Confused language

It’s been almost 15 years since I started posting the text of my sermons on a blog. It’s been more than 5 years since the congregations I’ve served have had the ability to record audio. We’re still ironing out the kinks in video recording at Christ Church. The intent of each has been to allow those not able to attend Sunday services to be a part of it. In my tradition, at least theologically, the sermon isn’t the pinnacle of the service, but in survey after survey, we hear that what keeps people coming back to church and what they look for in their clergy is good preaching. So, since we can’t have the Eucharist celebrated in every living room every Sunday, we share what we can.

With each successive technological advancement, we’ve gotten closer to sharing the fullness of the sermon experience. With just the text, we lose all kinds of cues that the person in the pew can use to interpret what’s being said. [This is especially true of blog posts which raise hackles like yesterday’s did. Many of y’all were not on board with any kind of critical reflection on the practice of wearing red on Pentecost.] With audio recording, one can at least hear some of the nuances of delivery, but so much of communication is non-verbal a lot is still missing. With video, we can see those non-verbal cues, but even so, we miss the energy in the room and the shared experience of the homiletical event. Even those who are sitting in the nave in a Sunday morning can interpret the sermon in vastly different ways.

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The confused nature of communication that we experience on a daily basis has its origin story in the Tower of Babel, which is an optional lesson for the Day of Pentecost.  One need not believe that this myth is the actual story of how various languages came to be to understand the truth that the confused nature of language has been a challenge to the human condition since we first began to communicate in something other than tonal grunts.  In fact, one could argue that the source of much of the interpersonal strife in our world, outside of larger fights over power, money, and privilege, is based in our inability to communicate clearly with one another.

Part of the task as Christians who aren’t readily gifted with the Spirit-fueled ability to speak clearly in any language is to work to speak and hear one another with clarity so as to avoid, as best we can, those moments of misunderstanding that lead to hard feelings, anger, broken relationships, and sin.  As a writer, a preacher, a husband, and a father, I can tell you, this work is a full-time job.  So, dear reader, in a variation on the words attributed to Saint Francis, let us seek to understand and to be understood, for such is the way of love, dignity, and respect.

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The folly of [hu]man[ity]

It is upon us.  May has arrived with all its fury.  Graduations.  Dance recitals.  Band performances.  Warm weather.  In the midst of a flurry of activity, things begin to wind down.  Summer vacation is near!  Before we get there, however, we have to mark the changing season in the life of the Church as well.  The 50 days of Easter are nearly over.  The Day of Pentecost is near.  Churches will celebrate with balloons, cakes, and polyglotenous readings of the Acts of the Apostles.  Preachers will most likely steer clear of the lesson from Genesis, but they do so at their own peril.

I will readily admit that the story of the Tower of Babel is a fascinating tale, rife with theological difficulties.  It reads more like Greek mythology than it does Christian Scriptures.  It makes God sound vindictive, coercive, paranoid, and mean-spirited.  It is a dense story that requires a lot of unpacking, which is all the more reason to tackle it, even on the Day of Pentecost.  The story of the Tower of Babel serves as a helpful reminder of the unending folly of humanity.

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Again and again, humans attempt to place themselves on par with God, and again and again, we are reminded that only God is God.  The story of the Tower of Babel is a story of human pride.  “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” is the cry of a people who have forgotten that their very breath is a gift from God.  The desire to “make a name for ourselves” or to find fame or to be remembered through history is the ongoing struggle between the will of human flesh and the will of God who gives us all things as gift.  To forget that is to succumb to the same temptation that cause Satan to fall.

Pride.  The folly of [hu]man[ity]

You don’t need to spend a full 12 minutes on the text, but I think it will be helpful for your congregations to be invited into the story, to look at the ways in which pride tries to place us on par with God, and to see how the Pentecost miracle essentially undoes the confusion of the people.  The confusion that came from humanity speaking of its own deeds of power is made whole as the 120 proclaim God’s deeds of power in languages that the whole world could understand.  The pride of humanity is replaced by the glory of God, in the Pentecost miracle, and that, I think, is worth at least a brief mention.

Of course, I’m not preaching this week, so it is very easy for me to tell you what to do.  No matter what, your words this Sunday will be important.  May you be like Peter, and boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.