This Sunday I return to New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church). The service starts at 10:30. The Scriptures for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost are 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14; Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25; and Luke 9: 51 – 62.
Here is the sermon – sorry that I was late in posting it but yesterday was rather hectic.
At the end of the sermon and the service, one person pointedly stated that they didn’t come to church to hear politics preached. I think I know what “angered” this individual but I think it was when I referred to the Gulf of Mexico. Interestingly enough, his comment reinforced what I was saying and have said about those who do not want to be reminded of the world outside the walls of the church on a Sunday morning. But the world is out there and we cannot ignore what we have done and are doing. If that is political, so be it.
Another person pointed out the one point that I should have stressed more and that was that our use of technology as a means of communication has virtually removed any one-to-one communication.
I have been developing a course or a presentation entitled “Technology in the Pulpit.” No matter how we may feel, technology is an integral part of our everyday life. And, as such, we should understand how to use it, when to use it, and more importantly when not to use it.
Now, if I were to make that presentation today, utilizing Power Point, I would start off with a picture of a scroll. Because when we first wrote down the words of the Holy Scriptures, they were written on a scroll. And we need to remember that when Jesus stood up in his home synagogue in Nazareth, he took the scroll and read the passage for the day.
Then somewhere in times past, someone decided to cut the scroll into pages and bind the pages into a book. And we are now at a point where the book has literally become a text message on a personal communication device or the screen of a computer. But there is something that we are perhaps not aware of when we look at this transformation of information over the ages.
First, literary elite of the early church days were very conservative and viewed the early books (or codices) with the same suspicion that many people view electronic publications today. They were very much attached to the older format of the scrolls and very reluctantly adapted to the new “technology”.
Since early Christians were poorly educated and generally from the lower classes of society, they had no secular literary tradition to preserve. And as a relatively new religion, they also had no religious traditions to preserve as well. So, they adopted the book immediately and universally.
And when Gutenberg invented the printing press, Martin Luther and the other reformers quickly saw the technology as a way of spreading the word through copies of the printed Bible (a move that was very vehemently opposed by the religious and political establishments of the day).
In light of how the technologies of the past have helped Christianity, perhaps we should be willing embracers of the movement. But, before we do so quickly and blindly, let us stop and look at the times of the church before we were a religion, before we needed the Bible to spread the word and to a time when to state in public that you were a Christian was tantamount to asking that you be persecuted and even killed. How then did the Word spread? How did people throughout the Roman Empire come to know the story of Jesus Christ and the message that he began in the Galilee two thousand years ago?
I have noted on a number of other occasions that many students today assume that Paul had a copy of the New Testament with him as he journeyed from town to town in Asia Minor and Greece. But he didn’t and he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time – think of what he could have done if communication in those days was done at the speed of today. The answer was that the Word wasn’t spread by printed texts (which many of those who hear Paul preach wouldn’t have been able to read anyway) but by one person telling another and that person telling someone else.
The beginning of Christianity was done in a very personal, one-to-one relationship. What we now call churches began as gatherings in one person’s home (often secretly because of the penalty that accompanied being a Christian or a follower of The Way).
I am not opposed to technology. If anything, the ability to type out the words that I wish to say is far easier than if I were to write them down with pen and pencil. But I see a reminder with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that we can rely on technology far too much and I remember last February when over half the people in Dutchess County were without power for almost a week. To lose electricity is to lose the ability to use telephones, computers, televisions, radios, refrigerators, stoves and the lights in one’s house. And I have this sense that there are a number of people who would literally freak out if they couldn’t use their phone to send a text message to a friend.
I am not opposed to technology but I wonder if we really truly understand what to do with it. I know of one report where technology is creating a cultural divide because not everyone can afford computers and the accompanying technology; there was a recent report that indicated that having a computer in the home doesn’t necessarily assure educational gains. And what I have seen in the classroom tells me that most students do not have an understanding of how to use the technology for better results.
To be sure, they can find information but how good is that information? When I was teaching introductory chemistry courses, I gave my students an assignment on ethics. Imagine my surprise and shock when I would discover that students believed that one particular individual, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in biology, had cheated. That he didn’t was beside the point; many students found what they thought was the answer to my question and copied it straight from the web page to the word document. They never bothered to think about the ramifications of what they had just read.
If they had gone just a little further in their research, they would have discovered that the accusation of cheating was directed towards a co-worker and that the co-worker was eventually absolved of any wrong doing. The individual that my students were looking for was guilty by association in the minds of others because he defended the accused. Technology is a tool to finding the answer; it is not the answer.
We are finding out that this is the case in church today. Technology can reach out to people. Did you know that there are 282 United Methodist Churches within 50 miles of this area? And of those 282 churches, 90 (or not quite a third) don’t have an e-mail address listed and of the 191 that did have an address listed, 31 addresses were wrong. So while 121 churches in this area may have a presence on the web (because that is how I found them), they did not get the note I sent out recently about some events happening at my home church because their use of technology was not up to date.
And having the address doesn’t mean anything unless you are willing to sit down and write a message that can be duplicated and passed on to others. Technology will not do the work for you; it will only make the work easier for you to do. We want technology to set us free when, in fact, it has enslaved us. Technology can be the tool that will set us free; it will not automatically do so.
When Clarence Jordan translated Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he wrote that he used “worshipping gadgets” as one of the sins in verse 19; even the translation offered by The Message reads “trinkets gods”. What is it that we are doing with all the devices that we have if we are not worshipping them?
Our lives are understandably hard and the one thing that we don’t want to do is work that much harder. But it should also be understood that we need to put forth the effort if we want the reward. When you ask John Wooden’s players what they remember about their coach and mentor, many will tell you how hard the practices were. By preparing them for the game, the game became remarkably easy but this is a point lost on society today when we desire success immediately and without much effort.
And I see in our efforts in education, where the buzz word is accountability and the key to accountability is testing, this same lack of effort. It is quite easy to test a student on what he or she was taught last week and it is quite easy to prepare them for such tests. But the true test of learning comes six months to a year later when what was taught is actually used. But when we live in a society of instantaneous gratification, waiting six months is an eternity and we won’t do it.
When Elijah asked Elisha wanted he wanted, Elisha replied that he wanted a double share of Elijah’s inheritance. Elijah rightly answered that such a request was a difficult one and that if Elisha really wanted that double share, he must be prepared to work for it.
We are not prepared to change our priorities; we are not prepared to make the effort that we must make in order to assure ourselves of freedom in this world and the next. Hear again the words of Luke from today’s Gospel reading, as translated by Clarence Jordan.
Then Jesus said to another, “Share my life.”
The man replied, “Let me first discharge my family obligations.”
Jesus replied, “Let the people of the world care for themselves, but you, you spend your time promoting the God Movement.”
Still another said, “I will share your life, sir, but let me first work out things with my relatives.”
To him Jesus replied, “No man who commits himself to a course of action, and then keeps looking for a way out of it, is fit material for the God Movement.”
Sadly, those are not the words we want our preachers and ministers to speak today. We want them to tell us how we can get the good life; we want to be told that others are to be blamed for the problems of the world. We want the church today to tell us that we can go to war because God is on our side, even when Paul reminds us in Galatians that such actions will lead to our own destruction.
We want to hear that it is alright to desire material goods and that we can destroy the environment because God gave it to us to do what we will with it. At what point does it become obvious that if we don’t keep a clean house, we aren’t going to have a place to live?
We want church to be a safe haven from the problems of the world; we don’t want to be bothered for a few hours on Sunday morning being reminded that there is work to be done “outside the walls.” There is too much change going on in the world today; for a few moments on a Sunday morning (and only on Sunday morning) we want a remembrance of church as it once was. We don’t want the minister fiddling with the order of worship, trying new things or singing new songs. Even if it means that there is no Spirit in the church, we want what once was, not what it can be.
Our age abounds in information and technology, but it lacks godly conscience, Christ-like compassion, and Spirit-enabled commitment, the traits of our Methodist heritage. It can be said that the early Methodist church in England had an impact on the social conditions of the day. The key to that early church’s influence was found in the traits of conscience, compassion and commitment.
If we are to be faithful to our age, then we must bring the riches of our heritage to our social responsibility, using what ever tools our age affords us that have moral integrity. The in-groups of our culture will not always approve of our agendas or our choice of methods. For that we will suffer their censure, as did Jesus in His day and Wesley in his. Yet both served many well by serving God most of all. That is what faithfulness to one’s age meant then, and it is what it means today. (”John Wesley, the Methodists, and Social Reform in England, Luke Keefer”) From “The Differing Voices of Truth”
Somewhere along the line, we shall realize that what it takes to get where we want to go is not what we thought it would be. We shall find out that what it really takes has been there right in front of us all the time? It doesn’t matter if we read it on a scroll or in an early book. It doesn’t matter if we read it as an electronic book or even as a text message sent to us by a friend.
What it takes is that we realize what Christ did for us. As Paul writes,
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
What does it take to have the life you seek? It takes a decision on your part, a decision to follow Christ, to let Him into your heart. It takes a decision on your part; a decision to let the Holy Spirit enter your life and guide and direct you. The call is made; it is a call that you must answer. That’s what it will take.