Would you agree with me that we are living in a high tech world? For many of us, technology has taken control of our lives.
Whether it is the Internet or the smart phone, the iPad or iPod, the Mac or the PC, the Blackberry or the Galaxy, the Kindle or the Kobo, technology has reshaped the way we live. Even the cars we drive are computerized. Think about it. Thanks to technology, we can communicate almost instantly with anyone in the world. We have information at our disposal that was almost impossible to obtain in previous generations. Technology is changing how we live, how we think, how we communicate, how we relate to each other and even how we perceive reality.
Despite the benefits, there’s a downside to technology. Do we really want to be reduced to a number or a password or an access code? Don’t we want our lives to matter, to feel that we are important? Don’t we want to live in an environment of connection and conversation where we experience intimacy and belonging in a community where we care about others and others care about us? Despite the hype and Skype of technology, there is no substitute for the personal touch—human contact with human beings who don’t just say, “Have a nice day,” but really mean it.
You may be aware that young people today seem to be texting almost constantly. It’s not uncommon for some to text 50 or more messages a day. Why is that? Perhaps it’s the fear of loneliness. There is something in each human being that needs to form relationships with other people. A loving family and caring friends are important to our emotional and physical well-being.
“Everybody needs somebody sometime,” Dean Martin used to sing. He was right. Nobody can go it alone. Or, as the poet W. H. Auden put it, “We must love one another or die.”
Perhaps no company has better mastered the balance between high tech and high touch than Starbucks. The company built its business not just on selling coffee but on becoming a “third place”—that informal public place outside of work and home, where people can gather, put aside their concerns, relax and talk. Starbucks is not just about coffee. It’s about connection, conversation and community. People can sit down in a comfortable environment, listen to jazz, read the newspaper, work on their computer, check their e-mail or chat with friends.
I wonder: can the church become a “third place” in people’s lives? Certainly, the church used to be a third place—think of the central role of the village church in the 19th and much of the 20th centuries. Granted, today there many other options besides church, but what would it take for us to regain our role as third place in people’s lives? Or to put it another way: how can we be a high touch church in a high tech world?
In Mark’s gospel, chapter 12 verses 28 to 34, Jesus gives us some instructions about high touch ministry. He’s speaking on the centrality of love and he says three very important things applicable to the church today.
Jesus says first of all, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
What a monumental task! Can anyone really love God that much? Yes, but only because God first loves us. In the First Letter of John we read: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us…We love because he first loved us” (I John 4: 10, 19).
Love begins with God. Without God’s love for us, our love for God would be impossible. So, if you want to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, first think of how much God loves you.
A three-year-old girl became very ill. She was so critically ill that she had to stay in the hospital for several months. In all those months, her mother never once left her bedside. Eventually, the little girl recovered. Once she was home, everyone asked her mother how she had done it. How could anyone have such fortitude? The young mother smiled and said, “She’s my child. I love her more than breathing. She needed me. She needed me as never before. I had to do it. I had to be there for her!”
That’s real love, isn’t it? Real love never quits, never gives up. It doesn’t say, “I love you for what you can do for me.” Or, “I’ll love you as long as it’s convenient.” Real love says, “I’ll love you no matter what. I’ll always be there for you.”
You and I are the recipients of that love. There is a red ribbon that extends from our lives all the way back to a cross at Calvary. Over the past two thousand years, people like us have believed in that love, and they’ve passed that love on. In good times and bad, they didn’t let go of it. And today we are the recipients of that love. The church is a high touch community when we strive to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength because God first loved us.
Jesus goes on to say, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Loving your neighbour begins with loving yourself. There is nothing egotistical about healthy self-love. You’ve got to love yourself before you can love others. Why? Because if you don’t love yourself, if you are not confident about yourself, satisfied with yourself, content with yourself, you will have a terrible time loving God and you will never be able to love your neighbour.
Jesus, in concluding his summary of the law, says, “There is no other commandment greater than these.”
When I was a newly ordained priest, I thought my most important task was to convict people of sin. Later on, I began to realize that it was even more important to convince people that God loves them just the way they are. You see, too many people in this world think they are no good. Companies terminate workers with an implicit message that they are expendable. Families sometimes treat each other cruelly. Students sometimes get the impression that they will never amount to anything. But do you know the real problem in all these scenarios? The real problem is WHEN YOU BELIEVE IT.
G. K. Chesterton, the English novelist and essayist, said that the really great lesson in the story Beauty and the Beast is that a thing must be loved before it is lovable. Well, a person must be loved before that person can be lovable. Some of the most “unlovely people got that way because they thought that nobody loved them. Loved persons are able to love; unloved persons are not.
Christianity says something startling—a message that you will never hear in the business world or even in education. Christianity proclaims that God loves and accepts us “just as we are.” There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, just as there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. God keeps loving and loving and loving, without limit, without end. Therefore, we can love and accept ourselves and, in so doing, love and accept others.
What makes a great church? Is it the building, the music, the preaching, the liturgy, the architecture, the programs? Jesus says that everything a church does comes down to one word—love. The reformed theologian Francis Schaeffer said that when Christ gave the church the commandment to love one another, he gave the world the right to judge us by our love. Quite simply, a church stands or falls by the quality of its love.
Some pundits argue that the church is increasingly irrelevant in our high tech world. I adamantly disagree. In spite of technological advances and scientific achievements, people will always crave the touch of a human being and ultimately, the touch of God. This means that the church has an awesome responsibility: the mission of mediating God’s love to people living in a high tech world. The greatest need of every human being has always been, and will continue to be, love—God’s love to be sure, but human love, too.
Where will people find that love? My hope and prayer is that they find it right here, in our church. At St. James Westminster Anglican Church, we print a message in the bulletin every Sunday, and we mean it: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome.” Everyone is welcome, no exceptions.
If the church could be the kind of high touch community that loves unconditionally, we could change the world. If we could stop putting restrictions on love; if we could appreciate that the message of Jesus is not about rule-keeping but love-making; if we could evaluate every ministry on the quality of its love and its life-giving potential; if we could be a community of grace willing to live with grace toward everyone in need of grace; if we could muster the courage to face tomorrow in the power of God’s love—there would be a new Pentecost, with God’s Spirit transforming lives and impacting our communities and bringing about that new creation God wants so much for this world.
In the 1985 Madrid Marathon, four thousand runners began the great race. In the end, two 36-year-old runners who were very close friends were leading the pack. Near the finish line, one of them was seized with terrible cramps and couldn’t continue. Whereupon the other stopped, picked up his buddy and carried him across the finish line.
None of us can make it on our own. We need each other to help us cross the finish line into the kingdom of God, where God’s love is always and forever.
Let’s not wait until we die before we are carried away by love. Let it happen now, here, today! Let’s take up the challenge and become a high touch church in this high tech world.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.