Tonight Show sermon

There is no them
There is no them
There is only us
There is only us
– from “Invisible” by U2

No one could preach a better sermon than the one U2 preached Monday night on Jimmy Fallon’s big night as the host of the new Tonight show.

The Tonight Show, since 1954, has been a cultural icon, bathing bedrooms across America in the blue glow of late-night television. After Johnny Carson’s 30-year signature, followed by 22 years of Jay Leno, with a brief 6-month intermission with Conan O’Brien, Fallon’s show had the look of a new dynasty being born. With its new location (New York), new set, new host, and U2 performing their new hit “Invisible” 70 stories up on the roof of the Rockefeller Center in front of a stunning sunset over New York, it was an auspicious beginning.

The rooftop song, “Invisible,” has a bridge where Bono sings, over and over, There is no them/There is no them/There is only us/There is only us. It’s a message I have articulated numerous times here from the Catch, as I am particularly sensitive to using the terms “us” and “them” from my familiarity with an evangelical fundamentalism that fostered this kind of thinking. To hear it showcased in such a setting showed me that it is more than a Christian cultural phenomenon, it is something embedded in our human nature. And it is not good.

Certainly “us” and “them” are pronouns necessary for communication, but something sinister happens whenever they are used together. Whenever “us” and “them” are used as a dividing line within humanity, you are putting yourself in the inside and kicking somebody else out. Whenever “them” is sinners, or the poor, or an ethnic group, or nationality, or religious group, or race, or sex, or sexual orientation, something ugly happens. There is a human separation. There is a category created where there shouldn’t be one. There is a wall created – a fence, a barrier – that can create anything from hostility to major wars.

Here is the crux of the matter: “Us” includes me; “Them” does not. Any use of the word “them” that leaves me out leads to arrogance, bigotry, and all the flaws of the Pharisees. When you think about or encounter anyone who is a sinner, or poor, or from another ethnic group, or nationality, or religious group, or race, or sex, or sexual orientation other than yours … that’s your group. “They” are “us.”

Yes, the more you meet “them” and get to know “them” and love “them” you will discover that “they” are “us” – that indeed, the song is right: There is no them/There is no them/There is only us/There is only us.

Though the rooftop performance by U2 was stellar, the real “moment” in the show came when Jimmy Fallon got his wish and invited U2 to sing a song on the set of the Tonight Show from the couch. Producing two acoustic guitars and a tambourine, U2 performed an “impromptu” version of their Academy Award nominated song “Ordinary Love” from the movie, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”

In a musical and emotional crescendo that culminated in a standing ovation, Bono rang out the words:

We can’t fall any further
If we can’t feel ordinary love.
And we can’t reach any higher
If we can’t deal with ordinary love.

Ordinary love breaks down the thickest walls (there are no thicker walls than the walls of apartheid in South Africa) and turns all of “them” into “us.”

We should all have a little “them” meter going off in our brain whenever we start to use the word, just to check ourselves on how we are doing. If you can’t put “us” there instead, don’t even say it.

Like I said, no one could preach a better sermon than the one U2 preached Monday night on the Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon even asked Bono to sermonize over a coffee mug … and he did.

Click here
for a YouTube video of the complete performance including
Bono’s coffee mug sermon.

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7 Responses to Tonight Show sermon

  1. Cynthia Cody says:

    Excellent! U2 does sing out what you have been showing and teaching us from the LORD. It was a great way to start a new night for everyone. I always cry when they sing, but you know some do have that gift of exhortation! Love to you and Marti. Cynthia

  2. Thanks for sharing that, John.

    It’s not just the “us” and “them” of race, sex, politics, the lost, etc. – it’s the “us” and “them” within the church – contemporary vs traditional, charismatic vs non-charismatic, infant baptism vs adult baptism, clergy vs lay, etc. There are as many walls within the church as there are outside. Walls keep us safe, or so we think. Having our own clique within our own church or denomination or the church universal makes us feel safe. Birds of a feather, and all that. But God isn’t about safe. As a matter of fact, “safe” is the one place He doesn’t occupy.

    More and more I see churches taking the safe, predictable road instead of the road less traveled, the road that Jesus would have taken. And, more and more, churches are being shuttered because the people of those churches failed to take a chance when they had the chance. The more a church has to lose, the less they are willing to risk. But the thing is, when eternity and the salvation of a soul are at stake – not to mention the survival of that church – how much is too much?

  3. Mark Seguin says:

    Thx Pastor John 4 posting the Tonight show w/ U2, i missed that show, yet throughly enjoyed watching the video… I’ve always liked U2!
    PS also great post & in-sightful post Waitsel

  4. Donna O. says:

    hi John,
    I so appreciate your faithfulness in sharing insights and wisdom with fellow travelers.
    I am wondering if you might share your thoughts on a challenge I am dealing with.
    I am a speaker. I speak for a Christian speakers bureau and in secular situations doing training especially on listening, the power of laughter, the power of your story as well as end of life issues like advanced planning.
    Through the Christian speakers bureau I was asked to speak to a women’s spring luncheon at a conservative Baptist church next weekend. After arranging for me to speak but before talking to me the event planner went to the internet and found out I have spoken in Unitarian churches.
    She called the director of the speakers bureau and told her that not only did they not want me to speak but “they didn’t want me within 300 miles” of their event.
    I am a follower of Jesus and know that He goes with me wherever I speak. You topic of ” Them and Us” reminded me of how many Christians isolate themselves in their own little world. I thought we are called to be in the world. I think we should ask ourselves what percentage of our friends or aquaintences are non believers . How do share the gospel if we only hang out with people just like us?
    Do you think it was wrong for me to speak in Unitarian churches?

    • Mark S. says:

      Pastor John I hope, trust & pray do not mind me throwing my two cent in the question Donna O ask you… Ohhhh my fellow Catch reader Donna, I’d could never agree w/ anyone that tries to limit free speech in any, way, shape or form and I think/believe it’s GREAT that you did speak in a Unitarian Church! My sincere hope & prayers are w/ you Donna – God’s speed to you and all of your loved ones… 🙂

    • TimC says:

      Well that’s harsh! And it’s kind of hard to not get upset about it. But yeah, the Pharisees weren’t happy about the people that Jesus hung out with. And when He hung out with the Pharisees He was usually reaming them out for their attitudes. Not that I think you should go ream out the “pharisees”.

      It seems to me that if God has opened a door for you, you need to see where He’s leading you and then follow. Maybe there is a message that He wants you to deliver, or a seed that He wants you to plant, then water, then nurture. For all their talk about having open minds, the Unitarians have some fairly well closed up minds on some things.

      Just my 2 cents.

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