I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
-Jesus (John 17:21)
It’s rare that Saturday Night Live will portray a Christian experience. They seek to connect with the broadest audience they can to make everyone laugh, so they usually focus their sketches on things that the largest amount of people can relate to. And as we know, to talk about a common church experience across the country is about as realistic as trying to swat flies with a fishnet.
That’s why their most recent sketch on "Zoom Church" caught my attention. Other than just being highly entertaining and too relatable, I was struck by the fact that apparently, there is enough of a broad audience experiencing this reality for SNL to deem it skit-worthy.
I had to literally laugh out loud when the pastor of "Mt. Methuselah Baptist Church" (Kenan Thompson) yells, “MAN THIS SUCKS!” at the end of the sketch, while still on the Zoom Service with his congregation. While I have seen much beauty in the past 9 weeks of zoom church, I’m not going to lie that there are plenty of moments that I feel you, Pastor. And that’s the point.
The frustration and limitations of “digital church,” whether it’s a live zoom meeting, a pre-recorded service in an empty building, or a livestream with an invisible audience, are a shared experience right now across the Church in the US. Like, across all churches. Millions of people.
Do you understand how rare that is? Whether we like it or hate it or whatever our opinions are on anything (and we have so many of them), this might be the most unifying Christian experience we’ve had in decades.
Black Gospel churches, charismatics, quakers, mennonites, baptists, catholics, methodists. Liberal churches and conservative churches and house churches and megachurches and everything in between… nearly all experiencing the challenges and joys of the digital adjustment. Specifically, the challenges.
And it's not just the tech. It's the emotions, and the spiritual challenge of it all. We're all stumbling our way through all of this, together.
For a moment, can we embrace the fact that as we all seek to love Jesus faithfully and experience community, there is a uniquely rare shared experience across the Body of Christ right now? (I say this knowing that some of my friends in countries like India and Zambia do not even have the technology right now to be able to gather at all. I pray for them, because being the church is even more difficult for them during this time.)
It’s hard right now. And that doesn’t change in any way whether you’re in favor of or opposed to the current state of things.
Shared struggles help us move toward compassionate attitudes if we direct our eyes to Jesus through them. Jesus transforms our hearts day after day. It’s the only hope we have of living well in God’s kingdom. And the way Jesus transforms our hearts is by meeting us in our suffering with unconditional love, and then reminding us that other people are deserving of the same grace, because other people suffer too. In fact, suffering may be the most universal of all human experiences. If you haven’t suffered, just wait a bit.
I say that not to cause deeper depression, but to remind you that God meeting us in our need is the basis of God’s church and our ability to have compassion. Jesus meets us in our human frailty. ALL OF US. If we let that change us that, we can relate to other people and love them where they are.
Our capacity to love is limited only to our ability to be loved by God.
If we open ourselves up to the fullness and restoration of God’s rescuing love, then our ability to love others will have no limit.
Because it’s not our love we’re giving out. It’s His.
"I work hard and struggle for this goal with his energy, which works in me powerfully”
(Paul, Colossians 1:29. Italics mine).
In the midst of yet another week of stress for many of you, in a country that continues to be divided over everything imaginable, be reminded that God’s people are all trying to figure this out together. And be reminded that Jesus’ prayer for us was a unity of spirit, and Paul’s instruction to the church was for gentleness and compassion.
Every time that we model understanding and love and graciousness in our relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ, we train ourselves in discipleship and we provide a radical alternative to the onlooking world about how to live. We get to show that a third way is possible beyond the trenches of our constant dualism. Jesus doesn’t play by our rules. Thank God for that.
Yeah, the experiences of this season can be maddening. They can also be hilarious. They can be depressing and they can be beautiful. Sometimes it all happens within the same two minutes. But we’re all experiencing it. Take heart in that, and let it help you have grace for the next person. We’re going to make it. The Spirit has not left the building. God is here for the long haul. We’ll get through this.
Jesus, thank you that my struggles can help me relate to others in their struggles. Make me a person of grace as I remember that today.