Faithbook: “Comments”

 

Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Comments”
A Message on James 3:2-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 16, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 3:2-12 (NRSV)

 

For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

 

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One of the great things about Facebook is the ability to comment on the posts that other people make. It’s a great way to be able to participate in someone’s life without actually being there physically.

 

But comments are a double-edged sword. While comments can celebrate an accomplishment or comfort someone who is hurting, comments can also be used negatively and can cause pain and harm others.

 

We talked earlier in this series on “Messages” how cyber-bullying has become so common and is having devastating consequences. Cyber-bullying is common among the “comments” made on social media.

 

In the modern technological nomenclature we find the term “troll” being used to describe people who leave particular kinds of comments. Now when I was growing up a “troll” was a mythical fairy-tale-type person who lived under bridge. And then there came along some little doll things with long hair and even cartoons. But nowadays it’s a lot different. The word has new meaning.

 

Here’s a definition I found on the Internet by a guy at the University of Nebraska that apparently studies social media: “Trolling is defined as creating discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community. Basically, a social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.” [https://unlcms.unl.edu/engineering/james-hanson/trolls-and-their-impact-social-media]

 

Unfortunately there are a lot of “trolls” out there in social media land. There are a lot of very inflammatory comments made about just about everything. Some of them are mean. And some of them are just downright evil. It’s sad. Very sad.

 

I think one of the reason there are so many negative messages on social media is because we can respond instantaneously. If someone posts something that you disagree with or that angers you, the technology allows us to respond immediately from the emotional part of our brains, not the logical and contemplative part of our brains. We don’t think before we write.

 

Can you imagine if we commented on posts with handwritten letters that went through the mail instead of through the instantaneous aether of the Internet? I think the time it would take to write it down on a piece of paper, find an envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail it would give us time to cool off and not be so reactionary.

 

I think another reason things have gotten so bad is that people can hide behind a cloak of anonymity when they post comments. Some of the worst “trolls” have fake accounts or accounts with very limited information about the person writing it. Technology allows us to fudge the truth about ourselves and to be able to write things without having to stand up to the consequences of and be responsible for saying them. It gives us the ability to write things that we would never say to a person if we were standing face to face with them.

 

Years ago Brad Paisley wrote a cute song called “Online” that is about a guy that lives a double life. In real life he’s 5’3”, overweight, works at a pizza place, lives with his parents, and drives an old, beat up Hyundai. But the image he presents on the Internet is much different. Here are some of the lyrics:

 

‘Cause online I’m down in Hollywood
I’m 6’5 and I look real good [Note: Yes, I know he uses a word other than “real,” but hey, we’re in church…]
I drive a Maserati
I’m a black belt in Karate
And I love a good glass of wine”

 

The end of the chorus is:

 

“I’m so much cooler online
So much cooler online”

 

Like we discussed last week, social media is a very powerful communication tool. How we behave “online” can make it good, or it can make it bad.

 

The book of James in the New Testament is direct and straightforward. Written by the half brother of Jesus, one of the early church leaders, James tells truths that were perhaps uncomfortable for the early church members to hear, just as they can be uncomfortable for us to hear as well.

 

In the scripture we read today, James talks about the power of the tongue. Now when we think about the tongue we think about speaking, but James is using the tongue as a metaphor for our words.

 

While in Jesus time in the first century most communication was by the spoken word, James’ scriptures still apply to us today when technology provides us with a wide variety of almost instantaneous communications. Some of it is still speaking words, but a lot of it is by, to paraphrase an old Yellow Pages ad, letting our fingers do the talking through the keyboards of our phones and computers.

 

Listen to verse 6 again: “And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

 

Gee, James. Why don’t you tell us what you think?

 

Words matter. Comments matter.

 

I am amazed by some of the comments I read on social media. And I am even more amazed by some of the comments I read on social media posted by fellow clergy members.

 

We have forgotten James’ advice on how we use words and the power those words have.

 

James points out that with the same tongue we bless God and curse others. And he also points out that it shouldn’t be that way.

 

As I have said before, one of the reasons the “unchurched” say they don’t want anything to do with church (or religion, for that matter) is because of what they perceive as hypocrisy. The people that attend church act one way on Sundays and then act the complete opposite the rest of the days of the week. They praise God with their comments on Sunday and then treat others in ways that are anything but godly the rest of the week.

 

Their “comments” keep the Kingdom of God from growing. Instead of using words to bring others to Christ, they drive them away. Instead of planting good seeds that will grow and bear fruit they are planting weed seeds that will grow and choke out the good seeds.

 

Technology today gives us great power to communicate with others. But with great power comes great responsibility. We may want to be “cooler online,” but what the world really craves is authentic and truthful “comments” spoken in love.

 

I use a modified version of Psalm 19:14 before I begin the message every Sunday. The un-modified version is this:

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
   be acceptable to you,
   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

 

The words of our mouths, the “comments” we make, both verbally and on social media, should be acceptable to God.

 

There is a song by a group called Hawk Nelson titled, “Words.” The song was written based primarily on the scripture we read today from James. The words of the chorus are:

 

Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

 

My challenge to you this week is to remember those words as we “comment” both verbally, in writing, and on social media. Let our comments be life, let our comments be truth, let us not post a comment unless it points the world back to God.

 

Instead of singing “I’m so much cooler online,” let us sing, “I want to be like Jesus online.” I don’t think Brad Paisley will mind.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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