While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. All who heard the word, that is, except those whose heads were bowed, whose hearts were pulled this way and that, the ones who were checking their bank balances or reading the scriptures for the morning online.
It’s not that faith requires of us full concentration or a heart dedicated to the study of the bible and the other writings that are the core of our beliefs, a church filled with scholars is not required for us all to benefit from the promises of God, although it’d be nice to see a couple more at Tuesday night Bible Study, but it is simpler than that.
It is also not that a faithful life must be devoid of technology, free from the blinking, flashing, colorful distractions that our modern world brings us, delivers to our doors with such excitement and with so many promises. Most of which, it must be said, go unfulfilled, no computer has ever made my life easier, it has simply made it easier to make my life more complicated, filled with more things, more websites for me to subscribe to, more blogs, vlogs, feeds, and podcasts to fill up all of the leisure time I was supposed to have in the modern world, according to the promises made fifty years ago.
By the way, where the heck is my jet car? Of all the promises made, that is the one I really want.
No, the path we tread these days is not one of denial or of turning away or of striving to live clean and unobstructed lives of faith; I’ve never found an unobstructed path to faith, and if you do, please let me know where it is.
It must have been nice in Peter’s day to be able to walk the earth for years and run into people whose lives were so much simpler that they had the time to stop everything and listen, that “everything” to them was likely the tool that they had in their hand, their minds wandering to be sure as they worked, but I’ll bet not as far and wide as the average twelve year old these days, what with their access to all of the scientific knowledge of the past few centuries, at their fingertips for some of them, their access to volumes and volumes of literature, essays and great thoughts and, of course, their access to endless, mind-numbing games, spit out one after another by the distraction industry.
I’m certain that they had vivid imaginations back in Peter’s day, and flights of fancy and distraction were not foreign to them, but they had to, for the most part, come up with them themselves as there was nobody standing by to provide them, no Madison Avenue, no video-industrial complex vying for each and every shred of attention they have left.
Maybe that’s the legacy of man, outside of faith, to continually create industries that consume him.
But trying to go back, back to the days when Peter and Paul and John strode the earth seeking out the least and the lost and guiding them to faith; that will not make faith easier, we cannot shuffle off this technological coil and think of ourselves as immediately more apt to find holiness, to find Jesus hidden amongst the detritus of our old lives. Sure we’d have more time to look, but that is no guarantee.
The thing is, I love my smart phone, and my DVR and my laptop and the computer in my office with two monitors so I can have a reference work open on one screen and the sermon on the other, studying whilst I write, or as likely, a movie up on one and my email account on the other, a trick I learned from my wife; there is not a shortage of distractions in my life either and I think of myself as reasonably faithful.
It is too late to turn back and chuck it all and start afresh, we are here now, and have to figure out how to be here, be here now and live lives of abundance, the way Christ intended, filled with faith and the joy of walking with the Lord and all of the benefits of living in the knowledge of our salvation.
It is in a lot of ways regrettable that we pine away for the past, for the “simpler” times as if returning there would solve our problems. It itself is a pleasant distraction from the realities of our lives but it will not bring those days back.
Plus it encourages us to live in a fantasy world where everything was better “back then” as if they hadn’t invented sin yet.
But no, we live here and this is where we minister and unless we know what is going on outside these doors we will never succeed in reaching the people outside these doors because we will be speaking a different language, a dead language out of the past.
Another option is what has become all the rage, churches inviting the congregation to text the pastor during the service or the sermon with questions about the scriptures or complaints about the sermon or with clever observations about something in the world of faith. I read about these things and I wonder at where our patience went.
Suddenly, everything has to be delivered instantly, like ketchup. Remember the old Anticipation ads for Heinz Ketchup, the ones with the Carly Simon song playing in the background? Once was a time you dreaded opening a new bottle of ketchup because it was so hard to get started, people traded ketchup bottle techniques, like slapping the side of the bottle or digging in there with a butter knife, but we all knew that it would be rewarded in time when the ruby goodness was swirled across our burger.
Once considered a virtue of ketchup, its rich thick consistency, was revealed to be a flaw in later years and solved with the advent of the squeeze bottle so you can get the darned stuff out easier.
We have become too enamored, I think, of convenience, of getting to the end the easy way, of making pizza delivery faster, ketchup faster, the internet faster, that we think that we should be able to get answers to all of our questions the same way, quick and easy, just text the pastor during the sermon and then wait, staring at the screen, for them to answer.
So the lure of constant contact with the World Wide Web, taken to the extreme in the late great Google Glass experiment that gratefully, seems to have come to a close. With Glass attached to your face, so was everything in the world, you look at something and glass finds it on the web for you so you can walk around distracted by Wikipedia in every single second, the dream of all mankind; that lure is ever present and so potent that we will seek it out even when the time has come for a bit of quietude, a bit of anticipation.
But let’s face it; the human being hasn’t gotten a ton more complex in the past five hundred, a thousand, two thousand years. We may know a whole lot more but that’s just more stuffing for our heads, the heads themselves have remained largely unchanged and so with all of the input, there must also be a resultant output, not necessarily productive work, just some things getting shoved out of our heads as we seek to cram ever more stuff into them.
We make less and less room for things that are human, for things that are all about God, for the things that bind us together as a people, as a club, as a church as a bowling league and we replace them with the pretension of mastery, the presumption that even if we do not know, we are merely seconds away from knowing and so we are the masters of this world and not merely its inhabitants.
The problem is that mastery will not deliver you from yourself, from the very nature of Mankind, that we are subject to sin, to error. The vast wonders of the internet have been turned into a playground of sin, with so much pornography that it is estimated that fully thirty percent of the traffic on the internet is devoted to it and so immersing yourself in the technology of the day makes it increasingly unlikely that you will never run into dirty pictures or videos and all of that is because the internet was not built by God, it was built by people.
Who are subject to sin.
Maybe that’s the secret, maybe our problem is that we insist on being the subject of every sentence, constantly shouting out about our mastery, trying with every fiber of out being to find and to know and to understand and to control and to master so much so that we cannot feel the hand of God upon us, cannot hear the voice of the Spirit calling to us over the din, cannot see that we are called into a ministry of reconciliation with one another, into relationship with each other and thereby into relationship with God because of all of the screens that occupy our vision.
We cannot make them go away but we can hold onto what is true, what is the promise, where God in Christ can be found in our lives.
It is a question people ask me, “How can I get more in touch with my faith?” and it always surprises me. After all, if you wanted to get more in touch with painting, you’d take a class, or go to where people are painting. The same thing is true of faith.
It is to be found among other people, people of all walks of life and all ages and all colors and all creeds, not just Lutherans. It is revealed to us when we gather together in Christ’s name and sing to His glory and pray for the welfare of others and reach out and embrace one another, sharing the peace of Christ.
Not only is faith to be found there, in the sharing, in the relationships, but Jesus is there as well. Wherever two or more are gathered, don’t you know, there is the love of Jesus present, not just showering upon us but drawing us to one another, across lines that the world outside thinks of as impenetrable, lines that are drawn all the more starkly on the internet with its tendency to amplify differences.
And it is all too often the love of God in Christ Jesus that is drowned out by all of the distractions. It is a whisper, a beckoning look, an urge from above to seek and to find and to be found but it is not a scream. It is like the earth under our feet or the sky above our heads, so omnipresent that we stop actively thinking about it, it fades into the background, replaced in our consciousness by newer things, smaller things, but newer and shinier and flashier and oh, yes, louder things.
If we are to truly bear the fruit of the kingdom of God then we might want to, from time to time, shut things off for a moment and simply be present to the Lord’s callings, the voice of the Spirit asking not that we live lives of righteousness and purity but that we live in the knowledge of our salvation and let that be our power, our guide, our glory.
It doesn’t have to be all day every day, just time to time, so that we get a little better at picking out God’s voice amidst the din until soon it will be, not the background noise of a busy world, but the beautiful, the celestial music of the creation, singing to us of God’s love, of God’s promise and of our place in it.
Like painting, the way to get better is to do it, to practice from time to time until you no longer have to ask how you might get more in touch with your faith, it will be the rhythm of your world, a blessing to your every step and the sure confidence to live freely, abundantly, hopefully as in filled with hope because God’s presence alongside you is not in the abstract, you can feel it and taste it and see it.
It asks only that you accept, again only from time to time, that you are the object of the sentence and not the subject. You are the object and God is the subject and the verb is love, in you through you to you and upon you the verb is love, God’s love for you is every a part of your life and all you have to do is tune your heart to heart it.
In that there is joy, as God intended for us, there is joy.