Sermon: The complicated life with an iPhone

The cell phone turned 40 years old this month.  40! 

How many cell phones have you owned?  Actually count them.  I’m at 5. 

How many of you have never owned a cell phone?  Just one?  Two?  Three?  Four?  Five?  Six?  Seven?  Anybody more than 10?

So, here’s a video that shows a pivotal moment in history of the cell phone.

The price of a phone in a bag in 1989 is the same price as an iPhone 5 today.  We’ve come a long ways.

So far, that we actually don’t even need paper anymore.  I can go to a meeting with simply my iPhone and take down all the notes I need. 

I was taking a course at CMU last year, and the guy in front of me was pumped that he didn’t have to use any paper the entire course.

In front of him was a MacBook Pro, an iPad, and his iPhone.  As the prof talked, he typed his notes, and if he needed to draw any pictures or graphs, he did it with his iPad and then imported the drawing to his computer, all the while accepting my friend request on Facebook.  During class. Remarkably efficient individual.  All while saving some trees.

Also in my class was a man named Shadrach from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He was studying Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies at CMU. 

During one of our breaks, I asked him some questions.

How long have you been in Winnipeg? 

2 years.

Are you here by yourself? 

No, between my wife, kids, siblings, there are 11 of us.

Eleven!  Wow.  That’s a lot.  What brought you to Winnipeg?

            We are refugees.


            Yes.  My family has lived in the same village for generations.  We had to flee because the militia would come one month and then the next month the other militia would come and they kept going back and forth.

Why would they do that?

            They want the control the mines.  They want the minerals underneath us.

I felt sick to my stomach.  I knew what he was talking about.  It was in my pocket.  I asked:  “How is it going now?  Are they still fighting?” 

            “Yes.  More people had to flee.  We are currently trying to call home to see who is alive and where they are.”

Here is a video giving a brief synopsis of conflict minerals in the DRC,

My iPhone.   You iPod touch.  You Samsung GS3.  You SLR camera.  That projector in church. All our computers.  Our church’s photocopier.

Now, this gets complicated, doesn’t it?

I’m going to venture to say that we need technology in our lives.  I love my iPhone.  I love our cameras.  I love my laptop, even though it’s only a Dell and not a Mac.  I love going for runs with a little iPod as opposed to a big walkman like they did 30 years ago.  I don’t really wish we still had phone-in-a-bags or Zack Morris cell phones.

And this isn’t even considering the effects of the over 100 million cell phones a year that end up in landfills and all the poisonous metals that leech into the ground water.

But what do we do?

It’s a good thing Jesus told a parable about the complicated life with an iPhone.

We read the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and how Lazarus was ignored on Earth by the rich man…. so ignored that even the dogs licked his wounds.  But then when they died the poor man ended up in heaven and the rich man in hell. 

There is so much going on in this parable, and all of what the Bible says and doesn’t say about hell is brewing in my head in the form of a 3 week sermon series, but I’ll start with a toe dipping into this with some blatant plagiarism from a great book that is banned from many churches, Love Wins.

Note what it is the man in hell wants:  he wants Lazarus to get him water. 

When you get someone water, you’re serving them. 

The rich man wants Lazarus to serve him.

In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man STILL sees himself as above Lazarus.   

It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed.  The chasm is the rich man’s heart!  It hasn’t changed, even in death and torment and agony.  He still thinks he’s better.

The gospel Jesus spreads in the book of Luke has as one of its main themes that Jesus brings a social revolution, in which the previous systems and hierarchies of clean and unclean,  sinner and saved, and up and sown don’t mean what they used to. God is doing a new work through Jesus, calling all people to human solidarity.  Everybody is a brother, a sister.  Equals, children of the God who shows no favouritism. 

To reject this new social order was to reject Jesus, the very movement of God in flesh and blood. 

Jesus teaches again and again that the gospel is about a death that leads to life.  It’s a pattern, a truth, a reality that comes from losing your life and then finding it.  This rich man Jesus tells us about hasn’t yet figured that out.  He’s still clinging to his ego, his status, his pride – he’s unable to let go of the world he’s constructed, which puts him on the top and Lazarus on the bottom, the world in which Lazarus is serving HIM.

He’s dead, but he hasn’t died.

He’s in Hades, but he still hasn’t died the kid of death that actually brings life.

He’s alive in death, but in profound torment, because he’s living with the realities of not properly dying the kind of death that actually leads a person to the only kind of life that’s worth living.

Or another way to look at it…

He fails to love his neighbour.

In fact, he ignores his neighbour, who spends each day outside his gate begging for food, of which the rich man has plenty. It’s a story about individual sin, but that individual sin leads directly to very real suffering at a societal level.  If enough rich men treated enough Lazaruses outside their gates like that, that could conceivably lead to a widening gap between the rich and the poor.


A widening gap between the rich and poor.  Where have we seen that before?  I can probably pull up a video on my iPhone 5 connecting my iPhone 5 to the hell that is the Democratic Republic of Congo.  If you’re on twitter, you’d write this:  #ironic.

My phone leads to hell.  On Earth.  As we speak.

Many people in our world have only ever heard hell talked about as the place reserved for those who are “out”, who don’t believe, who haven’t joined the church.  Christians talking about people who aren’t Christians going to hell when they die because they aren’t… Christians.  People who don’t believe the right things.

But in reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word “hell”, what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrongs things isn’t his point.  He’s often not talking about “beliefs” as we think of them – he’s talking about anger and lust and indifference.  He’s talking about the state of his listeners’ hearts, about how they conduct themselves, how they interact with their neighbours, about the kind of effect they will have on the world. 

So, do we care that our cell phones are creating hell in our world? 

So, it’s not a perfect solution, but here’s my response to the blood in my cell phone.

1)      I have written a letter to Apple.  And Dell.  And LG.  And Sharp.  And Canon.  And JVC.  And Sony.  And every other electronics company in my house.  I ask them to ensure that all the minerals they use are conflict free.  The bad news is that they still have a long ways to go. The good news is that they are getting better.

2)      I do my best to wait as long as possible before buying new stuff.  I was MC’ing a wedding a year ago and pulled out my old flip phone, and from the head table the bride said to me:  Hey Kyle.  1994 called.  They want their cell phone back.  Yes.  Yes they do.  And when the iPhone 6 or 7 or Google Glass come out, I will wait until my iPhone 5 doesn’t work anymore.

3)      Recycle your cell phone.  MTS connect will take them.

Now, you may be thinking that this was a long, waste of time sermon if in the end all you’re supposed to do is write a letter, buy less and recycle your phone.  

But this doesn’t apply only to cell phones.

When I living in Winnipeg a few years ago, I was talking with the former manager of the Ten Thousand Villages in North Kildonan, and we were talking about Fair Trade.  I made the comment “Well, at least there are enough Mennonites in North Kildonan to give you a good base of customers,” and she made this face like “What?” and her response was “Mennonites don’t shop here.  They are too cheap.  In Mennonite world, being thrifty is considered a virtue, a good thing.”  She even told me that at one point she had a Mennonite customer walk in and brag that she could find cheaper prices elsewhere. 

Do we care about the working conditions and education and environment sustainability of coffee farmers when we buy coffee?  Do we buy fair trade coffee?  Even if it’s more expensive?  Are Tim Hortons and Nabob creating hell in our world? 

Do we know where our oil comes from?  Do we know how Hydro dams affect the life of First Nations in Northern Manitoba?  Do we care that composting reduces methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 72% more powerful than carbon dioxide?  Do we care how far our food travels in the world?  Do we care that North America’s new found love for quinoa has led to an increase in the price of quinoa in South America, in some cases causing riots?

It’s complicated, isn’t it?

I’m sure the chasm between the rich man and Lazarus was complicated too.  That there were layers and layers of conflict and differing dynamics at play.  But, if we take Jesus seriously, we see where indifference can lead us.

As we wander through this complicated life, may we always strive for life.  With everyone and in everything.  May we pray for and work for equality.  For justice.  For safety.  For peace. 

May repent when we need to.  May we lament when we realize how complicit we are in all of this. 

And may we also learn to be gentle on ourselves, to give ourselves some grace as we work as co-creators with God in this beautiful world.


– With heavy, heavy plagiarism from Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell.


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