Life on Mars: 5. To Save Us
The end of the week already! The work in Church is progressing well, but the scaffolding is still up, and will be up for harvest festival. I am bracing myself for all the complaints!
Today I post the last in my series 'Life on Mars'. I promise to shut up about the TV series - for a while, at least. It is very good, though.
Have a great weekend!
Life on Mars: 5. To Save Us
So why? If God went to so much trouble in sending Jesus and choosing precisely the time and place to do so, why did he do it? What was it all about? I have talked a bit about the BBC television drama, Life on Mars, and Sam Tyler, a detective from the present who, after an accident, wakes up in 1973. Sam thinks coming from the future that he knows best. After a while, he begins to realize that he does not have all the answers and that the he can learn from the past no matter how different it may be to the present.
It isn’t just in the world and in society in general that changes have occurred over the past two thousand years. The Church seeking to keep up with and adapt to the changes in the world has perhaps forgotten why Jesus came and why it was so important that he did.
St Paul says: ‘The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. Christ came at a specific time for a specific purpose. It was not to be a moral example, not to leave behind a body of teaching or doctrine, not to create a community of people for us to belong to, but to save sinners. Sin, human sin, your sin and mine, brought him here. This idea pervades the pages of the New Testament.
It is there whether you turn to St Paul: ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Or St John: ‘if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’. Or in the words of Jesus himself: ‘the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost’. But all this means that there are the lost to be found and saved. All of the New Testament takes it as read that we, you and I, are lost sinners who have incurred God’s displeasure and that unless something is done about it, we too, as Jesus puts it, are going to perish.
This is a perspective in the Church that we are in danger of losing. We prefer to celebrate human goodness, not discuss human wrongdoing. We proclaim the love and acceptance of God, not his judgement. We offer the welcome Christ gives to all, not his demand that they repent. The Church following the lead of the world sees the concept of sin as primitive and outdated. Something that belongs to another world. Yes, we do go wrong as human beings, we are weak and make mistakes, but’s that because we are human, not because we are lost sinners.
We argue that we need to emphasize the positive, not the negative. We need to see the role that a person’s environment and upbringing play in what they become and do. Focussing on blame and responsibility are not what it’s about. We want a loving God who understands us and accepts us: just as we are.
We have to make our minds up whether Jesus and his followers got it right or not. Whether the way they looked at it was a revelation of God or just the product of a less enlightened age. Like our fictional detective, Sam Tyler, we have to overcome our sense of superiority, our pride, and our arrogance and listen to what these people have to say. Jesus could not help the Pharisees because they did not think they were sinners: on the contrary, they were the righteous. But a doctor cannot help someone who won’t accept they are ill. If we insist we are not sinners or that sin does not matter, that it’s not really sin, then he cannot help us either.
The message of the New Testament is that Jesus welcomes sinners. Welcomes, that is, those who realize their sin, admit to their sin, and knowing they are lost because of their sin, are prepared to swallow their pride and arrogance and throw themselves on the mercy of God.
This mercy is to be found in Jesus of Nazareth who lived and died 2,000 years ago, but who, Christians believe, rose from the dead and is alive today. By understanding what he did for us in the past, we can know him in the present. And knowing him brings the peace, purpose, and forgiveness that our world cannot give.
In other words, it saves us.