Monday, March 23, 2009

Jesus Is Lord--and that means...

I'm sharing a post from Don Heatley's blog. Good reading, especially around Lent, Good Friday, and Easter.

Mythbusters: I'm Not the Boss of Me

Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored different images of God, how evolution may be part of God’s creation, and whether or not Christianity is the only way to God (and whether that should even matter if you’re a Christian). For many people, perhaps even for you, those are scary topics. They are the kind of subjects that make you nervous, get your palms sweaty and your heart beating faster. So you will be relieved to hear that today we are discussing a concept most of you will find safe, Jesus as Lord.

Lord. Often it’s used merely as a synonym for Jesus. For some, this interchangeability of the words “Jesus” and “Lord” extends back into the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, some translations print LORD in all capitals. Contrary to common belief, in these texts, LORD refers not to Jesus but God. For instance, when we read the story of the LORD giving Moses the Law, LORD refers to God, not Jesus. More specifically, LORD is how many Bibles translate the divine name Yahweh, often written YHWH to prevent it from being spoken aloud. This name is the “I AM who I AM” whom we met a few weeks back in the story of Moses and the burning bush.


Even so, “Lord “ and “Jesus” are used interchangeably with no regard for what Lord actually means. In certain circles referring to Jesus as “Lord” or “the Lord” functions almost as a code which conveys that you are the right kind of Christian. “I’m spending time each morning in the Lord” brings to mind a very different type of Christian than someone saying, “I begin my morning with contemplative prayer.” In other Christian subcultures, “Lord” functions almost as a punctuation mark. I have been a part of communities where it was expected to begin each line of my prayers with the word “Just” and end them with “Lord”. It made me fit in and sound like a Christian.

As you can see, due to bad experiences in my life, I have hot button issues too. For me, when people start doing a lot of “Lord” talk, my palms get sweaty and my heart beats faster. Someone says “Lord” to me and I brace myself for an anticipated onslaught of judgmentalism, apocalyptic theology and right-wing ideology. I get afraid of the word “Lord”, but I am afraid that I am afraid for the wrong reasons.

How ironic things like evolution, on the one hand, and fundamentalism o the other, scare us. But we find the idea of Jesus as Lord comforting. Jesus as Lord ought to scare the crap out of us. If it doesn’t, it’s because we do not fully understand the meaning of the word. It’s like that scene in “The Princess Bride” where after Wallace Shawn repeatedly exclaims “Inconceivable!” in response to events that keep recurring. Andre the Giant’s character responds, “You say that all the time. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

When I was twelve, I came forward during an altar call at a youth event and made a conscious decision to follow Jesus. Afterwards, I was given a pamphlet which stated Jesus was now the “Lord of my Life” and had an schematic diagram depicting Jesus on the “throne of my heart”. At the time, I had no idea what that meant. It was presented to me as pretty much reading my Bible and praying every day, staying away from sex and drinking and doing “Christian” stuff. But to call Jesus “Lord of your Life” means much more than just having a moving experience at evangelism event, coming forward and saying a special prayer. To say “Jesus is Lord” is to confess a radical reorientation of every aspect of life.

The history of the church is marked by creeds, the Apostle’s Creed into which we are delving during this series, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and so on. However, all of these find their genesis in the first creed of the church which was simply three little words, “Jesus is Lord.” Many a theologian has suggested we should go back to it. Remember that for the first followers of Jesus, declaring him as Lord was a subversive statement. In the Roman Empire, “Lord” was a title reserved only for the emperor. It conveyed your submission to him as the ultimate authority. Confessing Jesus as Lord meant that Caesar was not and declared your allegiance to a different authority.

When we hear Jesus tell that parable describing his followers as servants who are only doing our duty, something inside of us cringes and says, “Well that can’t be right.” In our day, we resist having “Lords”. You and I prize our autonomy, democracy and our authority as individuals. To hear Jesus’ followers called slaves brings up the whole ugly specter of slavery in our country’s history. The whole idea of lordship and submission to it is distasteful to us.

However, if we were to be honest about it, we do have Lords. In fact we have multiple Lords. Take a look at the most important things in your life and you will discover that each area has someone or something who is the Lord or authority over it. Each item of our lives whether it be career, time, sex, checkbook, family, talents, or possessions has some person or institution that has control over it. Sometimes we are conscious of it. Sometimes we are not.

Take how you spend your time. How do you decide how to set your calendar? Someone or something has control over that. When you work sixty hours a week, it may well be your own choice. However, it may also be your spouse’s or your children’s demands for a particular lifestyle which control you making that choice. Your talents - who has control of them? Chances are, you do. You are the one who decides how to use them but more than likely, you seek that they bring attention and rewards to you.

What do those daily details of life have to do with the calling Jesus Lord? All these little day to day compartments of our lives; career, time, sex, checkbook, family, talents, or possessions are the very substance of Jesus’ preaching. He didn’t talk much about belief systems, spiritual platitudes or Sunday morning niceties. He spoke of people, relationships and money. If we are to confess Jesus as Lord, it means we have to let Jesus into each of those compartments and have authority over it. Following Jesus entails overthrowing what has control in our life and allowing Jesus to have full authority instead.

Scared yet? This stuff much more consequential than whether or not we are related to apes or if Buddhists are going to heaven.

It would be more palatable if the Bible described Jesus as an elected official in God’s representative democracy. But it doesn’t. It says Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords in God’s Kingdom. What is so scary about Jesus as Lord is that he is Lord of everything. You and I don’t get to pick and choose over which parts of life he is Lord. That has radical implications for how we do life.

We may be comfortable with Jesus as the Lord of Sunday morning, but not the Lord of Wednesday morning or Saturday night. We may like Jesus as Lord of social justice, but not as Lord of salvation. We can handle Jesus as Lord of our spiritual life, but not Lord of our possessions. Keep him in the Bible but keep him out of my checkbook.

Of course there are some areas into which we don’t mind letting Jesus in. Volunteering for a ministry sounds reasonable to us. But even that language betrays our need for control. The Bible never speaks of volunteers. It speaks of servants. Think about it, volunteering is something we associate with the rich or retired. It connotes something done by choice or out of an abundance of leisure time or wealth. Jesus says we are not volunteers but servants. When we serve the cause of God’s Kingdom, we aren’t doing God any favors. We are merely doing our duty. Scared yet?

To say Jesus is Lord goes way beyond even our lives as individuals. If Jesus is Lord, it means he is Lord of all the world, not just a particular Christian subculture. Here at Vision, we celebrate this through the creative arts. Jesus is not just the Lord of hymns and praise music. He is the Lord of U2, Coldplay, country music and and hip hop. Okay, no one wants to see a bunch of middle-aged white guys do hip hop. His reign is not confined to Christian TV and movies but extends to summer blockbusters, independent features, art films, and even, as we saw last week, to South Park. To confess that Jesus is Lord, acknowledges his presence everywhere. He is not confined to particular humanly-defined genres of art or music. He is not confined to particular cultures. Most certainly, he is not confined to our personal tastes and preferences.

Most importantly, to say that Jesus is Lord means that there is nowhere you can go, nothing you can do, that will separate you form his love. No matter what you mess up in your life or what mistakes you make, there is nothing that Jesus as Lord cannot restore in your life.

Our lives are characterized by little compartments. We make neat little boxes into which we put the things that matter to us. There’s a box for family, for friends, for school, and for our career. We have compartments into which we hide the darker parts of our selves. Some compartments hold the secrets, the shames, the hurts, and parts of ourselves that we fear, that if anyone knew of them, they would rejects us.

All this compartmentalization causes dysfunctions. It erodes our intergrity. It dis-integrates us. It shatters our wholeness. It makes us hypocrites.

All this dysfunction stems from confining Jesus to limited compartments. If we say Jesus is Lord, and still keep him in that little box, we don’t mean what we say. To say Jesus is Lord is to let him into all the compartments of our lives. It means letting him into the dark compartments where he can shine some light and clean things up. It means letting him into the painful compartments so he can heal us. I means letting him into the shameful compartments so he can forgive us. It means letting him into the compartments we value most and are proud of, so we can reorient those things to serve not our purposes, but his purposes in the world.

By saying “Jesus is Lord” we integrate Jesus into all those compartments and create integrity. So we can say those words, “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, Our Lord” with integrity - because those very words create it. Our Lord - it’s more than a title or a nickname. It has the power to transform everything about us and everything about our world.

A message on Luke 17:7-10 from Don Heatley, pastor of Vision Community Church in Warwick, NY

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