them,
and pray for our enemies.”
A statement “Jesus is Lord” says a lot more about the way that we live now
than it does about where will spend any time after living on this earth.
That is why as an act of faith, a small group of Christians, professing Jesus is Lord
were arrested as they prayed in the electoral office of the Minister for Immigration
regarding the treatment of asylum seekers.
It was an act of faith, acknowledging the “Lordship” of the way of Jesus.
Grounded, active and subversive faith.
May there be more of it in the way we each live