Words on Wednesday: A LiveJournal Faith in a Facebook World
A Look at the Sermon on the Mount Through Social Media.
The following was preached at my congregation, First Christian Church of St. Paul on January 29, 2023. I preached from Matthew 5:1-12.
I’m not crazy about the trend these days to blame social media for…well, everything that’s bad in modern society. It wasn’t that long ago when some of the same people who blame social media for everything from mental health to political polarization thought Facebook or Twitter were going to make our world better. I’m not saying that social media doesn’t have a dark side, like anything in this world where sin is present it does, but sometimes we want a monocausal explanation when the reality is far more complex.
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Social media is complex. There are still good things about it, but there are also bad things. I don’t know if social media changes us or if it is the other way around, but you do notice how it can be negative in people’s lives.
But social media can also be good. It can bring people together and it can even connect people who were isolated to a larger life. A friend of mine that I know primarily through Twitter was sidelined because of illness. Not able to work, he hopped on Twitter and began writing. One thing led to another and he now has a career as a podcaster and writer and that was all through social media.
Before there was Facebook or Twitter or Instagram there was LiveJournal. Livejournal in the first decade of our new century. It is basically its title: it was a journal that you could share with the world. I joined in 2002 and it opened me up to new friends and new experiences. It was great getting to know these people. What was so fascinating about LiveJournal was that in many ways it was unfiltered. People were themselves on LiveJournal. People shared when they were happy and sad and it felt like a sense of community.
The rise of Facebook and Twitter saw LiveJournal loose people. Over the years it was sold to different companies. Today it is owned by a Russian media company and its servers are now in Russia instead of the US. The Livejournal that I knew and loved is gone.
What I noticed with the newer social media is how different people act. I’m not here to argue if that’s by design or not, but the authenticity that I found on Livejournal was gone and replaced by what seems like performance and curation. I found less a sense of community and more people projecting their beliefs and opinions. People’s lives could at times seem very curated, showing only the more exciting parts of people’s lives and not always when they fell short or when they were upset. It wasn’t that people didn’t share bad news, but it always felt like life was about sharing what we believed and it wasn’t about being honest with.
When I think about how curated at times our lives can be on social media today I think about the beatitudes. Here in Matthew Jesus is starting his Sermon on the Mount which takes up chapters 5-7 in Matthew and it starts here. If the Sermon on the Mount is the Constitution for Christians, then the Beatitudes are the Preamble (which I have committed to memory thanks to Schoolhouse Rock).
The word beatitude in Greek is where we get the words happy or blessed. It can also mean favored. So when you read this passage you got to read with this in mind. These are the people who God favors. God cares for people who are not always at their best or people who frankly are hard to love. God also favors those who may not be happy, who might be depressed or are mourning the loss of a loved one. God favors those who work hard for peace or who stand up for justice even at great cost, Jesus starts his ministry by saying who are the people that matter to God and the people that matter are not necessarily successful or famous. The ones who are in need. Jesus did reach out to people in power, but usually, that’s because they come in need. When Jairus, a leader in the synagogue comes to Jesus in Mark 5, the passage says he falls at Jesus’ feet. His daughter is ill and he comes not full of himself, but in honest desperation that only Jesus can heal his daughter. God favors someone like Jairus who comes not in his power, but in his weakness, relying on God. The Beatitudes are more like Livejournal than it is Facebook or Twitter.
When Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd what God favors he is saying that God doesn’t want to our curated lives. God doesn’t want people that look good but are ugly on the inside or think highly of themselves. Instead, God wants people who are humble, who are merciful and who treat people justly. If it sounds like I’m quoting Micah 6:8, you are correct.
In Micah God is upset at the people of Israel. They broke the covenant God made with them. In verse 6, the prophet asks how can they come before God. Maybe it’s with burnt offerings or maybe with their firstborn? You can imagine God shaking God’s head and saying to the people, you know what I want from you. Piety or worship matters, but it means nothing if you don’t live worthy lives of justice. I want you to act justly, to be merciful, and not to take yourself seriously but to take me seriously.
These passages are not only asking what kind of people God favors but also what kind of people we as the church are supposed to care for and the kind of people we are to be in the world. We are supposed to care for those who are physically poor and those who are impoverished in other ways, befriend and reach out to those who mourn, and stand with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is the church we need to be. It’s not about being a liberal or conservative church, but a church that seeks to be humans humbly following God.
A few years ago, Amy Grant released a song called Better Than a Hallelujah. The song says that God isn’t so concerned with our curated lives but instead wants our broken hearts. She says,
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah
May we be a church that doesn’t live a curated life, but an honest one. May we be a community of caring and one that seeks God’s heart in word and in deed. May we lives that are more Livejournal and maybe a little less Facebook. Thanks be to God. Amen.