Faith Badges: Crosses and Conversations
Faith Badges: Crosses and Conversations
April 14, 2017
What do you wear as a sign of your faith? A cross around your neck? A tattoo? A Fairfax Presbyterian Church t-shirt?
At the beginning of Lent, many of you gathered here for our Ash Wednesday service, and received a cross of ash on your forehead. This was a religious badge — it showed that you are part of this faith group. Ashes on your forehead and crosses around your neck are badges that identify you as a Christian. They are as distinctive as the yamaka worn by a Jewish man or the hijab worn by a Muslim woman. But here is the fascinating part: Recent research reveals that people see these badges as a sign of reliability.
Yes, that’s right: People spot signs of religious observance and think, “There goes a dependable person.” Our faith badges send a very positive message.
In four experiments, anthropologist Richard Sosis and his colleagues assembled pictures of a large number of people. They altered one fifth of the images so that the people appeared to be wearing a cross around their necks or a cross of ash on their foreheads. These experiments were conducted during the season of Lent, between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and the researchers shuffled these images with pictures of people without any religious badges.
Next, they had a diverse group of several hundred university students examine the stack of photos. The students rated each of the faces for trustworthiness. And what was the result? The people wearing Christian badges prompted powerful feelings of trust. This was true, writes Susan Pinker in The Wall Street Journal (October 22 – 23, 2016), “not only among fellow Christians but also among secular students and members of other religions.”
But wait, there’s more. Other studies show that the same is true for any religious badge. Whether you are a Muslim, a Jew, or a Hindu, an outer sign of your faith commitment is going to improve your reputation.
Paul was right when he said: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” How beautiful are the Christian crosses, the Muslim hijabs, the Jewish yamakas, and the red dots in the middle of Hindu foreheads. All send a message of reliability.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that a Christian confession of faith is limited to wearing a cross around the neck. Paul praises the feet of those “who bring good news,” and bringing good news usually involves opening up a conversation about our Christian beliefs. Our words are the most important of our faith badges.
So what does Paul say about the words that can identify us as dependable and reliable Christians? “One believes with the heart and so is justified,” says the apostle, “and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (v. 10). For Paul, belief is already in your heart. The challenge is simply to express it.
Every one of us has a faith story, one that will be a benefit to others if we tell it. People will not judge us harshly for speaking of our belief; instead, they will see us in a very positive light. Here at FPC, we have had a number of church members tell their faith stories in worship. One woman began by simply saying, “I believe in God.”
She spoke of how she grew up in a home without faith, but that began to change when she entered FPC for the first time. One of you led her into the Sanctuary and sat with her during her first service of worship. She joined a new member conference and found that she felt very much at home. She was baptized and the congregation promised to nurture her in her faith. And then members invited her to become involved in the church in very significant ways. “So to say that I believe in God,” she concluded, “means for me that I believe that that hope is stronger than despair, that pain will always be followed by healing, that within darkness there is light, that death is never final.”
That’s a powerful faith story, and it happened right here. It occurred because you were wearing your faith badges, and were found to be dependable and reliable. Whenever you speak of how God has been at work in your life, you are putting on a faith badge and showing the world that you believe.
For a badge to work, it has to be visible. This requires us to move our faith from the inside to the outside, from our hearts to our mouths. “For one believes with the heart and so is justified,” Paul says, “and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (v. 10). From the heart to the mouth, from the interior to the exterior — this movement is critically important. The faith of our hearts is not fully formed until it emerges and becomes a faith badge for us to show the world.
Both Paul and Jesus know that faith is never intended to be a totally private matter. “You are the light of the world,” says Jesus to his followers in the Gospel of Matthew. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket” (5:14-15). Our faith needs to be spoken and shared with others as authentically good news, so that it shines as brightly as a lamp that gives light to all in the house.
Paul wants everyone to call on the name of the Lord Jesus. But he worries that many won’t be able to believe in Jesus because they have never heard about him. Our challenge is to let people know that Jesus came to earth to bring us forgiveness and new life. He died on the cross on Good Friday to make peace between us and God, and between people one to another. Our conversations about Jesus should always include the good news that God wants us to be in relationship with him, and that he wants us to have healthy relationships with one another. “God is surely going to set things right in all creation,” writes professor Thomas Long. Paul assures us that “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him” (v. 12).
Make sure that your faith badge includes the story of your own relationship with God. Bring it from the inside to the outside, so that others can clearly see what Jesus means to you. And focus on good news instead of bad news, so that people will get a clear sense of God’s love for them. Let them know that God is surely going to set things right.
A smudge of ash on your forehead, a cross around your neck, a story of your Christian faith. All are badges that will help others to see you as reliable and dependable. And they may lead another person to discover and express their faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Long, Thomas G. “Preaching Romans Today.” Interpretation, July 2004, 272.
Pinker, Susan. “When We Display Our Piety, Our Social Stock Rises.” The Wall Street Journal, October 22 – 23, 2016, www.wsj.com.