Rev. Sarah Buteux
March 10, 2019
Lent 1, Year C
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led
by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
Forty days out in the wilderness with nothing to do…without anything to eat…with no one to talk to.
When’s the last time you found yourself with nothing to do, without anything to eat, with no one to talk to?
It’s almost impossible to imagine, isn’t it?
I’m not saying that we’re never bored, hungry, or lonely. Boredom, hunger, and loneliness are part and parcel of the human condition. They dog us at every step.
But do any of us ever allow ourselves to truly feel those things anymore? Or do we pick up our phones the moment the light turns red, the moment we get in line at the grocery store, the moment the conversation starts to drift?
The moment hunger strikes, do you find yourself googling restaurants or the weekly menu you’ve stored on your phone? I do. Just like I swipe for the maps program the moment I get lost or click on instagram the moment I start to feel lonely. When I don’t know what to do next with myself I check the news. And if there’s nothing new to see there, I can always play a game.
If there’s an actor I recognize, but can’t name, a question I have, but can’t answer, a place I’ve never been, but want to see, a dish I want to eat, but have never made, a person I need to speak with, but don’t actually want to talk to, Hallelujah – I can pick up my phone.
If there is a problem I need to fix, a moment I long to fill, or a fear I need to assuage, I pick up my phone. And if the answer is not there, you won’t believe what is…number 4 will shock you, number 7 will leave you in tears, and by the time you’ve made it all the way to number 10, chances are, you’ll have forgotten what was troubling you in the first place….
But where was I? Oh yes… forty days in the wilderness.
Forty days wherein Jesus was forced to confront his limitations, his hungers, his fears. Forty days that probably wouldn’t have done Jesus all that much good if he had brought his smart phone.
So we should probably all give up our smart phones for Lent, shouldn’t we? Everyone except for Barbara, who had the good sense never to buy one in the first place. You might think that’s where I’m going with this, but I’m not. Because, how can I?
I actually sat down with Andrew a week ago and said, “help me think through how I can give up my smart phone for Lent and still do my job.” And here is what I realized. All the fun, entertaining, boredom busting bits aside: this is not just my cell phone, this is also my home phone. We got rid of our phone years ago, along with our Television, my cookbooks, our CD collection, and our newspaper subscription.
Thanks to this phone I don’t need to carry a date book with my calendar and contacts or be in my office to receive and respond to e-mails or messages. There are no longer maps in my car or even quarters for parking. This phone is also a camera, a calculator, and a compass. It’s my filing cabinet and my flash light.
If I forget my wallet, I have apple pay. If the wi-fi goes down, I can create a personal hot spot. If someone has an emergency, they can text me in an instant. This is our family photo album, my watch, our alarm clock, kitchen timer, and home thermostat. It is my morning devotional and my fitness tracker. It is where I keep every list and random note.
It is how I keep in touch with the people I love and keep track of everything I need to do. Leaving the house without my phone is like leaving the house without my pants…I just can’t do it anymore, and you wouldn’t want me to try.
And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. It’s simply technology at work – the application of advanced knowledge for practical purposes. Technology has always been with us, and it’s not going to stop progressing, because as humans we will always look for new and improved ways to live out our lives.
The problem is when our technology starts to rob us of our humanity, and that temptation has always been around too. From the fruit in the garden of Eden to machines that can split atoms, we can use our powers for good or for evil, to worship God or to play God, to live more deeply into the fullness of our humanity or to escape from truly living at all.
There is nothing new under the sun. Which is why the temptations Jesus encountered in the wilderness are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago.
Take the first temptation – Satan’s offer to turn stone into bread. It’s a strange one, isn’t it? Because when you think about it, there’s nothing inherently wrong with bread. There’s no reason God would ever withhold it from anyone, least of all a beloved child who has just spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.
But if Jesus has come to live into the fullness of his humanity, then the temptation he is being asked to grapple with here is not carbs. What Satan is really tempting him to do, is use his power to circumvent the inconvenience of being human.
In this case, it is the temptation to give into instant gratification, to have it your way, right away. And it sounds good. I mean who doesn’t want what they want right now. We all do. That’s the basic definition of wanting. And boy do the good folks in silicon valley know how to cater to that desire.
I mean, how great is it that you can locate your child in an instant with GPS, get an immediate response from your co-worker about that report, or text your partner to pick up milk on the way home? It’s all so re-assuring and convenient.
Except for the fact that it also means they can find you at any moment, ask you for anything, and if you don’t respond in an instant people automatically assume you must be dead. Turns out, that’s actually a lot of pressure to live with.
And how amazing is it that you can watch as many episodes of the exact show you want to watch at exactly the moment you want to watch it? But maybe you’ve noticed that it’s getting harder and harder to keep track of what you’ve already watched, possibly because you can’t stop playing candy crush at the same time.
And it’s not like you can ask your co-workers around the water cooler or even your partner at home about the plot because we’re all watching different seasons of different shows at different times on different screens in different parts of the house.
This phone makes it possible to catch up with friends on instagram while helping your child with their homework, keep tabs on that project even while you’re on vacation, and watch the kids tuck themselves in at night even though you’re away on business.
It offers the promise of a world where there is never a missed communication, because we are always connected, never a dull moment, because we can do two things at once, never a wasted minute because we can be two places at the same time.
Except that we can’t. Not really. Multitasking is an illusion. You can’t do two things at once any more than you can be be two places at once. It’s a lie. You’re just forcing your brain to toggle back and forth like mad, and if you suspect it might be driving you crazy… you’re right.
How many of you have been multitasking for so long now that you find it almost impossible to slow down enough to truly focus and be present with any one thing no matter how good it is: a novel, a conversation, your child, your spouse?
Or how about this. How many of you have been so excited to finally get family or friends together in the same room for a special occasion only to watch in dismay as everyone interacts with their screens rather than each other?
With all this knowledge at our finger tips we feel like we’re omniscient, but how many of us are finding it harder and harder to remember the really important things we shouldn’t forget?
Friends, the truth Jesus needed to grapple with is still the truth we need to grapple with as well: God might be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, but we are not.
This phone creates the illusion that you are infinite, but you are a finite resource. Your love, your time, your attention, you yourself are precious precisely because you are limited. Don’t let Satan, or anything else, tell you otherwise.
Jesus needed to know that and accept that about himself before he went out into a world that would always ask for more of him than he could give, and we do too.
You are precious. And you know what else is precious? Other people. Which is why, when the bread thing didn’t work, Satan took Jesus up to a high place, showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and said, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority …worship me, (and) it will all be yours.”
Now Satan knows that Jesus has come to save us. He knows that God has taken on a human body in order to enter into relationship with us and show us that there is a better way to live and love in this world. And Satan knows how challenging relationships can be, so he basically says to Jesus, why bother?
Why not skip to end and just make them do what you want? You already know your way is best. So let me control you, and in exchange I’ll give you the power to control them. Worship me and I’ll make them follow you. Bow down to me and I’ll make them love you.
Sounds like a bad deal if you ask me, and yet is it really that different from the deal we enter into with apps like instagram or facebook? Apps people literally spend hours bowing over to see just how many people love what they just posted.
With Satan’s help, Jesus could have forced people to like him, obey him, agree to everything he said. Jesus could have lived in a world where everyone thought he was just the best. Satan totally had the filter for that. But Jesus didn’t. Because if he had, none of it would have been real.
The truth is that real relationships are hard and messy. Real relationships take time and attention, give and take, patience and forgiveness. People don’t always see things our way. They don’t always do what we want, even when it’s in their best interest. They let us down and break our hearts.
When we enter into real relationship with people, we make ourselves vulnerable to them, and that is scary, which is another reason why all these new technologies and apps can be so tempting. Sherry Turkel says part of the reason they are so enticing is because they “give us the illusion of friendship without the deeper demands and complexities of relationship.” Thanks to these phones, we don’t need to deal with one another, rely on one another, or work things out with another the way we used to.
As long as I have my phone with me, I don’t have to ask for directions or recommendations from strangers. Now I just do it to mess with people. Why go to the trouble of talking to your neighbor about, say, borrowing a shovel, when amazon can have a brand new one on your doorstep by tomorrow?
I can tell you what I think on facebook and if you like it, I’ll like you back. And if my little meme is particularly good, I can watch those likes rack up until lots of people I don’t even know like me…really like me…like, a lot! Talk about glory!
And if you don’t like me, I can just block you. No muss. No fuss. No trying to work through things or go deeper. I can surround myself with people who like me because they are like me, until it feels like all the good people in the world agree with me. But is it any of it real?
Jesus could have lived in a world like that, a world where everyone liked him and he liked them because they did exactly what he wanted them to do all the time. But he said, “no,” to Satan. He chose another way.
“If you love me, keep my commandments,” he said. “If you love me…”. It’s a pretty big “if.” It left him incredibly vulnerable. But again, that is part of what it is to be human. Which brings us to the final temptation, the one where Satan tempts Jesus to test God.
This ones a little harder to pin down. Satan tempts Jesus to test God, to force God’s hand, to make God do what Jesus wants him to do.
Imagine for a moment if you had that kind of power – power over God. We’re talking complete control of everything from life to death. We’re talking no limits. We’re talking no fear. We’re talking about re-writing reality such that we become God.
It may sound crazy, but advances in medicine, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, are increasingly taking us to such a place.
Which is not to say that technology is evil. It’s not. But it’s not neutral either. It’s never going to stop trying to help us overcome our limits. Which means it’s up to us to remember that it is our limits that give life meaning.
Jesus said, “no” to the devil. He said, “no” to a life without limits. He said, “no,” because that’s not why God put him here. And he said, “no,” to remind us that it’s not why you and I have been put here either.
Jesus came that we might know life and know it to the full. God placed you here to live, and Lent is the perfect time to examine what you’re doing with this one “wild and precious gift” you’ve been given. Are you using the technology at your disposal to live more fully, or is it using you?
Are you making it do what you want it to do in exchange for all this power and glory, or is it making you do things you know you really shouldn’t be doing at all? I mean really, who is bowing down to who as you walk around everywhere with this little phone?
And finally, are you using it to relieve you from genuine burdens or is it simply distracting you from burdens you should not want to be rid of?
There are so many things in life we don’t want to do because they’re hard or dull – getting up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, teaching a child to read, listening to your dad tell you the same story for the third time this week – but think of what is lost when we outsource that work to technology or simply distract ourselves from the task, the need, the person right in front of us. Think of what we miss because our hands and our heads are always so full of other things.
Let me tell you a little story and then I’ll close.
A few months ago, Laura sent me a blog post by Rachel Stafford, a mother who took her daughter to Rwanda on a short term missions trip. There was very limited internet there, so when they went out during the day they left their phones at the cultural center where they were staying.
And while they were out traveling, riding on busses, working with children, a curious thing happened. Rachel noticed that her 15 year old daughter kept reaching for her hand. It took her awhile to realize that it wasn’t just because her daughter was moved by the stories they were hearing or the beauty all around them.
She realized that the reason her daughter kept reaching for her hand was because their hands were finally free.
e can be free too.
Free to say, “no,” to a life without limits.
Free to say, “yes” to life as God meant for it to be.