Faithbook: “Photos”


Faithbook–Biblical Lessons for the Digital Age: “Photos”
A Message on Luke 10:38-42

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 9, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)


Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”


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I’m excited today because we get to continue our sermon series on Faithbook: Biblical Truths for the Digital Age, by exploring one of my favorite topics: photography.


One of the really neat things about Facebook is that you can share photos with family and friends.


My brother and his wife were on vacation in Jamaica this past week and he posted some photos that are just stunning. Here’s one of them (show photo). Just look at that beautiful, clear, blue water! Man, I would love to go there… and fish!


Now I’ve never been to Jamaica. In fact, I’ve never been anywhere with water that clear and that blue. But I got to experience it on my computer thousands of miles away thanks to my brother posting photos of his trip.


I love photos. My maternal grandfather was quite a photographer and I have some of his cameras that were passed down to me. I even studied photography in college at East Texas State University (back when it was called that) and my bachelor’s degree from that institution is actually a double major in photography and journalism.


The word “photography” actually means writing with light. In the “old” days, when we had something called “film,” the lens of the camera focused the rays of light onto the film when the shutter was opened. The light striking the film caused a chemical change in the film which became permanent once the film was developed using chemicals.


Nowadays our cameras have little electronic sensors that react when light hits them, and onboard computers turn that into a digital image that we can then print out or save electronically. We can even post them to Facebook.


And the quality of photographs today is extraordinary! The camera in my phone actually takes higher resolution photos than my Digital SLR camera does. And the phones even have built in software to make the images look even better than real life. So all those selfies you see of women with beautiful, flawless faces are automatically, digitally enhanced, so don’t be jealous if you think they have better skin than you do.


I see a lot of theology in photography. Jesus described himself, and his followers, as the light of the world, right? So what if we metaphorically used Jesus as light to create images that reflect the awesomeness and lovingness of God? What if share these theological “photos” with the world, showing the way Jesus is working in our lives, and what if we share these the way we share photos on Facebook?


Now at first glance the scripture we read today from the Gospel of Luke looks like it has nothing in the world to do with photography. After all, photography wasn’t around in the first century. But I contend we can learn some important things from this scripture when viewed through the lens of photography.


In the scripture we find Jesus visiting the house of Mary and Martha. Martha goes about doing all the things that need to be done, probably preparing a meal, cleaning things up, etc. In contrast, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to him and just being near him.


Now Martha gets frustrated with this. There is just so much to do, and she is on her feet trying to get it all done. And there sits her sister Mary, not helping out at all, but instead just listening to Jesus.


That’s not right. That’s not fair. Mary should be up working just like Martha, right? Right?


Martha gets so frustrated that she tells Jesus about it. “Hey, I’m working my fingers to the bone here trying to fix us something to eat and all Mary is doing is sitting there listening to you. That’s not right. Tell her to get up and help me.”


Here is Jesus’ response from The Message paraphrase: “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”


And this is where I want to tie in photography with the scripture.


Light is composed of photons, tiny energetic little particles that travel around really fast (at the speed of light since they are… well… light…). They bounce off of things and scatter around, kind of like 1st grade students on a playground or Walmart shoppers at a Black Friday sale.


Through the incredible divine engineering of the human body we have eyes that use these photons to allow us to see things. And the physics of sight is fascinating to me because when we “see” something what we are actually seeing the photons that have bounced off that object, then those photos are focused by the lenses of our eyes to the retinas which then take the image, convert them to an electrical signal and then sent through the optic nerve to our brains where it is interpreted and our brain tells us what we are looking at. Yeah. I find that fascinating!


Okay, there are two things I want us to reflect on theologically with regards to the scripture about Mary and Martha and photography.


The first has to do with things being upside down and backwards.


When we see something with our eyes the image that is projected on the back of our eyes is upside down and backwards. Yep. Now we don’t “see” things that way because our brains read the signals and in doing so correct for that so that we see things as they should be. But the reality is that the image focused on the retina is, in fact, upside down and backwards.


When I was taking photography courses at ETSU we were required to learn how to use large format view cameras. These cameras made incredibly sharp photos because the film was huge. Instead of a little 35mm sized film they used 4×5 inch film, and some of them even used 8×10 inch film.


One of the challenges of using this type of camera is that when you focused the image you did so on a piece of frosted glass on the back of the camera. The the image you saw was upside down and backwards. This photo shows you what it looks like.


So when taking photos with this type of camera I had to use a dark cloth and compose the photo knowing that the final image would be upside down and backwards from what I was looking at. It took a while to get used to this way of thinking, but after a while it became almost second nature.


Theologically speaking, as Christians we are called to remember that the Christian view is upside down and backwards from the worldly view.


The world tells us that our self worth is based on popularity or how much money or fancy things that we have.  Jesus, however, says that world view is upside down and backwards. Jesus tells us that our self worth should come from the fact that we are children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God is crazy in love with us, not because of what we have or what we do, but just because he has pure, unconditional love for us.  


Look at the beatitudes that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount found in the fifth chapter of Matthew:


Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the meek…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…


See what I mean? These are all things that are upside down and backwards from a worldly perspective. But the Bible acts as our theological optic nerve and helps us to perceive them as actually being right side up, showing that it is the worldly view, in fact, that is upside down and backwards.


With Mary and Martha it was Martha who was perceiving things from a worldly viewpoint, which was upside down and backwards. She was all about getting things ready and cooking and cleaning, thinking that was most important. Yet her sister, Mary, perceived things from a point of view upside down and backwards from that of Martha. She thought the best thing was to sit at Jesus’ feet. That was what was important. Everything else could wait. And Jesus points out that Mary, not Martha, was right.


The second thing I want to explore about this topic is focus.


In photography focus is an important thing. Focus means that the subject appears sharp and with good detail. Here’s a photo I took where the subject is purposefully out of focus. Doesn’t look too good, does it?


There’s term in photography called “selective focus.”  It’s when one part of the photo is in focus and the rest of the photo is intentionally out of focus. This is done to place more visual emphasis on the subject. Ironically if you have a modern cell phone you probably have this capability even though you may not know it. It’s called “Portrait Mode.” In the old days we used to accomplish this with a longer focal length lens and by using a larger aperture that resulted in a narrower depth of field. Now you just push a button and it does it digitally. You can even do it with editing software after the photo has been taken.


I went out and took some photos that hopefully illustrate this. Here is a photo without selective focus. And here is a photo using selective focus. See the difference? And here is the same photo that I edited with software to through the background even more out of focus. The subject takes more prominence in the photo with selective focus.


Mary had selective focus while Martha did not. Martha was focused on the many tasks required of first century living. Jesus was in the picture but was not the center of attention. Martha focused on her worldly tasks as well as Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, focused on Jesus only, intentionally throwing the rest of the world, which was not as important as Jesus, out of focus.


As Christians today if we try focusing on everything, the world as well as Jesus, then nothing stands out. Everything is the same. But that’s not what the Bible teaches us. The Bible teaches that we cannot serve the world and Jesus. We must choose, one or the other. And as Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, our focus should be primarily on Jesus. We should choose to selectively and actively focus on Jesus, throwing the rest of the world out of focus as a result.


So my challenge to you this week is that whenever you post or see a photograph on Facebook, Instagram, or any other type of photo, remember that as a follower of Christ we are to be upside and backwards from the world. Our life photos should be selectively focused on Jesus, not the rest of the world.


We should be more like Mary and less like Martha. We should focus more on sitting at the Master’s feet and learning his ways than getting caught up in the busyness of the world like Martha.


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


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