So, I will confess occasionally watching America's Got Talent. Generally they offer performance art pieces. Some come in the form of song, dance, or maybe even something with knifes, fire, or a bicycle. The episode I happened to catch was taped in Portland, Oregon, a place where people enjoy the identity of being, well, Oregonians. Generally this show is an opportunity to explore the fine line between self expression and self exploitation. One of the things that makes such a show so attractive, I think, is that it also allows us to stand in judgment, to boo people off stage, and to feel good about ourselves because we may not be the smartest, most beautiful, or the most talented, but at least we aren't trying to play a cello as though it were an electric guitar. It's kind of like a modern day Colosseum, where we get to be both the jeering crowd and the lions at the same time. I think that's why all of these reality contestant shows are so popular.
There is yet, within many of these shows, something redemptive that occasionally happens. Perhaps this is by chance, but I prefer to think of it as providential. In these pits of contest where we become virtual gladiators and vicarious victims, projecting our own hopes and fears onto the contestants we love and hate, God still enters in and does something pretty cool ever now and again.
Take 17 year old Conner Doran, who has been battling epilepsy his entire life, for example:
What I found most amazing about his act is not the way that he was transformed by it, but the way that he in his search for redemption effected others. Our faith draws us into one another's lives and is most transforming when we are simple living as transformed people. Conner said, "When I'm flying, no one can touch me. There are no X's," and the judges commented on how they felt transfixed and found joy and peace while he performed.
What would the church be like if we held that attitude when we come together? I like to think that in some ways it is, whether we try to be or not. God's grace is sneaky like that. In fact, that might be one of the special graces of this show. People come together in their peculiarity and find that they are not alone after all. I don't think we need a stage to do that, even if it is entertaining to see. I think that is what sacramental living is all about.
Perhaps that is why Kierkegaard defined worship as a theater in which the entire congregation performs to the delight of our greatest fan, our Heavenly Father. Perhaps that is why God inspired Shakespeare to say "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." But perhaps we who follow Jesus have something more to hope for than simply our entrance and exit. Perhaps we have something more to contribute than endurance, more than displays of hubris, more than a resurrection of vaudevillian antics, or the expressions of our doubts and fears masquerading as talent or skills we do not have. We who follow the Christ have the opportunity to own our hopes and fears and place them before God as an offering, holy and acceptable. We who follow Christ can live as transformed people who are living with brokenness and participating in wholeness, just like Christina and Ali. They have been battling Cystic Fibrosis, a disease that constricts airways, and have been told they could never sing and certainly never perform. Yet singing and performing is exactly what gives them a sense of beauty and purpose, and it is their proclamation of hope that they offer to others.
Now, none of these contestants or judges gave God the credit. And even if they did, it is often difficult to gauge sincerity when people make public statements of faith. I think that is because a statement is easily made, but faith is about action. It is about relationships. It is about being who we are as forgiven sinners, and being drawn into contact with others in ways that effect us and them.
America's got talent, alright. But I think our true strength is found in our weakness, in our ability to connect, and in the transformation that follows through the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
In the name of the Holy One of Israel, amen.