Readings: [Jeremiah 28:5-9]
Theme: Superheroes/ sanctification
Has anyone seen the recently released Wonder Woman film? Popular culture is awash with superheroes. The new Spiderman film, my nephew’s favourite, is set to hit the cinemas next, followed, in November, by Justice League, featuring, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, among others. Then of course, some of us have been trying to keep up with the Dr Who series on TV: a more quirky superhero.
At a time when we are acutely aware of the consequences of human inflicted suffering, Wonder Woman is a film which speaks to our situation, since at its heart it confronts the problem of evil. It also tackles the wider relevant themes of compassion, sacrifice and justice.
Wonder Woman tells the story of Diana, a demi-god, who leaves her island home in order to defeat the villain Ares and end the First World War. It becomes apparent that the problem of evil is not external to humanity but deeply inherent in it. Ares explains that he is not the one driving acts of evil; humans are doing that themselves. Diana despairs that “the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within”. She longs for a world that is good but humans are not. She wants justice but knows that the just punishment of humanity is its destruction. She yearns to save the people she is told do not deserve her. To which she responds: “It’s not about deserve... I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.” It is an answer which resonates with the Christian concept of grace – love in the face of suffering and justice tempered with mercy.
As Diana promises to fight for a world which is tearing itself apart, she points to self-sacrifice as the ultimate expression of love. It reminds us of the one who paid the price on the cross as an ultimate resolution to the problem of evil. In Romans Ch 5, Paul writes: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
In the passage we heard, Paul challenges the argument that since we are saved by grace and not by our own efforts, then we may as well keep on sinning, in other words doing whatever we like. Not so fast cries Paul. He argues that we are subject to the one that we obey: sin leads to spiritual death, whereas righteousness, leading a right life, leads to life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23)
Throughout life, we are constantly faced with this conflict of interests: the lure of the self-serving, sinful life, versus the righteous life, doing the right thing. [It is a theme we see reflected throughout the baptism service.] Human instincts tend towards sin, so we need God’s grace and guidance to keep us on the straight and narrow. Paul argues that it is impossible to be neutral: if we are not serving God, then we are slaves to sin. [Hence, we need to make a definite decision in answer to the baptism questions: Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? Do you renounce evil?]
Christ will illuminate our path, if we follow him. God leads us from the darkness of sin into the light of his presence. Sanctification is the change God makes in our lives as we grow in faith and continue to follow Christ. It is the process of being made holy. Christ is the one who gives us the power to do good rather that evil.
Jesus is often likened to a superhero; after all, he did come on a rescue mission to save the world from sin and possessed supernatural powers. But we can only push the analogy so far. The nature of the saving is very different. Superheroes operate as a cosmic emergency service, extinguishing dangers using vigilante action. However, Jesus is not acting most of the time as the powerful one or as a fixer. His mission is more complicated and costly. Jesus does not flex his muscles; he never used physical combat and is not in such a rush. Jesus’ secret weapon was humility. He humbled himself in the incarnation all the way to the cross. Jesus saves us by inviting us into a new way of life that is part of the transformation of the world.
Superheroes usually act alone, or in groups with others like them. They do not, on the whole, make disciples. They are unique saviours, who act for, not with, people. Jesus, by contrast, acts with people and passes on his power, offering his followers the opportunity to be like him. We are called to be players in God’s wider mission; to make the world a better place. We have witnessed the consequences of evil in our times but we have also seen the positive effects of those who oppose evil with good, or what we call “righteousness” in religious speak.
Those who are in Christ are saved by grace. Yet, we cannot go on as before, living sinful, selfish lives. Our lives are to be transformed and lived according to the pattern that Christ modelled for us. The more Christ-like we become, the more we will live lives of love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, harmony, generosity and other Christian values.
Today, as Rosalie’s parents and godparents make their promises in the sight of God, may we all be challenged afresh to renew our commitment to Christ and to righteous living.
To conclude with a prayer by Janet Morley:
Spirit of truth and judgement,
who alone can exorcize the powers that grip our world:
at the point of crisis give us your discernment,
that we may accurately name what is evil,
and know the way that leads to peace,
through Jesus Christ. Amen.