Bishop Mark Hanson: Message Merits Going Viral

Faith community gathers in love to serve neighbors

It went viral in a matter of hours and now has been viewed more than 17 million times. What piques the interest of so many?

It is a YouTube video titled "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." It brings to mind a distinction people often make between being spiritual but not religious.

As I hear that self-description and watch the video, I wonder about what is behind such a rigid distinction.

Do not get me wrong. It is encouraging to hear the young man in the video describe his love for Jesus. It did make me think about how it is not always easy for me to love and follow Jesus.

It may be easy to love the Jesus who healed the sick, sat at tables with sinners, gathered children in his arms and blessed them, fed the 5,000, wept with Mary and Martha, raised Lazarus from the dead and calmed the storm.

Yes, we love the Jesus who said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

The Jesus who washed his disciples' feet, who at the tomb called a weeping Mary by name and then greeted terrified disciples with "peace be with you" may be easy to love.

If it is so easy to love Jesus, then why did his followers abandon him in his death and were in fear at his resurrection?

Do you find it easy to love the Jesus who instructed his hearers to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44)? What about the Jesus who said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21)?

Jesus was less preoccupied with people loving him than with revealing the depth of God's love for us. The remarkable thing was not who loved Jesus the most but whom Jesus loved. 

Jesus confirmed the great commandment that we love God with our whole being and to his disciples gave a new commandment: "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (John 13:34).

The risen Christ's response to Peter's "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you" was to instruct this disciple to "Feed my lambs. ... Tend my sheep. ... Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).

It is for this purpose we gather together as the community of those whom Jesus loves and who love Jesus. We gather so those who are famished for forgiveness and meaning will be nourished by Christ's love present through word and water, bread and wine. The community that the Spirit brings to life is one of freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), the freedom of living in the resurrected Lord. We organize as a community of faith so our love for our neighbor may take concrete form as in Jesus' name we build and staff medical clinics and hospitals, confront hunger and malaria, resettle refugees and offer counseling to troubled families.

Yes, there is much one can criticize, even despise, about religion. A reading of history and attentiveness to contemporary events give ample evidence of the capacity of religious people and systems to abuse and perpetuate power, to exclude the weak and outcast, and to become preoccupied with institutional survival.

Some seem willing to sacrifice proclaiming the good news that we are saved by God's grace through faith on account of Christ for a "feel good about yourself" therapeutic gospel or a gospel of self-reliant success. Yet the Jesus who loves us bids us to come and die and follow him on the way of the cross.

Two days after the video went viral, I showed it to a class I was teaching at the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin Lay School. Their immediate response was not to be defensive but evangelical. One after the other said, "I wish that young man would come to our congregation. I wish he would come to know the ELCA, for he would find a community of forgiven sinners living by God's grace, serving and loving our neighbors."

Yes, a community of beloved children of God who love Jesus. This message, too, merits going viral.

[Taken with permission from the March issue of The Lutheran Magazine.]