Worship Service for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship on this 1st Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2024!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. You’ll notice that we’re singing two hymns out of the ACS book, but they are somewhat familiar tunes. You may follow along with the bulletin, which will have all the words but the hymn lyrics, but everything will also be on your screen. The sermon is also included on this page below the video.

For an enhanced online worship experience, you may have a candle near you, lit at the beginning of the service and then extinguished near the end after the sending hymn when the altar candles are extinguished. And you’re welcome to participate in communion as well, with something small to eat and drink ready for consumption at the appropriate time in the service. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s deep understanding and love fill you with hope and peace, this day and always!

Gracious God, in every season and circumstance, we need your sustaining Word.  Grant to us now, by the power of your Spirit, the breath of life that we might hear the good news of your love and kingdom come near, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

So anyone watch the Superbowl last week?  I most certainly did not for various reasons.  The first being that I don’t have cable so I couldn’t have watched it if I wanted to, and the second being that I didn’t want to.  Either case, that didn’t stop me from hearing what happened anyway.  I’m not talking about hearing about what the score ended up to be, or which celebrities showed up to the game, or even if there were any wardrobe malfunctions during the halftime show.  But what I did hear about, of all things, were the ads that were run during the game.

Now, this isn’t a bad thing for me as some of those commercials that make the Superbowl line up can be pretty epic.  I’m sure I’ve talked about some of them in the past, and I’m sure I’ll talk about them again in the future.  But there is one in particular that aired this year that I want to bring up, you might know where I’m going with this.  It’s actually a Christian campaign that has been going around for about a year now, but I’ve only just heard about it, because again, we don’t have cable.  It turns out that this Christian organisation came up with a new ad and they were able to pony up the multimillion price tag to have it aired with some of the most illustrious ads on television.

I was thinking about showing you the ad, but I wasn’t sure about copyright and stuff and honestly I didn’t really want to give them the free clicks.  But basically the 30 second spot featured a slide show of these pictures, that looked like they were AI generated but were reported to be not AI generated but I’m pretty sure were AI generated, that displayed pairs of people that were from seemingly opposite walks of life, like a two folk who you’d think wouldn’t ever get along.  Like there was a teenager and what looks to be his grandfather, a planned parenting protestor and a planned parenting client, a what I assume to be an illegal immigrant and someone who I assume wasn’t, and a black man and a police officer.  And in each of the pictures, one of those two very different people washing the feet of the other. 

After the non-AI generated but actually AI-generated photos finishes scrolling through, the ad ends with the words, “Jesus didn’t teach hate.  He washed feet.  He gets us.  All of us.  Jesus.”

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this ad, and what it was trying to say and who it even was for.  I mean, I get that this was an evangelism strategy to display these hoped to be powerful images of inclusion, welcome, and understanding.  It was supposed to raise questions about our own feelings toward those who are different from us, and if we can “get them” like how Jesus does.

Not a bad idea, I guess, except that… foot washing?  Really?  I mean if Jesus really gets me, he’d know I wouldn’t like someone washing my feet, touching my feet, or even really looking at my feet.  Growing up in an Asian house we never wore shoes or socks in the house, and I’d always be self conscious when people came over and were able to see my bare feet. It’s just… weird for me.  And honestly I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, as I’ve been to many events that involved foot washing, and they weren’t ever that popular. 

Sure, I know that some people are ok with it, and that’s fine.  But foot washing isn’t really a thing these days anyway.  It’s not a sign of servanthood anymore.  It no longer is about emptying oneself and being humble.  It doesn’t mean today what it meant back then.  Today, it’s just kind of creepy.

So while I would agree that Jesus gets us, I have a hard time believing that these advertisers get us at all. 

And that brings us to today’s readings, specifically the gospel lesson that alludes to the reason we do this 40 days of Lent thing.  Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, of course.  We’re familiar with the story, how Jesus was driven out in to the wilderness by the Spirit right after he was baptized, encounters the devil who presents him with three temptations that Jesus deflects with his wisdom and intimate knowledge of scripture.  But Mark’s account of the story that we get today isn’t really all that detailed.  In fact, I would even say that it’s brief.  In typical Mark fashion, only the main points are highlighted and any of the finer details are just about ignored. 

We don’t have the dialogue between Jesus and John, we don’t hear about how Jesus bested the adversary, we barely even hear how he starts his ministry.  But we do hear that he was baptized.  We do hear that he capable of facing trials and troubles.  We do hear that he is God’s beloved son with whom God is well pleased.

And maybe, that is enough.  Sure, it’s cool to learn about and know the nuances of the stories in order to give us a fuller picture of the person and personality of Jesus, but Mark gives us enough.  If Mark were the only gospel account that we had, it would be enough.  It wouldn’t be much, but it’d be enough.  Because we’d see that Jesus is this person who was deeply rooted in his culture and customs.  He is devout, faithful, and dutiful.  He is strong, disciplined, and wise.  He is caring, compassionate, and kind.  And he loves.  He loves a whole lot.

So in light of this, of what Mark had decided was important enough to tell us about Jesus, I not only question if the “Jesus gets us” advertisers get us, but also if they get Jesus as well. 

If they did, I’m not sure if they would have highlighted the feet washing thing.  I mean, there is like one instance in Jesus’ life story that we hear about him washing feet, and it wasn’t at all the crux of his ministry.  It was significant at the time and symbolic for those who understood it, but it has very little to do with us now.   There are many, many more examples where Jesus sat with people particularly the marginalized, healed people from their ailments and what held them back, and cared for people and showed them that they were valued, welcomed, and loved.   

Sure, it’s catchy to say Jesus gets us, and again I don’t disagree, but I think it’s important to see why Jesus gets us.  And the truth is, Jesus gets us because as Mark describes in his very brief account, Jesus is one of us.  Jesus was baptized like many of us were.  Jesus faced trials and questioned himself, his role, and his identity as many of us may have done as well.  Jesus is declared God’s beloved child, just like all of us most definitely are also.  Jesus is one of us.

See to me, this “Jesus gets us” campaign is AI generating a picture of Jesus as this far off entity that was able to stoop down to our level to get us.  But what I read in scripture is that Jesus is among us as one of us from the start, at our level, but is able to help us to look up from here.  Jesus as one of us can take us by the hand and accompany us through life’s trials and troubles.  Jesus as one of us can remind us that in spite of how we’re treated by everyone else and how we might be looked down upon by those with more power than us, we continue to have value and worth and will always be dearly loved.

The Superbowl ad said that Jesus didn’t teach hate, which is true, but instead of highlighting that he washed feet, which in my opinion is odd, perhaps we could instead be reminded that Jesus demonstrated love through compassion, companionship, and yes, service.  These are the ways that Jesus truly gets us and ways that we might perhaps be able to get him.  In that while we go through the ups and downs of life, while we have disagreements with others and just can’t seem to see eye to eye, while we try to be loving and good and moral the best we can and still utterly and spectacularly fail, Jesus continues to be with us, Jesus continues to be one of us, and Jesus continues to love us by lifting us up out of our shame and guilt and showing us what a forgiven and redeemed life could look like.

In this season of Lent, may we continue to reflect on our relationship with God through Jesus, that we might better grasp the depth and importance of God’s grace granting us a forgiveness that reminds us of who we are as God’s beloved children.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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