April 11, 2021
(Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday)
(Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31)
In June 2017, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg said that the social media platform with more than 2 billion users is like a church in that users feel part of "a more connected world." But is a virtual community known more for animal videos and political rants really a substitute for what the church is supposed to be? The book of Acts calls us to reconsider what a real church community looks like -- a community with a purpose.
American culture's retreat from traditional in-person social networks like civic groups, service clubs and even churches toward the more isolating kinds of entertainment and interaction made possible by technology.
Mark Zuckerberg founded the social media platform Facebook while a college sophomore at Harvard in 2004. Originally designed as a platform for college students to check one another out, Facebook is now a worldwide network of some 2 billion users who interact with many "friends," some of whom they have never met in person. What was originally a chance to connect and reconnect with new and old friends has morphed into a global phenomenon that purportedly shrinks the distance between people and gives them an opportunity to interact and share themselves with one another.
Studies show that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined by as much as one-quarter. That's a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. For Zuckerberg, that somewhere else is Facebook, which he sees as a postmodern, post-traditional form of "church." "People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity," says Zuckerberg, "not just because they're religious, but because they're part of a community." I am not sure I would equate Facebook with being a church, but the later part is true.
Comparing a virtual church of billions of isolated individuals tapping on keyboards to the real thing will cause most church folk to laugh. But we have to ask the question: What is the church missing that would allow Zuckerberg and millions of others to want to substitute wading through political rants and vacation selfies for real interaction with a living, breathing, worshiping community?
Maybe part of the answer is we need to reach back to the church's roots, and there's no better place to do that than by reading the book of Acts. Almost nobody worships or evangelizes alone in that book and all the interaction is face to face.
This is what the church does. While Facebook's innovation has had an amazing impact in the world by bringing us faces (of friends and family) right to our screen, the church allows us to experience faces -- the faces and lives of people in a community of faith, a community in which we act, serve and work together for the glory of God. We are physically able to share our pains and joys together.
From the very beginning of the book we learn that God, via the Holy Spirit, created this community called church not for the purpose of people merely checking one another out, but for introducing people to the good news of what God had done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The very premise of the community was that God had come in person in Jesus and hadn't settled for sharing a tweet or posting our latest photos of making fools of ourselves. Jesus would form a real community of disciples, complete with their own quirks and flaws, and train them how to interact with others in order to bring them into God's kingdom. The Spirit empowered them for this work and, as a result, the community platform grew by leaps and bounds.
Immediately, this community began connecting in person around tables in their homes, in the temple and through sharing their goods with one another. In our reading, we get a more detailed window into how the community functioned, and it was a lot more about selfless service than selfies!
What we see in someone's Facebook profile is precisely what they want us to see and no more. Those vacation photos, pics of new cars and beautiful selfies are all designed in some way to show everyone else that we're doing quite well, thank you very much. For some people, the goal is to attract more "friends" and receive more "likes," which can make even the most mature adult begin acting like an insecure and self-obsessed seventh-grader. There's even evidence that using Facebook can cause depression in some who see the lives their "friends" present online as being much better than their own.
The church, on the other hand, was designed as a community where people focus on others more than themselves. It was created as a group centered on belief in the God who had saved them because they were all in the same situation -- they were all sinners in need of grace. They had no impression to manage because they were all outsiders to their culture. Instead, they were "of one heart and soul," completely focused on what God had done for them in Jesus. They modeled their lives after Him by voluntarily and sacrificially caring for others to the point of seeing their own personal possessions as being available to everyone else in the community.
At this point, someone might post a rant that this was an early form of communism or socialism, but rather than being compelled by an external force, the early church gave out of the internal resources of compassion made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Coupled with that deep sense of community was a central narrative that drove the church's action and mission. The church was centered on the story of the apostles' testimony that Jesus had risen from the dead, which had enabled them to receive God's grace in its fullness and compelled them to share that good news with the world. The story became the motivating and uniting factor in the church's life and work -- indeed, it's what made them a "church" in the first place.
Facebook, on the other hand, has no overarching narrative other than the collective stories of its users and no authoritative testimony other than the individual's opinion and worldview. Facebook’s vision of community doesn't include a central focus other than the human desire for self-elevation, which ultimately leads us back to what the Bible calls "sin." Instead of a central narrative, the social media platform often presents a constant mishmash of personal stories, silly videos, and angry screeds that are designed to draw like-minded people to one's page, with a few exceptions, of course. Granted, many Facebook users enjoy the ability to stay in touch with family members who are elsewhere in the country, and if friends are posting angry political posts or other offensive ideas, they can be easily unfriended.
It was this need for community that led the early church to be generous with one another. As God had been generous with His grace in Jesus, so they would be generous with one another, believing that their lives were part of something much bigger than themselves. Luke says that there was "not a needy person among them" and that members of the church community sold property and gave the proceeds to the apostles to distribute to those who were in need.
The early church's social platform was driven by generosity developed out of a sense of gratitude to God. People gave out of their scarcity so that others could have enough. Just as a few help me keep St. Francis’ lights on and the insurance paid!
It's interesting that Luke lifts out one name as an example from his description of the early church. A Levite from the island of Cyprus (from the priestly tribe) was named Joseph, but he received the nickname "Barnabas" from the apostles because he was constantly encouraging others in the community. This "son of encouragement" had sold a field and given the proceeds to the Apostles. He didn't need the real estate anymore because he was about to join another convert who underwent a name change (from Saul to Paul) and head out on a mission to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. The church viewed
While Facebook has launched a revolution in the way people relate to one another in a technological age, it can never replace the church and its real life impact. This assumes, of course, that the church gets back to its primary message and "business" model!
Maybe if we took seriously the way of community in the early church we wouldn't be competing with a virtual substitute. We can once again be people of the Book who share with others face to face! After all, the lesson isn’t about selling everything you own (which would not be as practical today) - it’s about being a community of faith and support. What can we do for others today?
Let us pray.
In today’s Gospel, we read how Thomas doubted the resurrection of the Lord until he himself could see the wounds in his hands and side. We pray to our Father in heaven that He bless us with faith and that we, without seeing Jesus’s wounds, would be firm in our belief and loyalty to Him. We pray to the Lord.
That the Church will rededicate herself to living and proclaiming Christ’s compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness in all our dealings with our family, neighbors and particularly those who may have injured or offended us in the past. We pray to the Lord.
That the sacrificial love of Jesus may inspire everyone to sacrifice some of themselves for anyone in need. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our young people that they reap the positive benefits of social media while treating their fellow brothers and sisters with the respect and love which Christ has shown to us in His mission on earth. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that You will be with the friends and families of the 11 people shot and killed in our country this past week and those injured from these same shootings. We further pray that our legislators will be inspired and encouraged to create laws to protect people from those who should not carry guns and to eliminate assault weapons from the hands of the regular citizen. Senseless shootings must stop and we ask Your intervention. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that you will intercede in the genocide taking place in Ethiopia and protect the citizens from the atrocities taking place there. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father, as we reflect today on your great mercy, we thank you for the confidence and encouragement we have gained through the resurrections of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We pray that we sinners may be made worthy of your promise of salvation. Mighty God, with grateful hearts we welcome you on this Second Sunday of Easter, joyously repeating the ancient Christian greeting: "Christ is risen!" "He is risen indeed!" Accept now, we pray, our homage for the forgiveness and the promise of newness, in this life and beyond, which in Your amazing grace, You extend to us, through Him.
Father God, as we go through our new week ahead, give us the courage and inspiration to live in the example of our community of believers who helped the Apostles, and do likewise in the various ways that today’s society affords us. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
Please help if you can, to keep our ministry alive and vibrant so that there is a place for the those needing respite from a troubled world! God Bless You +++