Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Prophets of Cyberspace

The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven
and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem...
Ezekiel 8:3

        Ezekiel is one prophet who would have appreciated the internet.  He seemed to live his life in a kind of virtual reality, slipping in and out of visions, getting teleported in the spirit back and forth from Babylon to Jerusalem, and experiencing the holy presence of God in a form more fearsome and breathtaking than any level boss from a video game.  He had a mind that was wired into spiritual things and that dramatically traversed pathways between matter and spirit. 
        By using the internet more and more and spending greater percentages of our time in cyberspace, we are developing minds like Ezekiel’s.  We experience visions of real or made-up events by calling up Youtube videos.  We send requests and pronouncements instantly across the world by email, twitter and facebook.  We look down on any place on the planet or out into the vastness of space through Google Earth.  Truly these are strange and amazing times we’re living in.
        Having these powers at our fingertips and acquiring new ones with each new app, it is wise to consider what we do with these tempting tools.  All the new knowledge, the potential for great good and increased productivity gained through technology can be offset and even overwhelmed by our tendency to use it to degrade ourselves or others, or to simply waste time.   These technologies are going to continue advancing, and so should our spiritual and ethical awareness about what they’re doing to us.
        With that caution always in mind, I want to recommend a few sites for you to visit next time you journey through the internet.  First off, not surprisingly, is our own website at atonementlutheran.net
Scott Giesking has been managing this site, which started out as a place to post our recordings of Sunday services.  It now houses our newsletter archive as well, and features a brand new up-to-date calendar of church events.
             Take a look at the website of our national church at www.elca.org.  You’ll find news, opportunities to give, resources, and a great “church finder” for when you’re off on vacation.
Our local synod also has a great site at http://www.fbsynod.com/ .  If you haven’t already, submit your email address in the box at the right and receive the synod’s excellent weekly E-Spirit news update to your email.
        You will see the above site has drop down menus at the top, some of which will take you to other sites like the one for Luther Springs and our Florida camps, http://www.lomfla.org/, Daily Devotions http://www.fbsynod.com/resources/daily-devotions or resources for Synod Deacons  http://www.fbsynod.com/ministry/lay-advancement/synod-deacons.
        Looking for a great radio station that plays new Christian music?  You won’t find one better than http://www.lifeairhitradio.com/, run by Atonement members Dave and Krista Jung.
         Because I like to compare various translations when I read or study the Bible, I am a fan of the World Wide Study Bible which includes NRSV and the Message versions of Scripture:
http://www.ccel.org/wwsb/ For an interesting perspective on the news around the world from the religious point-of-view (not just Christianity), I recommend to people
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/, the web site of the PBS show Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.
       These are some of my favorites.  There are also many great sites put up by local churches and aid organizations which tell about the mission work Christians are doing around the world.  I hope you find time in the midst of your summer “surfing,” to check out and be inspired by the positive side of the web.  And if you have any favorites of your own, let me know.
       Oh yeah — Ole and Lena wouldn’t want us to  forget this one:   http://www.oldlutheran.com/
Pastor Scott

Gettin' wet

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high
shall break upon us
to shine light on those
who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet
into the way of peace
Luke 1:78-79
Luke likes to surprise us.  For instance, when we open up his gospel and begin to read — there’s no Jesus.  At the start of the story where we’d expect to hear about the birth of Jesus, or maybe even a list of ancestors of the Messiah (like we have in Matthew), Luke starts by telling someone else’s story.  And that someone is Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.
             Like Jesus, John’s birth is also a miracle, his mother Elizabeth being barren, and presumably past the normal age for child-bearing (Luke 1:7).   Like Jesus, John’s birth is announced by the angel Gabriel, and the trusting in that message becomes a test of faith for his family.  Like Jesus, John is holy, and long before the Christian Pentecost, in fact, while he is still in Elizabeth’s womb, he is said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Like Jesus, John’s birth is an undeniable act of God, a sign of His bright presence shining into a dark world, and good news (Luke 1:19, 2:10) for us all.
        Maybe Luke wants us to see that the Gospel is not just a story about that famous Jesus guy.  John, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Mary all have roles to play before Jesus himself comes onstage.  Each of them are linked to Jesus, and in each of them we see God working.  The Bible really comes alive when we read it as the story of every member of the family of God, whether you’re a cousin or mother or aunt to Jesus, or perhaps, like most of us, His brothers or sisters. 
         One of the most beautiful parts of my weeks at seminary was morning prayer.  Every Monday morning the liturgy we sang from the Lutheran Book of Worship included the Benedictus, the song John’s father Zechariah sings when he names his son.  His song is a thank-you-God, not just for this beautiful baby boy, but for everything that God does for all His people.  The beauty of John’s story, and ours — is that we are all connected through Jesus to the stories of others.  We each have a role in the divine drama, the story of salvation that tells of a God who loves sinners and lights up our dark world to bring to each and every one the possibility of hope.
             Like John, you have a role to play in God’s story.  He was the Fore-runner, the messenger who prepared the way.  We are the ones who come after, but through the witness we make with our lives — deeds of justice and words of kindness, we help set the stage for Christ’s return.  Like John, your birth and presence in this world is a sign of hope for all.  The God who made you made you to share his love.  Like John, you too are a messenger with good news to get out…  God has brought forgiveness and restoration into our lives; God has brought us a Savior!
           During these wet weeks of Summer, we are more likely than not to get drenched a time or two.  It may happen on your way home from the store or on your way to work.  It’s not just the flowers or the grass that need the rain.  When I get wet I think of John the Baptist.  I think of the men, women and children who walked for miles to see him by the Jordan River.  I think about the way he challenged them, dared them to leave their sins behind and go down into that dark water.  I think about them going down, letting the water swallow them up, drowning their past mistakes and mis-steps, then  coming up thoroughly drenched, wide-eyed in the chill desert breeze but washed clean and alive to every breath, alert to every sensation, and with every nerve fiber pulsing with the awareness that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
          Child of God, brother or sister of Jesus — I have a few questions for you: Where do you insert YOUR name into the story of salvation?  How are you giving and receiving God’s grace these days?  What’s our Heavenly Father up to in your heart?  Who have you shared the love of Jesus with today?  And what might God possibly have planned for you tomorrow?  Remember your baptism, and don’t be afraid to get a little wet this Summer!
Pastor Scott