May 7, 2017
The Third Sunday after Easter
Today I have a “demonstration” of sorts for you. In your bulletins, you will find a copy of what I have here in my hand. For those of you who did not grab a bulletin, I hope you can read the one I have. Take a minute and read it over.
Dad@hvn, ur spshl. we want wot u want &urth2b like hvn. giv us food & 4giv r sins lyk we 4giv uvaz. don test us! sAv us! bcos we kno ur boss, ur tuf & ur cool 4 eva! k?’
For the uninitiated among us, this probably looks like a new form of transliterated Near Eastern hieroglyphics. For the younger demographic, however, this one’s a no-brainer.
It’s the Lord’s Prayer — or at least a shorthand and post modernized version of it. This particular version by York College (U.K.) student Matthew Campbell won a contest put on by the online Christian magazine Ship of Fools in which entrants were encouraged to update the oft-repeated prayer to read in 160 characters or less — the average length of a mobile phone text message.
Here’s the “literal” translation of the prayer Jesus taught us, err, texted us: “Dad in heaven, you are special. We want what you want and earth to be like heaven. Give us food and forgive our sins like we forgive others. Don’t test us! Save us! Because we know you are boss, you are tough and you are cool forever. Okay?”
Welcome to the world of Generation Text, where the English language, like most everything else in the realm of communication, has been reduced to the smallest of parts.
Text or “instant” messaging (also called SMS, or Short Message Service [No, I didn’t know that. I had to look it up for this sermon. I just assumed it had something to do with something of that nature.]) is rapidly overtaking e-mail and voice as the primary means of communication among adults in many areas of the world. Users can type a quick, shorthand message and instantly fire it off to a friend or coworker’s cell phone — no need to wait for the phone to ring.
A survey by the once Internet giant AOL shows that 59 percent of American Internet users are “texting” each other, with the largest number of those being in the 13-21 age bracket (90 percent of them use it). As with most youth culture trends, text messaging has brought a new and, for some, disturbing transformation of the language.
Take, for example, an essay handed in by a 13-year-old Scottish student describing her summer vacation that was texted beyond recognition by her teacher.
Her teacher was not amused. “I could not believe what I was seeing. The page was riddled with hieroglyphics, many of which I simply could not translate.” Others, like the publisher of a new dictionary, have decried similar shorthand writing as a “degree of crisis” among university students, indicating a serious decline in the proper use of spelling and grammar.
In the post-resurrection experience of the Apostles, the world was being turned upside down. And the first sign of it was that people were hearing and seeing things they couldn’t understand.
The advent of the Holy Spirit was — as it were — the beginning of instant messaging. Jesus had given them a heads-up about this — that the Spirit would translate and disseminate Jesus’ message to and through them: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16:12-15).
Now, as this new matrix begins to unfold, Peter, speaking boldly and using language far beyond his own previous skill and capacity, texts a sermon straight from the Holy Spirit and the Hebrew Scriptures — a wi fi, fired up translation of Israel’s history into “His-story” — the story of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ. “Therefore the entire house of Israel knows with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Christ was short, to the point, and tremendously effective: God has made Jesus Lord and Christ.
In a message that’s tighter than today’s modern blue jeans, you get an impression real quick:
Peter: God has made Jesus Lord and Christ.
People: What shall we do? (2:37).
As with any txt tlk, the message itself can be fleshed out.
Peter argues to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost celebrations that God is the agent of all the changes being seen here. He notes, in the text prior to today’s passage, that it’s the same God who had spoken through the prophets, Joel, in particular.
It was God who worked miracles by empowering Jesus to do them (2:22).
It was God who delivered Jesus into the hands of his enemies (2:23).
It was God who then raised Jesus from the dead (2:24).
It was God who made the covenant with David.
It was God who gave the promised Holy Spirit who has now been “poured out” among us (2:33).
Further, God made Jesus Lord.
It’s a word that was typically not associated with messianic promises, but reserved for God himself. God revealed Jesus to be God, or Lord.
And it was God who made Jesus the Christ, or Messiah.
God. God. God. That’s powerful text.
And disturbing text. The response of the people is quick and brief: “What shall we do?”
It is an appropriate response for all of us. If it is God who gave Jesus power to work miracles, and who delivered Jesus into the hands of his enemies, and raised him from the dead, and who promised us and delivered to us the Holy Spirit, what other question is there for us except, “What shall we do?”
Do we continue to live as though God does not exist? Do we stumble through life in pursuit of earthly pleasures and possessions as though the most important thing is to die with more toys than anyone else? Do we try to shoulder the burdens and responsibilities of life as though there is not a divine Presence to help us with those burdens? Do we live as though we are alone in the universe?
What shall we do? The short answer is “repent.” Metanoia. Change. Turnabout. Turn around. Stop going in one direction and go in another. Do an about-face.
The fruit of that repentance is that we receive the Holy Spirit who mediates the presence of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit acts for us like a text message from the Trinity — the power and word and activity of God given to us in a moment in order to clearly communicate the truth and good news of Christ.
Peter also makes it clear that this movement of the Spirit is going to be widely broadcast across generational and national borders, making this language of good news available to everyone. The disciples were now set to translate the story of Jesus for the rest of the world. They did it in a world where walking was the primary mode of transportation and messaging consisted of rolls of parchment and months-long mail service. We can do it in a world that has become progressively smaller because of technology that enables us to transmit a thought in less than a heartbeat.
In other words, we are hard-wired to use the gift of the Holy Spirit himself and the gifts of the Spirit within us to mass communicate the love of God through Christ to a world where nearly everyone is in reach.
But the core message is simple: God has made Jesus Lord and Christ.
In response, we repent — and begin a new life text-messaging, or life-messaging the Good News to others.
Let us pray.
Father God, You created all things – even those of mankind that created modern communication technology. Through the Holy Spirit, You have been communicating with man since on the sixth day that You created us during creation of the earth. Much has changed since that time, and in Your perfect omnipotence, You have changed how You communicate as well.
The key to Christianity is in those adherents spreading the Good News of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As time has evolved, the message has continued to spread in sometimes remarkable ways and speed. However, we know that there are still many who have not heard of the Good News – or heard it completely – so that they too can follow St. Peter’s advice to repent and be baptized.
In a world where instant message is so common, help each of us to be bold about sharing our faith and helping others to see Your Son as the answer to all the world’s needs. Help us to articulate the message in ways that helps to bring peace to a world that seems to never cease having unrest and hatred. As we continue to evolve, help us to find new and constructive ways of bringing the message of Christ into a world of great need. We ask all this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.