Holy High Tech! The Limits of the Internet 10-9-11

Some clever person imagined that Steve Jobs, who died this week, was introduced to Moses. I’m assuming it’s Peter who meets him at the Pearly Gates and says to Moses, “Moses, Meet Steve. He’s going to upgrade your tablets.” Apple computer announced this week that they are releasing a new version of the iPhone, iPhone 4s. I have been reading about it and was ready to upgrade my phone, so I ordered one.

The New York Times published an article by Martin Lindstrom this week. He writes that he did a study of people and their Apple iPhones and computers to determine if they are addicted to them in the same way as people get addicted to cocaine or gambling or alcohol. He measured the brainwave activity of 16 people while they were engaged in activity with their phones and he found that the brainwaves did not resemble addiction so much. Rather when the phones would ring, the brain response was similar to the activity that happens when a boyfriend or girlfriend or family member was close by.  The response, he says is comparable to love.

People love their iPhones and computers. Lindstrom suggests that though this love may not be the same as an addiction, people would do well to turn off their phones and make some real connections with the ones they love. I would imagine that from the beginning of this sermon series you have been expecting the same advice from me. Turn off your cell phones. Pay attention to each other.

I will tell you that, but you will call me a hypocrite. A few weeks ago I was in the middle of a prayer when my cell phone began vibrating.  My son had sent me a text message. I ignored it, hoping no one had noticed, but then a couple of minutes later, because I hadn’t turned it off, it vibrated again! So yes, turn off your cell phones in church. Pay attention to each other. Pay no attention to the vibrating phone in the pastor’s pocket!

Our faith tradition has another name for turning something other than God into an object of devotion. We call it an idol – the classic example being the passage Marilyn read this morning from the book of Exodus. The Hebrew people, in 40 days and 40 nights that Moses is away on a mountain talking to God, demand that Aaron make them a golden calf that they can worship. They want something they can see and touch to worship. They want something they could control rather than a mystery beyond their comprehension and control.

Idolizing a golden calf sounds pretty ridiculous to us doesn’t it?  We would never do anything like that. Except that we do. The first two of the ten commandments are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  And 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:” Yet, we do have things in our lives that place before God. We do worship things other than God.

For some of you TV, computers, and smart-phones may not reach to the level of “graven images.” You might not have that “love” part of your brain light up like mine does at the mention of an iPhone 4s, but all of us have some difficult temptations in some part of our lives, something in our lives that we put before the worship of God, some object of devotion that will grab our attention any day before rejoicing in the love of the Living God.

Young people in our time are finding their lives more and more out of balance. 51% of American teens log on to a social network site more than once a day. 22 % log on more than 10 times a day. 67% of parents say texting is hurting their kids school performance.92 percent of kids ages 8-18 play video games and 8.5% can be classified as addicted, meaning their play interferes with the rest f their lives.

And it’s not just teens that have a problem.

Now it used to be, back in the day, that Christians and other religious folks had a clear way to challenge these difficulties, to set our lives back in balance, to set our whole lives back in balance at least once a week. It was called keeping the Sabbath. Some people still keep Sabbath. You may have seen the article in the newspaper this week about what a dilemma it was for observant Jews that the 5th game of the Phillies/Cardinals series took place on the eve of Yom Kippur. Some people gave up their tickets to the game.

That practice may seem extreme to some, but even then, look at how it keeps people’s lives in balance. Keeping the Sabbath says, along with Paul in Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, Again I say rejoice.” Nothing is more important that rejoicing in God’s creation and God’s presence in our lives. So it used to be that all addictive behavior stopped on the Sabbath, all commerce, all travel, anything that got in the way of prayer, study, and family and community connections. (It is after all the 4th of the 10 commandments).

Some people today are reinstituting an Internet Sabbath – turning off computers and cell phones for 24 hours once a week. I have heard of one family that takes every weekend off from the internet – all day Saturday and Sunday.  These families find that their relationships improve. They talk to each other again. They eat together again. They laugh and enjoy each other again. Even if you tried to have a Sabbath morning or afternoon –3 or 4 hours, without TV, internet, or smart phones use – it would be a powerful thing.

I recommend it as a way to follow Paul’s advice to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is God’s good news.