Rev. Harrison Goodman
I've never had anyone ask me why I wear the letter 't' on my neck and had the "evangelism opportunity" to explain that it's actually a cross. I've never been misunderstood and asked the follow up question, "...a cross from where?" Even being raised Jewish, I knew Christians used crosses to mark themselves and their religion.
There's this fallacy some people wave around that there are people in our communities who haven't ever heard of Christianity. I've never met any of them. I just don't think it's true. They've heard all about Christians. They're quick to tell me.
They say, "Oh. You're Christian. So, are you Christian like the people who hold up hate signs at military funerals, or Christian like the people who believe dinosaur bones were planted by the devil to trick you?" I've heard, "I knew a Christian once. He beat his wife." and "Why would I want to go listen to some pedophile priest talk about why I'm a sinner?" They've heard a lot about people who wear crosses--they've just never heard of Christ.
I don't know when, but someone once said, "You just might be the only Bible someone ever reads." That translates roughly to "when people look at you and see that cross you wear they get a little taste of what you believe in...so behave." I wonder if whoever first said that bothered to read the book before trying to demonstrate it. When I read the Scriptures, all I see are sinners whom God calls righteous because of Christ. I see murderers and thieves and drunkards and adulterers. I see broken men and women. I see sinners. I see a Christ who loves them enough to die for each and every one of them.
You might just be the only Bible someone reads, so do you really want to make sure all they see is law, or maybe admit there's some gospel in there, too? Secretly, I wish I could answer every criticism of someone who wears a cross by saying, "Those sinners can't be Christians. I'm embarrassed to be grouped in with them. Real Christians wouldn't do evil things. Here, look at me. This is what Christians really look like. The truth is, they wouldn't have to look too hard to find my own hypocrisy and sin. That's why I wear a cross. I need it.
Maybe we should even wear crucifixes just to be clear. I don't wear this as a mark of my morality. It's a mark of my sin that my God died for. My God even loves a sinner like me. It doesn't make what I do right. It doesn't make it okay--just died for, and so forgiven. I identify as someone for whom Jesus died. Hi, my name is Baptized. I wear a crucifix because the love that God has for me isn't a feeling, but a concrete action in time--a sacrifice made for one as undeserving as me. That love can't exist in a vacuum. It can't be just a concept. That kind of love looks like a crucifix.
If I'm the only Bible that someone read, I hope to God they'll find more than just law. I don't know how to demonstrate that in myself other than saying "I, a poor miserable sinner" and begging for absolution each chance I get. I go to church because I need what's there. I go because I embody anger and bitterness and lust and evil and sin. I go because I need Christ. You can come, too. Receive the same gifts that sustain me. Yes, there are sinners here. They need forgiveness. That's sort of the point. That's why there's a cross. There's help for us sinners. There's help for you, too. There's forgiveness for your secrets that keep you from standing with us for fear of being outed as less than ideal. You can find peace here, too. God loves you and has redeemed you from every pit you find yourself in.
Everyone gets touchy when we talk about "witnessing." Some of it's because we recognize we have something worth sharing, and don't want to waste any opportunities. Some of it's because most people don't actually want to knock on a stranger's door and hold out pamphlets, because it's awkward and scary and we don't know what to say. This isn't a call for more or less "mission programs." It's just a call to acknowledge reality. Most of us have at least some in our lives who doesn't know Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who seeks out His lost sheep. Most of us are uncomfortable talking about religion with them. I am.
But I'm not uncomfortable loving them. They are my family and my friends. I don't need to be told to care for them by a mission program. Loving and serving them is my vocation. God put these specific people in my life for me to serve. He gave you some, too. This service doesn't look like forced, awkward encounters where I care more about saying I "witnessed" than I do about the person I "witnessed" to. It's the genuine love and compassion I have for the people in my life that God gave me.
When missions are tied to vocation and we see the people we love hurting, we point them to the only healing we know. Mission is rooted in the source of love, Jesus, not the program or pamphlet. That love doesn't need to be cajoled into speaking. That love can't shut up. That love is demonstrated every time you go back to the source of love, given in the Divine Service, because that love isn't an idea, it takes shape. It's a cross from Christ.
Rev. Harrison Goodman serves as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Carroll, Nebraska.
Created: December 9th, 2015