4/4/22 Devotional from Ed
April 4, 2022
Here's a copy of yesterday's sermon, written in narrative style.
Text: Mark 6:30-32
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” If Jesus told us to do this, could we do it? And, if this was today, do we think he would think about delivering this message over text?
And once we got to this deserted place, how long would it take before we reached for our phone? Just for a minute. Just to check the social medias. Just to check the scores.
Would we even be comfortable in a quiet, deserted place? Or would be uncomfortable with the silence?
This week’s spiritual discipline is unplug, a discipline that is very, very rare in our current world.
Just the other day, Hal, Will, and I were eating somewhere and noticed a group of high school students, six of them, all on their phones around the table, and because the tables were close together and because I guess I’m nosy, it was pretty easy to figure out they were playing a game against each other on their phones. You
In that moment, they were communicating with each other strictly through digital means.
And here I am sounding like the “get off my lawn” guy, but I found myself doing something I know I shouldn’t, judging, and told Hal and Will please don’t do that down the road whenever the time comes for their phone.
But was it fair for me to judge?
Some of you in the pews know this already, but higher education administration is a profession that loves a good icebreaker, and if you’re quiet like me, have no problem being an introvert like me, then this causes some anxiety.
I know there have to be at least a few people in here who dread those famous words, which, to me anyway, are always spoken by someone who had too much coffee and has too much energy:
“Before we get started, we’re going to do a quick icebreaker just to let everyone know who’s in the room. Give everyone a chance to get to know each other better.”
We’ve all had to do “fun” icebreakers at times...2 truths and a lie, never have I ever, perhaps one involving different colors of candy, even Bill Wannamaker did one at the congregational retreat.
When I first started working at Carolina, I had to play along with the extroverted crowd with all of the icebreakers. And, in my first or second year in admissions, during some icebreaker, I answered a question that still relates to my personality eighteen years later.
The question was “what’s your best talent?” This one can be tricky. I can’t really do anything all that unique like whistle, I’m definitely not Michael Jordan on the basketball court, and I thought it would sound a little weird if I told everyone that I can tell you the score of Carolina football games from the 1980s on. That, unfortunately, is still true.
I was a new employee at USC, so I didn’t want to sound too weird. That kind of felt like wearing the band t-shirt at their own concert.
So, in an effort to sound way cooler than I actually am, I gave an answer that probably sounded worse than any of those other things: “I’m good at memorizing the Internet. Specifically sports stuff.”
So I became “Internet guy” for a long time. A few comments I heard: “What did you learn on the Internet last night, Ed? Who’s the nation’s forty-third best high school punter, Internet sports guy?”
It could be worse. But, it signified to me that perhaps my love for the Internet, specifically the Internet sports world, may have been unhealthy. And just this week, I found myself looking up random things on Jay Wright and Bill Self, two coaches in this year’s men’s final four.
I love me some good sports stuff. And I love being able to find out what I want and when I want it. If I need to know where Jay Wright was coaching before Villanova, I don’t have to be inconvenienced by asking, or even worse, looking it up in a book!
But what is this doing to our ability to communicate with each other? With God? And is some of this useless knowledge all that important?
I think it is, but am I doing it at the expense of continuing to draw close to God? Aren’t disciples supposed to follow God at all times?
One of the many things I appreciate about our church family is we’re unafraid to call ourselves disciples. We claim it, knowing that while we’re imperfect, we accept the good news that yes, we are children of God, yes, we belong to a God who loves us, despite our many imperfections. As our youngest disciples so willingly remind us, “NO, we don’t have to be perfect for God’s love.”
That’s definitely good news when we look at the stories in the gospels about the disciples, especially in Mark. So, see if this description of disciple resonates: This is from a commentary on Mark’s gospel:
“Disciples struggle between living on God’s terms and living on human terms. The disciples strive to live on God’s terms, leaving all to follow Jesus, clearly able to take risks. At the same time, they live on ‘human terms,’ preoccupied with their own security, status, and power.”
And they do choose to live on God’s terms. Look at the action of the disciples in our reading this morning – they gather around Jesus, told him all they’d done, all of the people they added to the team, all of the prayers they said. They’d worked hard! They had worked so hard that Jesus tells them to go to some deserted place to rest and pray by themselves. They had been so easy they didn’t even have time to eat a sandwich. Jesus says, Now is that time to rest. Go do it."
Two thousand years later, if those disciples were given those instructions today, if we believe they’re anything like us, what do you think they would do? Do you think they’d go and pray, maybe get something to eat? Or, do you think they would check in on an app...maybe log in their steps from the day if they don’t have an app already tracking it...I mean it’s been a ton of steps trying to catch up to all of these people who have heard about this Jesus man. And if they were eating a sandwich, would they log in the ingredients to get a calorie count?
It is really, really hard to sit down by yourself now and not grab your phone. I know I do it....I mean, there’s a sports Internet to memorize!
But, what if we did this...sounds crazy, I know. What if we just stopped. What if we just sat there.
What if we just sat there and ate our lunch? And then what if we just sat there, ate our lunch, savored it, and then did something else...ask, “God, what’s your plan for me today? How can I get closer to you?
Lord, am I letting you teach me today? Or, am I letting TV, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok teach me?
Reminding me of all of the fun places where everyone else went that I didn’t, reminding me of their great lives while I’m stuck in the same, boring routine, reminding me of why my team will never get better?
What else could I learn from you by simply unplugging from all of the noise? Just for 30 minutes? What if I gave you my full attention instead of giving you my full attention until I get a text? What if I was intentional about finding my deserted place?
That sounds great, but is it realistic? Who are we kidding? My cell phone provides me comfort. Security. My calendar is right there. Google assistant tells me what’s due. I just got a new phone a couple of months ago, and I get all sorts of notifications that I can’t turn off and yet I find sometimes helpful or interesting. Oh, it’s going to be eight degrees cooler today. Chris Rock did a standup show and barely addressed the Will Smith slap. Thanks, Google, for keeping me in the loop!
Hang on. Here comes a text. Sorry, God. Hang on. I need to watch this clip real quick. And because that text came from a coworker, that got me thinking...probably need to check my work email again. It’s been 2 minutes. Hang on, God. My work needs me.
I mean after all, work never stops. Jesus wants me to do my job, right???
To answer that question, the question of whether or not Jesus wants me to do “my job,” I think he would respond with something esoteric, maybe give me a parable to think about, one that would take me a second, and then I would find the hidden meanings: I’m addicted to noise, even if I don’t want to admit it. And perhaps I have my various jobs in the wrong order.
My guess is if he gave us a parable, it would have something to do with the word “deserted.”
The unplugged desert for many of us can be uncomfortable. The unplugged desert is not Instagram worthy. And a world where we are deserted from our phones, from any noise, is scary.
But while a deserted place is uncomfortable, maybe it even feels lonely when we don’t have our phones right by our side, God still finds a way to penetrate. No texting involved or even needed.
And when it’s quiet, when it’s deserted, and when we reflect back on those words from Scripture, we’re reminded that God is at work, even in our most arid deserts. Maybe your desert is grief. Anger. Addiction. Or maybe your desert is your insecurity when you put down your phone.
The Bible tells us of God being work for the Israelites in the desert and Jesus in the wilderness. The Bible tells us that God is at work for a barren woman. The Bible tells us that God is at work for those who have lost hope.
But in those stories of hopelessness, of barrenness, Scripture also reminds us of the importance of communicating with God. Of going to God with your pleas. Pouring out your guts. Being vulnerable when you are in the desert. Being open with God without distractions.
This morning, all Forest Lake members received an email inviting them to join the FLPC Unplug Team . All you need to do to be on this team is click the register link in the email, and then you’re on the team. And once a day, just this week, you’ll receive a reminder from the church to unplug for at least 30 minutes.
Spend these thirty minutes being intentional about strengthening your relationship with your Creator. Spend time reading devotionals, praying, reading Scripture, being open to God. Consider it your deserted place.
By joining this team, we're telling God, “we're ready to grow in our discipleship.” And if we commit to these thirty minutes daily, see if it has made a difference after a week. The hope is that our unplugged desert brings us closer to the one who provides the living water.
Prayer: Forgive us, O God, for the times we are addicted to our screens – phones, tablets, television, laptops – instead of addicted to your Word. Forgive us, O God, for our tendency to be more interested in the gossip we see on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok instead of showing genuine interest in the “least of these.” Forgive us, O God, for our willingness to send texts and emails instead of engaging in hard or meaningful verbal conversations. Cleanse our hearts, minds, and egos of our technology addiction, O God. Open our eyes to look beyond our screens, and open our hearts to gladly bear your warm love everywhere. Amen.
Work Cited: Rhoads, David. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. Fortress Press, 2012.