In Close Encounters of the Third Kind we are told the story of Aliens finally making contact with the human race. While the establishment prepares for this meeting, they’re keen to keep it secret and shut out ordinary people. However, there are ordinary people who had alien encounters on lonely roads, in their back gardens and during abductions of loved ones. Through visions, compulsions and mania that act like a “calling” they begin making their way to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming to await the big moment.
We follow Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler. He was buzzed by strange light bearing craft on a lonely road and became obsessed by images of a mountain; he sculpts it out of mashed potato and sketches it with the kids’ crayons causing his family to abandon him as a madman. It all makes sense when he sees finally sees the mountain on TV. Jillian too is haunted by this image following the abduction of her son Barry by unseen beings hidden by hot bright lights. Her house is full of paintings of this mountain she has never seen.
As they get closer to the mountain and the military cordon they are caught and detained. They manage to escape and as they do the director of the project announces his verdict on their presence and why they shouldn’t be stopped:
“They were invited!”
In the gospels, it is very rare to find people coming to Jesus and telling him they are a sinner and they want him to enter their life. They come to ask for healing, to find out if he is the messiah, but forgiveness is rarely the first piece of business. Jesus invites the disciples to follow him. When Peter faces the resurrected Jesus with shame at betraying him, Jesus invites him to resume his discipleship. The apostle Paul is invited to be an apostle on the road to Damascus. Jesus invites Zaccheus to come down out of his tree and then invites himself to dinner.
Jesus rarely approached people as sinners but rather as people who sin had disabled. He called them to leave sin as their master or cast out the spirits who wanted to keep them from living. He invited them to pick up his cross and follow him. He invited them to come closer and tell him what they wanted. He invited them to give him a cup of water. When his disciples try to keep blind men from bothering Jesus and Pharisees point out that he should be careful about who he keeps company with, Jesus says, “they were invited!”
Yet we are prone to tell the story the other way around.
In a recent interview Rob Bell put his finger on the problem with this approach:
The problem goes back to how you read the Bible. A lot of Christians have been taught a story that begins in chapter 3 of Genesis, instead of chapter 1. If your story doesn’t begin in the beginning, but begins in chapter 3, then it starts with sin, and so the story becomes about dealing with the sin problem. So Jesus is seen as primarily dealing with our sins. Which is all true, but it isn’t the whole story and it can lead people into all kinds of despair when it comes to understanding just why we’re here.
The Bible begins in Genesis 1 not with sin but with blessing, not with toil and despair but with life, and creativity, and vibrant participation with God in the ongoing creation of the world–which involves art, and law, and medicine, and education, and parenting, and justice, and learning, and thousands of other pursuits; callings that are holy and sacred in and of themselves. It’s all part of flourishing in God’s good world, which is our home. Here, on earth, is where the story begins and where it ends, and so our work here, in whatever way we co-create with God, is our vocation.
Bell’s words on vocation are important here. Do we invite God to come and cure us or do we accept God’s invitation, extended by Jesus to leave sin behind, to embrace our vocation and begin living the life of the kingdom now? Humanity didn’t begin as sinners but as stewards of God’ s good and purposeful creation. Sin interrupts our work, distracting us, disabling us, but it doesn’t stop the work. Salvation means healing of the whole person rather than a magic moment where we are handed the keys of heaven. It is a life’s work.
The offer of salvation is an offer to come back to work after sick leave because being at work will be part of our healing. When we live in our vocation we find it heals and energises while at the same time leading us away from destructive and debilitating lives.
Jesus invites us to a life, that from the very beginning, we are invited to live and enjoy.