Preached 1/20/13 at Calvary PC
Richard Stallman was a computer programmer working in a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the 1970s, and his printer kept jamming. The whole lab shared this printer, and it was on a different floor of the building, so he got really frustrated that he would have to interrupt his work to go get something he printed, only to find that the printer had been jammed and his document wasn’t there. So, being a programmer, he opened up the software for this printer and added a few lines so that every time there was a paper jam, it would send a message to anyone who had tried to print something, and they could go and fix it. It was a simple and quick solution, and it worked beautifully for them.
Flash forward to 1980, and the Xerox Company makes a gift to their lab of a brand new, state-of-the-art laser printer. It was fast, and it made great print-outs – but the problem of paper jams was back. So Stallman tried to get into the source code again (the technical instructions that tell a piece of software how to operate) – but Xerox wouldn’t let him have it. He couldn’t add the simple lines of code that had saved them so much hassle before. By that time, people had started to realize that software might be a valuable commodity, and so access to that code was only available to a few select people at Xerox, and not to the average user, even if that user happened to be a programmer at MIT.
Stallman went on to be one of the pioneers in what’s known as the “open source” movement – which refers to software that’s both free to use, and open to anyone to modify. The Firefox web browser and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia are the best-known examples of open source technology, and they’re both extremely popular for good reasons. Because they’ve both had thousands of pairs of eyes looking for mistakes and fixing them, and adding new features, they are useful tools for millions of other people.
I first read this story about Stallman and his printer in a book called Open Source Church. The author, Landon Whitsitt, is a Presbyterian pastor and a leader in our denomination, and he thought that this model of open source technology might be good metaphor for the way some of our churches function. At a basic level, we can ask – is this church a closed source institution, in which only a handful of people have control over how the church operates, or is it more like open source, where anyone can suggest new ideas and then make them happen? What might that mean for the way we understand church?
I think the apostle Paul might have been running up against some of these same questions when he wrote this letter to the church in Corinth. It seems that these new converts had sort of run away with some of Paul’s ideas, and they had started fighting among themselves, elevating some people above others, claiming that some were more gifted with the Holy Spirit because they had started speaking in tongues. So he reminds them instead that there are many different ways the Spirit works among them, and that every single person who proclaims Jesus as Lord is filled equally with the Holy Spirit, and that all those gifts are meant for the good of the community as a whole.
You all may have noticed that I’m losing my voice, so in the spirit of open source, let’s try something a little different this morning. I’m going to read Paul’s words again, and this time I want to invite you to listen a little more closely. Listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at you, and listen for the way all of these words might intersect with what’s on your heart today.
Now, I’d invite you to turn around in your pew and find a neighbor – preferably not someone you came to church with. Let’s take a few minutes, and share with your neighbor what it is that spoke to you in this text.
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The word of the Lord comes to each one of us in different voices and at different times, and we are each one touched by the Spirit of God in different ways. Each one of us brings different gifts, and together we can build up a community that reflects the gorgeous breadth of the kingdom of God. The gospel that we have felt on our hearts is truly good news – not just for a few, but for every single one of us. Each of us is loved and chosen by God, and together we can do amazing things.