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Camp Local 2: Fully Alive

"The glory of God is a human being fully alive." — Irenaeus of Lyon
Camp Local 2: Fully Alive
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Sermon Delivered at The Local Church
July 17, 2022
Scripture: John 1:1–5, 14; Luke 5:12–16; Matthew 11:28–30

I was talking to my brother last weekend. At one time, he had an Apple Watch, but when I saw him for dinner at my parents’ house, I noticed that he wasn’t wearing it. So I asked him why. His response: It’s just one more thing to charge.

Yep. Okay. I feel that.

He’s so right. Is anybody else’s nightstand a jumbled mess of cables and devices? Everything plugs in. Your phone. Your iPad. Your kid’s tablet. Your laptop. Your watch. Your baby monitor. Your alarm clock. Your fitness tracker. Your Kindle. Your smart speaker. What else? And you’ve got to keep up with all the different cables. We’ve got micro-USB’s and USB-C’s and Lightning cables — and all of the proprietary adapters we need, too.

I’m overwhelmed just listing them all off.

But let’s be honest: The issue is not the cables, is it? It’s indicative of something more. All of these devices that fill our nightstands and kitchen counters and desks need charging so that we can use these devices. So that we can stay on top of our tasks. So that we can be productive and do our part to help the world continue to turn. So that we can stay in touch with friends and family or know when the package arrives at our door. So that we can remain on top of the latest TikTok trends, know when the new season of Bridgerton drops on Netflix, find out who Pete Davidson is dating, keep up with the latest breaking news alerts, and figure out which hot take to align ourselves with.

That didn’t help my feeling overwhelmed. Anybody else?

I say all of this with so much love. U2’s lead singer, Bono, once wrote, “I preach what I need to hear.” So here we are. This is me.

I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch since the day it debuted in 2015. I preach each week from an iPad. My phone is my constant companion, I feel naked without it, and I’m always ready to take a picture of whatever amazing thing is happening in front of me. I geek out over voice-activated lights. I talk to Siri more than I talk to most other people. I have an app for everything.

But I’m also not sleeping well. And I find myself anxious a lot of the time. And when I’m not anxious, I’m anxious that there’s something to be anxious about. So I open up Twitter and find it.

Email is often the last thing I check before I go to bed. And my phone has often been the first thing I reach for before my feet even hit the floor.

My constant connection has kept me “always on” and so in tune with and present to all that’s going on in the world — mass shootings and Supreme Court decisions and the war in Ukraine and a fragile economy and racially-motivated violence — that I feel on edge a lot. And when I’m not on edge, I’m exhausted.

The red dots in the corners of the apps on my phone so quickly become the redness in the corners of my eyes.

Breaking news. Another text to respond to. An email from your boss (Do they ever sleep?) Here’s how your investments did today. A new LinkedIn request. There’s motion at your front door. Another influencer is live now on YouTube. Follow up email with the subject line: “Gentle Reminder.” More Prime Day deals! That thing you’ve been wanting just dropped to a lower price. (How did it know?) Swipe now to put it in your cart.

This, by the way, is by design. It’s how it’s supposed to work. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

In 2017, the founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker, gave a speech about Facebook’s origins, and he said the quiet part out loud:

The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them,... was all about: "How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?" And that means we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or post or whatever.

Mission accomplished. At least for me. For as much as I value and want to claim autonomy, I’ve got to confess that I have very little. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

I had a professor in Divinity School who said, “We’ve come to see the world through a five-inch piece of glass.” Isn’t that the truth? So what do we do about it?

If you’ve hung out with us before on a Sunday morning, you’ve no doubt noticed that things are a little different here this morning. Normally, we’re facing the stage rather than facing these windows that turn our gaze to the trees outside.

Normally, we put lyrics on the screen that drops from the ceiling and tell you to pull out your phone, scan a QR code, and find our online bulletin to follow along. Not today.

Normally, we live stream the service, too, but that just didn’t feel right this week. The world won’t end because we’re not online right now. (Please reassure me of that later.)

And it’s all because it’s Week 2 of Camp Local. In case you missed it last week or need a refresher, Camp Local is our annual summer series all about experiencing, reclaiming, and leaning into beauty, wonder, Sabbath, and reconnection — reconnection with God, with neighbor, and with self. It’s our way of being playful (with s’mores and koozies and a lantern and this tent) while also thinking together about what it means to live faithfully in a world that so often feels like it’s lost its mind. Camp Local allows us to be transported somewhere — some distance for some perspective so that we might ultimately return home changed.

Last week, we explored the cosmos and considered what stars might teach us about God’s expansive love, our call to shine like those stars, and the both perspective and company we find when we look up. We called it Cosmos Week.

This week is Unplugged Week here at Camp Local. And it checks out because camp often takes place in remote locations free of cell service and wifi. So that’s our reality this morning. Let’s get into it.

In the second century in what is present-day France, there lived a bishop named Irenaeus of Lyon. He was one of the earliest writers of theology and Christianity, and he was a defender of the faith. In particular, he argued against Gnosticism — a heretical strain of Christianity that basically said that salvation comes through the possession of secret knowledge (or, in Greek, gnosis), and that anything that is “spiritual” is good and anything material or bodily is bad and corruptible. It falls into this dualistic thinking that many followers of Jesus still default to today.

And in response to this idea, Irenaeus wrote what is perhaps his most famous line. He wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” In other words, God is most glorified, most full of delight when we are living fully into who God has created us to be.

Which raises this important question for us — what does it mean to be fully alive?

And here’s the thing. To avoid sounding like a Luddite, it’s important to say that at its best, technology keeps us connected. It helps us find our way. Allows you to call those you care about. Helps you find that perfect song when you’re on a walk. It has the potential to open up new languages and new worlds.

But at its worst, technology can also dehumanize us. I’m sure many of us have experienced this. It gives cover when hurling insults because you can’t see the person on the other end of the screen. It eliminates the nuance of conversation, instead limiting our dialogue to 280 characters or 60-second reels. It reduces the complexity and particularity of who we are to a split-second choice in which somebody either swipes left or right based on a picture and a brief bio.

Is this what it means to be fully alive? Our humanity reduced to data points and binaries? Put a different way, how might we reclaim our humanity in world hellbent on dehumanization?

It may not surprise you that I think we find the most faithful response in Jesus — the one who we claim is fully God and fully human.

You heard Sarah read the very beginning of John’s gospel. This was John the Apostle’s starting point, and I think it should be ours, too. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” and then a bit later, he writes, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

We have seen his glory, and that glory comes when the Word becomes flesh. When God is embodied. When love puts skin on.

The fancy theological term for this is “incarnation,” and incarnation literally means “enfleshed” — the Latin, carne, meaning “flesh.” Incarnate. In-flesh.

Incarnation is our orienting theological framework as The Local Church. I say this all the time — you’ve probably heard it before. Who is Jesus if not God made local? God incarnate in our time and space? Embodied and enlivened? And what is the church if not God gone local? A bold and inclusive people of love on the move incarnate in our communities, our homes, our workplaces, schools — in the world? Incarnation is why we’re The Local Church.

In other words, it means something that God doesn’t stand far off but instead chooses to come to us in human form — in flesh and blood and bone and breath. It means something that God doesn’t remain distant but comes near as a human being to enter into the mess of this time and this place and redeem it from the inside. And, among other things, it means that matter matters. It means that to fully live into God’s image and likeness, we, too must live as fully embodied creatures. And we can’t do that if we’re only living from the neck up. We can’t do that if we’re exclusively experiencing our world through a five-inch piece of glass.

We, too, need to take on flesh. We would do well to remember that we are embodied creatures — and that to be fully alive means to live fully in our bodies. To get dirt beneath our fingernails. Bare feet on the grass. Blood, sweat, and tears. An embrace that makes your knees buckle. The metaverse can’t replace our humanity. To live fully, we need to unplug and live as embodied creatures.

But more than simply revealing the necessity of living embodied, Jesus also models what it looks like to unplug.

You heard this story in chapter five of Luke’s gospel. Jesus is traveling, and he comes upon a man covered with a skin disease. The man sees Jesus, bows and begs him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t just look him in the eyes, say a prayer, and heal the man. Instead, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him. There’s something physical there, and the man is healed. But I really want you to notice what happens next: As word about Jesus spreads and more and more demands are placed on him — people asking for help, in need of healing, longing to be made whole — Luke says that Jesus “would slip away to deserted places and pray.”

Which is interesting, isn’t it? I mean here’s Jesus — God enfleshed — who we would assume is all-powerful and capable of superhuman strength and Energizer Bunny levels of endurance.

But instead of pushing through, Jesus unplugs. He retreats. And what we’re seeing here is Jesus showing us again what it means to be fully human. As a human being, his body would have had limited resources. His energy would have been tapped out at times. He’d be vulnerable to hunger and fatigue and fear and stress. So that time away would be just as important as food and water. This is part of what it means to be human.

And the same is true for us. A constant barrage of stimuli isn’t sustainable. Staying on and remaining constantly connected leaves us exhausted at best. Volatile at worst. And what’s more, when we fail to take time to unplug, we don’t give ourselves the space we need to process, to pray, to find perspective, to heal, to confess, to be reconciled, to wonder, and to reconnect with our life force.

Jesus is not just showing us what it looks like to unplug and why it’s important. He’s pleading with us to do so. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

One thing I need to make clear: I’m not talking about complete disconnection from the world. The connection is important as it keeps us aware, active, justice-oriented and motivated — reminding us we’re not alone and that we’re better together. But just as important is the intentional time to unplug — allowing space for God to work in and through us.

I heard this story recently about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His journey as a civil rights leader began somewhat reluctantly. It started simply because he happened to be a new minister in Montgomery in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And because he was relatively new and was generally well respected — mostly because he was too new to have upset anyone — he was elected as leader of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association in 1955. This election apparently caught him off guard as evidenced by his response: “Well, if you think I can render some service, I will.”

The boycott and protests dragged on into the new year — 1956. He’d been imprisoned for a brief period of time, and on the night he was released from jail, he retreated back home — and felt that he needed space away from the crowds, from the demands, from the imprisonment, from the work — to simply process all that was happening — all that he’d experienced and what his next steps might be. So once his wife and daughter had gone to bed, the Rev. Dr. King sat by himself at his kitchen table with only a cup of coffee and the Holy Spirit to keep him company.

Describing this moment, Dr. King would later say, “It seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth.”

That space to unplug that night in Montgomery changed the course of history. Jesus needed it, too. Imagine what it might do for you.

In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer — Amen.