February 2 - Sermon Transcript
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 2 John 12,13 & 3 John 13,14 ~ Sunday, February 2, 2020
Worldwide, there are over 3.0 billion active monthly users of social media, and of the 300 million of us in the United States. Sometimes it feels like we’ve all just become new “Friends” on Facebook. We live in a hyper-connected era, where you can essentially connect with anyone with a tap on a social app, text message, or a voice or video call all from a little device you can carry around in your pocket wherever you go. In such an incredibly connected environment, it would seem safe to assume that loneliness has been all but eradicated.
Yet according to a study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona, published by American Sociological Review, Americans’ circle of close friends and confidants has shrunk dramatically since the dawn of the internet and social media. The number who say they have no one outside of their immediate family to discuss important matters with has more than doubled, reaching a shocking 53.4% — up 17% even as avenues for digital connection have multiplied. What’s more, nearly a quarter of those surveyed say they have no close friends or confidants at all — a 14% percent increase since we all became so digitally connected.
Some are calling it “connection disconnection,” and its effects are significant. In this age of instant digital connectivity, the wave of loneliness that “connection disconnection” produces is sweeping the nation. So much so that according to current research loneliness may now be the next biggest public health crisis to face Americans since the rise of obesity and substance abuse! https://medium.com/thrive-global/the-science-of-human-connection-and-wellness-in-a-digitally-connected-world-611eb8c1b51c
From the creation of the very first human being, God himself said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” What was God’s solution? Another human being: “I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). For Adam God created Eve, another human being, to be his friend, his confidant. God cemented this social connection in a unique and special way through the bond of marriage. This was a friendship with lifelong benefits, a “til death do us” part, partnership; coupled with the special and exclusive connection they would share as lovers too.
The best marriages grow out of a deep and abiding friendship: a face-to-face, heart-to-heart connection. That kind of “in flesh” interaction is important, and not just for the romantic aspects of the relationship. It’s actually crucial to the sense of well-being that each feels in the relationship. That’s not exclusive to marriage. Friendships form and deepen through that kind of connection. Do you hear that longing, that need for “in person” connection echoing in the Apostle John’s short letters (2 & 3 John)? “I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). “I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 John 13).
It’s clear that John knows the importance of “in person” friendship. He grasps the special blessings of God that come from being “face to face.” Actually, the expression John uses in the original Greek language is “mouth to mouth.” He’s not talking CPR. Nor is he making an aggressive Valentine’s Day kind of proposal. What he is saying is, “I want to see your lips moving—trembling when you’re sad, smiling when you’re happy, frowning when you’re angry. I want to talk in person. I want to focus on you personally without distraction and not a thousand people at the same time online.” OK, that last thought wasn’t a thing for John, but the truth of it is still valid. Though the urgency of the current situation facing this congregation compelled John to write and share his heartfelt concern, he makes it clear that he longs to communicate “mouth to mouth.” Because when situations are difficult and trying, there is a greater level of relational safety in being face-to-face. There is protection in working through issues, “mouth to mouth” because it provides the best opportunity to understand and be understood! Where that happens, that’s real connection, the kind that produces heart-level feelings of well-being for the friendship relationship between one another.
Might it also explain why people are feeling more and more disconnected today even if they are hyper-connected digitally? I participated in a webinar, a web-based seminar, this past Thursday. There were about 80 participants in this webinar. Everyone but the presenter turned off their computer cameras. Doing so avoids running out of bandwidth and freezing up the presentation but it also helps keep everyone focused on the presenter and the content being shared. Before the presenter launched into his presentation, though, he made this sincere request. He said, “I know we live in a two-screen world. I have a hard time thinking about watching something on Netflix without also having my phone in hand and looking at it from time-to-time too. But to really get the most out of this time together, I’m going to be so bold as to ask you to put down your phone and turn off any other devices and just focus on the material in front of you for the next hour.” A common sense request! Yet, isn’t it telling that such a request had to be explicitly made?
Let me make this personal. Have your digital connections ever distracted you from the family members and friends who are physically right in front of you? This picture captures what I’m talking about (people around a table but all staring down at their cell phones). Even when we’re in one another’s presence, increasingly we’re not actually connecting with people face-to-face. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I care to admit. Lack of attention to the friends right in front of us, our closest circle of companions, is very common today.
So what’s the solution? Just put down our screens, right? To be sure that’s part of it. But I wonder if there really is a deeper problem afoot? I want you to write this down and reflect on it: We think we’re better friends than we really are. We think we are more capable of more friendships than we can actually handle. We think that we can multi-task our way through multiple, meaningful relationships. This is a lie we tell ourselves, our friends, and our God.
Let’s unpack this in a little different way. Instinctively you likely recognize that there are different levels of friendship and different types of friends. 4th century philosopher, Aristotle, taught that there are three different kinds of friendships: pleasure friendships which are the kind of friends who are fun to hang out with. These casual acquaintances bring you social enjoyment. Aristotle taught that there are also advantage friends. These are connections that help you get things done, get ahead, gain an advantage for yourself. The highest form of friendship, in Aristotle’s estimation is virtue friendship. This type of friendship is rooted in commitment to the other. This last category is the deepest kind of friendship and, also, the most rare. It calls for real commitment. And it isn’t about what I get out of the friendship for myself but really about what I’m willing to invest in it for the benefit of the other person.
When it comes to the best kind of friend, the most virtuous friend you could possibly imagine: that’s the kind of friend Jesus is to you! He really is your very best friend ever! Just as pen and ink weren’t enough for the apostle John to practice his friendship, Bible books and prophecies weren’t enough for Jesus. Even the Ten Commandments written on stone by the finger of God weren’t enough. Jesus needed to come and visit face to face. Jesus became human so he could see and feel and spend quality time in the moment with us. Hebrews 1:1,2 says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” God loves you so much that he meets you face to face, his life for yours in Jesus. He takes your sin, whatever it is that distracts or distances you from him. He steps in to regain your attention, to renew your focus on him in this distracted world. He shows you mercy and grants you peace. Every circumstance that tries to lure your heart away, he overcomes it with his divine promises. You not only have his Word on this. You have him. With his own mouth he promised while face to face with his first disciples, “Surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus sticks closer than a brother and even laid down his life in order to save your soul! The kind of friend your heart most desires is exactly the friend you have in Jesus!
In a speech in June of 2017, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, called attention to an important role that he wants his social media platform to fulfill in people’s lives, a role that church has accomplished for people in previous generations, namely, bringing people together. Interestingly he used the church as a point of comparison. He observed: “A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation … Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.” But Zuckerberg also noted: “It’s striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined by as much as one-quarter. That's a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.” His goal is that his social media platform will fill that void. I commend his motives: “If we can do this, it will not only turn around the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.” https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/26/mark-zuckerberg-compares-facebook-to-church-little-league.html
While social media can bring a kind of connection, it’s clear from research that virtual friendship isn’t an adequate replacement for face-to-face friendship. In Scripture Jesus solidified the significance, the value of face-to-face friendship when he made this promise: “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). While we can in one sense gather together in cyberspace and Jesus is able to join us there, in simplest terms Jesus is really making his heartfelt appeal to draw us together, face-to-face, “mouth to mouth” in Jesus’ name. He’s promising to personally be with us as we gather to listen to his Word, sing his praises, join in praying to him and discover our deepest sense of purpose from him! And in the process, he’s doing something else for us too: he’s knitting us together into the most incredible network, a network of friends, his friends! Here you get to enjoy face-to-face friendship in deep, in-the-moment, virtuous relationships that are a reflection as well as a reminder of the most virtuous friend of all: Jesus himself. What rich blessings from our generous Savior, as he works through these friendships for the greatest good, connecting with and caring for each other, encouraging each other with the same divine promises, living according to the same eternal priorities, and marching on the same mission in the same direction to the same destination. The things we need most, Jesus supplies! For Jesus understands that the cure for loneliness is more than just connection, it is face-to-face friendship. That’s the friendship we find in Jesus. Those are the kinds of friendships he blesses us with in one another, as we gladly gather together in his name! Amen.