Faith in the Selfie Age (Sermon Thursday 20th January 2022)
Readings for the Sermon can be found here and here (two part Old Testament reading 1 Samuel 18:6-9 & 19:1-7) and the gospel (Mark 3:7-12) here
I did think it is hyperbole to say that we live at a time in human history unrivalled in the amount of change that all of us have witnessed. Even in my own lifetime, I remember as a child playing with a computer that took up a whole cabinet, had a screen that only was green and you needed to type in code to get a program to work. I remember slightly later, my father, a telecoms engineer using our old rotary phone, connecting to a computer and downloading a game off a bulletin board (the precursor to the internet) in America. As a teenager, I remember getting my first mobile phone, black and white display which could text and make calls. A few years later here in my hand is a computer that is more powerful many times over than those used to get people to the moon, can buy a coffee with a tap, can sent a picture around the world in milliseconds and direct me to a destination using satellites. The rate of change is staggering and I dread to think of the change that may come in my children’s time. I think if we went back even to when this church was built and brought some of the first members to our church, they would be blown away by the change that has happened in this town and across the world. It would be like inviting Fred Flintstone to the Jetsons. In many ways it is marvellous.
However good these leaps in technology are, however many benefits they have brought to people are the world, there are serious downsides too, because the technology may have changed beyond our wildest imagination but what hasn’t changed in the human heart. This technology has empowered us massively, but our human heart so capable of great good and awful evil hasn’t changed. The technology has simply magnified what already existed. This isn’t a problem with the technology but a problem with the human heart. We live in a world that is blessed by people in distant countries being able to stay in contact, of charity drives for example around captain Tom being empowered. But we also live in the world of the selfie, the picture perfect profile, the age of instant information, a world of increasing isolation. It is quite possible in the modern world, through all the technology to never leave your home, shopping on the internet, interacting over mobile phones, endless entertainment and self sufficiency. The story of the human heart is either to go down the path of love that leads to community or to go down the path of selfishness that leads to sin and isolation. Who could have known that in a more connected world, so blessed by the power of technology, that the malady of our modern culture would be loneliness? The selfish human heart is growing more prominent in the age of social media of new technology, and our culture doesn’t even know what it is losing is real community, real relationships. We have a real fight on our hands that has become more intense than perhaps any time in history yet a fight to show people the way of love and community, rather than the way of selfishness, sin and death. Our readings give some clues about how we can choose the first path rather than the second.
In our first reading we see Saul getting jealous of the way David is being promoted by the population. David was getting all the praise and Saul is cross. He’s the king, the people should love him first and so he wants to have David killed. Jonathan his son and ally of David turns to his father and says, I know you want to kill David, but do you remember that actually all his achievements have been good news for you? You know the Philistines who David defeated because you asked him too? David is on your side, what’s the problem?
Saul you see has done that classic thing that so often leads to the destruction of community. He, jealous of David, is completely blind to the fact that David is on his side and is bringing success to the kingdom. All Saul can see is an enemy and not the faithful ally that David actually is. Jonathan does the Godly thing of showing Saul the truth, through gentle explanation. We need to be so careful not to be like Saul – it is so easy to feel someone is stepping on our toes, or getting in our way and conflict starts. The thing is that the conflict often isn’t anything to do with whatever the argument is about, it is almost always about power. My friends power plays do not have a place in community. We are asked to be servants of Christ for a reason. We are invited, whenever possible, to serve others, to look for others good before our own, to create relationship, fellowship. You see how much conflict happens when two people look to serve the others needs more than their own. Jonathan, blood brother of David, displays this admirably.
In our Gospel reading we hear how the Servant King, healing people, teaching and loving people has gathered an almost unimaginable crowd. His fame has begun to spread, in modern terms Jesus would be said to be trending. People, even from neighbouring countries have travelled by foot many miles to see Jesus. In our modern world of self-promotion, modern influencers would use this as an opportunity to make a powerplay, gather supporters, spread the word and see what they can get for the power they wield, with little care for those who have lent that support. So many people choose selfish power over love. Jesus does something quite different, something that many in our modern connected world would find foolish. Right at the end, talking about Jesus casting out demons, we hear Jesus ordering them not to spread the news about who He is. In the gospel of Mark particularly, this is a repeating theme, Jesus heals someone and explicitly asks them not to share what has happened. Jesus shows here that He isn’t trying to gain a power base, He isn’t selfishly building a kingdom of power. He is building a kingdom of love, one that is built on service to neighbour and to God. His is a kingdom of community and love. His kingdom is truly not of this world. This is so counter cultural in our world, isn’t it? It shouldn’t be, but it is. We are invited, like Jesus to serve others for no other gain or goal than simply to have served them and loved them for their own sake. Jesus tells us this again and again, admonishing us to pray in private, not for applause, to give alms in secret, not for power or prestige. To be a servant of love and through that love a builder of community. We are invited to serve without hope of reward, for our reward is stored in paradise.
In both our readings today we can see people choosing to serve in love, and forming community under Christ we call church. My friends we live in a changing world that has increasing opportunity to move towards selfishness rather than love. The powerful pull towards selfishness, enabled more and more through technology, is one of the reasons why not just churches but other community groups are finding it harder and harder to find people who will be community together. So the question is, are we willing to be that radical community that loves and serves everyone, that doesn’t make powerplays, that is so inviting, not even the power of technology can keep people from flocking to the Lord. Amen