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A Terrible Marketing Tool

3/21/04

Arial

Do you think Martha Stewart will ever be used to sell things again? Having been convicted of crimes she's now considered a terrible marketing tool. But when it comes to terrible marketing tools nobody beats the Church. The focal point of our sanctuary is a crucifix, a sculpture of a dead Man nailed to a cross. Does it make sense for the living Church to have a dead Man as her focal point? That's as sensible as Mcdonald's using burnt hamburgers or Ford using dented cars. People aren't seeking burnt hamburgers or dented cars, and neither do they seek a dead Man on a cross.

St. Paul knew what people wanted. They want power. People feel powerless in our day. They feel powerless against terrorists, powerless against debt, powerless against disease. If we could show them power over these things, we would have a packed church. If we had something on our altar that glowed with health, radiated wealth, or shined with protection, people would come in here and fall down prostrate before such a thing.

Power attracts people. Oil of Olay promises you power over aging. Sport Utility Vehicles promise you power over harsh driving conditions. Both use appropriate marketing tools, don't they? Oil of Olay doesn't use a prune face person. SUV ads don't show them stuck in the mud. These companies know what they're doing. We don't. We use a helpless Man dead on a cross. No power apparent here just weakness. Weakness repels. Power attracts.

So does wisdom. People seek intellectually, psychologically, and scientifically satisfying answers. If we had a statue of Jesus sitting cross-legged instead of Jesus nailed to a cross, we might have something. If we had a 2.2 gigahertz computer on our altar, then we would have what people seek. But who seeks a dead Guy on a cross?

We're out of touch with reality. A crucified Jesus isn't what people seek. A powerful, wise One is. So the crucifix is a terrible marketing tool. That's why, over the years, it has slipped off the altars of our churches. The first president of the Missouri Synod said that we must not give into American Christianity which finds the crucifix repugnant. But we have. Why? You know why. Because this is not what people are seeking in Church.

Growing churches offer people what they seek. They offer power: power over Satan, over personal finances, over sickness, over relationships. And they offer wisdom. They'll teach you how to raise kids, how to have a good marriage, how to succeed in today's world. And despite the popularity of The Passion seldom will you find a crucifix on their altars. What is front and center in these churches? A man, not behind a pulpit, not hidden by robes, a living, energetic MAN, not a lifeless, dead Man is front and center.

A living, energetic man is what American's seek, so it's a great marketing tool. The crucifix is not. Not only is it not what people want, it's an ad for losers. It attracts losers. What a terrible marketing tool! Would a company run ads that attracted losers? Would a country club use ads that brought in the down and out? And, don't kid yourself, we do attract losers. At least that's what Paul says. He says, literally, "Look at the called. Not many are wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many well-born. But on the absolute contrary, God has chosen and forever only chooses the foolish, the weak, the down and out, the things not being." Yes, that's what this crucifix on our altar attracts: people who are nothing.

"The things not being" is last in the list; it's the jewel in the crown of losers Paul runs down. The Greeks of Corinth who heard this shuddered. Pagan gods would at times choose the lowly, but none chose or even thought of what did not exist. This category is devastating to Americans too. With our high self-esteem, we can't imagine that we do not enrich God somehow by being His followers. Surely, we must add something to Him.

Sorry, God chooses nothing, not just people with low numbers but zeros. He attracts them by trolling the waters of humanity with a crucifix. We rebel against this. I can't tell you how many times over the decades a member has told me about a person who would be a great addition to our Church because of their wisdom or power. But that's not whom God is fishing for. O Paul says He may catch some like that but most are losers: the foolish, the weak, the lowly, the despised, the zeros.

The bulletin gives the false idea that it's only when you were called that you were a loser. It says, "Think of what you were when you were called" as if you were foolish, weak, lowly, despised, and nothing then, but once called by Christ you changed. Sorry, 'were' isn't there. Paul asks them to look right then at those who had been attracted to the crucified Christ, and they will note that not many are wise, powerful, or well-born. He shows them what I'm showing you. Christ crucified attracts the losers of the world, and they aren't changed into winners in the world.

The crucifix is a terrible marketing tool, but it is truth in advertising. It says what you will get at this Church is Christ and Him crucified. That's what Paul says Christian churches are to proclaim. Not a wise Christ, not a powerful Christ, not even a living Christ, although of course He is, but a crucified one. He says literally, "We preach Christ having been and still being crucified."

The crucified Christ is not a one time event in history, but an ever present reality; that's why the crucifix is always on our altar. That's why Paul says we show forth "the Lord's death" each time we celebrate the Lords's Supper. Communion wafers as early as the 5th century were etched first with a cross and later stamped with a crucifix, as ours are, for that same reason. The Lord's Supper is about the Crucified One.

This concept is hard for many. It's easier to think only of a risen Jesus, and that would be more popular with people. A Jesus triumphant over the grave, as He most certainly is, would be the wise, powerful Jesus that people crave. Besides it's hard to picture a Crucified, yet living Jesus. But this is the very essence of Christianity. You find this Jesus in Revelation. Jesus stands in heaven as a slain Lamb. A standing Lamb is alive, but He stands as if slain. Revelation also speaks of the Lamb of God as slain from the foundation of the world. Do you get it? Always the Lamb is slain. Always Jesus is crucified. God the Father never looked at this world except through the blood of the slain Lamb, except through the cross of the crucified Christ.

A crucified Christ is truth in advertising because in this life Christ and everything connected with Him are crucified. Yes, He lives, but only faith sees that. These eyes can only see a crucified Jesus. And that's all we'll see in our own lives too. Like Jesus, we suffer and die in this world. Death devours my body. Suffering afflicts my soul. But I look at the crucifix, and as I know that it's not the end of Christ's story, so I'm reminded that it's not the end of my story. As I see myself sharing the beginning of His story so I'm reminded that I share His glorious end too.

The crucifix is truth in advertising. It's says in our Church we believe that Christ crucified is a help to all who are under the cross. And we believe, as Paul says, that Christ crucified is to be people's wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption. When people are perplexed with how God is dealing with them in life, we point them to a crucified Christ to see that God can use painful, harsh things to work His good and gracious will. We point them to the crucifix to see that God's wisdom is not bound by conventional thinking. No one, not men, angels, or devils thought that God would or could use an executioner's tool to solve man's most damning problems.

And when people are troubled about not having enough righteousness or holiness, we point them to Christ crucified. We don't try to get them to do more; we don't even try to get them to believe more. We point them at the crucified Christ and say, "There's your righteousness; there's your holiness." Don't you see how incredibly comforting and freeing this is? We tell people, "Stop looking inside yourselves; stop sifting through your sins or your good works. Your righteousness and holiness are completely outside of you." That means even when you feel nothing but sinful, fallen, and dirty inside, you don't have to be afraid. Your righteousness and holiness are safe outside of you in Christ.

And when guilt chases people, we take them to the crucifix, and say, "Do you see that Man hanging there? He's your redemption. He has bought you back from sin, death, and the devil. All your guilt was piled on Him, and He paid for it with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Because He bought and paid for your guilt, it belongs to Him now not you. It's His responsibility not yours. Since He hung so miserably on a cross for your guilt, you don't have to. You are to go away from this cross as if God doesn't have one single thing against you, because He doesn't. God settled everything between you and Him on that cross."

A crucifix is terrible marketing tool, but contrary to what many think, it's not a gruesome symbol. In fact, for Christians since the 5th century the crucifix has been a joyous symbol. From ancient times during Lent and particularly on Good Friday, the Church has veiled it. If the crucifix was primarily a reminder of our sins or of Christ's suffering, why would the Church veil it during the time we are specially sorrowing over our sins? No, we veil the crucifix until Easter for the same reason we bury the alleluias till then. To mute our joy for a time, so we can rejoice all the louder on Easter.

So the crucifix is a terrible marketing tool if you're in the market for sinners seeking worldly wisdom and power, but it's a great tool if you're seeking poor, lost sinners in need of forgiveness. And for sinners so found a crucified Christ, becomes a joyous, glorious symbol. Amen