Monday, February 19, 2024

Jesus does get us. And that's the point

I went to seminary at one of the most liberal seminaries in the country—Union Seminary in New York City. I chose that seminary because at that time in my life the religious leaders who I respected the most went to Union Seminary. I trusted these leaders so much that I didn’t even visit the seminary. If they liked this place, then I knew that I would like it.

While I was in seminary, I ended up being the Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church in Babylon, New York. They identified themselves as a conservative, evangelical Presbyterian church. I led their Junior High youth group, Senior High youth group and helped lead worship.

When I attended Union Seminary, I would frequently hear sermons criticizing conservatives (the people I knew at the Presbyterian church in Babylon) for being homophobic, sexist, and not concerned about issues of race and justice.

When I worked at First Presbyterian Church in Babylon, I frequently heard people complain about liberals (the people who I knew at Union Seminary) as people didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ and who didn’t care about prayer or the importance of worship and whose social justice gospel did not reflect the viewpoints of Jesus.

It took me a while to get used to the venom.

That experience led me to wonder if congregations could be developed that emphasized the best of the conservative tradition and the best of the liberal tradition. Congregations who took worship, prayer, Bible Study seriously while also serving in the community and advocating for justice. Liberals who embrace worship of all forms and conservatives who embraced female and LGTBQ leadership.  

Instead of attacking each other could we find a both/and faith.

The response to the “He Gets Us” Super Bowl has led me to conclude that the church is a long way from this kind of both/and faith.

A week ago Sunday a commercial under the title, “He Gets Us” was run during the Super Bowl. In one of the ads people of different races and viewpoints washed each other’s feet. The ad can be watched here: Home - He Gets Us Another ad was also run.

The point of the ads is Jesus gets us. No matter who we are, how much money we have, who we will vote for in November, no matter our race or gender, Jesus gets us. I loved the ads. I could watch them for a long time. I’ve seen other ads in the “He Gets Us” series. When the ads first came on television last year, I pointed them out to the people of Chain of Lakes.

It took me a while to learn that the organization that funds the commercials has beliefs that are far different from mine. 

I’ve read some of the criticism of the ads from the left. This article in the liberal section of Patheos shares criticism of the article from the left. Jesus Does More Than Wash Feet | James Travis Young (patheos.com)

But not only do those on the left dislike the ads. This article represents the criticism from those on the right.  Christian Super Bowl Commercial Outrages Conservatives (newsweek.com)

On the web site, hegetsus.com this was shared about the campaign.

Throughout our shared history, Jesus has represented the ultimate good that humankind is capable of aspiring to. And though some no longer believe in God, most are still compelled by the idea of a person capable of unconditional love for others despite their differences. But many of us simply cannot reconcile the idea of that person with the way our culture experiences religion today. Whether it’s hypocrisy and discrimination in the church, or scandals both real and perceived among religious leaders, or the polarization of our politics, many have relegated Jesus from the world’s greatest love story to just another tactic used to intensify our deep cultural divisions.

How did we get here? And what might we learn from the example of Jesus to help move beyond the  animosity we feel for one another? How can we rediscover the life and teachings of Jesus, the world’s most radical love activist? That is our agenda at He Gets Us: to move beyond the mess of our current cultural moment to a place where all of us are invited to rediscover the love story of Jesus. Christians, non-Christians, and everybody in between. All of us.

He Gets Us is a diverse group of Jesus followers with a wide variety of faith journeys and lived experiences. Our work represents the input from Christians who believe that Jesus is the son of God as well as many others who, though not Christians, share a deep admiration for the man that Jesus was, and we are deeply inspired and curious to explore his story. We look at the biography of Jesus through a modern lens to find new relevance in often overlooked moments and themes from his life. If you’d like to join us, you’re invited.

The web site also responded to many questions about the campaign. About us - He Gets Us

The point about the ads is “Jesus gets us.” He doesn’t get us because we are pro-LGBTQ or support women preachers or want to end homelessness. (all beliefs to which I have committed my life.) He doesn’t get us because a person is against abortion or believes the United States has a divine mandate or believes that people who give away a lot of money will receive many blessings from God.

Jesus gets us because we’re human.

Jesus knows every part of us—even the parts that we’re too ashamed to admit—and he still gets us.

Jesus promises to always love us. He is the only force in the universe that will never take his love away from us.

Of course, Jesus is much more than the words in those three preceding paragraphs, but I will say “Yay, God” for any ad that points people in this direction.

I went into ministry believing that the world cannot be changed unless the church takes a primary role in leading that change. And I still philosophically believe that. I believe people who are passionate about worship and reading the Bible and prayer can end homelessness and create peace.

And I know I’m na├»ve. But my naivety comes from my understanding of Jesus. So even if the venom in the church hasn’t disappeared, I’ll still keep working to create the world based on this understanding of Jesus.

I’m not optimistic that the church can come together to make significant change. The response to the ad makes this case.

However I’ll continue to work to build a congregation where people of many different views can be united around the idea that “Jesus gets us.”

Yes, that was a lot of money to spend on an ad. But I have no problem with that. Perhaps the ad can prompt people to work together to build more affordable housing in the United States. Because I do believe that Jesus would encourage people to do that. Or maybe the ad will encourage people who are quite different to pray together. Because I do believe that Jesus would encourage people to do that.

This Sunday I’ll be preaching about Jesus in a Lenten series called, “Essentials.” I’ll be talking about the ads and how Jesus gets us. It will be a privilege for me to share that Word.