The missing cross...
It's easy to be critical of the church, especially retrospectively. Like Monday morning quarterbacks, we can all look back through the centuries and see the folly of crusades, colonization, slavery, and the unholy marriage of political power and wealth with the name of Jesus. These failures are, ostensibly, the reasons offered by millions for their rejection of Christ and, especially, of the church.
Maybe, but I suspect otherwise. I believe what's going on among most who reject the invitation to step into God's story is largely the same thing going on among those who claim to be in the thick of God's story - we are, all of us, recoiling at the cross.
Of course, the church claims to embrace the cross. We sing songs about it; we wear it around our neck as jewelry; it figures prominently in our architecture; and most significantly, we teach it's centrality. The problem, though, is that in teaching it's centrality we tend to teach the reality that Jesus died FOR us, and so our responsibility is to receive this free gift so that we can be pardoned for our failures and be made right with God.
To declare that this is the heart of the gospel would be like saying that cutting down trees and making bats is the central theme of baseball. Talk about missing the point! The reality is this: Christ walked the path of the cross and then triumphed over the grave. Our journey with Christ begins by acknowledging our need for this gift and receiving it, but this is just the beginning, like receiving our bat and glove. The point is wholly other. The point is that we're now empowered with the same capacity to walk the road of our own cross, laying down our lives in literal and/or spiritual ways for three reasons:
#1 - because Jesus tells us that this is our calling
#2 - because this is where our credibility and life imparting power lies
#3 - because we believe that there's more to life than THIS life.
The early church gave validity to Christ's claims because it was the Christ followers who, in the time of the plague, were willing to open their homes and provide hospitality to the dying, often at cost of their own lives. Wherever the faith presents itself as powerful and real, it does so because there are real and tangible acts of relinquishing rights (to life, our happiness, or being first, or secure, or powerful, or vindicated) on the part of Christ's followers. Of course, the sad testimony of the church is that, too often, we've appropriated Christ's death FOR us, while overtly or covertly avoiding our own calling to die WITH Him. Thus does the church's lust for power, wealth, and prestige, mar the church's testimony, creating a caricature of Christ.
Yes, Christ died for us. But He beat death in order that we might be freed from the fear of death, in order that we might have the entire world opened up before us as we listen for the voice of our Guide and follow Him wherever He might take us. We know this, though, that the path that will impart life to others will only be seen to the extent that we say YES to the Guide who calls us to lay down our own agenda, instinct for survival, or lust for pleasure or power, choosing instead our own CROSS because we believe that life goes on, and on, forever.
As I begin the fall routine, I pray that I'll be willing to walk the path of the cross.