Power of the cross overcomes many distractions

Published 9:17 am Friday, March 15, 2013

By the Rev. Nancy Overgaard
Thorne Crest Retirement Community
While serving as a missionary in Croatia, I arranged for a showing of the movie, “Jesus,” in a Roma (Gypsy) village near where I lived. As in so many places in the world, Gypsies are among the poorest, most marginalized and even despised people. I wanted them to have a chance both to hear the message of God’s great love and to see God’s love reflected in everything we did.

A summer mission team from Albert Lea would lead off with games and crafts for children, followed by a picnic for the entire village. Then, we would all go together to a local theater where staff from the Jesus Film Project had arranged to show a children’s version of the movie.

But, when we arrived it seemed our plans would all fall apart. Children had already been waiting in the hot sun for two hours. Worse, a conflict had erupted among village leaders about who had authority to grant permission to use the theater. Only years later would I learn it stemmed from a suspicion there was financial gain to be had. At the time, all we knew was that, because of the dispute, we would not be allowed to use the theater. We would have to show the movie outdoors.

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To my surprise and relief, film staff had come prepared to do that. Even so, presenting the movie outdoors meant having to stall long enough for the sun to go down and mosquitoes to come out. With the village located near protected marshland, the mosquitoes were voracious. By the time the movie got underway hours after our arrival, instead of watching, children and adults alike milled about, talking and slapping mosquitoes. Adding to the distraction an ice cream truck drove up, ringing its bell, drawing children away just as the movie was beginning.

About the time I thought it would be a total wash, scenes of the crucifixion appeared on the screen. A hush fell over the meadow and movement stopped. The eyes of adults and children alike were riveted to the screen. A friend had once told me she knew a movie was good if her daughter left her popcorn on the couch and edged closer to the screen. There in the meadow, adults leaned into the screen and children edged closer. Something about the crucifixion had at last gotten their attention. I left with a vivid impression of the power of the cross.

John Stott wrote in his book, “The Cross of Christ” that even among Christians there is sometimes a strange reluctance to talk about the cross. Not so the Apostle Paul. For Paul the cross was central, and he understood well its power. To the Romans he wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” (Romans 1:16). To the Corinthians, Paul wrote that he had made a conscious decision, not only to keep the cross foremost in his preaching (1 Corinthians 2:2), but to present the message of the cross in a simple, straightforward manner “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power,” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

Toward the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul summarized the message of the cross in a single sentence. “What I received I passed on to you as of the first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). “By this Gospel,” he wrote, “you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you,” (1 Corinthians 15:2).

As we move through Lent and approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I encourage you to keep the cross central in your own thinking. May you never be ashamed of its message and may you be blessed with ever greater understanding of its meaning and its power!