Bart Simpson is Right

Bart Simpson cleared it all up for me.  I’m not a regular watcher of the goggled-eyed little guy but I happened to catch a re-run of a Christmas episode.  Dad, Homer, had only received 13 dollars for a part-time job he had taken to fund the family Christmas.  Being far below what he had expected, he was in despair.  A co-worker suggests that Homer go with him to the local dog track and parley that meager check into a real Christmas bonus.  Bart tries to discourage Homer.  Homer remonstrates.  Bart says something like, “What the heck.  TV has taught me that at Christmas time I should expect the unbelievable to happen to solve all my problems.”   Bart is right, not about unbelievable happening but about the fact TV has taught him.  It has taught us all.

TV has taught us that what is important is entertaining.  The nightly news was not entertaining enough when it reported only hard news, so human interest stories were added.  In depth comments from people were not entertaining, so words have been clipped till remarks over 5 seconds are seldom heard.  Even things that are entertaining in themselves like football and auto racing have added reporters on the field, car cameras, and computer graphics. TV has taught us that if something is important it will entertain us.  It will make us laugh or cry; it will excite us.  It will give us some powerful emotion, and it will either sustain that emotion or quickly switch to another one.

TV has also taught us that what counts utmost in life is relationships between people.  Every TV plot, soap opera, sit-com or docudrama, rises and falls based on interpersonal relationships.  Crises are always precipitated and resolved by how things are going between people.  The only interpersonal dimension that TV knows of is horizontal.

TV has taught us well.   We expect to be entertained.  Our newspapers have taken on the style of yesterday’s magazines, and our magazines have adapted the style of yesterday’s tabloids.  We don’t stop to ask whether something is true or false but only whether we like or don’t like something.  And we have come to believe that if things do not work out between people, it is the end of the world.  If everybody doesn’t end up liking everybody else, then there is a real problem.  We don’t stop to ask whether God is happy or unhappy with us or someone else but only whether everybody is happy with everybody else.

TV has taught us well, but TV has lied.  Some things are important but they are not entertaining, and what is most important is not relationships between people but the relationship between God and you.  This is the message of the Sacraments, and that is why  Sacramental pastors have such a hard time in a TV world.

The Sacraments say that not everything that is important is entertaining.  I need only point to calculus, botany, and chemistry to prove my point.  But the Sacraments say even more than that. Not only are some important things not entertaining, what is really important is not entertaining at all to sinners.  Not only was there nothing about our Lord that we sinners should desire Him, but there is nothing about His Sacraments either.  They appear to be just plain words, water, bread, and wine. We have plenty of those already.  Now if those words were just more emotional, if that water just sparkled, and if that bread and wine just sizzled and smoked, then God would have our attention.  Then our people would be lining up for Absolution, Baptism, and Holy Communion, and wouldn’t we be excited about absolving, baptizing, and celebrating if we really saw sins washed away, new creations created, and God on our altars?

It’s the same thing with TV’s other lie: what is important is relationships between people.  The Sacraments say the opposite.  What is important is the relationship between God and you.  I realize that a right relationship with others flows from this, but the right relationship with God must be first.  And this, the relationship between God and man, is the only one we can do anything about.  We can say, “I absolve you,” and open God’s heaven to a person.  We may or may not be able to open up the door to their neighbor’s house or their wife’s bedroom.  We can baptize them making them a new creation in Christ; we may or may not be able to make them into new body builders.  We can put the Body and Blood of God the Son into their mouths.  We may or may not have any success at putting food from an exclusive banquet there.  I know, I know.  People would really rather have the other; just as they would really rather have entertainment than divine service.

TV teaches these things, not because TV invented them but because this is how people have always been since the Fall.  People have always preferred the theater to the church, being popular with others to being right with God.  And we, shepherds of the latter days , must not give into this.  Even though the Absolution, Baptism, and Supper we put before people may not, and probably is not, entertaining to them, it is important.  And even though these gifts of which our Lord has made us stewards may not fix relationships within their families, they do indeed fix their relationship with the Lord of the household.  If we should give in, where will the Bart Simpsons of the world go when TV can no longer entertain and relationships with people do not matter?  And isn’t this how it will be for us all on our deathbed?  I know  that is how it will be for me anyway, and I want at least one faithful pastor around not to entertain me but to tell me what is important, not to fix my relationships with people but to fix my relationship with God!

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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