Wrong on the Internet
You’ve seen the cartoon. My dad recently sent me a variation of it. In this version, a woman is lying in bed trying to sleep. Next to her, her husband, wide awake, says: “I can’t go to sleep… Someone is wrong on the Internet!”
For freedom Christ has set us free, Paul writes. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. This might be what you could call the “life verse” of the late Rev. Dr. James M. Dunn, who was the professor of Christianity and public policy at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity during my time there. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. “But someone is wrong on the Internet!”
You and I and probably everyone human have felt the boil of knowing that someone else is wrong, and we’re right. And it gives us a true gut reaction, doesn’t it? We have got to set them straight.
Amy Oden, who teaches at Saint Paul School of Theology in Oklahoma City, reflects on this passage from Galatians. She says: “We recognize the need to justify our views, prove we are right, defend our faith. But we don’t stop there. We also have the impulse to attack — to show how that person is wrong, misguided, even unfaithful.”
My sisters. My brothers. My dear family. I’ve felt it; you might have felt it. It can be exhausting to live with the feeling that someone is wrong on the Internet. What do the Scriptures say to you and me, thousands of years after they were recorded, about this feeling?
Paul counsels the little house congregation in Galatia: For freedom Christ has set us free. What does this mean?
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
This is the passage from Galatians that concludes with Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit – as we see on the board in the fellowship hall: Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Generosity. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control. But someone is wrong on the Internet.
I point the finger at myself here. I have on occasion been known to write a letter to the editor or, um, set straight someone on the Internet.
In my knowledge of who I am, as a child of God, as a person of faith, as a baptized Christian, my prayer is to cultivate and to harvest the fruits of the Spirit. When I write a letter to the editor, or speak with someone on the Internet, the goal for me is to share my opinion in a way that reflects Paul’s advice, which incorporates that “the whole law is summed up in a single commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I fall short. I do not always succeed. But increasingly I am finding that remembering this passage from Paul – in fact, hearing it in Dr. Dunn’s unmistakable Texas accent – calls me back to my identity as a beloved child of God and baptized Christian. This passage reminds me not only of who I am but also of the Christ who has claimed me.
In First Kings, the reading for today shows Elijah that, even as he has escaped from Jezebel and is running for his life – even as someone has been Wrong On the Internet – the Lord reminds Elijah that life is not a solo act, and that Elijah is not solely responsible for the people of God from whom he is now running away.
In Psalm 16, we hear again that someone is Wrong on the Internet: Save me – but those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods, never take their names upon my lips. And then what happens? O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a rich inheritance…. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy. That is: yes, someone is Wrong on The Internet. And! After Elijah comes Elisha. And! Someone worships other gods – and! God is so good to me. And God is so good to the person who worships other gods, even as they do not know it in their hearts. How can my walk with God shine a light on the path so that someone who worships other gods might be drawn to that light?
But, Jesus! Someone is Wrong on the Internet!
That’s what we hear, or the first-century equivalent, in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus and his disciples are passing through a village of Samaritans, descendants of Assyrian invaders.
Come on, Jesus! Let me write a letter to the village newspaper and make sure everyone knows how wrong they are not to receive you!
And Jesus says, “Don’t do that!” And they move on to another village. And this is where we get, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” And, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Harsh words? Absolutely.
What happens when you and I hear those words in one ear and, in the other ear, the echo of twenty years after Jesus’ death, when Paul will write to the Galatians sharing the message of Jesus? For freedom Christ has set us free. What does it feel like to be set free from the captivity of the world to choose to become slaves to one another? It feels like this: Someone is Wrong on the Internet. And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Idolatry, anger, quarrels and envy: Those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
When the young man says to Jesus, “First let me bury my father,” Jesus’ strong words, even cruel words, are one way, perhaps, of saying, Funerals are for the living. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God,” is one way of saying, “Choose.” The Kingdom of God is a kingdom overflowing with the fruits of the Spirit, perfectly ripe and ready for us to take and eat. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. How does the Spirit guide you and me?