Holy High Tech: World Wide Web Communion Sunday 10-2-11

In our house, there’s a standing joke whenever we get our phone bill these days.  It’s fun to look at it together as a family. Last month my wife sent or received 131 text messages.  That’s pretty good, don’t you think? – 131. But I sent or received more than double the number of text messages – 294. That’s getting serious, I think.  Then we look at my son’s text message.  You want to guess how many texts he sent and received last month? 4,152.

            This is amazing to me, of course.  I would have to do nothing but text people to do that many texts. You don’t need to look at my phone bill to see that generational shifts are going on in relation to use of inter-net technology. The challenge I set myself in this sermon is to think about how that technology enhances our spirituality – and next week to think about how it could enhance our spirituality if we change the way we use it.

Romans 13:8-14 Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code – don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of – finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.

11 But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. 12 The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. 13 We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. 14 Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

 

October 2, 2011                       

Holy High Tech:

World WideWeb

Communion Sunday

 

So, how do 4,152 text messages enhance one’s spirituality? Well, they don’t. But in the bigger picture let’s notice that young people today if nothing else, are connected. They are making connections all the time – with their friends, with family, with a broader circle of acquaintances than we thought it possible to relate to. It has become cliché to talk about the effect of social media on the democratic changes that have happened during the “Arab spring” in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria. The wide range of personal connections through cell phones and computers set into motion dramatic changes toward personal freedom, challenging dictatorial rule anywhere in the world.

An even bigger cliché is that the world is getting smaller.  Well, the internet certainly makes the world much smaller. Even when I was in one of the poorest countries in the world – in Nigeria, it was easy to communicate with friends and family back home through cell phones and computers at “Internet cafés.” It really was remarkable to experience how easy it was to communicate around the world. On this World Communion Sunday, we hope that these international connections lead to a more peaceful world, a more democratic world, and a more spiritual world. There is not a lot of evidence that anything of the sort is happening, but given how pervasive the influence of technology is on our lives, it seems incumbent on us to find ways to use these new and easier worldwide connections to foster a sense of oneness and unity in our connection with God.

At the time this church was founded, just 135 years ago, most people went to bed when the sun went down and got up with the sun to farm their fields. The changes in lifestyle in that brief time from the founding of this church until now are quite enormous. The internet is quite immature. We are only just beginning to figure out how to use these technological advances at all, and we are far from learning how they might actually make us more, rather than less human. I have a real admiration for the Amish folks I summer in western PA and their determination to not be corrupted by dealing with the rapid changes in society.  I wish we could slow down some of these changes – or at least slow ourselves down to get used to them.

I would not want to do without electricity or the ability to watch the Phillies game, the ability to project pictures and art work in our sanctuary that enhance our appreciation of the meaning of scripture and the message each week. I value being able to communicate with my Israeli and Nigerian friends in ways that don’t take weeks. I love being able to keep track of all my appointments, all my contact information for every congregant and every visitor, and have a Bible in my pocket.

I cannot, however, after consideration, make the argument that any of this technology enhances our spiritual lives in any kind of significant way. The smart-phone, computer, and all of things are tools that help us get things done, but our spiritual lives are served less by what we get done than by the time we take to stop getting things done, less by how many connections we make and more by the quality of our connection with the Living God.

Methodists believe (along with Jesus) that connection is made deeply and fully in the act of eating. While we believe that divine grace reaches us any time and in any way God chooses, God has designated certain means or channels through which grace is most surely and immediately available. John Wesley call these channels  “means of grace,” and listed them as including the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord, family and private prayer, searching the scriptures, fasting and abstinence. Searching the scriptures is the only one of these that I see can be aided significantly by the internet.

Communion, which we celebrate today, is held up as a means of grace so powerful that we call it a sacrament – one of two in the church, the other being baptism. A sacrament is a mystery. Through the sacraments God discloses things that are beyond human capacity to know through reason alone.

Communion is much more than a personal event. It brings us all together and makes us one, even beyond this room. In it we find forgiveness, remembrance, and thanksgiving. We eat this meal with people who have gone before us, not just remembering them, but finding them present with us now, like Christ in the breaking of the bread. At the same time, the meal gives us a foretaste of the future, anticipating God’s final victory over sin, evil, and death – everything that is broken in this world. As we eat this bread and drink this cup, we find ourselves nourished by the grace of Jesus; strive to be formed into the image of Christ; made into instruments for transformation in the world.

We think of the internet as having the power to connect us – around the world, and it does. Look how much more powerfully connecting this simple act of breaking bread and sharing it can be – how much more it connects us – to each other, to ourselves, to the past and the future, and to God. The internet and technology is more exciting, but not nearly as powerful.