Sermon, Sept. 25

Our readings this morning tell us that God calls us to HOPE and God calls us to HELP.  Today I am mostly going to talk about Helping… but I think the Hope is really important too. If we don’t have hope, then we can get too sad or tired or overwhelmed to feel able to help. That’s one of the things we do together as a church:  we help each other have hope, for our own lives and for the world.

But now I want to talk about helping. Let’s talk about that story about the rich man and Lazarus.What could the rich man have done differently, before he died?…

  • He could have shared food.
  • He could have gotten Lazarus a doctor, or even a place to live.
  • He could have tried to find out why Lazarus was there to begin with. He could have looked at Lazarus and thought, Why are there so many poor people, without food and without homes, lying on the streets of Jerusalem? Something is wrong. Why is it like this? What can I do to change it?

A friend told me a story recently about taking her granddaughters to Chicago. The girls live in a small town in Wisconsin and had never been to the big city before. They enjoyed all the sights of the big city, the fancy stores and museums and parks. But they were also sad to see all the homeless people there, even families with little kids, settling down to sleep in doorways as the evening approached. Finally one of the girls turned to her grandma and said,  “Nana, DO something!”

Grownups just laugh sadly at that story because we know what a big, messy, hard problem that is. It will take a lot of money to fix that situation, to help change all those people’s lives so they have homes and work and food to feed their children. But even more than all the money, what it will really take is this: A whole lot of people who want it to change. Who are determined that things have got to be better.

Maybe an ordinary family like mine, if we didn’t have too many extra bills that month, maybe we could take one of those families sleeping in a doorway, one of those Lazarus families in Chicago or Madison today, and we could buy them a good dinner, and pay for them to sleep in a hotel for a night. But we couldn’t change things for them. Tomorrow they would be right back sleeping in a doorway.

But if a whole lot of ordinary families get together, and tell our leaders in our city and our state and our nation that we don’t want anybody to be homeless or hungry anymore, if enough of us got together and really stayed focused on that, we might, eventually, make a difference.

God wants us to help. And there are lots and lots and lots of ways to help. But there are two big simple ways: Give, and Speak. Give means, buy somebody a meal. Pass on your old coat to MOM, so another child can wear it this winter. Help assemble Backpack Snack Packs for hungry kids. Cook a dish for the folks at the men’s shelter. Give to MOM or MUM or Briarpatch or Second Harvest or my discretionary fund and let us give to others in need. We do a lot of giving, at St. Dunstan’s. We can always do more – but we do this pretty well.

But giving isn’t the only way to help. We can also Speak. That can mean lots of things – talking with friends or family about the things we worry about and hope for;  talking with our leaders and officials; using our votes when there’s an election of any kind; showing up for meetings or when people are gathering to show support or concern about something.

Speaking and Giving are different, but they’re both important and you can do both. You can feed a hungry person,while also asking our leaders why they let so many people be hungry, and how we could work together to change things.

Today is Bread for the World Sunday. Bread for the World is an organization that asks Christians to speak to our leaders, and ask them to be faithful to one of God’s highest priorities: feeding the hungry. It could be a detailed two-page letter that outlines exactly what legislation we hope they’ll support. It could be just a postcard or a Tweet that says, Remember the hungry. Each year Bread for the World chooses a particular issue as a focus, so that we can press our leaders to take real steps. This year the issue is asking our government to give more to programs in poor countries around the world that help mamas and babies have enough to eat. We’ll hear more about Bread in a few minutes.

Kids can’t vote yet – not till you’re 18! But you can still speak to your elected leaders. There are some tables up here at the front, and we’re going to write note to four people – President Obama; our Senators, Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin; and our Representative, Mark Pocan. You can write a note that says Remember the hungry! or if you feel like you can write more, you can use this text, and maybe add some of your own words about why you think this is important. You can draw a picture too if you want, of a happy mama and baby who have enough to eat! I hope each of you will do four letters. We’ll put them all together and mail them later.

OKAY, Grownups… time for YOUR Children’s Sermon. There will be visual aids and response activities and everything! Today is Social Media Sunday.  (And no, I didn’t invent this; observed widely for several years; this is our first time observing it.)

How many of you use some form of social media? That includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Raise your hand… How many are on social media at least once a week? Once a day? More than once a day?

So we hear a lot about the bad of social media – and that’s real; people can be addicted, people can get into unproductive fights with strangers, people can use these platforms to be creepy or abusive. But there’s a lot of potential for good, too.

Raise your hand if you’ve used social media to share information about an issue of concern… If you’ve ever learned something new or gotten a new perspective from something you read or saw on social media… If you think you’ve ever given somebody else a new perspective, by way of social media…  If you’ve used social media to be in touch with your public officials… Who’s used social media to get support, prayers, even help in a hard time?  Who has ever posted about their church or their faith on social media?…   All right, we’ll come back to that.

Now, a very quick tutorial. This is the At-sign, and it’s used at the beginning of someone’s handle (or username) on Twitter or Instagram. Individuals and organizations can have them. Mine is @revmirandah; the church’s is @StDunstansMSN.

This is the Hashtag – again, mostly used on Twitter and Instagram. Hashtags work two ways. One is, it’s a way you can search to find people talking about the same thing, even if you don’t know them and they don’t know each other. Another is, to be funny or comment on what else you just said. So you’ll see a lot of hashtags that aren’t really functional hashtags – usually the long ones.  People use them on Facebook some as well, even though Facebook doesn’t really work that way.

So if you were to Tweet or post to Instagram about Social Media Sunday, you might include the church’s handle -@StDunstansMSN – and you might include the hashtag #SMS16.

Now let’s talk briefly about some of the platforms out there.

Facebook – who uses Facebook? … I think Facebook is the most familiar and maybe the most intuitive. On Facebook, you’re connected with a set list of people – your Facebook “friends.” Some have 1000s, some have 50. You have to build that network, by asking people to be your friend, or by saying yes when they ask you. So you have a thought, or a funny thing happens, or you take a picture, or you read an article; and you post or share it on Facebook, and then all those friends can see it. The interesting thing – and sometimes the challenging thing – about Facebook is that ALL those friends see what you posted. Sometimes some of those friends from different corners of your life see things differently from you, or from each other.

Twitter – who uses Twitter? … Twitter is very different from Facebook. I’ve been using it fairly regularly for a little over a year. I mostly re-tweet things – sharing a tweet I read that I think is important or funny. I don’t create a lot of content on Twitter. Twitter has the famous 140-character limit (though they’re stretching that now…), so people express themselves very concisely on Twitter!

Instead of a friend network, on Twitter, you “follow” people to see their tweets, and people can “follow” you to see your tweets. Twitter is interesting because it’s totally public – unlike Facebook, anything you Tweet is visible to ANYONE – but it can also seem very private because if you don’t have a lot of followers, you can Tweet something and NOBODY will Like it. Or maybe just your mom.

What I like about Twitter: its immediacy – you can hear about what’s happening RIGHT NOW; its flatness – if you’ve got a favorite author or minor celebrity who’s on Twitter, you may have a chance to interact with them; and I’ve really used it to diversify my media, by, for example, following people who are commenting on current events from the standpoint of racial equity. So, I read on Twitter much more than I post.

Instagram – who uses it? … I don’t use Instagram much myself but I’m going to try to start.  It’s mostly for sharing photos. Like Twitter, you “follow” people to see what they share, and vice versa. And you can Like people’s photos, and use hashtags to index photos, or link your photos to a place or a project or event.  Some folks say that Instagram can actually be a good beginner platform – because it’s pretty easy and it’s mostly pretty nice.

Snapchat – who uses it?…  Snapchat & Instagram are maybe most popular with teens & twenty-somethings these days, though as soon as us old people move in, they’ll move on.  Snapchat is a way of sharing photos socially –  they come to your phone like a text or instant message. You can add funny captions and doodle on them. The photos disappear quickly, so there’s an element of, you have to be tuned in, if you miss it, you miss it. (But people can get themselves in trouble because the picture only disappears quickly if the person receiving the photo doesn’t screencap it and keep it!…)

There are other platforms too, but that’s a good start!

Okay, Miranda, but WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA IN CHURCH? Listen, a friend told me a few years ago that he’d read somewhere that the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 46 years.  I think that’s probably not quite fair… but it is funny.

The reason some folks came up with Social Media Sunday a few years ago is to help encourage church folks to share about their faith life on social media,  just like you share about other parts of your life. If you are a social media user, it can be a really easy, effective way to let people know about your faith and your church.

When you post to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram about a cool event at your church, or a bit of a sermon or song or Scripture that speaks to you, or about how God is present to you in daily life, YOU ARE EVANGELIZING. You are proclaiming. You’re letting people who know you, who aren’t church folks but might be curious or interested – you’re letting them know that you are a person of faith, and that you belong to a community of faith that you value. And you NEVER HAD TO HAVE AN AWKWARD CONVERSATION ABOUT IT. You just Shared about something you do anyway.

In your bulletin you got a sheet about “15 Ways to Share your Faith on Social Media” – some of these are great, some are a little corny. On the back, we’ve added a few of our own. Please take special note of #21, #SelfiewithaSaint a special challenge for today and this week!

If you are NOT a social media user, and don’t plan to become one, here’s your take-away from Social Media Sunday: When you see somebody with their smartphone out in church, don’t judge. DON’T ASSUME they’re tuning out. They might have heard something they really like, and be Tweeting it or posting on Facebook. Which is awesome! They might be donating to the church online, at . They might have heard about an upcoming event, and be putting it on their calendar. They might be texting a friend to say, Hey, I’m at church and wanted to let you know I’m praying for you and my community is too. They might be snapping a photo or taking a video of what we’re doing, because they think it’s worth recording!

Maybe they got curious about one of the Scripture readings and they’re looking it up in an online Bible. Maybe they’re Tweeting their elected officials to ask them to remember the needs of the hungry – Bread for the World uses Twitter a lot, and invites us to use it too. They even have a Social Media Kit – you can pick up a copy or look at it online. They say, “Digital-minded Christians should see social media platforms as an opportunity to “give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and destitute” (Psalm 82:3). Engaging in digital conversations is engaging in democracy, which is part of good Christian stewardship.”

So, social media can be a powerful tool – for speaking, for evangelizing, for helping, and for sharing hope.