May 19, 2013

posted Jun 19, 2013, 12:32 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Jun 19, 2013, 12:32 PM ]

05/19/13 Sermon (May 19, 2013)

Scripture Reading: Genesis 11:1-9 (Liturgist)

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”

So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Sermon: “The Gift of Mis-communication”

For the last several week, we have been focusing on the connection between the Easter Table and our lives as Christians, I hope that these services have provided the church with the opportunity to look a little deeper at why, and how we do communion. I know that for me it has been a challenge and a blessing to consider the different ways the Easter Table is our source of Sustenance, Comfort, Discipleship, Peace, and Freedom. During that time we have also broadened our experience of observing the Lord’s Supper, by serving from back to front, serving actual wine, and last week, receiving communion from members of our remarkable youth.

We have also had some pretty amazing worship services, recognizing the 25 years of music ministry given by Karen Sandlin, and a thoughtful and creative worship service planned and led by our Youth Group. In between times, the church put on a Mission Fair and met some of the folks that we support, and helped Habitat for Humanity do a sheetrock blitz on the house they’re working on.

You know, all this activity got me to thinking: why? Why do we do the things we do at church? Why do we come to church?

Now, the obvious answer, one that most of us would probably give, is because Jesus tells us to do it. And I guess that’s an OK reason. The only problem with it is, I don’t think it’s the truth. At least, it’s not the whole truth. It’s not the truth for me, anyway.

I think we come to church for many reasons, and some of them may not sound all that spiritual. I first came to church as a musician. Not because because I was seeking spirituality. Not because I was looking for God. But because I liked to play piano and direct choirs.

And that’s not a bad thing. Because I first came to church for my own less than spiritual reasons, I was given the opportunity to hear the Word of God read and proclaimed two times each Sunday, every week for 13 years by some very good preachers. And believe it or not, my friends, some of it got through to me.

Thank God.

I guess my point is that we do things sometimes for deep reasons, reasons that we’re not entirely clear about. Sometimes we don’t even want to admit the reasons. And regardless of our reasons, God speaks to us. In fact, I wonder sometimes if the reasons we come to to church are simply different ways that God uses to invite us to church, the different avenues that we travel to find ourselves here together. And thanks be to God for that as well. We worship a big God, who works in mysterious ways.

Our scripture today talks to us about some of the reasons people do things. On one hand, it seems like it’s a little story about how God created different languages, and how we ended up scattered around the world. And I suppose we could leave it that.

But I wonder if there might be more to this scripture than a simple story about the origin of languages.

All the earth is one people, and all spoke one language. Doesn’t that sound great? You know, I can appreciate the idea that one language and one people would be so much easier. But here’s the problem. It’s not like that in the real world. In the real world, we have different colors, different languages, different ways of thinking.

And when tribes, or villages, or cities, or countries have tried to make everything the same, when they have tried to get rid of those who were different than them, there were horrifying consequences.

We call it ethnic cleansing, and we know that it’s happened as long as 1700 years ago in China, when 200,000 people were killed because of their different facial characteristics, and we know that it’s happened as recently as the last decade in Sudan, with more than 450,000 killed. It has happened in places far away, in the Savanna of the Kalahari and it has happened in places close to home, in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahama. It has happened between people of different nations, different races, different religions, different cultures.

It happens anytime there is an overwhelming majority of same-minded people who decide to exclude, get rid of, those who look, or act, or think, or talk, or pray differently than they do. It’s the dark side of community, it’s what happens when we are too much alike. Our lack of diversity tends to bring out our worst tendencies, and we begin to rot from the inside out.

What is it about our sameness that leads us to strike out at those who are different? There may be a few reasons, but our scripture mentions one that I think is pretty important.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”

They were afraid. They were afraid of being scattered. They were afraid of what it might mean if they were not one mass of people, one identity, one flavor of humanity. There were afraid of what might happen to them if their cultural hegemony was broken, if their unshakeable majority vote was threatened. They were afraid of separation, of diversity. And they wanted, more than anything, to guarantee that this could never happen.

“Let us make a name for ourselves.” Let us demand the world’s respect. Let us build towers, gates, walls, fences, bombs. Let us pass laws. Let us enforce racial codes. Let us form vigilante groups. Let us persecute. Let us pursue. Let us terrorize. Let us wipe out the possibility that we ourselves might be scattered, that our hold on power might be threatened. Come, let us build, together, and together, we can protect ourselves from the corrupting forces that surround us. Then we will not be scattered throughout the world.”

But then God comes down, and blesses his children with the gift of diversity. He blesses his children with division, with scattering the very thing they were afraid of. He blesses them with difference, because it is only by coming face to face with someone who is different that we can stop being afraid of those who are different. It is only be being scattered that we can stop being afraid of being scattered.

Which brings us to Pentecost. The gift of tongues, the gift of being able to speak and hear one another, regardless of language, and culture, and nationality. On Pentecost, God gives to his church, not a destructive spirit of fear, not a cancerous spirit of hate, but rather a Holy Spirit of love and divine presence.

“Look,” God says, “They are many peoples, scattered with many languages, many gifts, many ways of looking at things. Let us go down, and be with them, and unify them in their hearts, rather than in their outward appearances, so that they may do mighty things in my name, not out of fear of the world, but out of love for it.”

I mentioned the fact that we come to church for many reasons. And that we do the things that we do for many reasons. But I will bet you this one thing: That most of you do the things that you do in this church out of love.

I know that the choir loves to sing, and Jim and Kevin love to play, and I know that Larry loves to build houses, and that Chris loves to decorate the sanctuary, and that Dee loves to think creatively about worship, and that Elise loves to teach and I could go on and on and on.

And it’s a good thing that we all love these different things. If we all loved the same thing, only one thing would get, and it would get done over, and over, and over again.

There is nothing wrong with diversity. There is everything right with finding ways to be unified in that diversity. And that unity begins with love.

Thanks be God for the gift of the Holy Spirit on this Day of Pentecost.