I was going to start this out by saying I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan but the truth is that I’ve been a fan of all things British and Royal long before Lord Grantham and the Crawley family. (Yes, I got up at 3am on July 29, 1981 to watch Princess Diana marry Prince Charles and I follow the Royal family more closely than I usually admit in polite company.) But, for now and for the sake of brevity, just know that what I want to get us talking about with or without a clever introduction is the word “Lord.”
It is the English word used to translate the Hebrew word YHWH, the unpronounced proper name for God, which comes from a primitive root word meaning “to be”. In the New Testament, the Greek word translated to the English “Lord” is kyrios which means the one to whom a person or thing belongs. As the culture of our faith ancestors changed, the word used to refer to our Creator changed, not just from one language to another but also in the way the relationship between Creator and Created is perceived. The reference to God changed from a relational way to address the nameless One to a title denoting rank and power.
As Americans, we bristle (whether consciously or unconsciously) at the use of the word Lord because of our understanding of its use to denote possession of one person to another. Our country was born because we didn’t like the idea of being ‘owned’ by another country.
We promise at our baptism to follow and obey Jesus as Lord but how do we understand the relationship intended by the use of the word “Lord”? Do we use Lord as a form of address for the One who is Love? Or do we let it carry all of the etymological baggage of being controlled or possessed by another?
And, so, I wonder how the expression of our faith in our worship, writing, song, and every day life would be different if we had maintained the Hebrew tradition of using a name for God rather than using a title with existing cultural meaning. Titles that denote rank or class are used so that people know where they fall in the ranking system, their ‘place’ if you will. God didn’t come to us as Jesus in order to ‘put us in our place’ but to draw us into relationship as God’s beloved children.
When we choose to follow Jesus, to obey him as our Lord, we are entering into a life-changing relationship with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. In all of the stories we have of Jesus’ ministry, never does he seek to possess or control another. On the contrary, he gives them every opportunity to walk away* if they decide that following him is too much. The way of life that Jesus shows us isn’t about control but about growing in relationship with the very One who gave us the gift of free-will to choose love and life as it is intended for us or to go our own way.
How does letting go of the possession and control meaning of Lord change the way you will address God?