March 6, 2016

Sins, Slugs, and Stars

C.S. Lewis restated a fundamental Christian teaching about God and God’s relationship with humanity in his classic book Mere Christianity. “The Son of God became a man,” wrote Lewis, “to enable men to become sons of God.” Lewis’ gender specific language notwithstanding, his statement gets to the heart of the Good News that calls and holds all of us together as Christ’s Church. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became human to enable humans to become children of God. Lewis offers this statement—it’s actually a paraphrase of work by theological heavyweights like Saints Irenaeus and Athanasius—in order to lead his audience to a greater understanding of the Incarnation—the Christian belief that Jesus was fully God and fully human. Then, in his characteristic fashion, Lewis turned to the seemingly simple things of child’s play to illustrate this sublime Truth’s practical importance.

Here’s what he wrote.

Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin solider into a real little man. It would involve turning the tin into flesh. And suppose the tin soldier did not like it. He is not interested in flesh; all he sees is that the tin us being spoilt.
Lewis continues.
What you would have done about that tin soldier I do not know. But what God did about us was this. The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone…If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (pp 154-155)
C.S. Lewis invites us to consider the radical nature of the Incarnation by asking if we’d be willing to put on a slug’s slimy skin or a crab’s hard shell to save slugs and crabs from perdition. Leave it to him to introduce an august theological statement then to turn our imaginations to the tiny creatures crawling in a garden’s dirt or on a sandy shore.
The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God…If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.
I really appreciate Lewis’ perspective because it helps us to approach a potentially intimidating topic with a fresh perspective. In this case, it helps us to recognize the Incarnation (or the capital-D Dogma of the Incarnation) not as the topic of stuffy Ivory Tower lectures, but as the defining event in God’s love affair with sinners like us.

Lewis’ simple images help us to see that the message we call Good News simply tells all who would listen of the humbling and humiliating lengths to which God went to save and restore the object of God’s love.

This is the same story we tell around the Table where Christ’s sorrow and our prayers meet.

And this is the same love story about which one of this season’s great hymns invites us to sing.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?

Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?

Yes, the Lord Jesus would do that for you, for me, for all the world’s people.

The Son of God became human to enable humans to become children of God.

Of course, before we had our hymns or liturgy, before C.S. Lewis, even before Irenaeus and Athanasius, there was Saint Paul.

This morning we’ve read a verse from one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that has influenced the trajectory of meditations on the Incarnation ever since.

Paul wrote, “For our sake, [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Paul introduces an idea here that he explored throughout his ministry. It’s the idea that Jesus chose to humble himself and to become or endure something that he neither needed to become nor endure for us and for our salvation. In this case, he became sin (or bore the penalty for sin, or became an offering for our sin) so that we might become something pure and holy, “the righteousness of God.”

Lest we get hung up on the specifics of that thought, Paul describes the same gracious act in a different way in Second Corinthians 8.

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Taken together, these examples show us the pattern of divine generosity intrinsic to Paul’s theology. Out of love for sinners like us, Jesus humbly gave of himself so that we might obtain that which was beyond our grasp—“though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Finally, in what is arguably the most important and memorable illustration of Paul’s point of view, we see the same grace, the same love, and the same humility on display in Philippians 2.

In this passage, Paul invites, inspires, and cajoles the Church to rise above destructive conflicts borne of arrogance, jealousy, and pride. In so doing, he also brings his theology of the Incarnation home by making the direct connection between what Jesus did and how we should live and love.

The passage begins with familiar words.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

But Paul isn’t content simply to talk about Jesus. He wants to make plain the connection between what Christ did and what we can become.

He goes on.

Therefore, my beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you...

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.

Did you recognize the pattern here?

“For our sake, [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

In humility, Christ became like a slave so that we might shine like stars.

What a beautiful story! What amazing Good News!

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became human to enable humans to become children of God. This is the theological bedrock on which the Spirit builds the Church, our faith, and our witness to God’s love. It speaks of amazing grace. It reveals how one act of selflessness can produce countless blessings. It shows us just how passionate God is about loving sinners like us.

And that is why we call this talk of sins, slugs, and stars Good News for all people.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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