The scripture for this sermon is Matthew 16:21-28.
80 something year old Lowell Trimmer of Lancaster, Ohio was a visiting a friend in California and noticed little white crosses in the gardens. It turned out that making and distributing them was a ministry of a local church. Later, he read a story of the Michigan town of Frankenmuth that had to take down a symbol of Christianity that had been put up by the city, when the ACLU sued. Like many, these sorts of lawsuits angered him, but unlike most everybody else, he decided to do something about it beyond just write an angry letter to the newspaper.
Remembering those crosses in California, in 2012 he began to make his own crosses and give them away for free to anyone who would put them in their yard. Each cross would make a silent and legal statement that Christ is at the center of the life of the people who reside there. His goal was to make them ubiquitous in Lancaster, Ohio. To date, with the help of volunteers and contributions, he has crafted nearly 20,000 crosses and sent them to 18 different states.
Our member Donna Short heard about Lowell and secured enough crosses for us to put in our gardens, to spread the word without saying a word. Since most of us are hesitant to tell people about Christ, these crosses will provide an opportunity for us to declare our faith to our neighbor. Our silent statements might lead to great conversations about God and what is important in our lives. With these simple white crosses, we are each given a chance to be evangelists, bearers of the Good News.
However, I must warn you to be careful before you take one home. These crosses are not only a statement that the bearer believes in Jesus. These crosses tell your neighbors that you are striving and struggling to be like Jesus. Believing in Jesus is a lot easier than being like Jesus. In the bible, the devil always believes in Jesus, but would never want to be like Jesus. I thought of putting a warning sign on each one. “Danger, the bearer of this cross must be willing to die in order to love like Jesus.”
A newer person to our congregation, Alise, told me a story of getting home from work late on a Friday night and parking on the street outside her condo. She was woken up early Saturday morning, by the loud banging and cursing of her neighbor at her door. He was incensed that she had parked in “his” space again. He said this in words that would make a sailor blush. Alise then shared that her neighbor was a deacon at his church, the highest position of lay leadership. He didn’t sound like a leader of a church she would want to be a part of. “Danger, the bearer of this cross must be willing to die in order to love like Jesus.” Die? He wasn’t even willing to give up a parking space.
The cross is not a cute nostalgic symbol of Jesus’ life. It is the instrument of death used by the state to kill him. Putting a cross in our garden is a lot like putting an Electric Chair next to our Hydrangeas. It is reminder that Jesus’ immense love cost him his life. Even the disciples, didn’t like this part of the story of Jesus. Peter tries to get him to stop talking about it, but following Jesus to Jerusalem will not be a rosy path to glory. Following Jesus will lead to the cross, his suffering and dying.
When those disciples heeded Jesus’ call to pick up their cross and follow him, it led to a life of suffering, sacrifice and for almost all of the disciples dying at the hands of enemies. If we pick up the cross and follow Jesus, we need to be willing to love so extravagantly and be so generous in this world that it might lead to sacrifice, suffering, maybe even death. I am tired of people treating the cross as just jewelry. I am tired of churches with their huge crosses out front and not one ministry inside that sacrifices and dies for their neighbor. I am tired of plumbers with a cross on their white work van, that don’t treat me with love or respect when they are inside my home. I am tired of people with crosses in their yard that want to fight with me over a parking spot in front of my house. The bearer of this cross is expected to be willing to die for their neighbor so they will know God’s love, what sacrifice for our neighbor is too much to ask?
Honestly, I am tired of my own weakness, too. If you notice, I rarely wear a clerical collar, even though many of my Lutheran pastor colleagues do. When you wear that thing out in public, people expect something from you. It is much easier to leave it at home and ignore the pan handler in the street, ride the tail of the idiot going too slow in front of you, or talk to the waitress as if she is a servant beneath you. You can’t get away with that stuff when you have a collar on. If you put this cross in your yard, you won’t be able to get away with it any longer, either.
I was invited by our member Lisa Evenson to attend the dedication of a new athletic center at Liberty Christian School in Pataskala. Lisa and Bill’s kids, Megan and Lucas, not only attend Liberty Christian, Lisa is the Development Director for the school. She was responsible for helping the school raise enough money to afford this beautiful addition, but I was immediately suspicious of the builder of the project, Elevated Integrity, Christian builder. Like that plumber with a cross, just one more business I thought trying to cash in on the “Christian” market.
However, after hearing Aaron, the owner of the company, speak at the dedication I changed my mind. He explained that building is not only what he knows how to do, it is his gift, his vocation from God. His responsibility is to make sure that he does so in a way that makes God known in the world. He choked up and was crying when he described how this new addition was going to help raise up doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, contractors, missionaries, pastors who would all have a heart for Christ. He saw his entire life through the cross and it affected the way he acted in the world and how he treated other people, employees and customers alike. He not only believed in Jesus. He wanted to be like Jesus.
When we put this cross in our yard, we are committing ourselves to act differently, surprise people by our love and our passion not just for Jesus, but for them. When we put this cross in our yard. we are giving up any opportunity to be rude, petty, or obnoxious to our neighbor or to take advantage of them in anyway. When we put this cross in our yard, we make ourselves vulnerable to someone who might in fact want to take advantage us, our love, compassion and charity. Then why do it? The same reason that all of those disciples did, millions of Christians since them and Aaron at Elevated Integrity there is great joy in using the gifts God has given us to make known the love that has changed our life.
Lowell has done a wonderful thing making these crosses available for us and so many more. Silently, they speak a word of Christ without ever saying a word. However, no one will hear that silent word if they are not backed up by extravagant actions of love. So come forward, pick up your cross and take it home and put it in your yard, but do so heeding the warning. Danger, the bearer of this cross must be willing to die in order to love like Jesus. Amen