Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Every day they continued to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ, both in the temple and in houses.
Good morning! Last month, we began considering Our New Normal, all the new things we need to have or do now that we are living through a global pandemic, and we’re thinking about how these things may be connected to our faith.
Wearing a mask, washing our hands, and practicing social distancing are all ways we can live following the example of Jesus, doing what we can to show care for our fellow children’ of God. This week, we are shifting our focus a bit to one of the ways that we are coping or adjusting to this new normal—our increased use of technology!
As I was reflecting on our online worship services through Zoom, I decided to add up how many Sundays we have worshipped this way together. Can you believe that we have spent 26 Sundays together on Zoom? If you count the time before I arrived here, as a church you have worshipped virtually for 32 Sundays. As much as we would all prefer to be worshipping in-person again, it’s pretty amazing that we’ve been able to continue to worship and connect for this long because of the incredible technology we have available.
And this is what inspired me to choose the bible passages I read for today. Jesus’ final instruction for the disciples before he ascended to heaven was to go to all the nations to teach and baptize others. For those first disciples, that was a literal command, get up and go out into the world! Luckily for us, we can connect with anyone in the world with a phone or computer. It is easier to connect and share the Good News with people throughout the world than it ever has been before. And part of that Good News for us and everyone is what Jesus said next, that he would be with us in Spirit, every day, no matter where we are.
No matter if we worship together in pews or in front of our screens, Jesus is here and the Holy Spirit connects each of us in spirit to each other. Because of our faithfulness in continuing to show up for worship, whatever form it may take, we receive the uniting and uplifting of the Spirit who connects each of us right this very moment.
And that’s why I chose the other verse from Acts about the very first church. Everyday, the first community of Jesus-followers would get together to meet and encourage each other and share the Good News with others. They met in the temple or someone’s house, in the market or under a tree somewhere, no matter how difficult it was they continued to meet. Despite the persecution they faced from the government, the hate crimes they experienced, & just the general busyness of everyday life, trying to make it through each day, they continued to meet.
And we too have continued to press on! We meet for Sunday worship, for a weekly coffee time, a weekly spiritual practices group, and a bi-weekly book club. That’s not even mentioning the other times some of us meet regularly like during our committee and Board meetings! We are a determined group of people!
I remember my first Sunday as your pastor, I was so proud of the way you had come together to create a viable online worship. I knew that for many of you using Zoom was new and possibly challenging, but everyone did it! Your love for your community, your faith, and your commitment to God shines through in your use of technology.
We are able to use these tools to continue to be Christ’s Church in the world, but we also know technology isn’t perfect. And using it much more than we were before has led to increased strain on our bodies and minds. I’m definitely experiencing eye strain from starting at a computer screen for so many hours, and I know my back and shoulders aren’t happy with the amount of time I spend sitting at my desk. Increased use of technology isn’t just hard on our physical bodies but on our mental health as well.
A friend of mine recently shared an article from the BBC with me. It is about how cognitive dissonance can cause what people are calling ‘Zoom fatigue’. Reporter Manyu Jiang quoted experts who said,
“Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues. Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes us to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.
An added factor, is that if we are physically on camera, we are very aware of being watched. You know everybody’s looking at you. It’s also very hard for people not to look at their own face if they can see it on screen.
Additionally, experts believe that fact we feel forced into these calls may be a contributory factor of zoom fatigue. Every video call is a reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. It is the distress that every time you see someone online, such as your colleagues, that reminds you we should really be at work together. What we’re finding is, we’re all exhausted.”
And so, the recommendation is to cut back as much as you can on screen time and video meetings. It’s especially important that you cut back on using screens before bed—stopping two hours before your bedtime will actually help you sleep much better. While we need these tools to help us remain connected, we also know we need a break from them. We need to find the balance between staying connected to each other using the tools of technology and being present and mindful of God with us.
So, as we continue to connect with others online, let’s be sure to make time to get offline and connect with our Creator. Let’s schedule in some God-time between zoom meetings this week. And let us remember that even though the time we spend together is virtual, it is just as meaningful as time we would spend together in person. No matter how we are gathering, we gather as part of God’s beloved family.
As we go into this next week, and a ne
w series of technological opportunities, I invite you to receive this blessing for our technology from Rev. Melissa Cooper:
“Even more than our homes, our technological devices are seen as practical first. And yet, they represent things so sacred – Art. Music. Knowledge. And of course, connection, community, relationship – and now, worship and discipleship. As with all sacred things – like time, disciplines, and space … sacredness also comes with responsibility.
Now, in this moment, we are using our devices to perform a sacred act, and we are able to do so alongside hundreds of others using other devices to participate in that same sacred act.
And yet, we do not always use our devices in a way that acknowledges their sacredness. Please join your hearts with mine as I pray this liturgy of confession, blessing, and commitment:
God of connection, with whom we can always be in conversation,
We pray together …
We confess that we do not always use the tools you have given us
In ways that honor you and show love for our neighbors.
We repent for the ways we have bought into a culture that
Does not encourage holy conversations, but praises harsh and harmful words.
We grieve with you, God, for using tools that have the ability to give life
Instead to cause harm and hurt.
These devices before us, God, have immense power.
Power to foster connection and community,
Power to encourage and lift up,
Power to do the hard work of reconciliation and transformation.
Bless these devices. Bless this technology.
Remind us that the goodness within the technological tools before us
Rely on our choosing to live in a way that reveals your kingdom.
Give us the courage to orient our lives in such a way
That we choose to reveal your kingdom
Through the powerful tools of technology
That you have given us for such a time as this.
Make us one with Christ, one with each other,
And one in ministry to all the world,
Through our speaking, our typing, our viewing, our scrolling, our clicking,
and our sharing.
Remind us to use words that give life,
doing no harm and doing all the good we can.
May these devices become powerful tools of the kingdom in the hands of us,
your children. Amen.