Cal Jernigan – Lead Pastor

Lisa and I spent time this past week in Chicago with a group of pastors and wives from large churches from around the country. We meet annually for the purpose of building relationships, learning best practices, spiritual support, and mutual encouragement. It is something we have done for the past two decades and something we can’t imagine ever choosing to miss out on. Yeah, it’s that good. But I’m telling you this only to explain why we were in Chicago and give setting for what happened next.

While there, the group decided to attend the Broadway play Hamilton. Now the historical story of Alexander Hamilton is something I am familiar with, but the musical named Hamilton was something I was not. Yet, for over a year now, I have continually been hearing people talk about this play. It has become obvious to me there are people who absolutely LOVE this production. People who are simply crazy about it. People who memorize all the words. People who know the story so well they can sing along. People who have attended as many live performances as their schedule and wallets can withstand. You know… crazy people!

Obviously, I am not one of these. But last night I experienced it for myself. I have never been in a theatre that was more electric (okay… to be fair, I don’t go to many Broadway plays!). But this experience was simply over the top. The theatre was sold out (which is apparently the norm) and from the first dip in the lighting it was apparent I was among people who were rabid fans. It was intense!

Now there are lots of things IN the play I would love to write about (it’s a fascinating story) and maybe I’ll attempt that later. What I want to discuss here is what it feels like to be clueless among the highly clued in. One of the first things I discovered is that Hamilton is set to rap music. I need to confess my ignorance here—I didn’t know this. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I have to tell you that rap music is honestly one of my least favorite forms of music. Setting the story to this type of music pretty much guaranteed I was going to have a hard time following along. I did have a hard time. Add to this that my hearing is certainly not the best and you have the recipe for a disaster. But it really wasn’t; it was all so fascinating to me.

To be honest, what was going on in the theatre was just about as interesting as what was happening on the stage (this is saying a LOT!). The people in the theatre were INTO it! They clapped. They shouted. They interacted. I was just plain mesmerized by this! During the intermission, Lisa and I got into a conversation with the people in the row behind us. It was obvious they fully understood all that was going on. When we asked them how they were so aware, one lady said she has listened to the soundtrack over a hundred and fifty times! She was a fountain of trivia regarding Hamilton. She clued us in. Well, she did her best.

So, this morning I asked my wife how much of the story she thought she understood. She gave me a number and then I said I think I caught maybe 25 to 30% tops. Then we did something… we decided to buy the soundtrack. This is what the lady behind us suggested we do. So we did. When we listened to the soundtrack we heard all the words and the lyrics were even digitally printed out. After listening to the musical this way, I want to suggest I now think I understood less than 15% of it last night. Which brings me to the point I have pondered most of today.

How many people attend church for the first time or two and have NO IDEA what is actually going on? They don’t know the story line. They don’t know the characters in the story. They don’t understand the music or the lyrics to the songs. Communion is a total mystery to them, as is the reason people give their time and money so generously to this cause.

If all they caught was the enthusiasm of those who attended regularly, what would they know? Does our enthusiasm cause them to want to know the story? Would anybody want to buy our “soundtrack” to help them understand on a deeper level?

The longer we attend church, the less intriguing it can all seem. We know the story and we understand the order. We understand the movements of the play. We “get it.”

But if we’re not passionate about it, do we really “get it”?

I’ll never forget the first time my son heard the story of Moses when he was just a child. He was mesmerized. He had a tape that told the story and he listened to it over and over again. He couldn’t get enough of it. He talked about it to his friends. He memorized the lines and he would recite them along with the tape. He never seemed to tire of it.

Which raises these questions in my mind:

  • Does the “old, old story” of Jesus still move us?
  • Do we ever try to help someone who doesn’t know the story come to know it?
  • Are we even sensitive to their confusion?
  • Do we, by our actions, communicate to others the importance of the story?

The greatest story ever told is not Hamilton, as good as it is. The greatest story ever told is the story of Jesus Christ. If the story no longer moves us, maybe it’s time to hear it again… like we experienced it for the very first time!

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