Here’s Jimmy

I have a confession to make.

Over the past several weeks, my wife and I have been ardent devotees of the Tonight Show.  Every weeknight at 10:34 (CDT), we stop whatever we are doing and turn on the television to watch Jimmy Fallon host a 60 year old television variety show.  We even watch the commercials.

UnknownThis happened quite by accident.  When we saw that Jay Leno’s tenure as the host of the Tonight Show was coming to an end, we decided to watch his final show and take a look at Fallon’s first outing.  Though we were immediately entertained and impressed, we didn’t think it could last long.  Surely Fallon’s habit of breaking or laughing at his own jokes would invariably torpedo the show.  We continued watching, mostly for the sick thrill of watching the show crash and burn.  But something weird happened: it didn’t fail.  In fact, it seems to have returned to the glory days when it was hosted by Johnny Carson. The Tonight Show has only gotten better, to the point that I can say with some confidence that it is currently my favorite thing to watch on television.

How did this happen?  How did a somewhat annoying television personality and his team revitalize a storied, yet struggling institution?  It occurs to me that there are three things Jimmy Fallon does as the host of the Tonight Show.  First, he has an enormous amount of respect, almost reverence for the institution that he has been tasked with stewarding.  Fallon frequently makes reference to the Tonight Show’s storied past, celebrating the lives of those who have performed and been interviewed  under its banner.  Second, Fallon is willing to use new means to engage his audience.  He is an avid user of social media and he encourages participation by the people watching at home.  Even if you’ve never sent anything to the show, you get the sense that your opinion and your participation matters. Finally, Jimmy Fallon exhibits an infectious enthusiasm for his work.  When he jokes with Higgins during his monologue or banters with The Roots during an interview or plays a silly game with his guest, he exudes a spirit of awe, a sense that he can’t believe he has the great privilege of doing what he does.  All of these combine to create a Tonight Show that is engaging, innovative, and exciting to watch.

It occurs to me that these three elements of Jimmy Fallon’s hosting of the Tonight Show are really important when we think about revitalization in the Church.  In some ways, the Church and the Tonight Show have been in similar places: both are storied institutions that have been struggling with questions of “relevance” over the past few decades.  I think, however, that Jimmy Fallon shows us a few things we can do to breathe life into our church communities.  First, we can have respect for the institution we have been called to steward, to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, from apostles and martyrs to church members of generations past.  At the same time, we must be willing to try new ways of engaging with the people in our communities, whether that is through social media or other means.  People should be able to look at our churches and feel as though they are connected to them, even if they’ve only visited once or twice before.  Finally, and most importantly, we must recognize what a great privilege discipleship truly is.  We have been given a wonderful inheritance and a wonderful opportunity to serve Jesus Christ in the world.  I pray that each one of us will have grace to recognize this opportunity and embrace the community we have been called to serve.

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Cameos

urlWhen television shows have been on for a while, the writers begin to run out of material.  After all, there are only so many times that an episode centering around the “on-again, off-again” romance of the two main characters can be compelling.  It is at this stage that the writing staff begin to rely on the celebrity cameo to keep people interested.  The plots of these episodes are predictable at best: someone’s long-lost friend from high school (who has never been mentioned before and will never be mentioned again) comes for Thanksgiving and (surprise!) the character is played by Brad Pitt.  While celebrity cameos are often contrived, they do occasionally make for interesting television.  And ideally, the inclusion of a previously unknown character will reveal something new about one of the regular characters on the show.

Today, we’re going to pause our regular scheduled program (namely, the final post on reconciliation) as Saint Matthias the Apostle makes a cameo on his transferred feast day (it’s usually on the 24th, but Sundays always take precedence).  In the first chapter of Acts, we are told that the followers of Jesus gathered together after his ascension in order to select a replacement for Judas, the one who had betrayed Jesus and subsequently committed suicide.  The disciples agreed that Judas’ replacement must be someone who had borne witness to all that Jesus did and taught, and they proposed two individuals who met that qualification: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  Having narrowed the field down to two, the disciples prayed: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship.”  They cast lots to determine whom God had chosen, and the lot fell to Matthias, who became one of the twelve.

urlThis is Matthias’ first and only appearance in Scripture.  We never hear where he came from and we never hear where he ends up.  This is a frequent occurrence in the Acts of the Apostles: several apostles make cameo appearances and then disappear completely from the narrative.  While some may think that this is lazy storytelling, the author of Acts is less interested in what happens to the apostles than he is in what they reveal about God’s character.  This leads us to ask what it is that Matthias reveals about the character of God.  There are several interesting details about the selection of Matthias, but I think the most striking is the fact that he was chosen over his competition.  When we’re introduced to the two potential apostles, we don’t know anything about them apart from their names.  Like a popular kid in high school, Joseph is known by three names, which seems to indicate that he is a well-respected guy.  Matthias, on the other hand, is known only by the name his mother gave him.  If the disciples had evaluated the situation objectively, they probably would have selected Joseph, since he would have been able to use his considerable clout in leading the young Church.  Nevertheless, the apostles leave the choice up to God, who selects Matthias, a relative nobody.

This story serves to remind us that God is not interested in popularity or worldly influence; God’s call transcends our human preoccupations.  It’s easy for us to imagine that we are not qualified to serve God or proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  The story of Matthias, however, reminds us of the old aphorism: God does not call the qualified; God qualifies the called.  As you travel through this journey of Lent, remember that God has called you to proclaim the good news by word and example in whatever way you can.  Lent helps us to remember that we have all been called to be heralds of the gospel, no matter where we have come from or who we are.