“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Love is something that I’ve been coming back to again and again this month. I guess it’s the season. The more I think about this one idea, though, the more significant it becomes. If you are a follower of Jesus, people will recognize you as such because of your love. I’ve said it before, but that’s the only sure test for being a follower of Jesus we find in the Scriptures. In other words, if we don’t get that right, our identity will remain clouded in uncertainty. That or we will be guilty of false advertising. Well, Fridays have become my days for cultural review. Today I want to tell you about a show that puts this principle on display in a way that has become really endearing over its several seasons. This morning, let’s talk about Superstore.
Superstore first premiered in November 2015. It’s all about the various misadventures of the staff of a Walmart-like retailer called Cloud 9, located in the suburbs of St. Louis, MO. From the first episode the show has been comedic gold as far as I’m concerned. I laugh my way through every single episode. Well, most of them. Hulu has an irritating habit of recording all but the last 10 seconds of the show, so we consistently miss out on the last joke or aha moment. It’s really getting old. In any event, the show is hysterical.
And from conversations I’ve had with folks who have worked at Walmart, the show nails its various character stereotypes. The employees are a collection of weirdos of different sorts. They have absolutely nothing in common except that they work there, but they are united and held together by that common bond in a way that transcends the things that should otherwise divide them. It’s frankly a lot like how the church should work. Each of the characters are funny in their own right, but the cameos of random customers shopping they throw in two or three times in most episodes may be the funniest part. The things they’re doing as they shop seem insane except they’re probably all based on stories of things Walmart customers have actually done.
One of the main characters from the first episode has been Glenn Sturgis, the store manager. Glenn is…an idiot. He has the emotional maturity of a kindergartener. He seems to constantly live in a rosy bubble that doesn’t include any real wisdom about how the world actually works and people actually behave. He’s a pushover who gets taken advantage of and manipulated by his employees on a regular basis. This season he finally got pushed into a co-mangership with another original character who is pretty much his total opposite at every point. At the same time, he is unfailingly kind and generous and gracious and forgiving and above all else loving toward everyone he works with. Also, Glenn is a Christian.
Now, let’s not give the show too much credit. Glenn’s faith is presented in just as caricatured a fashion as all the other characters are presented. His faith is just as immature as he is. He goes to a nebulous megachurch with a black pastor who seems like he’s more in the Creflo Dollar mold than a T.D. Jakes. Some of the things he does because of his faith are just weird. At the same time, he and his wife have been unable to have children of their own and so they are foster parents, providing love homes to many children who would otherwise be lost to the system. And, yes, Glenn ultimately rationalizes away the immorality lifestyle choices the Scriptures pretty clearly oppose when they appear in the other characters, but he’s just so loving. Consistently. He doesn’t get it right. He’s not trying to move his employees intentionally in the direction of Jesus. But let’s not expect too much from Hollywood. The key is that more than anything else, it’s his love for the people around him that has been the way we know he’s the Christian character.
Problems aside, there’s something really powerful to see here. He gets a lot of things frustratingly wrong, and it’s infuriating that he’s so consistently characterized as an idiot (and because of his faith). He makes Christianity as a worldview look like an option only a dummy would embrace. There are a lot of reasons Christians should roll their eyes and write the show off as yet another reminder that the majority culture doesn’t understand or like us. But in the midst of all that, the writers just keep getting this one thing right over and over again. Glenn is known as someone who loves people.
When Jesus looked around the room at the disciples on the night before He was nailed to a cross for the sins of the world, one of the last and most significant things He said to them was that their chief operating instruction was to love one another. That above and before anything else would be the way they were marked out as His by the world. If they were going to be His followers, they would have to become known as people who love people. Where the church has thrived over the centuries, it is where it has been known as a people who love people well in practical and meaningful ways. We can (and have!) get a lot of things wrong, but when we get that right, people know us as Jesus’ people. And for all the contempt the other Cloud 9 employees have for Glenn because of al his obvious and glaring personal and management flaws, they just can’t help but be committed to him and love him back. Because he loved them first.
May the same be said of us.