Summary: In the midst of an increasingly impersonal culture, we can find strength in the knowledge that God’s love for us is intensely personal.
(Note: I am indebted to Rick Warren for the title of this message; the sermon itself is original)
One of the more troubling aspects of the modern age is the creeping de-personalization of our lives. More and more, as we go through the day, whenever we’re dealing with a branch of government, or a corporation, or an educational institution, or some part of the medical establishment, we feel like a number instead of a person. A statistic instead of a human being. Let me give you some examples:
· Last week, we were on vacation in Washington, D.C., and I went into a bank to get some cash. But this was like no bank I’d ever seen. There were no tellers in the room. Just a bank of television monitors on which you could see and hear the tellers, who themselves were in another part of the building. To communicate, you had to speak into a microphone and look into a camera. And to send things back and forth, you had to use one of those pneumatic tube thingies. And this is probably the wave of the future. Because a bank like that is virtually stickup-proof. A criminal can’t very well point a gun at a video screen and say, "Hand over all your money or I’ll shoot." But the price of that security was the elimination of any real human contact.
· At least that experience involved a real human being. Not so with voice mail. It used to be that there was a sneaky way to bypass the system. Most voice mail systems were set up so that if you dialed "0", you would go directly to an operator. But apparently, too many people caught on to that little trick. And so now if you try it, you get this message: "Our menus have recently changed. Please listen to all the options before making a selection." In other words, the only way to get to a person is by going through a computer.
· Or take buying gas. When you fill the tank up with unleaded, you no longer have to walk into the gas station and pay an attendant. Instead, you just swipe your credit card and pay at the pump. Convenient, yes. But also impersonal. In fact, these day you can buy virtually anything by mail or over the internet, so you don’t have to interact with people at all. Now, you do still have to go to the grocery store to buy food. But even there, you no longer have to interact with a clerk when you check out. Instead, there are lanes where you can check yourself out; scan the bar codes yourself and bag the groceries yourself.
· How about movies? In the old days, you had to go to a theater to watch a movie, and you experienced it with a room full of other people. Then, the VCR came along, so you could watch at home; but you still had to go to the video store. But now, you can order movies on demand through satellite or digital cable. Or you can rent DVD’s through the mail. No human contact is required.
· And finally, the work environment has changed. If you have a cable modem or DSL line, and you work in some kind of information-related field, you can probably get your employer to let you work from home at least part of the time. This has advantaes: It saves on gasoline, and you can go to work in your bathrobe if you want. But again, it diminishes your interaction with people.
I could go on and on. And I’m sure every one of you could supply your own examples. Yes, automation and technology have given us the kind of affluence that previous generations could only imagine. But it comes with a cost: that in our daily lives we are increasingly interacting, not with people, but with computers. Does that mean technology is inherently evil? Should we follow the example of the Amish, and retreat into our own cloistered world, avoiding the use of any machine more advanced than the iron plow? No. It’s true that Jesus said his disciples were not to be "of" the world, but he also said that we are to be "in" the world. And this modern, technological world is the one he’s placed us "in;" this is the world in which we are called to live out our faith. But what we can do, and must do, is bear witness to this fact: that no matter how severely technology may assault our humanity and our individuality, we still live in a universe which is governed by a loving, personal God; a God who knows and cares for each one of us by name. In fact, the more impersonal our world becomes, the more it needs to hear the message of the Christian faith; the message of a personal God who loves each one of us as individuals.