Sermon for October 17, 2010

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1 Corinthians 12:4-13

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Peter 2:4-10

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The Great Ends of the Church

The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. (From the PCUSA Book of Order, G-1.0200)

Wikis, Webs, and Water

The largest and most comprehensive encyclopedia in in the history of reference works contains 16 million articles today, written in over 270 languages. I happen to be one of the editors for this encyclopedia. In fact, yesterday, as I took a short break from writing this sermon, I worked on the article for atonement theory in Christianity.

Now, this may sound quite prestigious . . . until I tell you what some of you have already guessed: That the encyclopedia I'm referring to is none other than Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

That's right, anyone.

If you want to, you can change, add to, or even undo all of my work on the atonement article with a few clicks of mouse and keyboard. So how in the world, one might ask, did Wikipedia get to be the largest encyclopedia in the world, and is it really anything more than a bunch of random, chaotic junk compiled by ignorant amateurs?

Well, that's certainly the criticism that some of my distinguished professors at Princeton Seminary, or other elite scholars might make—and indeed often do.

But a few years ago, a very well-known and respected journal of science did a head-to-head comparison between similar articles in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica (the oldest continuously published reference work in the English language). The study found that across a wide diversity of subjects, there was very little difference in accuracy between the two encyclopedias. However . . . the errors found in Wikipedia were immediately corrected upon publication of the report, while those in Britannica . . . well, they had to wait a few years until the next edition came out. And that's the edition you bought, in all its paper glory, chances are it's still wrong.

As someone who has participated in the Wikipedia community for several years now, I can tell you that the reason it works, the reason it's accurate, and reliable despite the potential chaos of "letting anyone contribute" has to do with two things: 1 . Over the course of its existence, slowly, several policies, procedures, and standards have evolved—not from the “owners” (because there are none)

but rather from the community, most of these policies centering around “how to move forward” when two people disagree strongly about something. 2 . People tend to edit articles about things they are passionate about--things they know about. The person most likely to spend his or her valuable spare time contributing to an article on molecular biology for free? Surprisingly (or not), it's a molecular biologist. When my son first becomes a Wikipedia contributor, it will most likely be to an article on Bionicles, Bakugans, Transformers, or Star Wars. What can I say? He's an expert. Corinthians tells us that there are "varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . to one is given faith, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits..." Wikipedia taps into this sort of idea, but on a massive scale. That's "W" number one: Wikipedia.

It's not just Wikipedia though. In case you haven't noticed, there's this little thing called the "World Wide Web" or the Internet, that has been changing our culture and our institutions in dramatic ways. You see, just a few decades ago, most information was transmitted to the masses in a very one directional way: Your television, your radio, your newspaper -- a small group of "professionals" produced all the content, and (aside from the occasional "letter to the local editor") your job consume it. At first, the internet worked that way too.

But right around the middle of the past decade, that began to change. Through easy- to-update webpages called "blogs" anyone could become a published writer or journalist with just a computer and an internet connection. Through video websites like YouTube, amateur musicians, filmmakers, and hobbyists could reach an instant audience of millions.

Through websites like facebook and twitter, that allowed users to publish short "status updates" to their friends and to the world, journalists began to notice that by the time they covered a "breaking story" . . . it had already been broken— and thoroughly analyzed and commented on--thousands of times throughout the world. What's more: Often these status updates weren't just reporting the news...they were creating it.

In recognition of this dramatic change, Time Magazine declared their 2006 "Person of the Year" to be (drum roll please) . . . You.

Congratulations, by the way, to you: The average man, woman, or (more likely) teenager changing the world through the web. "That's "W" number two: The Web.

But none of that has anything to do with the church, right? Or does it? Author Phyllis Tickle, in her book "The Great Emergence" makes the case that we are currently in the middle of a cultural and technological shift--a BIG shift--the kind that happens every 500 years or so and usually ends up with a label like "The Enlightenment," "The Renaissance," "The Middle Ages" or "The Roman Empire" to name a few. The kind of shift that changes everything and everyone, dramatically and irrevocably.

Including the church.

And technology always plays a role. Both of our scripture passages today are Epistles—letters written down on the relatively new technology (at the time) of papyrus and ink and then transmitted on another new technology—the original information superhighway: The Roman Road. Of course, it's a technology still mostly in the hands of a select group of professional scribes, at this point.

Fast forward to the 15th century, at the dawn of the Reformation, and we get another new technology that allowed you to read along with today's scripture reading: The Gutenberg Printing Press. With this invention, the Bible and hundreds of other books were finally within the reach of the average person. Basic literacy, education, and knowledge were no longer solely the realm of the professional.

However, while almost anyone could afford a book now, not many could afford a printing press—so consumption of content becomes widespread, but actually producing content is still controlled by a small group of professionals. This arrangement lasts until...well, until now.

Many, like Phyllis Tickle, believe that the face of the church, the face of worship, will be as dramatically changed by technology in our own times as it was in the Reformation, and in the first century.

How? And is this a good thing? I think so.

In a Web-influenced world, things get turned upside down a bit—the first become last and the last become first: Consumers become producers, and distinctions between professionals and amateurs become meaningless. This has huge ramifications for "professional ministers" and the growing number of churches who can't afford to sustain their services full-time.

Don't worry, Pastor Neal—I'm not trying to talk you out of a job just yet— but in a web-influenced world, perhaps the role of the pastor needs to evolve away from "the sage on the stage" and more into "the guide on the side."

And what about this week's "Great End of the Church?" (I bet you were wondering when I'd come around to that!) a Web-influenced world, whom do you suppose is responsible for the "Maintenance of Divine Worship?"

(Hold up copy of Time Magazine).

That's right...those of us who have been passive consumers of worship, sitting in the pews...we become the producers. We become what scripture (particularly today's passage from 1st Peter) always intended us to be: We are a "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are what the Reformers called the "Priesthood of all Believers" and here in this day and age, we have a golden opportunity to make their claim a reality.

I have one more "W." The Maintenance of Divine Worship today is all about Wikis, Webs...and Water. Water? Is that like a new software program or a new social networking service or something? No. Just water.

I know, pretty low-tech after the last two W's, although considering it covers 70% of the earth, is essential to all life, functions as a universal solvent, links together every continent on the globe, provides energy, habitat, transportation, irrigation, recreation, precipitation, respiration, and various industrial applications...

Well, God's pretty high-tech, too. (By the way, I got all that information from Wikipedia.)

Water is pretty important in our faith, too. If the Maintenance of Divine Worship ends at the table and centers on the Word, then it begins with the Font. Our faith journey begins in the waters of baptism. As today's scripture reading from 1st Corinthians tells us, "in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

Professionals and amateurs, producers and consumers—as Christians we all share one baptism. We have many gifts that, together, allow us to maintain the divine worship, but we are all united in one baptism.

Water, even more than wikis and webs, is our great equalizer, in this age and any other.

Water for us marks beginnings, and new life, so as we enter into this new age, this new life together, let us remember our own baptisms and be comforted, that in a time of great change, as our church structures change, as our worship changes, that some things will remain the same.

Finally, throughout the history of Christianity, when we have encountered some secular or pagan tradition culture and then appropriate it for God's purposes, we are said to "baptize it." This is what we did with the Christmas Tree and the Cross, both of which had other meanings before their baptisms.

So as technology changes our culture and changes us, let us remember that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood—and we are water!

In the name of Christ we baptize the wikis. We baptize the webs. We baptize the worship.

We raise them from the water into new purpose, for the maintenance of divine worship, which begins with the font and ends at the table, but also—through the Grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit—begins and ends...with us.

Thanks be to God.