30 March 2018

Glorious Failures

I’ve spent the past few weeks in Thailand and cricket is the only story coming out of Australia right now. Our prime minister’s commentary on the ball tampering scandal last week was virtually a rewrite of his recent speech concerning the indiscretions of the then National’s leader, Barnaby Joyce. He said, ‘the whole nation holds the baggy green up on a pedestal and this is a shocking disappointment.’ So, our players have, for want of a better word, sinned against the baggy green itself and their sentence -  national disgust and cricketing purgatory for 12 months!

Smith, Warner and Bancroft have all as one newspaper put it, 'fallen from grace' and 'disgraced the nation.' Sport really is a religion in this country, it even borrows the same language. The three men were ushered by guards through the crowded airport amid the cries of 'cheat' and the sound of boos. As one former test cricketer Dean Jones described, 'this vision is horrific! My god…'

I see how all this may be an embarrassing disappointment, but is it really that ‘shocking?’ Are we really shocked when someone’s life goes rogue, morally fails, is selfish or just stupid? Are we surprised that celebrities are just like the rest of us?

We can be so full of contradictions here. On the one hand people rail against any mention of an ultimate moral code that tells them what is true and good, and what is not. ‘How dare you judge me, what gives you the right’ they say in defence to their own behaviour. Yet we so naturally jump to 'shocking disappointment' when our own self-styled moral code is not applied by others. We can be remarkably attuned  to anyone else’s failure (sin) yet often blind to the magnitude of our own.

If your life, like our cricketers, was filmed from every angle and broadcast in high definition for the world to see – would you be spotless and unashamed? I doubt it. My point is that we all have integrity issues; we all have a walk of shame, we all fail. I’m not excusing sin or whatever you want to call it, just acknowledging it's unmistakable presence in us all.

And in acknowledging the  reality of our sin, I wonder if it’s also worth acknowledging the deeper reaction we often have to it – guilt and shame. Guilt and shame can feel like a stain that you can’t remove. A deep wound that leaves you feeling unworthy and sometimes even worthless. I wonder if that is how Steve Smith feels at the moment. You see, it’s not just that he did wrong (guilt), but that somehow now he is fundamentally wrong as a person (shame) and unworthy of any place in the cricket community. How do you come back from that? Can you ever?

I think you can, and here is where I find the gospel so unique and compelling. The gospel simultaneously takes you to the very heights and to the very depths of your being in a way no other faith can.

To our pride, self-righteousness and success the gospel says you are a complete moral and spiritual failure – all your morality, good works and accomplishments are pathetic and hopelessly inadequate.

But thankfully the gospel doesn’t leave you there! To that harsh reality Jesus says I made you, you bear my image and I still choose you, delight in you and forgive you – and I’ll die to have you. No other religion or philosophy can embrace both our failure and our glory so completely. We are glorious failures indeed, but glorious failures that never fall from God’s grace - even when we fall from one another’s grace.

Over this Easter we remember the one who took another walk of shame, accompanied by guards, to the taunts and boos of a feral crowd, bearing the burden of a wooden cross and an unmerited shame. That walk of Jesus to the place of His crucifixion was for the Smiths, the Warners of this world, and for you and I. Jesus was accused so you could be pardoned, He was made a disgrace so you could receive grace, he was bound so you could be free.

No one else loves you that way.

In life, we all fail gloriously and bear the consequences. The cross reminds us that the state of our heart is far more serious than a momentary failure, a sinning against the baggy green – there are far greater implications. We need a saviour who neither excuses us nor abandons us. On the cross that is precisely what happens - justice and mercy are perfectly expressed in sacrificial love.

You could say our cricketers have experienced a swift justice and now I hope they experience a swift mercy because there is a great gift in our failure – the opportunity for humility, redemption and growth.

First there is the fall and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God. 
Lady Julian of Norwich