First Congregational Church
July 30, 2017
8th Sunday after Pentecost
“Who You Gonna Call?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve sometimes thought that it would be cool to have a home that is connected to your phone, so you could make better use of utilities and appliances. But then there’s that voice from the other side of my brain that says that this is probably not as good a plan as it might seem. And this week, I found a guy that tested that very idea.
Jeremy tells the tale of moving into a new “smart” house in Hermosa Beach. Smartest house in the neighborhood. Everything's networked. The cable TV is connected to the phone, which is connected to a personal computer, which is connected to the power lines - all the appliances and the security system. Everything runs off a universal remote with the friendliest interface ever imagined. Programming is a snap and he’s totally wired.
Two days later, he programmed his VCR from the office, turned up the thermostat and switched on the lights with his car phone, and remotely started the oven for his pizza. Everything nice & cozy when he arrived and he was thinking that maybe he should get the universal remote surgically attached.
Three days after that, in a freak event the kitchen crashed when he opened the refrigerator door and the light bulb blew out. Immediately, everything else electrical shut down - lights, microwave, coffee maker - everything. He carefully unplugged and replugged all the appliances. Nothing. Called the cable company who referred him to the utility company. The utility company insisted that the problem was in the software. So the software company ran some remote tele-diagnostics and their expert claimed
it had to be the utility's fault.
Jeremy didn't care, he just wanted his kitchen back. More phone calls; more remote diagnostics. Turns out the problem was "unanticipated failure mode": The network had not been programed to override such an event as lightbulb burnout and the default reaction was to shut down the entire kitchen. But because the sensor memory confirmed that there hadn't actually been a power surge, the kitchen logic sequence was confused and it couldn't do a standard restart. The utility guy swore that it was the first time it had ever happened, and rebooting the kitchen took over an hour.
Four days later, the police were not happy. The “house” kept calling them for help. It was discovered that whenever the TV or stereo sound rose above 25 decibels, it created patterns of micro-vibrations that got amplified when they hit the window. When those vibrations mixed with a gust of wind, the security sensors were actuated, and the police computer concluded that someone is trying to break in. On top of that, whenever the basement was in self-diagnostic mode, the universal remote won't let Jeremy change the channels on the TV. That meant he actually had to get up off the couch and change the channels by hand. The software and the utility people said this flaw would be fixed in the next upgrade - SmartHouse 2.1. But it wasn’t ready yet.
Five days after that, the house caught a virus. Jeremy’s personal computer caught it while browsing on the public access network. He came home and the living room was a sauna, the bedroom windows were covered with ice, the refrigerator had defrosted, the washing machine had flooded the basement, the garage door was cycling up and down and the TV was stuck on the home shopping channel. Through-out the house, lights flickered like stroboscopes until they exploded from the strain. Broken glass was everywhere. Of course, the security sensors detected nothing. Then Jeremy saw at a message slowly throbbing on his personal computer screen: WELCOME TO HomeWrecker!!! NOW THE FUN BEGINS... (Be it ever so humble, there's no virus like the HomeWrecker…).
Six days later, they think they’ve digitally disinfected the house, but the place was a shambles. Pipes had burst and they weren't completely sure they’d got the part of the virus that attacked toilets. Nevertheless, the Exorcists (as the anti-virus SWAT team members like to call themselves) were confident the worst was over. "HomeWrecker is a pretty bad" one Exorcist told him, "but consider yourself lucky you didn't get Poltergeist. That one is really evil.”
The next day, Jeremy discovered that apparently his house wasn't insured for viruses. "Fires and mudslides, yes," said the claims adjuster. "Viruses, no.” And that, my friends, is why I don’t think the parsonage should go electronic - for the near future at least.
A few dozen centuries or so before the invention of televisions or even electricity, not long after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, there were large numbers of Jewish people in Rome, which meant that there were many Jewish synagogues amid the Roman temples. With all the business and neighborhood interactions, it didn’t take long for Gentiles to become acquainted with the story of Jesus Christ. It was probably while the great apostle Paul was in a Corinthian prison that he wrote his longest letter - to the churches of Rome, giving them - and us - some of the important foundational theology of the Christian faith.
Romans 8:26-39 NIV
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
More Than Conquerors
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thank you, Jaxon. Again, I don’t know about any of you, but when I was younger, I probably didn’t appreciate the power of prayer as much as I do now, and I think a part of that was because of fear of doing it wrong. Or the idea that it had to be done a certain way. Or that the idea that we are supposed to pray specifically.
But as we so often come to learn, sometimes we don’t know the specifics of a situation - not that we always need to know, and sometimes it’s better not to know. Sometimes we forget that God is omniscient and omnipresent, and we somehow think God doesn’t know this isolated situation that is on our heart. Or sometimes, the pain or sorrow or loss is so great, or the situation is such that we don’t know how to pray - or that we even want to pray.
But - the Spirit helps us in our weakness - constantly. Even when we don’t know what or how we should pray, the Holy Spirit steps up and steps in for us through deep, wordless communication of heart. And because of the relationship between God and the Holy Spirit - which is that they are separate but equal - as is Christ - the Spirit will pray even more appropriately and avocationally than we might have. No, having the Holy Spirit doesn’t get us off the hook for praying, but besides doing for us what we sometimes can’t, it adds a level of peace of mind that we don’t have to pray perfectly.
Because this passage is probably one that is preached on more than many others, it has more potential for mistaken interpretation. There is the line from verse 28 that has not only been often misinterpreted, but can be a dagger in the heart of those who are hurting. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
While it may be a true statement - is a true statement, it is not a helpful statement to those who have just lost a friend to cancer, or someone who’s been trying and trying and trying to have a child, or someone who just had to put down a beloved pet. That God is working for good may not feel like that to a bereaved or depressed person. They may get to that understanding one day, but that’s not our business to tend, but the Holy Spirit’s - with those wordless groans.
If we’ve been the one who has gone through that valley - of grief or disappointment or loss - it can be helpful remembering that God understands our losses and griefs and disappointments - because of what happened with Christ. Just like grief groups or Anonymous groups or other sorts of support groups, having someone who understands your plight is a huge comfort. And God - who is only as far away as a breath or a prayer - get our plights and lots in life. We have an eternal, continual, constant, personal support group in God’s Holy Spirit.
And nothing can ever separate us from God’s Spirit. Not our feelings, not our pain, not our knowing, not our struggles or cruel endings, not the most obstinate unbelief, no sin, no evil, no thing - can separate us from God’s love. God’s love for us is a pervasive as the air we breath, the wet in water or the ground in dirt. No matter what. No matter when. No matter where. So now, let us pray.
Loving and Sacred God, we thank you for being our God - for loving us during every moment of our earthly and eternal lives. Thank you for your Spirit, that person that prays for us and intercedes for us and stand up for us when we cant’ do those things ourselves. Prod us, when we can pray for others and ourselves the things that are right and good. And take our prayers and make them masterpieces for your glory and for your kingdom. Forgive us our humanity when we fail to embrace your part of our lives. But help each of us to traverse this world more aware of you and your Son and your Spirit. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.