Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 18, 2024
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2024 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Mark 1:12-13
In the year of our Lord, 2003, my wife and I bought our first house. At that time when something in the house needed fixing, when the dishwasher was leaking or the furnace quit working, and I didn't know what to do, I did what people did back then, in the olden days: we talked to a neighbor or a co-worker, called up our father or father-in-law, called a professional. But then sometime around 2005, the world changed.
A website called YouTube was born, and now, 19 years later, that site boasts two billion users watching one billion hours of video every day, and it's given birth to a new culture of DIY, do-it-yourselfers. And whether it's something simple like troubleshooting slow internet or something more daunting like replacing a capacitor deep in the wiry recesses of your furnace and saving yourself a few hundred dollars in the process, the satisfaction of DIY is undeniable, but there's a limit to it. Right?
Some things you should not try to do on your own. There's a reason why there's a label on that machine that says, "This should be serviced by a skilled professional," because if you're not careful, it will kill you and it will hurt the whole time you're dying. YouTube is a handy tool for the modern DIYer, but it's limited by the limitations of its users. Even the most undaunted DIYer has both skill problems and will problems.
First, there are skill problems. A single video can show you how to complete a task, but it doesn't tell you the whole story. Most DIY videos use some sort of time-lapse feature. So what takes them three minutes to do in the video might take me three hours. And even if you had three hours to do all the right steps, there are still problems that can sneak up and bite you even if you perform the task correctly.
Let's say you replace the capacitor in your furnace, but maybe there's another problem upstream in the HVAC system that's causing that capacitor to go bad. And by replacing the capacitor, you're only making the problem worse. This is why professionals take courses and go through apprenticeships so that they can learn how all the parts are related in a bigger story.
So YouTube will not completely erase the skill problem because we also have a will problem. Because YouTube is programmed to show you what you want to see, which may not be what you need to see. See, YouTube's designers want to keep you watching videos because that's how they make money. It's your attention that they're selling to advertisers, so they're going to show you the videos that you're most likely to watch based on what you've watched in the past and based on what others like you have watched.
Now, this can be helpful because it's trying to give me exactly what I want and only what I want. And this can be harmful because it's trying to give me exactly what I want and only what I want. But maybe sometimes I want the wrong things. Maybe instead of fixing the furnace, I just want to watch another video of cats playing piano. Or maybe when I actually get around to fixing the furnace, I want to take shortcuts that will hurt me or hurt others.
Or maybe I just want to ignore the fact that watching a video does not make me an expert. In some cases, it's not a skill problem, it's a will problem. See, this is the value of having an education that's not self-directed. This is the value of having an educator, someone who will lead you through a discipline, through a predetermined curriculum or apprenticeship, someone who is sometimes opposed to your will because they know better.
Someone who will sometimes say to you, "I don't care what you want to see. Today, I'm going to show you what you need to see." But the internet is not designed that way. What you and I see on the internet is mostly a reflection of our desires. Because your attention is what it wants. Your attention is the prize. Your attention is the commodity to be sold. The internet is designed to keep us watching and clicking and scrolling for as long as possible.
So it's always trying to give us just what we want and only what we want. But what if you and I want the wrong things? Now, there's a question to sit with for a bit: What if I want the wrong things? And if part of you is offended by that question, ask yourself, Why am I offended? It may be offensive because the question itself offends the holy trinity, not the Bible's Holy Trinity, but another one, the trinity, the trio of my holy rights, my holy wants, my holy feelings.
Now, you probably won't ever hear anybody say, "I baptize you in the name of your rights, your wants, and your feelings." You're not going to hear somebody say, "Let's make our beginning in the name of our rights, wants, and feelings." But it's still a trinity, and it's still regarded by many as holy.
First, my rights, my right to be noticed, my right to be respected, to be happy. My rights protect me from discrimination, from coercion, from oppression. My rights are non-negotiable, unassailable, inalienable. They are my rights. And my wants, my wants are evidence of my importance. My wants help me think big because I am big. I am larger than life and require more goods and services, more rights and privileges. Finally, my feelings. My feelings are the truth of who I am. I must guard them, explore them, follow them, trust them. My feelings make me who I am. These three, this holy trinity, my rights, my wants, my feelings, they're supposed to be my guiding star in life. Internet algorithms are written to serve them, to flatter them, bow down to them. Isn't it blasphemy to suggest that they could be wrong?
Now, you don't have to be especially religious to sense how that creed could be problematic. If I were to live by the creed of my holy rights, wants, and feelings, my world would get progressively smaller and smaller. I'd be more sheltered by my own opinions. My world would be more filtered by my preferences, my searches more limited by my interests. My tendency would be to avoid people who offend me. The internet, which promises to expand our world, over time confines us in our own little worlds. It tends to segregate us, isolate us. And left unchecked, it confirms us in our self-righteousness, nearsightedness, and loneliness. It may help us overcome some skill problems, but it has its own problems because it is a reflection of us. And there's a bigger story to us and to our part in the world, and there's a deeper problem with us, not just a skill problem, but a will problem. We are people who sometimes want the wrong things, and we are a part of an internet that tries to give us only what we want.
For many followers of Jesus around the world, this week marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey. It culminates with Holy Week and Easter, with contemplating the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus for our sins, and then celebrating His resurrection from the dead to give us new life and His spirit. Lent is traditionally a season of fasting, of giving up something.
Maybe you hear people still talking like that about the things they're going to be giving up for Lent, like snacking or booze or YouTube. This practice of giving things up, it's drawn from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus said, "If anyone wants to follow after Me, let him deny himself—say no to himself—take up his cross and follow Me." See the Gospel of Mark 8:34.
Of course, Jesus is talking not just about a 40-day season, but a whole life of self-denial. But His followers have traditionally used Lent as a season to refocus on this truth, to reset and recalibrate. So Lent is also a season of repentance, turning back to God, following Jesus with renewed devotion. In other words, Lent is a season that helps us remember that we still have a will problem. The human will problem is part of our bigger story.
And if you only tried to fix the skill problem, you'd never address the deeper issue, the one that's causing all the other problems downstream. So we have to face this deeper problem, and that's what the bigger story of the Bible helps us do. The Bible starts with God creating a good world for others, not for Himself, but for others. Now, that's an important point to sit with for a moment. God, as revealed in the Bible, is not self-serving, but self-giving.
This is the truth reflected in the teaching about the Bible's Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The teaching of the Trinity isn't just a philosophical explanation about how God is Three-in-One. The teaching of the Trinity reveals the character of God. What God is like. God the Father is always sharing with the Son, always open to the Son. God the Son is always open to and sharing with the Father. God the Spirit is always open, shared, and sharing between them.
The Father created the universe not for Himself, but for His Son. See Colossians 1:16. The Son came to save the universe not for Himself, but for His father. See John 17. The Spirit comes to us, not for Himself, but for the Father and the Son. See John 16:14-15. Others serving, self-giving—that's who God is. That's the algorithm that God designed the world to run on. But we corrupted the code. We tried to rewrite it with our own DIY program that's telling us not only to do it yourself, but to serve yourself and use others for your self-preservation. But Jesus says that if you want to save yourself, you must lose yourself.
During this first Sunday in Lent, today, followers of Jesus have traditionally listened to a reading from one of the Gospel biographies of Jesus, which describes how He began His public work. He began by going out into the desert for 40 days. That's where we get the 40 days of Lent. During these 40 days, Jesus fasted; He went without food. So there He is, fully God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who's now become a human being. And for a time He is practicing saying no to His natural human desires. He's got hunger, pains, aches in His body, feelings to process, and He's being tempted by Satan—Satan, the original webmaster who introduced us to that corrupted self-serving code that we're all running on.
Now, two of Jesus' biographers, Matthew and Luke, give us details on the skills Jesus employed to resist Satan. And so Jesus serves as an example for us. It's like watching a YouTube video, seeing someone else do it before you try it yourself, it helps. And that is part of why God has this episode recorded in the Bible. It wasn't because Jesus needed it. He's God's Son, but He's going through it for us, to tutor us, to apprentice us in the Way. And so we watch the video in our minds, and we see Satan putting these three temptations before Jesus. We see him offer Jesus that other holy trinity, luring Him to serve His own rights, wants, and feelings. And each time Jesus places His rights, wants, and feelings under the authority of God's Word recorded in the Bible.
And watching Jesus in action, we're learning to do the same. We are putting our rights and wants and feelings under the authority of the Bible. That's Matthew and Luke. But then we get something different in the Gospel according to Mark. Matthew and Luke's reports of the event address our skill problem. They show us how to say no to ourselves. Mark reminds us of our will problem. Because Mark doesn't show us how Jesus resisted the temptation, but only that He did.
It's like Mark is saying, "It's none of your business how He did it because this is not something you should try for yourself on your own. Because even if you did the whole task correctly, just like Jesus, Satan will still find ways to kill you, and it will hurt the whole time you're dying. But God will use that dying to save you. So just stay close to Jesus. Let Him do it because only He can. Only He can solve your will problem. Only He can baptize you with His Spirit. Only He can crucify your old self so that a new self can begin to live in Him. So just listen to His story and let Him rewrite the code for you. Let Him pray to the Father through you, "Not My will, but Thy will be done."
The redemptive thing about DIY culture may be that it helps us take ourselves more seriously: what we can do, what we can learn, what we were made for. We take ourselves seriously, not by elevating our individual rights, wants, and feelings over everyone else's, but by seeing ourselves and everyone else as people loved and valued by God. We take ourselves seriously because God's Son was willing to live for us, die for us, and return to life for us. We take ourselves seriously because God takes us seriously and created us to apprentice with Him, to help take care of the place as long as we're here.
So we can follow an example like Sal's. Sal is just a regular guy. He's in his late 20s, lives in Boston, works for a financial management firm. His cousin Nadia, a high school student living in Louisiana, needs help with her algebra homework. Sal has a knack for math, so he starts tutoring Nadia remotely over the internet using a web-based doodle notepad. Then he starts making videos for her so that she can watch them whenever she needs to review—push pause, back up, watch something over a few times to let the concept sink in. She likes Sal's videos. The way he uses bright numbers on a black background helps her follow along. She likes listening to Sal's voice on the videos. He sounds friendly, informal, but like he knows what he's talking about and is interested in what he's telling you.
A friend encourages Sal to post his videos on this new website called YouTube. The year's 2006, Sal thinks to himself, "YouTube, that's for cats playing piano, not serious mathematics," but he goes ahead with it. Other people start watching his videos and find them helpful. Sal, whose last name is Khan, starts his own channel called Khan Academy. He makes a thousand more math videos in the next few years filmed in the closet of his apartment. Today, his channel Khan Academy offers over 8,000 videos, which in total have been viewed over 2 billion times; that's billion with a 'B.'
Recently, I was at our local refugee ministry center organized by some churches in the St. Louis area. The volunteer coordinator asked me to step in and tutor Landry, a young refugee from Africa, who needs help with algebra. I can't remember hardly anything from algebra. So Landry and I watch videos on YouTube from the Khan Academy.
Thank God there are some things these days you don't have to do on your own, like factoring polynomials, troubleshooting your HVAC system, or accepting that no one can save the world but God. But that doesn't mean that you should take yourself or the world less seriously. God thinks you're worth dying for. Jesus says the world is worth saving. And in the meantime, there are things you can do to help take care of the place. And if you're not sure how, there's probably a YouTube video for it. Just ignore the cats playing piano. And if you gave up YouTube for Lent, do it like we did it in the olden days, go and talk to your neighbor. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Reflections for February 18, 2024
Title: "Redeeming DIY"
No reflections this week.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Return to the Lord" by Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Jesus, I Will Ponder Now" setting by J.S. Bach. Public domain.
"Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.