Social Media & The Sermon on the Mount

WWJT? “What would Jesus Tweet?” 

I’ve been asking this question this week as I watch people wax bombastic on their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. There’s a lot of shouting past one another and very little listening (not to mention loving). Strong opinions abound while grace and civility are in short supply.

So, how might Jesus engage with social media? Would he even participate? What kind of messages would he post? What would he avoid? 

The good news is that we don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder. We need only stop and ponder Jesus’ teachings and example so clearly displayed in the Gospels. This week at Three Taverns we examined the Sermon on the Mount (and other Scriptures) for tips on how to better “Follow Jesus” on Twitter and be “Like” him on Facebook.
Here’s my attempt to adapt Matthew 5-7 (mostly) from The Message to the issue of social media interaction. My own adaptations and commentary are in [bold brackets]. Once again, Jesus’ words speak so relevantly to one of our world’s greatest needs. Read slowly and ponder.

Matthew 5

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed up a mountain [and opened a Twitter and Facebook account]. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and [hosted a free webinar on social media use and the Kingdom of God]. This is [some of] what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought…

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight [on social media]. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down [on Facebook] or throw you out [of chatrooms] or speak lies about you [on social media] to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of [the internet]. If [your interactions] lose [their] saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the [Facebook world or Twittersphere]. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going [viral] with this, as public as a [trending hashtag or viral Youtube video]. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket [or keep you offline], do you? I’m putting you on [Facebook Live]. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your [words and comments]. By opening up to others [on your Facebook page], you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven….

21-22 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister [on social media] is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ [on Facebook] and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister [via Twitter] and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

23-24 “This is how I want you to conduct yourself [on social media]. If you [show up to church on Sunday] and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you [because of an awkward or offensive Facebook exchange that week], abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend [in person, face to face!] and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

25-26 “Or say you’re [on Twitter or Facebook] and an old enemy [rips you to shreds in the comments thread]. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in [a lawsuit], maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.

27-28 “You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks [at profile photos and online images] you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.

29-30 “Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life [on social media and the internet], here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer [by installing filters and accountability software]. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment it causes you to stumble. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.

33-37 “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions….

You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk [on Facebook], saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ [in a comment] and never doing it, [or “Liking” something] or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your [posts and comments] sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get [more likes and traffic] you go wrong.

38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back [with a heated, defensive verbal comeback] at all.’ If someone [posts something offensive or hurtful], stand there and take it. If someone drags you into [a nasty comment thread] and [and strips you of your dignity, don’t meet that at their level and instead speak kindly in return]. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live [and conduct yourself online] generously.

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let [their tweets and posts] bring out the best in you, not the worst. When [that obnoxious, opinionated online troll] gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. [He “likes” and sends ‘Friend Requests’ to everyone]: the good and bad [bloggers], the nice and nasty [Tweeters]. If all you do is love [those who like all your posts], do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who [Facebook message] you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up [in your online interactions]! You’re kingdom people]. Now live like it [on social media.] Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Matthew 6

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater [and get clicks], but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2-4 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself [by posting it on your homepage or Tweeting it]. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and [social media] alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone [will notice and comment], playing to the crowds [counting the “likes”]. They get [“likes” and comments], true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks [on social media]. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people [on Facebook] making a regular show out of their prayers [other religious activities], hoping for [more web traffic]! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God [on social media]. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace….

Matthew 7 

1-5 “Don’t [use social media to] pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s [Facebook page] and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part [with your tweets and posts] instead of just living your part. Wipe [or delete] that ugly sneer [or rant] off your own face[book page], and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor [or online nemesis].

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans [and Christian bumper sticker cliches]. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege. Don’t [paste] what is holy on people’s [pages] who are unholy [and not receptive to spiritual things]. Don’t throw your pearls [and treasured convictions] before swine! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you [with their own strong opinions]….

12 “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior [on social media]: Ask yourself how you want others to treat you, then grab the initiative and do the same for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get….

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we [posted Christian messages and Bible verses on our Facebook page], we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking [about us on social media].’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life [and positive social media presence] on. If you work these words into your life [and online interactions], you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t practice them in your [social media interactions], you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards [or a fried hard drive or a hacked account].

28-29 When Jesus concluded his address, the [world wide web] burst into applause [and the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ was the #1 trending topic for an entire hour — until another world leader tweeted]. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers [and this other world leader]! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.

Let all who have ears to hear, tweet that!

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