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Today’s lively word is “church.”  Did I lose you already?  Did someone say: “Isn’t ‘lively church’ an oxymoron?”  Stick with me for a bit,  I hope you will wonder with me at a new discovery.
But, first, a bit of history.  The name Kildare comes from Ireland.  Those of you who watched TV during the 1960’s, recall a long running series, Dr. Kildare.  I pastored Peace Presbyterian Church from 1988-2006.  When I came to Peace, it was located on Kildaire Farm Road.  This week, I learned that Kildaire is Gaelic for “church in the oaks.” So, etymologically speaking, Peace Church was on Church in the Oaks Road.  What a surprise!

Now, here is the astonishing discovery.  In “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” G. Hunter III writes – “In Ireland alone, there are more than 6,000 place names containing the element Cill (or ‘cil’ or ‘kil’)-the old Gaelic word for church.”  When Patrick (@390 – 460) came to Ireland, there was no church. We have few written records about the growth of the church during the time after Patrick, but we do have this remarkable evidence – 6,000 place names.  6000! How the Irish of that era must have loved their church.

Of course, we have questions like:

  • How could the Irish church of that era be much more ubiquitous than Starbucks is in America today?  Note:  In 2011 there were 12,500 Starbucks in the US. Ireland is 1/140th the size of the US. Washington State is almost twice the size of Ireland.  As a state, Washington has more Starbucks/capita than any other state.  Yet there are less than 600 Starbucks in Washington State. What a comparison!
  • What stimulated the Irish to so love their church?
  • What has happened to the church in Ireland during the centuries that have passed?”

Our Irish loving friends might be able to help us answer those questions.

Our focus is on the word “church.” It comes to us from Greek.  Add two Greek words, “kuria” (Lord) and “kos” (of the), and you get “kuriakos.”  Among some Christians in India, Kuriakos is a family name.  A friend who loves Malamute dogs, called her operation Kuriakos Alaskan Malamutes.  We get “kurk” by dropping “ia” from “kuria” and “os” from “kos” and joining them as “kurk.” Sometimes “ch” has a hard “k” sound – as in “character” or “chaos.”  So, “church” is “what belongs to the Lord” or “those who belong to the Lord.” I love that.

Apparently the Irish did too.  Why not name their places “belonging to the Lord?”  They might have said: “These are places God our Father has made – places peopled by those the Son has redeemed  – places where the Spirit will take Word and Sacrament to call new people to be connected with God through Jesus.  Let’s call this place: Kildaire – or Kilarney – or Killkenny.”  “Church” in 6,000 places!

Can you imagine “church” meaning as much to you as it did to these ancient Irish?

Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,

Steve Bostrom

PS There were too many treasures for this reading.  So I put them here:

Roman historians tell us that the Celtic people Patrick encountered practiced human sacrifice. As he befriended these Celts, they may have asked how they could become connected with his God.  “How do we become worthy of his favor – do we need a human sacrifice for your God as we do with ours?  What does he require?  How do we pay him off?”  Patrick could have simply replied: “The only death that God requires is the death of his son, Jesus.”

Or consider their concern in this way. They had learned of the great power of God from Patrick. Since God had more power than Satan, they may have assumed God simply took those he wanted – although they belonged to Satan.  But, not so.

When God tells us not to steal, it is because he is no thief.  For us to belong to him, he had to pay for us.  How much does he value us? On the cross, he made that payment with the most precious commodity this world has seen – the blood of Christ -poured out for those who would believe.  Wonder of wonders!

Decades ago, one of my wife’s bothers gave me “Fisher’s Catechism,” a book published in the 1700’s.  James Fisher (1697-1775) asks: Why is Christ’s blessing the elements (the bread and wine used in communion) called his giving thanks?  Fisher’s answer is incomparable: Because so inconceivably great was his love to lost sinners of mankind, that he was thankful he had all their debt to pay, and that he alone was able to pay it to the uttermost.” 

Many of the Irish who heard Patrick and his partners proclaim this good news discovered they did not live in an impersonal world where another human life was required or the curse would win.  Because of Jesus’ death in their place – and Jesus’ resurrection – God lived with them – and they lived with God. They learned from the Bible that the “church” is the Bride of Christ.  Ultimate reality is romance (“God’s Unfaithful Wife” by Ray Ortlund, Jr.).
This deep romance between Jesus and the Celtic believers in Ireland is illustrated by the words for “Be Thou My Vision.” These words, written during the 8th century, still move our souls:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light. 

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power

These Irish Christians loved to pray to the Triune God: I am bending my knee in the eye of the Father who created me, in the eye of the Son who purchased me, in the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me, in friendship and affection (An Excerpt from “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” by G. Hunter, III

They learned prayers for sowing seed and for harvesting crops; for herding cows or milking cows or churning butter; for before a meal and after; for a sprain or a toothache; for a new baby or a new baby chick. Celtic Christians prayed while weaving, hunting, fishing, cooking, or traveling.   They had prayers for getting up in the morning, for dressing, for starting the morning fire, for bathing or washing clothes or dishes. For example, a prayer for starting the morning fire begins: I will kindle my fire this morning in presence of the holy angels of heaven.  God, You kindle within my heart a flame of love – to my neighbor, to my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all, to the brave, to the knave, to the thrall…(ibid.).

Before we leave these Celts, one more treasure.  Such liveliness toward God makes us hospitable to our neighbors.  Enjoy the words of this old Gaelic rune we have framed near our front door:

I saw a stranger yest’-er’een;
I put the food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.
And, in the name of the Triune,
He blessed myself and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones.
And the lark sang in her song,
“Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise;
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.”

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