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The Holy Cross – Do you want a plain one or one with a little man on?

September 13, 2014

The cross is a symbol that is everywhere but has it lost its meaning? For me, and most Christians, it is the symbol of the lengths to which God would go to save me, my fellow human beings, and to save this world. A world which is groaning for God to put it right (Romans 8.22). The cross is The sign of hope but so few see that.

A friend over heard a conversation in a jewellers: A young woman asked the assistant for a cross pendent and the assistant replied – “do you want a plain one or one with a little man on?” That was a few years ago and the level of knowledge about Christianity has only gone down since then. Many people in England do not even know who Jesus is. I don’t mean that they can’t remember much about him, no, I mean that they have never heard that name before.

It should be different in the area I now live in, at least for anyone who went to school here. But many who have moved in from other areas may well never have heard the name of Jesus.

So when I’m talking about my faith I can’t assume any common ground. I can’t assume that the person I’m talking to knows anything about religion. Everything needs to be explained without Christian jargon. So words like ‘sin’, ‘God’, and ‘Jesus’ need using with care. ‘Religion’ is a risky word to use too. So many people have no experience of a lived religion so that the word ‘religion’ just means scary fanatics wanting to kill people.

It is so hard, but if I do use the words of religion I might feel good and safe; I feel good but at best I’m just speaking to myself – at worst I’m saying to someone that I’m a dangerous lunatic out to kill people.

That is why at a baptism service I take the time to explain what even the simplest things mean, like the 3 questions right at the beginning:

  1. Do you turn to Christ?
  2. Do you repent of your sins?
  3. Do you renounce evil?

The parents know what I mean because we’ve talked and prayed about it long before they came to the baptism service itself. But it’s quite normal for most of their family and friends not to have a clue what I’m on about. I have to use simple words and concepts and usually use the analogy of good parents bringing up a child. That allows me to bring in a heavenly Father. Bringing up a child involves teaching them the difference between right and wrong – so turning to God’s son (Jesus) is turning to what is right – renouncing evil is turning away from all that’s wrong.

‘Repenting of sins’ is about a positive way of life for people who aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect so like any child I’m naughty, I need to say sorry and I know that my Father will forgive me because he loves me. I’m forgiven and with God try to be better. Then when I fail again, I say sorry again … and so on. This is God’s way of helping me to be the best I can be – This is also the way a good parent helps any child to be the best they can be.

If their eyes haven’t completely glazed over by that point I may say a little more, but even those simple explanations can easily be too much. I’m not having a dig at these people. Why should they know, if no one has ever bothered to explain things before? All that I’m trying to say is that I need to remember not to assume that the people that I meet, even those coming to special church events, know very much about Jesus.

I consider it a huge success if at the end of a baptism service the vast majority of guests at least have some understanding of what has just happened and that they leave with a sense of God’s love for them shown through the warmth of the Christians there to pray for the child, parents and godparents. Then a tiny seed of God’s love has been sown.

This is a huge challenge to me and all Christians in England. We have assumed that we are in a Christian country but we are not: We are actually in a country that has a Christian history and heritage, but a secular present. I for one need to remember this all of the time. I need to be ready at all times to explain the hope I have and to explain that hope in words that can be understood to the person I’m speaking to. But the right words are not enough. I need to be changed inside so that all that is not loving dies, making room for the person God is making me into. I need to remember my own baptism, turn to Christ every moment of every day, say sorry for my mistakes and allow the Spirit to heal me. Then perhaps, with the constant work of the Spirit, my life can say all that my words cannot.

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