The Crossed Up People

Published 10:00 pm Friday, October 10, 2008

I was reading the other day about a very strange thing. It was a story about a grave. Now this particular grave was unlike any you’ve probably ever seen. I spend a great deal of time in cemeteries and I’ve never seen anything like this. Here’s the story.

A man I know was walking around in a cemetery one day. He noticed all the graves, some of them very old and some of them fairly new. He came to a plot which obviously belonged to a rather large family. All the graves were lined up. Being a Southern cemetery I imagine they all faced the East. That’s how most of our cemeteries are, you know. The theory behind that, I’ve heard all my life, is so that when Jesus returns and splits the Eastern sky, those of us who happen to be lying around in the cemetery will be able to see it first hand. That’s the idea, I’m told. Anyway, here was this man I know, looking around in the graveyard when all of a sudden he noticed that one particular grave was not like all the rest. This grave was sideways. Because of this angle it took up perhaps three regular spaces. There it was all sideways. It was a wonder to the observer. As he stood there trying to figure out just why that one grave was like that another man came along. He knew the man buried there so he knew why the grave was that way. He said that the man had been crossways all his life. He never seemed to agree with anybody about anything. If the rest of the community or church took a stand one way he was sure to disagree. He always questioned why and where and when and how. Have you ever known anyone like that?

Well, when the man finally died, his family had a conference and decided that they would honor the way he lived by burying him sideways. He had never agreed with anyone and had never gone along with the crowd so they buried him like that. They said it was to be a witness. I sure would hate that sort of thing to happen to me. It would be terrible to have such a lasting monument to a contentious spirit.

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I knew a man like that once. Meaner than a pit filled with hungry cobras. Nobody could get along with him. He worked hard at it and had developed his way of life into a fine art. If the folks in his town get the idea they might just bury him sideways. He is crossed up with just about everyone just about all the time. The problem is, however, that he is also one of the hardest workers in the church. He’ll do anything you ask and will do it well. It’s just that he never lets you forget that he did it and that he was the only one in town who could have done it that well, or, as he would say, “who did it right.”

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church what I believe to be one of the most wonderful letters ever. It sings with joy at the remembrance of shared ministry. Nestled right in the middle, however, is a single verse that shines a light on a problem within the church. Almost parenthetically Paul writes, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” I have often wondered what their feud was all about. Apparently their difference of opinion had caused no small stir within the fellowship of believers. That one sentence leads one to wonder not only about the cause of the strife but if that conflict was ever settled. Maybe both of these people were buried sideways.

It occurs to me that we, all of us, have, in large and small ways, spent a great deal of time going about the business of setting up monuments to our deepest philosophies. We have taken care to leave evidence of our witness. I hope that the people around us can say that we were more vigilant to make peace than to bring division. I pray that God would open our eyes to the ways to bring His Spirit to folks rather than the spirit of contention. Jesus said that if we have something against another we should go to that person and make peace. Today is a good day to do just that. That act will be a clear witness to who you are … and Whose you are.

John Brannon is the founder of Peace and Grace Ministries. He writes a weekly column for The Messenger.