The lawn sign sermon (3rd place)

(Editor’s note: See general note about language below.)

Irony, by Andrew Miller. Photo contest winners here.

What is the purpose of a church lawn sign? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1) to advertise upcoming events;

2) to create employment for those who design and build signs;

3) to display how pithy and clever the minister is (“Come in and pray today. Beat the Christmas rush!”);

4) to lecture and berate the unfaithful (“Jesus is Coming! Will you be Ready?!” or “How Will You Spend Eternity: Smoking or Non-smoking?”); or

5) to somehow motivate the passerby to come in and check out what’s shaking.

Purpose 1 and 2 seem reasonable enough. Purpose 3 seems to make the basic assumption that God, in all divine wisdom, must surely love forced jokes and horrible puns. And Purpose 4 may well be the kind of “evangelism” that has led much of the world to see the Church, and perhaps Christians in general, as pompous, overbearing, judgmental and irrelevant.

Purpose 5, though, gets me thinking.

Let’s say I’m coming from the perspective of feeling that Christians are, at worst, a bunch of crusading, self-congratulatory hypocrites, and at best well intentioned but naive, and ultimately just as messed up and confused as the rest of our world. Let’s say this is how I feel; what could one possibly put on a sign that might bring me to open those ominous looking doors and step inside?

“Nothing,” sneers the most cynical part of me. Perhaps. Or maybe this: Imagine a beautiful old limestone church with a steeple, tall oak doors and a leafy maple out front. The walkway runs directly up to the main doors and under the canopy of the tree, on the left side, sits The Sign, lit from the front by floodlights so we can read the message day and night: “Do You Feel Fucked Up?” That’s it. That’s all it says. Well, maybe the times of the services might be posted underneath, and the minister’s name. But nothing else.

I suspect you are too
Why would this bring me in? Because I am a bit fucked up – and I suspect you are too if you’re perfectly honest about it. Isn’t that the whole premise on which the faith is based? We collectively dropped the ball, and Christ had to be the special team that got the dirty awful job of picking it up, and we kind of nailed him up on the goalpost for his work, and that’s just how the whole thing went down, if I can get away with really mixing my metaphors.

And even if I don’t know this or if I don’t believe it, you can bet this sign is going to catch my attention, and I’m going to be thinking about it as I walk to work or to school or to the bar or wherever I’m going. And on those terrible days when I can’t bear how alone I am or how bad I feel, I’m going to remember that someone inside that building might just understand what that’s like. And on days when the world is mine for the taking and everything is bright and fresh, I’m going to be reminded that it’s not always like this and that maybe someone in that building might be able to help me understand why.

And the whole notion of an act of torture being the central representation of how we view the creator of the universe is kind of a fucked up idea, if you think about it – and surely that man-God with the nails knows what getting fucked over really feels like, and I wonder if maybe expressing an act that is horribly profane by using words that are a little bit profane is maybe very appropriate.

I don’t go to church. But I would like to – and that’s the kind of conflicted and complex view of faith that would get me up the steps and into that building. And I suspect there are a lot of people out there who might agree with me.

Duncan Nicholls is a high school English teacher in Kitchener, Ontario.

Note about language: We’re a bit conflicted about naughty language here at Geez. Some readers are fine with it; others find it offensive, and contributors seem to keep sending it. We have no wish to offend for the sake of offending. And we don’t generally want to censor. For those who need to, please insert your own bleeps. And we’ll try to keep things in check.

Issue 10

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 10, Summer 2008, 30 Sermons You'd Never Hear in Church.

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Issue 10, Summer 2008

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