Sun, Feb 09, 2020

Smartphones and the Smartcross

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 by Doug Gunkelman
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Duration:12 mins

Jake Knapp felt that his iPhone always absorbed his attention. For him, it was an occupational hazard, since he worked as a design partner with Google Ventures.

But in 2012, when his smartphone addiction started to encroach on time with his kids, he decided he had to do something. He deleted every app that distracted him: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. “It was a huge relief,” he says. Although he thought it would be a short-term experiment, those apps remained off his phone for the next six years.

Sarah Lawrence, a graphic designer, decided to make her phone experience unpleasant. “For two weeks I used my iPhone screen in color,” she says, “and for two weeks I used it in gray scale, which is designed to be irritating.” She found that gray scale reduced her usage and eliminated aimless scrolling.

Jake and Sarah are examples of tech addicts who have tried to break their smartphone addictions. They dumped a lot of phone usage to take back their minds, to be healed of their addiction.

We hear a lot about tech addiction today. People often rant about their need to unplug to regain their sanity. Such an approach would seem to match the message of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he challenges them to eliminate distractions and focus their attention.

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ,” says Paul, “and him crucified” (v. 2).

As is our passion for smartphones, so was Paul’s passion for Christ and his cross — a smartcross, you might say, because in it is enshrined the very wisdom of God! And as we welcome our new members to a “smartcross church”, we encourage you to join us in living a cross-shaped life. As we baptize Lily into our Lord’s family, we encourage her parents, sponsors, and family to raise her in a cross-shaped life.

At first glance, it would appear that living a cross-shaped life means that we unplug from technology and focus entirely on Jesus. But this is a false dichotomy. Yes, smartphones can be distracting, but they can also be tools to deepen and expand our Christian faith. Last Wednesday we were studying the Good Samaritan parable in Confirmation class. I had each of them Google, “Good Samaritan story,” then read to the class the stories of really amazing modern day good Samaritans.

So, we’re not advocating a phoneless approach to the faith. The apostle Paul himself was a master communicator, spreading the message of Jesus in whatever ways he could. And it’s hard to believe that if Paul could be dropped into our world today, that he wouldn’t have a smartphone in his hip pocket or clipped to his belt.

It’s not the point. The point, rather, is that it was the cross in all its wisdom that captivated Paul.

However, Paul did, in a way, distance himself from the way in which the world pursued wisdom. He didn’t come preaching in the lofty, Cicero style that was in vogue among the educated of his day.

Instead, he spoke simply and plainly.

Most importantly, although what he said was folly to the Greeks, it was actually the wisdom of God.

The Corinthians were sophisticated people, and the apostle Paul knew it. They were residents of a Roman city in Greece that was cosmopolitan, intellectual and prosperous. If iPhones had been available, they would have had the latest versions. If Twitter had been invented, you can only imagine the tweet-storms involving Chloe, Crispus, Gaius and Stephanas (1:10-17).

But Paul did not insist that the Corinthians abandon their cosmopolitan lifestyle. Instead, he begins in a humble way, saying, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom” (v. 1). He is saying that he could have blown them away with lofty words, but he chose not to.

Instead, he says, “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (v. 3). He came in humility, not boasting.

“My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom,” says Paul, “but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God” (vv. 4-5). That’s the heart of Paul’s approach to his message about Jesus — he keeps it plain and simple, so that Christian faith might rest entirely on the power of God.

Paul knows that the message about Jesus will never be as flashy as something that pops up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Paul intentionally avoids the sophisticated language of Corinth, speaking instead only about “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (v. 2).

It’s a message and a method we need to hear and employ today, if we want to demonstrate the wisdom of what we might call the smartcross.

The message is: Christ crucified and risen.

This message may appear dumb and stupid to many, “but to us … it is the power of God” (1:18).

The method is: to live as though the message is true. Which it is.

Christ on the cross is “God’s wisdom,” according to Paul, “secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages” (v. 7). None of the sophisticated rulers of the world understood this, he says, “for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (v. 8). But we members of the Christian community can understand it, because “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (v. 10).

Because the Spirit has been given to us in our baptisms, we have the ability to understand what Paul is saying to us about Jesus Christ and the crucifixion. We no longer have to be distracted by all of the flashes and buzzes of our devices. We can, according to Paul, “speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual” (v. 13).

Let’s keep our smartphones, of course.

But let’s embrace the One who can help us gain control of these devices or anything else that would try to bind us, preoccupy us, divert us, diminish us or enslave us.

With the Spirit of God in us, we can understand the wisdom of what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

  • He “bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
  • He gave himself for our sins to set us free (Galatians 1:4).
  • God reconciled all things to himself through Jesus, “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).
  • Looking toward his own death, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
  • And he did it to show us how much he loves us, saying, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

That’s the wisdom of God — in a cross, a cross that brings us forgiveness, sets us free, reconciles us to God, draws us to Jesus and shows us how much he loves us. This wisdom comes to us through the Holy Spirit of God.

Meanwhile we continue to adjust to the ever-changing world of smartphones and technology that enables to easier connect with our members and our community.

Here at Divinity, I’ve been doing an off-the-cuff video every Sunday that Tricia records and posts on our Divinity Facebook page.

Paula sends out an e-blast to every member whose e-mail we have, to inform you of upcoming Divinity worship and activities.

Steve, Paula, and others have worked together to now make it possible to contribute to our Divinity ministries by going to our website and clicking a button that allows you to give with your credit or debit card or through your checking account. You can download an app and give in the same 3 ways. We have a dedicated phone number you can text money to. For fundraisers like rummage sales, the luau, or silent auctions, we will have tablet with a dudad that plugs into it called a “mobile card reader” to use your credit or debit card.

In my first call in rural North Dakota in 1985, we had an electric typewriter and a hand-cranked mimeograph machine for copying bulletins.

The good news for us today is that the message of Jesus never needs an upgrade. We’ll never need to wait in line for the latest version. Instead, the sacrificial death of Jesus is part of the eternal wisdom of God, and his gifts of forgiveness and eternal life are available to everyone who believes.

In a world of smartphones that need regular replacing, God gives us the smartcross which is the hinge-point of history. It points to Jesus Christ, crucified and raised. It reminds us that forgiveness is in the blood of Christ. It is an unmistakable symbol of incredible sacrificial love.

So, go ahead and delete those unwanted apps, if you need to. But hang on to Jesus Christ, the eternal wisdom of God, revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.