Saturday, September 2, 2006

It's not just TV: Preacher finds nuggets of Biblical Truth in sitcoms

Sept. 2, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

'He can make a sermon out of anything,' said Novalene Green of Temple at the conclusion of Wednesday night's Andy Griffith Bible study at Oak Park United Methodist Church, led by pastor Chris Mesa.
As the group of about 35 adults who attended the service left to go home, they were smiling and chatting with each other about Mesa's unique talent of applying Biblical perspective to non-Biblical things - like Andy Griffith and Homer Simpson and all their kin.
The first episode of the classic Andy Griffith series, 'The New Housekeeper,' launched this fall's rotational Bible study that takes place every Wednesday night at 7:15 p.m. at Oak Park United Methodist Church at 5505 S. 31st St. in Temple. It's the second year for Mesa to use Andy Griffith and the Simpsons as study aids for Biblical lessons, and the church leader said he's pleased with the program's steadily growing popularity.
'The older members of the church didn’t completely revolt when I brought out the Simpsons,” Mesa jokingly said. “They kept an open mind and accepted it. Though, the older ones do much prefer Andy Griffith while the youth tend to gravitate to Homer and Bart.”
Mesa, a fan of both shows, chose “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Simpsons” to use in his Bible study for a variety of reasons.
“What’s thing the two shows have in common? Andy Griffith, Opie and Aunt Bea all go to church together every Sunday,” Mesa said. “And in primetime television today, the Simpsons are the only family who goes to church together every week.”
The Simpsons go to the First Church of Springfield under the leadership of the Rev. Lovejoy. Every Sunday, Homer complains about his “itchy church pants.” Mesa recited these Simpson factoids from memory in effort to prove his statement. Church-going isn’t so far-fetched an idea when applied to Andy and his Mayberry crew.
“Not every episode of the Simpsons is appropriate,” Mesa quickly added as a word of caution. “Parents should view the material before showing it to their children.”
The Griffiths and the Simpsons are regular people, Mesa summed up. They don’t always get it right, and they’re not perfect, just like the rest of us, Mesa said.
“There’s something these two shows have that make people want to watch them over and over and over. It’s more than humor,” Mesa said. “The two shows have substance. People respond to them. They’re hearts are opened. Then as I step in and share with them a message from the Bible, they, with open hearts, are much more likely to retain that message and make it a part of themselves.”
This fall, the pastor plans to add “I Love Lucy” and “The Brady Bunch” to his Bible study line-up.
Why mix 30-minute sitcoms with the Bible, the Good Book, the Word of the Lord, some may ask, struggling to breach the boundary between entertainment and religion.
“You ought to find a way to live in today’s world and the people in it. And TV is a part of today’s world,” Mesa said, describing why he implemented the program at his church. “Today’s generation, the people of 2006, respond most positively to visual learning with videos and graphics. So TV is a good way to connect the two worlds — today’s world with the timeless world of the Bible filled with ancient and archaic language. It’s my job to make the Bible come to life.”
Mesa conducts the video Bible study similar to how a teacher uses a video to supplement a lesson.
There’s an opening discussion that pinpoints the day’s objective, then an explanation of how the video relates to the objective and then the video starts. At key points in the video, the video is stopped and the floor is opened for group discussion as to how what they’ve just seen relates to the day’s objective. Once the video ends, the program concludes with a group discussion, summarizing what they’ve learned.
This Wednesday’s Andy Griffith Bible study, the one about “The New Housekeeper,” centered around young Opie’s reluctance to say goodbye to Aunt Rose and hello to Aunt Bea.
Little Opie, the widowered Andy’s son, needed someone to take care of him while Andy was at work everyday defending the good citizens of Mayberry as town sheriff. Aunt Rose, a Grade-A housekeeper who could fish, hunt frogs and play baseball, had raised Opie since his mother had died. Aunt Rose decided to leave Mayberry, so she could get married.
Aunt Bea came to take Aunt Rose’s place as head of Andy’s household, but Opie, young and afraid of so much change, wasn’t so fond of Aunt Bea, the new lady who couldn’t fish, hunt frogs or play baseball. Opie succeeded in making Aunt Bea feel unwelcome at the climax of the show when he refused to eat a fried chicken dinner that Aunt Bea had prepared for the family.
Mesa paralleled Opie’s relationships with his two aunts to the Church of the Philipi, an early church in the Bible that converted from Judaism to Christianity. The church’s conversion wasn’t without struggle.
“The people argued. They resented Paul for bringing in the new word of Christianity,” Mesa said during the Bible study. “They wouldn’t accept Jesus, just as Opie wouldn’t accept Aunt Bea’s fried chicken.”
When Aunt Bea told Andy she would leave Mayberry and live alone because Opie begrudged her so, Opie had a change of heart. Little Opie told his father that Aunt Bea couldn’t leave because she was helpless.
“She can’t leave, Pa,” Opie cried out to Andy in the show. “She can’t catch frogs, play ball or fish. She can’t do anything. She’ll be lost without us. She needs me to teach her.”
The pastor interjected with a few words at this juncture.
“Opie’s heart was hardened at the beginning of the show,” Mesa said. “Notice how, at the end, Opie’s heart changes once he perceives that Aunt Bea needs him.”
This scene applies to the life of Jesus, as well, Mesa told his audience.
“What enabled Christ to give his life is what makes Opie make room in his heart for Aunt Bea,” Mesa said as he concluded the Bible study. “That’s what Jesus says. ‘It’s not my needs but their’s.’”
Those who attended the Bible study said they agreed with the evening’s lesson.
“We all need to be reminded once in a while to open our hearts and accept change,” said Dorris Childs of Temple, member of Oak Park United Methodist Church. “God’s in charge the whole time, taking care of us.”

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