Holy High Tech! Faith and Facebook – Sept. 25, 2011

Sept. 25, 2011                              Holy High Tech!  Faith and Facebook

               Ed suffers from CPA – Continuous Partial Attention disorder.  This disorder is the impulse to constantly check Facebook, Twitter, email, and anything else on your phone or computer. Continuous Partial Attention disorder is motivated by a desire not to miss anything. It creates an artificial sense of crisis and can cause a person to become over stimulated and unable to focus on what’s right in front of him or her. (p. 102, Church of Facebook) We used to think that this disorder was caused only by testosterone in guys like Ed, but more and more these days, women too are suffering from CPA.

Ed is an extremely introverted person and he felt Facebook was a godsend. He doesn’t have to go anywhere to relate to people.  He can find all of his friends – including some from elementary school, right there on the computer. His obsessive interest leads him to spend hour after hour in front of the computer. His diet of potato chips and Dr. Pepper is not helping his acne or his weight problem. He hides behind his Facebook picture as he stays in touch with a long list of Facebook “friends.”

Ron was a popular teacher at Ed’s high school. A handsome guy with an active social life, Ron was seen as a community leader. After storms and flooding did some serious damage in their town, Ron had everybody in the audience wrapped around his little finger when he stepped up to the microphone at a local community meeting. He decried the lack of help coming from the government and told people that he would personally lead the effort to collect money to help people who were flooded out of their homes. He went home that night feeling pretty good about himself, but he didn’t follow up on his promised actions.

Ed on the other hand hadn’t been at the meeting and certainly wouldn’t have volunteered anything if he was, but he read about the flooding on his computer e-mail news summary.  He set up a “Cause” on Facebook to help a particular family. He sent out appeals to all his friends on Facebook. He even encouraged people to write government officials. His efforts resulted in modest but significant help for this family to recover from the flood.

Now listen to Matthew 21:23-32. Then he was back in the Temple, teaching. The high priests and leaders of the people came up and demanded, "Show us your credentials. Who authorized you to teach here?" 24-25 Jesus responded, "First let me ask you a question. You answer my question and I'll answer yours. About the baptism of John—who authorized it: heaven or humans?" 25-27They were on the spot and knew it. They pulled back into a huddle and whispered, "If we say 'heaven,' he'll ask us why we didn't believe him; if we say 'humans,' we're up against it with the people because they all hold John up as a prophet." They decided to concede that round to Jesus. "We don't know," they answered. Jesus said, "Then neither will I answer your question.

The Story of Two Sons  28"Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, 'Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.' 29"The son answered, 'I don't want to.' Later on he thought better of it and went. 30"The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, 'Sure, glad to.' But he never went. 31-32"Which of the two sons did what the father asked?" They said, "The first." Jesus said, "Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God's kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn't care enough to change and believe him.

 

Sometimes we look down our noses at people who spend a lot of time on Facebook or computers.  There really can be some serious problems with Continuous Partial Attention disorder and other issues with modern technology. For the beginning of this sermon series, however, I would like to focus on the potential benefits of technology – ways in which technology can enhance our spirituality & our humanity.

This is an important topic, a very important topic, since smart phones, computers, and Facebook are here to stay. Facebook's membership doubled from one hundred million to two hundred million people from August 2008 to March 2009...In the first quarter of 2009, five million people joined Facebook every week. There are now over 500 million registered users of Facebook. That’s 7% of all the people on earth. If Facebook members were a country, they would rank third behind China and India – and way ahead of the US.

Let’s hope we can find ways for technology to enhance our spirituality and our humanity because these phenomena are here to stay and they are commanding more and more of our collective attention.  So first let us acknowledge that there are generational shifts going on here. I knew that Facebook was getting really big when the Tuesday morning women’s group a few months ago asked me what it was. Many of them do not own computers and are very happy, thank you very much. I could hardly imagine doing without my computer or now my smart-phone, even for a few days. But even for me these new technologies are not as embedded in my life as they are for the next generation or two. Young people today are shaped and they are shaping Facebook and social media. It is evolving.

One person who writes about these matters, emphasized that just because we grew up with the internet does not mean that the internet is grown up. Facebook and texting and blogging – all of these ways of interacting are very new and still being shaped by our usage. How can we shape them in ways that enhance our spiritual lives? How can we use them in ways that bring balance to our lives?

The first example I want to give is very close to home. When we decided to get screens in our sanctuary, some people thought this was like putting a TV on the altar. The reviews since we put the screens in have been almost universally positive. The pictures that we have brought into worship have mostly enhanced our worship experience. We have added art to our service, pictures of activities, images that add to our understanding of hymns, anthems and sermons. We now have the screens as a constant companion in our worship – which is mostly a good thing – but maybe not always. We may need to take more breaks than I’ve been giving us. There may be times when our prayer and spiritual life need a little less input visually and a little more input from deep within ourselves or beyond ourselves.

Personally, I love being able to be in touch with people through texting, internet, and e-mail. I value having a whole personal phone book, several versions of the Bible, and a tiny computer in my pocket all the time. I am used to being able to handle some contacts and business immediately that just a few years ago would have taken me days.

Our church website is now our most public face to the world. Visitors used to tell us that they came to St. Luke because they noticed our sign – and they got an invitation.  Today, more visitors tell us they came because they saw our webpage – and they got an invitation. Through Facebook we are able to meet with the youth group and connect people over a broader area.

Next week for World Communion Sunday we will expand on this understanding of how the internet makes our world smaller and enables ministry on a global as well as a local scale. The following week, we will talk about how we need to set limits on the internet that ensure that it serves us more than we serve it.

For today, let me close by inviting us to hear the message of Jesus – when he ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, always risking his reputation to sit with those on the edges of society. Computer nerds like Ed may not be the most popular people in our time, but there is a way in which Ed is moving our world into new directions and new possibilities.  Jesus threw out the moneychangers from the Temple, but he welcomed the people on the fringes of society into his community.

He calls us to the same kind of welcoming ministry – making friends with all kinds of people, turning Facebook friends into face to face friends, deepening our spiritual connections in our community through every resource we have at our disposal.

As we sing this old time song, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” we take that friendship deep into our lives, recognizing that Jesus accepts us as we are, loves those nerdy places, those parts of our lives that we don’t share with just anybody. Jesus is the deepest kind of friend we can have.

This is God’s good news.

 

526  What a Friend We have in Jesus