Doing Good Works

I’m not sure how well my sermon went down yesterday .. actually, I’m never sure how my sermons go down, but this one seemed even less sure than usual! I suppose, given the opening sentence, that’s not much of a surprise. After all, it was Mothering Sunday and the news that Jade Goody had died in the early hours was on all the television and radio broadcasts. So, maybe, opening with “I have always despised Jade Goody” may have seemed a tad insensitive. But let me expand …

Yesterday’s first reading (John 3:16) is always a bit of a gobsmacker. To realise that God sent his only son to be sacrificed on our behalf has got to make you feel a little guilty. Well, as a Catholic, I have no problem with feeling a bit of guilt – the more; the merrier I say. But recognising the sacrifice that someone has made for me makes me want to please them, to assuage my guilt. So I try and live ‘a good life’ and do good things, be nice to people, treat them with respect, help people less fortunate than I, buy fairly traded goods, give money to charity – pretty much the full panoply of Christian service. And, let’s face it, doing good things isn’t going to do me any harm in the ‘being liked by God’ stakes, is it?

But then you have the second reading: Ephesians 2 vv 1-10. Particularly verses 8 and 9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

All those good works I did, all the choices I have made denying myself fun or exciting opportunities because I was trying to be ‘good’ .. where they all a waste of time.

So what has this got to do with the cult of celebrity who is/was Jade Goody?

Well, I reckon she’d never heard, or accepted, John 3:16. Her life (at least after Big Brother) was all about herself. She embraced publicity, be it good or bad, so long as she got it and it helped her to make money. She was callous in her manipulation of the media and in her treatment of other people. Her views on life and others seemed to be diametrically opposed to mine.

And then she got cancer. And the mood of the country seemed to change almost overnight. She went from Public Enemy #1 to Public Sweetheart. Suddenly, far from anyone caring what she thought, everyone seemed to care about her. I was stunned. Just because she had cancer? Of course, I felt sorry for another human being who was going to die and I felt sorry for her kids but that didn’t make me think any more highly of her.

And then, as I thought it, the ultimate manipulation: getting her children christened. How low can you go to manipulate the press and public opinion? It’s just another photo-opportunity to sell to the press, I thought. I despised her even more.

And, in despising her, I was denying any possibility for the Grace of God to be at work as mentioned in Ephesians. Who am I do sit in judgement on someone else’s life and motives? Are there not plenty of examples in the Bible of God’s Grace working on people? You only have to think of Paul’s Damascus Road experience to start seeing possible parallels.

And what was the affect of Jade’s christening announcement? It started conversations in pubs, homes, schools, colleges, offices and factories about God and the value of faith. What a legacy! With that one statement she made more people think about the place of God in their lives that I will ever manage in a lifetime of leading worship and working for the church.

Did God’s Grace touch Jade Goody? Or did she remain the ultimate manipulator right until the end? I have no idea – but I would be a fool to deny the possibility. But maybe that’s just one more thing I can feel guilty about …

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