The Saving Truth of Jesus Christ
I have been shocked to see so much headline prime news time taken up with lengthy tributes to recently deceased celebrities David Bowie, Ronnie Corbett, David Guest, Victoria Wood and Prince. The journalist Alex Proud wrote last week about the obsession with celebrity deaths
“Another week, another dead celebrity and another great online beating of breasts and rending of garments. Our public grieving over dead celebrities has reached insufferable levels. On Thursday, Twitter, Facebook and various other social networks echoed with the wails of Prince fans who had come together to publicly grieve the Purple One. In much the same fashion as the reaction to the death of Victoria Wood barely 24 hours earlier, the sites were soon overrun with comments such as "Can't stop crying, feel so empty. RIP." Inevitably, we then had the immediate backlash, with suggestions that mild sadness might be a more appropriate response than utter devastation. Then we had the backlash to the backlash, where the mourners attacked those who questioned their heartfelt grief.
There is only one proper response to the death of a celebrity and it is theirs; woe betide anyone who questions this. It’s a sort of virtual graveside version of the new political correctness. People are over-emoting everywhere. Social grievers want your attention - they often crave it – but only if your thoughts are of the approved sort. They place themselves in a position where anyone who disagrees with them is the bad guy. Look at how many of the social media posts in the wake of a celebrity death are about the poster and their own feelings. It’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that for many social grievers, it’s more about them than the dead person. Many of these posts are nothing more than a mixture of narcissism and virtue-signalling masquerading as grief. Look too at the time lines of many of today’s virtual mourners. You’ll find they’re devastated on a remarkably regular basis. What they felt about Prince, they also felt about Victoria Wood, David Bowie, David Guest, Alan Rickman and so on ... These poor people. Do they live in a permanent state of grief? Besides, all this has me wondering: if you get so cut up over celeb deaths, what happens when real people die? Like your mum and dad? You know, the people who raised you and changed your nappies and made you a human being. Would you have enough grief left for them? Or would they become just another weekly cry for you: “Gutted for mum, in heaven with #prince”.
I mention all this because these outpourings of grief are a consequence of loss of Christian Faith, Christian understanding, Christian teaching, Christian perspective. St Paul wrote, 'Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him' (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14). The Christian perspective on death is the Resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is the sign and symbol of this resurrection because Ava is baptised into the Risen Jesus Christ. Christianity offers an eternal perspective for all that we are in ourselves and to one another, our conduct and all that we do in our years on earth. This brings a proper evaluation of human lives and achievements and also reminds us that the standards by which we should judge the conduct of our lives in Jesus Christ. There is a natural morbidity in the human condition. If we have no Christian faith it can easily overtake our feelings and thoughts. If we do not know God we may give over to human beings far too much worship – and that is what the Bible calls idolatry. After all, pop stars and footballers are called idols.
If you worship someone or something here on earth and it is taken away from you, what are you left with? Nothing. We all saw people vying with each other to meet and greet the Queen on her 90th birthday. Some people write to the Queen often, send her gifts and make it their business to become known to the Queen by attending events where she is likely to be present – even if they are just standing outside on the road. Some of these committed royalists have their entire homes decorated in union jacks with royal crockery and paraphernalia. It was the death of Diana which changed things. In the past many people had stood in silent respect for King George VI and for King George V when they died. But there was dignity and order among everyone. With Diana and the combination of newspaper agitation, people identified emotionally with this popular person in her early tragic death and used her death as an expression for anger and rebellion against the distance at which the royal family seems to live from ordinary life and experience. That Diana was a scatterbrain and manipulative media operator – a serial adulterer herself and had not put on the safety belt in her car - paled into insignificance compared with the identification of women with her alleged ill treatment by Prince Charles in what was a marriage of duty rather than companionship and understanding.
The internet age allows instant mass responses to events. Julie Walters the actress described Victoria Wood's death as 'an incalculable loss'. Really? To her family of course, but not to anyone else. She was a gifted comedienne. Are our lives so devoid of real meaning that entertainers have become the measure of our age and values? It would seem so. That might lead us to think that Jesus was mistaken in his teaching.
'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'.
Jesus' values are the opposite of the present macabre weeping for dead celebrities. For him the rich and famous are not that blessed. The blessed are the humble and those who suffer in this life, especially for being good. You have to have strong faith in the existence of God to trust in this. But Jesus believed in God. You can't just admire Jesus as a good values teacher. He was much more than that. You can't separate his life from his relationship with God. And what he is saying is that in God's sight, it is not the rich and famous that have it all. What they have may seem wonderful but God has other ideas. Look at Sir Philip Green who owned British Home Stores. He is worth about £5 billion. He spent £4 million on his son's Bar Mitzvah party employing entertainers such as Andrea Bocelli and Beyonce Knowles. His own 60th birthday bash cost £6.5 million with Stevie Wonder and Robbie Williams being paid to serenade him, his family and guests. Now he has left the workers of BHS with a pension fund deficit of hundreds of millions of pounds. Would you like to be like him? Do you think he is happy? Is he blessed? Not according to Jesus who also said 'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also'.
The saving truth of Jesus Christ is encapsulated in baptism. The Christian Gospel is of the love of our Maker for each of us and the guarantee in Jesus Christ of salvation and of eternal life to follow this earthly journey. The saving truth of Jesus Christ is that it is better to put the interests of others up there with your own self-interest. Often it can be possible to put other peoples' interests before your own and that is commonly regarded as the highest conduct of which we humans are capable. Jesus himself showed this. He said, 'The good shepherd lays down his life for his friends'. Look what became of Jesus self-giving. The knowledge of God spread across the world, the knowledge of salvation and of eternal life offered to everyone. The love of God given to anyone who opens his or her heart to the Lord. The daily friendship of the risen Lord Jesus in your life and mine. As the hymn says:
'Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!'
This is the saving truth of Jesus Christ and it puts the follies of human behaviour into perspective. It does not make us cold hearted but neither are we tossed to and fro by displays of shallow emotions. Neither are we dumbstruck by excessive wealth or power, nor envious or bitter at the unevenness and inequalities of life. We are indeed saved from the false gods and idols of our age to worship in spirit and in truth – God – who is worth our time and effort, our response of love and commitment all our days.