Monday, April 04, 2011

Sermon: Colossians 3:11

I was going to take out all the line breaks but I'm too tired. Don't count this up to pretension, its just easier to see the text on the page this way. I wasn't on the schedule to preach, I was just in the right frame of mind to help out at the last minute. Enjoy!

As we've said often in many different ways 
the human condition is characterized by the desire to be God. 
Not to be with God or know God 
or understand God,
but to be God.
When the serpent slithered up to Eve
in the beauty of the Garden
and the cool of the day,
he tempted her not with riches,
knowledge
or power
but with the chance to be ‘like God’ knowing good and evil.

From the Garden to the first murder to the flood was a simple matter of time.
We can tease apart the difference in every kind of sin,
every kind of falling away,
but they all find their root,
their core in Pride,
the desire to Usurp the throne and power of God and be ‘like him’.
This pride is on crude display in the account of the Tower of Babel.

1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.2And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.3And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.4Then 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, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth."5And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.6And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech."8So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

I want us to notice a couple of things from this text.

Verse One
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.
This was post flood.
Noah and his family survived alone
and were 'fruitful and multiplied’ as they had been commanded to be.
But their descendants,
instead of dispersing over the face of the earth to fill it,
decide to gather together,
to pool their resources,
to build a big tower--
probably something along the lines of a Mesopotamian Zigurat
if you want to google it to see a picture.
They want the tower to have its ‘top in the heavens’
so that they can ‘make a name for ourselves’.
They're not just interested in living in community
and fulfilling the purposes God has for them,
glorifying him and worshiping him alone.
No, they want to make a name for themselves.

The choice of the line 'make a name' isn't inconsequential.
The name of God, as the rest of Genesis will show,
is a name so holy,
so powerful,
so important that it wasn't to be spoken.
When you came to the name of God, in Holy Scripture,
you stopped and said 'The Lord' instead of pronouncing the name.
You didn't write the name with your old pen if you were copying scripture.
You stopped to make a new pen to write the name of God.
There is only One Name.
The making and acclaiming of other names is the path to idolatry.
“You shall have no other gods before me”
said the Lord God to Moses and then he said,
“Do not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.”
They were trying to be 'like God'
having a name
being self sufficient
trusting in their own power.

So God, seeing what the people are intending to do,
is not afraid that they're going to become bigger and stronger than him.
You might think that's what it looks like in verse 6.
But that's not what's going on.
Idolatry doesn't lead to bigger and better and more beautiful things.
It paves the road for human descent into utter evil.
The 'nothing they won't be able to do'
is a foresight into the great evil the human heart can descend to.
If everyone is united
and everyone is sinful
the capacity for destruction and evil is very very great.
God's action here is one of mercy.
Lest they destroy everything, I will scatter and disperse them.

And the confusion of speech is a perfectly logical and just consequence
for the rivaling of the name of God,
for purposeful and organized idolatry that is taking place on the plane of Shinar.
The people are suddenly and momentously unable to understand each other,
unable, then, to cooperate
and therefore scatter in anger and confusion.

The legacy of Babel is with us in a myriad of ways, but there are three ways in particular I want to mention.

The first is in language itself.
If you a living breathing human person
you have probably suffered the pain and difficulty
of broken and fractured human communication,
either within your own language or across cultures.
Indeed, it is more fundamental and basic than that.
How many of you have struggled within yourself
to find words to express what you are feeling
or thinking?
Language slips,
it is often imprecise,
it is easily misused.
Very often it is utterly confused.

The second is the hating and despising
that groups of people indulge in against other groups of people.
We might call this racism or ethnocentrism.
There id s brutal war going on in Ivory Coast right at this moment.
It is a conflict between north and south,
one ethnicity versus another.
One group prepared to hate another because of their geographical location and ethnicity.
Ivory Coast is by no means alone.
The world is rich with ethnic and racial conflict.
Closer to home, we still find racism in our own neighborhoods,
in the halls of schools,
in our unexamined human hearts,
sometimes even in coffee hour.
Its not our new particular problem.
Its roots are on the plane of Shinar.

The third is man made unity.
We haven't,
even with the confusion of language,
lost that first desire to gather ourselves together and be one.
This is going to lead us to the New Testament.
But first we have to be careful.
The one language and one people was given by God before Genesis 11.
And also, the dispersing and scattering of people was given by God in Genesis 11.
In other words,
the desire for unity and oneness among all people is not evil,
but the erasing and flattening of all difference is.
All that difference,
the myriad cornucopia of language,
culture
and ethnicity
was given by God.
It was his act of mercy to save us from a great overwhelming tide of evil.
So often,
as we try to join ourselves together,
in our human sinful hearts we
One, try to make everyone like us and
Two, therefore try to make a name for ourselves.
We do this institutionally,
we do it through the subtlety of peer pressure,
gently making someone else feel bad by a swift glance
or a tossed off remark
singling out their difference in a vaguely negative way.
The church has done it sometimes in the name of spreading the kingdom of God

These three consequences of Babel,
like all human sin,
were always accounted for in God's perfect plan to rescue and save us.

Language,
so broken and confused in our humanity,
is made whole and perfect in the very Being of God himself,
the Word,
who dwelt among us that we might see the glory of the Father.
And from there, at the moment of Pentecost,
the church experienced the reversal of Babel.
Instead of confusion, the perfect Word of God was communicated in every language.

And for the effects of ethnocentrism
and man made unity,
we see God's power and glory on display in Colossians 3:11

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Verse 11 is embedded in the practical outworking of Christ's cosmic transformation of the world.
The church is THE place where the future kingdom is made present on earth,
where God's will is done, where his name is above every name,
where we become like him—
not in power and knowledge and person, but IN Christ—
having the mind of Christ,
being found in Christ,
having the love of Christ.
Now, in putting off the things of the world
anger, malice, pride, hatred
we put on Christ who gives us a new identity, a new purpose, a new name.
No longer defined by our ethnicity or race
Greek or Jew
Social Status or class
slave or free
culture and language
barbarian, Scythian,
Our identity is in Christ.
Does difference no longer matter?
By no means!
Our unity in Christ is made rich and perfect
by every difference of language, culture and race.
Our foundational unity and identity in Jesus
makes real unity possible
makes real communication guaranteed.
How else do you think this room of people could get along?
In along term sustained way?
And manage to share the good news of Jesus to this town?
Do you think we do in our own power?
That we all get up early on a weekend
and come here to hang out together
and drink coffee
and listen to a long talk
and eat a little tiny piece of cardboard bread
and have a sip of wine at 11 in the morning
and then cooperate on ways to do the normally very difficult thing
of telling other people about the person we all love most,
by whom I mean Jesus.
The local church, Sunday by Sunday,
day by day
is the visible evidence that Christ is our unity,
our name,
the Word on our lips and in our hearts.
He is all and is in all.
Give yourself to him, this morning.
Let him be your tower
Let his name be on your lips and in your hearts and in your understanding.
Let him bind you up and make you whole.
Let us pray.

1 comment:

Ann McCarthy said...

Thanks for this. It was a lovely way to start my morning.