Sunday, October 26, 2014

“What If Our Sabbath Included A Day Off From the Internet?” (Romans 12:1-8)

There’s an interesting sentence in our scripture lesson from Paul’s letter to the congregation at Rome.  Paul writes, “Do not become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without thinking.”

When I read this sentence I immediately thought of our two dogs; Dora and Lucy, both dachshunds.  Dora is incredibly food-driven.  She’ll eat and then reflect on what she just bit in to.  Lucy on the other hand isn’t as motivated by food; she’ll sniff FIRST, and only eat a bite of something she thinks is worth eating. 

Paul is teaching Jesus’ disciples, that’s you and me, that just because the world offers us an opportunity doesn’t mean that it’s going to produce in us the spiritual fruit that God longs to produce in us---compassion, generosity, faith, kindness.  These are the inner qualities that SAVE a life; hence, salvation.  Paul would prefer us to test the food first, like Lucy, and eat what’s worthy, least we wind up with a belly full of sour fruit.  What might be sour fruit?  Apathy, selfishness, self-righteousness, and mean-spiritedness are a few of the INNER qualities that can destroy a life.  Have you noticed that, when the culture, or as Jesus would say the WORLD, raises us, we hear a different message than Jesus:  generosity begins at home and stays at home, it’s about ME, success is happiness, our neighbor is lazy and doesn’t deserve our help, there is no God (we live an unsupported life), if it’s in print it must be true? 

Among one of the world’s most recent opportunities is the internet, especially Facebook.   I keep hearing the same conversation over and over.  “I’m off Facebook and I realize I’m a lot happier without it.”  For some people the gift of getting OFF Facebook is more privacy.  “That’s why I never got ON Facebook,” a friend told me, “My job includes a lot of travel.  What am I supposed to post, ‘Not home’?  That’s leaving the door wide open, isn’t it?’” For others the gift of getting OFF Facebook is the acquisition of more time.  The most recent convert to the GET OFF Facebook movement is our oldest son John Andrew.  “I have so much more TIME,” he confessed. 

What’s the downside to getting off Facebook?  Facebook has become one of the major ways people stay connected.  Getting off Facebook is like dying. People who have made Facebook their major means of being in relationship with others will forget you; move on.

How many of you maintain a Facebook page?  How many of you don’t have a clue what I am talking about?

Facebook is an online (internet) social network.  By social I mean a way to be friendly.  Here’s President Obama’s Facebook 
Page for example: LINK.
Now, for all practical purposes President Obama’s page is created and managed by someone else.  Those of us who manage a Facebook page create and manage our own.  But it’s the same concept.  We agree to be friends on Facebook and we can read each other’s page, and these “pages” are filled with inspirational quotes, funny videos, and the ins and out of the latest movies. We can attach a map that lets our friends see where we are at all times throughout the day, and we can see pictures of the grandchildren, the summer garden, and the recent vacation to Yellowstone.   Which means we take the time to update the pictures; pictures we’ve taken with our phone or digital camera or personal camera with the incredible telephoto lens.  How else are you going to get a picture of a grizzly bear?  Get the picture (lol)?  I’m talking about investing an incredible amount of time putting your best face forward.

There’s another social media option that I enjoy and it’s called INSTAGRAM.  This option is an App on the cell phone.  You snap a picture, doctor it so whatever you took a picture of looks great, and send it out to everyone you know.  You can even type a sentence or two below the picture such as “lovely fall in Montana” or “Here’s our new baby Sam.”

But here’s another challenge, our THIRD challenge.  It looks like everyone else is having a much better life than me when I look at the photos on Instagram.  Our daughter-in-law (Megan) is quite the chef and the pictures of the dinner she has prepared for her and Joshua makes my grilled pork chop and peas look, well, plain.  A recent friend posted a picture of the flowers her son sent her for her birthday.  Another person posted daily pictures of restaurants and mountains and oceans and gardens as she and her husband drove across the USA for a whole month—their anniversary gift to each other.  What if your son doesn’t send you flowers?  What if you are lucky enough to travel across town to Jake’s Steak House for your wedding anniversary? 

Everyone’s life seems to look so much better on the internet that it does in real life.  The weddings seem to go off without a hitch, the dog is well groomed, the child is cuter than cute, the food is amazing, the sunset should be featured in National Geographic, and the neighbors are thoughtful and generous.   

At the very least, if we’re going to invest in social media, the least we could do is post a picture of us in the morning BEFORE the first cup of coffee---or the stack of work on the desk at the office—or the trip to the dentist.  I’m calling for a fairness rule!
Our church is on Facebook.  Our building looks perfectly manicured on the outside—busy on the inside—and the pastor comes off as being incredibly attractive and wise (laughter here I hope!)  Braeden and I mange the page.  Look us up!

What happens when we get introduced to the perfect lives of our friends every hour on the hour on Facebook, or Instagram?  Our envy buttons get pushed.  We lament, “Why aren’t I wittier?  Why aren’t I thinner?  Why don’t I have a kitchen that looks like that?  Why doesn’t my dinner look like that?  Why aren’t I visiting Hawaii?  Why didn’t I marry someone who remembers wedding anniversaries?  Oh the seduction!

Now, I’m not suggesting that we opt out of the use of technology all together.  There’s a lot of good there.  We can find all kinds of amazing help and at the time we need it.  No library sign that says “closed” to contend with. I love the fact that I can write my sermons at 1am and pull up a book or an article and quote the source and give credit to the right author—without leaving my house.   We can reunite with old friends and catch up.  Just this year I found a couple from Kentucky who helped me with the youth group.  We’re having so much fun catching up!  In fact, that’s why I keep my Instagram account and Facebook account—connection—especially with persons far, far away.

What I am inviting all of us to do this morning is leave the unhealthy aspects of technology behind—the tendency to compare ourselves to others, to only see a small part of their life and draw conclusions, to refrain from face-to-face conversations with friends where the whole person shows up in their messy home with their messy lives and where life-giving transformation takes place, AND the amount of time it takes to manage all of the information.

How might we leave the bad stuff behind?  The simple truth is:  take a break.  What about starting with Sunday, our “Sabbath”, meaning the day we set aside to rest IN GOD and FROM work.   Why not declare Sundays a TECHNOLOGY FREE day?       

Again, in our post-modern culture a day of rest has lost its prominence.  It’s one more day to be busy, either behind the computer or at the lake or in the store.  If we are going to sincerely offer our whole lives to God, which I understand to mean we’re going to let God touch our whole life—our time, talent, money, work, rest, sleep, meals, and relationships—so that God can TRANSFORM us into Christ—we have to give God our undivided attention.  And we can’t wait for the world to provide the time for us—with the introduction of the internet, we definitely can be entertained all day long.

We have to figure out how to let God get God’s foot in OUR door.  We have to tune some things OUT, turn some things OFF, in order for us to tune into God.

All I have to do is turn on my cell phone and the whole world—people, places, pictures, blogs, music, literature, shopping—is immediately as my disposal.  How many of you, if you are on the internet, have noticed that you usually, innocently, plan to look one thing up, or make one phone call, and before you know it two hours later you’ve glanced at a dozen Facebook posts, read six blogs, browsed the sales rack on L.L.Bean and Land’s End, ordered a few books from Amazon, pasted a few do-it-yourself projects on Pinterest, and pulled up a five-star recipe for macaroni and cheese? 

You went to bed at ten pm, only to still be searching the internet long after midnight?

If God is trying to help us create a life of gratitude, passion and grace—which the Apostle Paul understands so keenly---did the time we spent creating our status update, or reading the status updates of others (which does not tell the WHOLE story), and our tendency to feel inadequate when others post pictures that make their lives seem perfect—help God achieve God’s purpose in us?  Did the many hours we logged on the internet add more life to our life?

Paul understands that enlarging our life is the Holy Spirit’s domain, and the Holy Spirit can only work miracles when we cooperate with the Spirit.  “Be still,” the scriptures instruct us, “Pray without ceasing,” meaning “clear a path both in the inside and in your outer world.”  As John the Baptist will cry in December, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  When you look back on the week, how much time did God get with you?  Do you cringe when you compare it with the amount of hours the internet got with you?  Did God have access to you so God can enlarge your life—time in conversation with real people where your whole life shows up—time in prayer?  Did the posts on Facebook push your buttons and draw you into more busy-ness, or despair? 

Resilience, remember, is God’s gift to us—that orientation of the soul that is able to offer the world love, peace, and patience no matter what the day brings.  God longs to save us.  What are we willing to give up—so that God can truly “come in”?

As I was sitting at an airport ready to board a plane, a young man joined me in the little row of seats.  On his lap was a puppy. Cute, cute puppy—a chocolate Labradoodle.  “It’s for my wife,” he shared with me, eyes beaming, “We lost our family dog last week unexpectedly, and she is so sad, it breaks my heart.  So I told her I was ‘going out for bit’ this morning, which is true, and I boarded a plane for this city to get a new family pet.  She loves dogs.  I love her and I want her to be happy.”

This is how thinks of us.  God is moved by our pain—the pain in our outer life and the pain in our inner life.  God wants us to grow up, to be mature—not for maturity sake but for our own.  So much of what saddens us in our outer life is the result of immaturity or willfulness; the need to control, the ability to live in denial, greed, indifference to the pain of others.  God’s boarded the plane. 

The question is, did we?  Let me know if you take the time to declare one day a week as a retreat from the internet.  And for those of us who don’t make us of the internet, is there something else that would add life to your life if you spent less time with IT, and more time with God?

Let us pray:  Bless us, Life-giving God, with a renewed interest in prayer, and building community instead of carefully-crafted images of ourselves on social media.  May we say yes to your invitation to love and draw from deep faith and to really listen.  It’s you that we want to shape us, and not our culture.  Amen.

(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener on Sunday, October 19 at Central Christian Church in Billings, Montana.)

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