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Sunday message: Fluff or substance?

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Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019

Scriptures:

  • John 10:22-30
  • Psalm 23
  • Acts 9:36-43

For lots of years, and especially the last number of months, there was a scary feeling that started creeping up on me, more and more. It felt like I was pursuing “fluff” in a certain sense. Yes, when we look at the word, “fluff”, it might conjure up something worthless or merely nonsensical and standing in the way. This is in particular when we see it in conjunction with “substance.” 

When we heard the story about Tabitha according to Acts 9, she seemed to have had a God-given knack of finding the things of substance in this life.

We all know how literal fluff, and definitely not substance, accumulates under our beds, furniture and in the corners of our living spaces. Balls of fluff are kind of annoying. Why do they build up in the places that we’ve just cleaned? It seems as if the air circulation has something to do with the appearance of fluff. Can we do anything with the fluff? Not really, eh!

Think of the social media that we have increasingly been encountering the last decade or so. Think of the way many of us have been drawn into the lure of many interesting websites and links that seize a person’s attention. I have personally found Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others to be quite intrusive in my productivity and I sense that I’ve become quite distracted and way less focussed than I would wish to be.

On May 12, 2017 (it happens to be exactly two years ago today) Bill Maher said something very non-political on HBO. He said, and I quote: “The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your ‘likes’ is the new smoking.” 1.)

Wherever we go nowadays, into malls, restaurants, airports, on the street, you see people with these nifty little devices called smartphones, scrolling for some new ideas, jokes or news. Of course there is a place for all of this, but there is a line which gets crossed ever so subtly. We get carried away by being available 24/7 and by swiping towards the void that our devices are supposed to fill. 

A young man by the name of Tristan Harris, who used to work for Google as a design ethicist, first established a big idea for the tech industry, and named it the Time Well Spent movement. Recently, he unveiled the sequel—making the bold statement that tech platforms are undermining humanity. His idea, which he calls “downgrading,” attempts to explain everything from smartphone addiction to political polarization. Is his diagnosis that humanity is being “downgraded” correct? This might be a good question to ponder on. 2.)

We agree that there is a balance to everything in life, and moderation has never hurt anyone. However, when beauty and youth, for example, become an obsession in our culture, it becomes hard to justify what we really are up to. The weight-loss industry is a $20-billion cash-cow. Cosmetic surgery is a $12-billion industry trying to keep us eternally young and wrinkle free. 3.)

The “fluff” and almost empty senselessness stands in stark contrast to the substance that is to be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

When we allow God’s Spirit to nurture a wholesome, strong relationship with our creator-God, substance gushes forth. There is so much to be found in this deep relationship.

How does it come to fruition? Perhaps much of it can be found through allowing the Spirit to work in and through the scriptures. More of this may come through the fellowship of believers who care for one another. 

Substance comes through authentic friendships with people who can be seen, touched and heard, as opposed to the superficial “likes” and “posts” on social media. It quickly replaces the “fluff” that tends to be what technology shows us. 

Substance is found in a new balance that is acquired by setting the lightweight simple things aside in favour of more meaningful care for people on a face-to-face basis. 

Tabitha’s life according to Acts 9 was a life that touched other people’s lives in a sincere and substantial way. Jesus’ Spirit shone through her relationship life in Jesus Christ, it was evident in the good works and her acts of charity. Tabitha seems to have lived a life of substance.

In a similar way, the world mourns the loss of Jean Vanier, the man who founded L’Arche and who gave disability a newly found dignity. What a meaningful life that was filled with substance.

I don’t know how Peter raised Tabitha. All I can try and imagine, is that her life touched so many people’s lives, as Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier did and perhaps Tabitha’s life became such a living memory that she lived on as the Mother Teresas and Jean Vaniers live on, bringing substance to the world. But then, most likely she literally must have stood up following Peter’s sincere and honest prayer to God, when Peter said “Tabitha, get up!” She got up and appeared to the saints and widows. 

Peter too, lives on in the life of the church throughout the ages, because Jesus is the one who lives in him. 

We saw the good works that Tabitha had left behind. Perhaps tunics, cloaks, robes, shawls, and such. Peter had his own profound collection. Healed bodies, saved souls, and a living Tabitha. Such are the good works that the apostle leaves behind.

Peter’s example and Tabitha’s example challenge us. We see what each left behind, and we ask, ‘What is it that I leave in my wake? What is the impact and effect of you or I having been in a community, a church, a school, a workplace, a family?”

Looking at the example of Tabitha, we see that the good works she left behind remind us of her Lord. In the end He is the original artisan, after all, and He has generously shared his handiwork with us. The works of his hands lead us to songs of praises.

In a similar way, looking at the example of Peter, we see that the works he left behind also remind us of his Lord. We follow Peter, and we remember the Lord Jesus who sent his followers out, and I quote: “to proclaim the good news, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

The deeds and lives of Jesus’ people, you see, remind us of Him. In the end, they are—we are—the good works that Jesus leaves behind. 4.) 

What do we aspire to do? Do we really want to pursue the fluff of social media and the the self-obsessed society we live in, or does a Christ-filled life of substance actually make sense? May God’s Spirit lead us day by day.

Amen.

 

1.) Cal Newport, “Digital minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a world of noise”, p.9

2.) From “The leader of the Time Well Spent movement has a new crusade” on theverge.com (https://www.theverge.com/interface/2019/4/24/18513450/tristan-harris-downgrading-center-humane-tech)

3.) Ramani Durvasula in “Should I stay or should I go? Surviving a relationship with a narcissist” p. 32 (Post Hill Press, 2015)

4.) From “The good works we leave behind” by David J. Kalas on sermons.com 

 

Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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