Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Sermon on the Sitcom

You can credit this post to daylight savings time. It’s not that I forgot to set my clock forward, but that I didn’t feel like getting up an hour earlier. Fortunately, our church provides three Sunday morning services, so 
rather than attending my regular 8:30 service, I went at 11:00. 

That choice resulted in a little extra time that morning—time I could’ve spent in meditation or prayer, properly preparing myself for worship. Instead I chose to indulge in one more episode of a sitcom I’ve been bingeing on. (Spoiler alert! If you are not yet to Season 6 of Young Sheldon, you might want to stop reading here.) 

You’re probably wondering how a sitcom that is at times risqué and often irreverent could possibly qualify as sermon material. But if you’re a fan of the prequel to The Big Bang Theory, you know Young Sheldon presents some intriguing—and often hilarious—food for thought concerning many areas of life, including religion. It’s a lot of the ridiculous, a bit of the sublime.

The episode I watched that particular Sunday dealt with the sticky issue of a pre-marital pregnancy—the news that the Cooper family would soon be welcoming an unplanned new member. All the family were struggling in their own way with how to deal with this situation, but perhaps none more than Mary, the grandmother-to-be. 

Mary is the spiritual leader of her family. While her theology is sometimes a bit flawed, she has a good heart, and her faith is strong. She spends a lot of time in her personal prayer garden, trying to sort out with God the challenges of being a wife and mother in the worldly world of the 1990s. Her commitment to her church is also strong. She serves as church secretary and hosts a weekly Bible study. 

On the Sunday after learning of the pregnancy, Mary corrals her reluctant family into the church sanctuary. It’s going to be awkward. Mary knows the entire church now knows the Coopers’ little secret. But where better to sort out life’s trials than church?

I know sitcoms are supposed to make us laugh, but I was close to tears as I watched the Cooper family enter the sanctuary. I longed for Mary to find acceptance, comfort, solace in her Christian community but feared she would not. Sadly, my fear was realized. Mary and her family receive not just a cool but an openly hostile reception: disparaging looks, refusals to sit by them, refusals to join hands with them in prayer. To add insult to injury, the following week all the members of Mary’s Bible study cancel on her.

I wanted to blame this disappointing outcome on the show’s writers—Of course in the show-biz world there is no way they’re going to present Christians in a positive light.  But being honest with myself, I realized this wasn’t such a far-fetched, biased scenario—not in the 1990s and not today. 

I wasn’t finger-pointing at “other” Christians. I searched my own conscience for the times I’ve chosen judgment over grace—the kind of grace that doesn’t condone a difficult situation but offers understanding and the help to get through it. 

Duly convicted by my sitcom sermon, I proceeded to my church where I listened to another one taken from Psalm 23. That scripture passage assures us that God—unlike fellow Christians sometimes—will never desert those who trust in him. Like a faithful shepherd, he guides us through our most difficult trials and struggles—our personal “valley[s] of the shadow of death.”

I haven’t finished all the episodes of Young Sheldon yet, but as of the last one I watched, Mary has abandoned church. So far, she hasn’t been shown in her prayer garden either, suggesting she also may have abandoned God. But God hasn’t abandoned Mary, and I’m holding out hope that eventually her faith in him will be strong enough to overcome her disappointment with the church. And I’m wishing Mary Cooper could’ve heard that Psalm 23 sermon.

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