• Vested Interest

Why I Don't Tweet During Sermons

Mary Davenport Davis
October 25, 2015

As I write this, it’s October 25th—what some are calling Social Media Sunday. Framed as a way to bring God-talk into our digital lives, this event began in 2014. Suggestions for how to observe it abound on the Internet—here and here and here, for starters. Take a selfie with your rector! Instagram a photo of the flowers! Tweet your responses to the sermon!


Wait, what?


I want to be very clear: I am passionate about digital evangelism. I believe that social media has the potential to help us live fuller, more honest, more joyful lives of faith. I relish its power to disrupt the enfranchised and make new voices heard. I spend a large chunk of my time working at Trinity in reaching out to the world through social media channels, and a large chunk of my off time daydreaming about ways to do it better. But I don’t tweet during sermons.


Snap Judgments

I am critical of sermons--ruthlessly, blisteringly critical. It doesn’t matter how much I love the preacher, whether it’s my boss or my pastor or my own father, no amount of pity or charity can still the skeptic in my head picking a sloppy line of reasoning apart piece by piece, or silently shouting, “You are not talking about the Jesus I follow.” Sometimes I have trouble keeping from laughing at unintentionally ribald phrases; sometimes I sit in the pew and just fume.


Here’s the thing, though: I also know a lot of preachers, and most of them work on their sermons pretty hard. Most of them pray with the biblical texts appointed for the day; many of them consult outside sources for insight; many of them write their sermons down and revise them. I think I owe even the laziest sermon at least twenty minutes of earnest reflection before I let my snark flag fly. Since immediate reaction in 140 characters or less, rather than thoughtful commentary, tends to be the mode of conversation on Twitter, tweeting—if I choose to use it for this—amplifies my daily internal snap judgments for a worldwide audience. In other words, it allows my cruel streak free rein. I’ve learned that I sleep better at night if I take the time to remind myself of someone’s full and equal humanity before I tell them that their argumentation sucks.


The Sermon is a Continuance of the Gospel

In his enchantingly direct handbook of liturgical style, Elements of Rite, Aiden Kavanagh writes, “The homily follows directly on the gospel of the day because the former is simply the continuance of the latter by the assembly’s president amid his peers in faith….Far from being merely an instruction or a religious act, the homily is an act inherent to the rhythmic ritual of the liturgy” (Kavanagh 27, emphasis mine).


In other words: the sermon is not intended to be a moral exhortation, or a lesson in theology or (heaven forfend) history, or a brief break when everyone can sit down and zone out (although it often slides into some or all of these). It is a prayerful reflection on the meaning of the gospel in today’s world within the context of the liturgy, and thus should not be separated out from it, either by the congregants or the preacher. Speaking our responses in real time—either aloud or through our phones—disrupts the liturgy and misunderstands what the sermon is.*


Go Further In, Not Further Out

It’s so easy to pull away from the mystery that the liturgy invites us into. In worship we may abide in that holy space and time “where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught” (Kavanagh 28). And in each of us there is so much resistance to abiding there. So dig into it! Challenge your riotous thoughts to be still for just a little while. We will reenter the world soon enough; it can wait for us for a few more minutes, while the peace of God holds us together.


And, if you must tweet, that’s what the announcements are for.**


*At The Crossing, where I sometimes worship on Thursday nights, there is a space of several minutes built into the time after the homily for the congregation to offer reflections aloud. Interestingly, this doesn’t disrupt the liturgy in the same way for me; it feels like a further immersion into the gospel.


**Thanks to Darrell LeMar for this insight.


At "Vested Interest," church nerd Mary Davenport Davis explores all things liturgy and music at Trinity and beyond. Chime in with comments and questions!