This morning we’re continuing our sermon series on rest. We’ve got three more Sundays to go on this topic and these last three are going to be focused on specific areas of our lives: today we’re looking at technology and we’re going to begin in perhaps an unexpected place!
[READ Numbers 13:26-33]
I want to start our sermon this morning about technology with some technology—specifically with a video clip that sets the stage pretty well I think. It’s an interview with Fred Rogers, who was “Mr. Rogers” for children on TV for 33 years. In this video clip he’s talking about a book he’s publishing.
“I’m very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder; in noise rather than silence. How do we do that? In our business—yours and mine—how do we encourage reflection? I trust that this book will do some of that, but, oh my this is a noisy world.”
The interest in information rather than wonder—in noise rather than silence—is nothing new. In fact it’s a repetitive result of an ancient problem: we become too focused on ourselves—our own power, our sphere of influence, our abilities (and inabilities). We become enamoured with making a name for ourselves (do you remember the Tower of Babel?) This is the problem of the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land: they are focused on the information at hand (on “doing the math” as it were) rather than pausing to reflect on the wonder of the God who has led them this far.
The simple fact of history is that Israel at this time was a small and impoverished nation in the grand scheme of the ancient world. They didn’t even have a place to call home! We might think that the ancient world revolved around the Israelites, but historically they were of little consequence—certainly they were much smaller than the Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires. The Egyptians, for one, were well-established in the iron age—with metal wheels, chariots, and metal-tipped weapons. It’s almost certain that the Canaanites were as well. The Israelites can clearly see, even in this story, that they were technologically behind the other nations around them. The spies come back and say, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31).
And here’s the problem: whenever we try to make a name for ourselves, we sometimes succeed and sometimes we do not–but always we end up drawing lines. We are forever creating new ways to try to create honour for ourselves. With our new creations, new technologies, and new measures come new groups. These new groups come with more promises and possibilities, but also with different people excluded.
The end of every technological advance is to advantage some and to disadvantage others. Do you have the new iPhone? If you do, you’re in! If you don’t, you’re behind. Are you able to receive new experimental treatments? What a blessing if you are! But what a curse if you are not.
What does this mean for our use of technology? What does this mean for the good news of Jesus Christ? We’re talking tech today, so let’s watch another video! This is a 2-minute clip. It’s a shortened version of a larger video, which uses honour and shame terminology to show what our human technology and creations gain us—and also what only Jesus Christ wins for us!
I hope you see after this video that Technology is another of those things that promises honour. It says that the present and the future will be better, easier, and safer. As with any group, it says that you will get honour and have “the good life” if you join in! This is also the promise held out by the “Promised Land” in the OT! It’s a land flowing with milk and honey—a land where the present and the future will be better, easier, and safer.
Technology is another human attempt at making a name for ourselves. That doesn’t mean that our phones or our medical procedures are bad or evil. It simply means that we need to be careful and intentional not to put our hope in them.
The good things into which we pour our hope become idols, which separate us from God—from the ultimate source of wonder in the world. Put another way, technology reinforces the worldview some of us have of the limited good. Technology is good, make no mistake! But there is only so much to go around. There is never enough technology and what exists always serves to divide people into ever-finer groups. Thus, whether we are the “haves” or the “have-nots” we all grow weaker for our loss of one another. The Israelites enter Canaan from the perspective of the “have-nots”.
When we engage with technology, some of us know the shame of living on outside of groups. We know what it’s like not to have the newest and best. We grieve the loss of family members who didn’t get into the right programs that could help them or even save their lives! Others of us are very much on the inside of technology groups! We always make sure to get the newest and best. We are connected, we are powerful. We enjoy the perks and privileges of being treated well in our circles.
If you remember only one thing this morning, I want it to be this: if you gauge your worth and your honour in relation to technology, you will always be let down—either you will be let down immediately or you will be let down eventually. As Jayson Georges says in the video, human honour and status is temporary.
There is a challenge for those who have made a name for ourselves and have created honour for ourselves because of technology! Enjoy it! Enjoy technology as a part of God’s good creation, but remember two things:
- The goodness and honour technology creates is temporary. Where will you look for eternal goodness and honour?
- The goodness and honour technology creates is exclusionary. How can you usetechnology to offer others something even better?
There is comfort as well for those of us who have missed out on a name for ourselves and who have experienced shame because of technology. There’s all kinds of shame—being a “have-not” is one; but being excluded, picked fun of, or being made to be self-conscious are others.
No matter which group you are, the comfort and the challenge are the same.
God is not taking us to some new place, he is drawing us to himself. We should not be pleased because of our good deeds (or big dreams or accomplishments), but because of our right relationship with God. And when we have no good deeds, no accomplishments, and little to claim for ourselves, we can remember: “Jesus’ resurrection from the dead builds a new bridge: from death to life, from earth to heaven, and from shame to honor.” This way back to God is for everyone. There is no advantage based on who you are and no disadvantage based on what you have done. This is the scandal—and the wonder—of the gospel! The good news of Jesus as the way back to God offers rest for those who are always running after the next trend. You can take a break! You can find your honour and comfort somewhere else! But Jesus as the way back to God also offers rest to those who are excluded and left behind: you can have the glory and honour and life of Jesus if you join him—no strings attached! You don’t need to perform or achieve or compete!
I’ve used several up-to-date illustrations this morning; so I want to close with an “out of date” one—a few words from Oswald Chambers, a Scottish preacher in the early 1900s. He writes,
“Our tendency today is to put the emphasis on service. Beware of the people who make their request for help on the basis of someone’s usefulness. If you make usefulness the test, then Jesus Christ was the greatest failure who ever lived.”Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest. August 30. www.utmost.org (Accessed August 30, 2022).
In our technological world, usefulness is the greatest test. And Jesus Christ is seen to be a failure. Perhaps a noble man, even one with good ideas, but a failure nonetheless. … Perhaps this is why Christians in our modern age struggle with our faith so often and so deeply. We simply don’t find Jesus useful. But Oswald continues,
“For the saint, direction and guidance come from God Himself, not some measure of that saint’s usefulness. It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that our Lord gives His attention to in a person’s life is that person’s relationship with God— something of great value to His Father. Jesus is “bringing many sons to glory…”Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest. August 30. www.utmost.org (Accessed August 30, 2022).
To be loved by God, we do not need to be useful to him. We need only to be in relationship with him. Last week I closed the sermon with a challenge for you: every Sunday in September, do nothing that you know to be work. If you are going to take me up on that challenge—even if you’re going to try it today—here’s something to do with the extra time you’ll have: take time to wonder at God’s love for you. Take time to reflect and wonder—to stand amazed—at God’s grace which would welcome even you (and me)—also those you love. Even those you hate!
Jesus’ death was not the failure we imagine our deaths would be. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the bridge back to God!
Praise God for his gift to us in Jesus Christ!