From Babel to the New Jerusalem


Biblical Text: Genesis 11:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

How does the Spirit work? That might be a question that leads to a just-so-story. But just-so-stories don’t give the Bible, and its author the Holy Spirit, enough credit. Such stories can be manipulative. If you are taking Babel as a just-so-story, the real purpose is to say “know your place”. It would be the Biblical Icarus, and God would be the capricious Zeus. But that is not the story told at Babel and Pentecost.

The story told is of a God who saves us from the worst of ourselves. The story told is of a Spirit that takes the wounds of sin an glorifies them. No longer are all the languages a reminder of how sin turns us inward, but they are a testament to the width of the love of God. The new creation comes not through compelling force or manipulative story, but through an invite to the heart. God’s will is done, the New Jerusalem is built, one heart (one stone heart turned to flesh) at a time.

Quick Follow-Up – Polarized Words

In the “morning paper” I ran across two perfect examples of what I was talking about in changing the meaning of a word.

This is mega-church pastor Craig Groeschel piling on the word religious. Notice how he is distancing himself from what I called the voodoo ooga-booga.

Religion focuses on outward behavior. Relationship is an inward transformation. Religion focuses on what I do, while relationship centers on what Jesus did. Religion is about me. Relationship is about Jesus…One time when this happened, the person I was talking with politely shared that he didn’t like religious people. I chimed in that I didn’t like religious people either. His mouth nearly dropped to the floor. I explained that religion is about rules, but being a Christian is about relationship.

This is about Guns, liberty, and rights. First, I don’t own a gun, never have owned a gun, don’t really plan on getting one. Probably not something to say on a public forum, but I’ve always figured if someone needed to steal from me, they needed it more than I did. But take a good hard look at how the words are being used. A constitutional civil right is being called just an esoteric policy. It is being de-personalized. And the move to strip that right is being personalized when the writer says this these faces of the kids at Newtown demand “unrelenting response”. The attempt is to redefine gun control away from fascist jackboots and toward sympathetic pain prevention. It is to move a constitutional right away from a solid protection saying what the government can’t do, toward something that the government must do. Those are dangerous redefinitions.

We can have esoteric policy debates about gun ownership. I am an avid hunter, from wild boar in West Virginia to deer in Maryland, and I believe there’s a legitimate role for long guns and handguns, in sport and self-defense.

But as a country, we now have to reckon with what has happened on our watch. Our young men and women are dying on the streets of Chicago, because anyone with half a brain can figure out how to get around background checks, into gun shows, or otherwise acquire a firearm. Our kids are getting off school buses without certainty that they will come home. And three months ago, the president of our great country found himself greeting 26 families whose 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls were mowed down execution style, by a maniac who had access to a rifle almost as a big as he was. What happened in Newtown on that awful December day was not abstract. I was there with them in that bitter reality. I saw their faces. The pain of that day was unrelenting. Our response must be as well.

Exactly the same argument could be used in regards to late term abortion. The cries of those half-aborted children in Kermit Gosnell’s torture room demand an unrelenting response. Why does the Daily Beast give us a scene a day on guns, but is yet to mention the cold-blooded spine snip-er who killed far more children?

The language is being manipulated and abused by the very people who should respect it the most.

The Handwriting on the Wall – Chrysler and GM and Us

Daniel 5:1-12 (The setup)
Daniel 5:13-30 (The reveal)

The title of this post is a phrase you hear in English, often shortened to the writing’s on the wall as in the writing’s on the wall for Chrysler and GM. The implication is that the end is near and that it is obvious for everyone but those very close to the party.

The source is Daniel. The new Neo-Babylonian King is having a party and commanded that all the stuff from Solomon’s temple be brought to it. They proceed to use it for debauchery. A ghostly hand appears and writes on the wall. This is obviously not a good sign, but nobody in the court can read the message.

The queen, who for some reason wasn’t at the debauchery, reminds the new king that Nebuchanezzer had someone who was good at this stuff – Daniel. Daniel appears and tells the King: 1) Your days are numbered, 2) You have personally been found wanting and 3) Your kingdom is going to fall. Daniel reaps the reward as “3rd ruler in the kingdom”, but the kingdom falls that night as the king was was slain.

As sinful humans we have an amazing capacity to not read the handwriting. I’d bet old Daniel wouldn’t have even needed the words on the wall to deliver that message. God drops us notes all the time in our lives. Coincidences might be one of those notes. If there is a personal God who cares about his people and the world, don’t you think he’d send a warning or a wake-up call every now and then? Now if he just sent an angel, or the hand appeared every time, it wouldn’t exactly be our actions. But the next time you hear a sermon that you think is aimed at you, or your mother calls at just the right time, or you find yourself talking with an old friend you haven’t contacted in years, ask yourself – is the handwriting on the wall for something? What might God be trying to say?