Our own Jack Dikranian, besides being a dedicated altar server, is also a talented graphic designer. He has designed our church’s latest logo which you have seen for many months on the first page of your bulletin. It is a great logo because it captures in an image what our church is about. We are a traditional Armenian house of worship (streamlined icon of sanctuary) in a vibrant Florida setting (palm trees and sun). Jack also did the logos for the 2017 Assembly, which are even more vibrant with church and beach imagery dancing in patterns of Florida orange and sunlight.
We are blessed to have Jack, and the church, like any other business or non-profit, benefits from great outreach logos which help bring new people in. Unlike most business and non-profits, however, bringing people in is not the end of our work at St. Hagop, it is just the beginning. Once people are inside this church, we have different PR and a different logo which is not one you or I chose, yet for millennia it has been chosen for us. It is the cross. And in the cross, Christianity has a major PR problem. It always did and it always will. In today’s reading, on the feast of the discovery of the cross, the Apostle Paul speaks to his parishioners in Corinth about the cross, and the difficulty the image creates.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.–1 Cor 1:18-24
We Christians have a PR problem. Our logo, the cross, is the modern equivalent of an electric chair, a hangman’s noose. The cross in Paul’s day was the way that you executed insurrectionists. What a terrible logo, why would they choose it? And yet fast forward 2000 years later, and Christianity and its cross is the largest religion in the world with about 2.2 billion or 32% of the population. How is this possible?
It isn’t possible for men…But it is great proof of Jesus’ words that “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” You see Christianity and the cross turn all of the conventional wisdom of PR & marketing on its head. Perhaps the first rule of marketing is: “if you want to attract people to your product, give them a message they want to hear.” Whereas the first rule of Christian PR, in the words of its founder, is: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” The second golden rule of marketing might be: “Start with some easy messaging and sales pitch, and then build up to more commitment.” The rule in Christian PR is: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
Christianity has PR problems and the cross is a very challenging logo because it tells the naked truth about the world without sugar coating and without spin. It cuts through what we might want to hear about life on this earth and bluntly tells us what we need to hear. What is that truth? That everything is broken in this world, including us, including, by his own will, God Himself on the cross. The cross reminds us in milliseconds (as any good logo) of the taint of sin which follows the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve like a shadow on all our endeavors. However much civilization advances, we will never escape our shadow of corruption, betrayal, violence, enmity and death. This is no outreach logo. The cross’s truth is too unvarnished and raw to be selling you anything.
No, unlike any other logo or PR in the history of mankind, Christianity foolishly leads with the challenging news that everything is broken, including you and I. Only when our egos bow to hear this news, does the great news follow. The spectacularly great news, today on the feast of the discovery of the cross is that if we can bear gazing on the cross of our brokenness-not once but every day-God will help us bear our crosses. God will help transform our shame into glory, our weakness into strength, our sickness into healing. It seems foolish and backward to go about things this way, but as Paul reminds us today, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
So therefore, when you and I face great trials in our lives, or just the trial of being our best self-every day, look skeptically on the PR of the world, with its quick fixes and too good to be true answers. These logos all make promises they can’t deliver. The only promise for Christians is the promise of today’s feast of the discovery of the cross…The promise that, as a great preacher said, “There are no crown wearers in heaven who were not cross bearers on earth (Charles Spurgeon).” May God help us take up our cross in this world so that we might take up our crown in the next; now and always; amen.