Powerful Language and Pathways of Grace

Sermon preached for the Season of Creation: (October 16, 2016)

Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 12:4-13 Luke 18:1-8

Powerful Language and Pathways of Grace

Language is a funny thing. Have you ever wished we all spoke the same language? I have, lately in particular, because I don’t speak French or Portuguese of Kirundi, and it would be wonderful to be able to speak with the families of our Compassionate Housing Initiative.

Though given our political conversation of late – I’ve been wondering if perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if the tower of Babel story would repeat itself. With all our pride and posturing, and assuming the right to sit in god-like judgment of one another, and our words filled with hatred, as we heap shame upon one another; perhaps God should stop us in our tracks. Bring us and the false tower of our own importance down. Suddenly and immediately causing us to speak in different languages. Would that do it? Probably not – it wouldn’t work the same way this time. Now there’s Google translator. Great.

And of course, since this moment in Genesis, God has acted to sort of reverse this story. Much later in our tumultuous walk with God, after God has given us Jesus to live and die as one of us, there is a moment when the disciples are gathered in Jerusalem after witnessing the Risen Christ and his ascension, when they receive the power to speak in a multitude of languages. So they can tell the story of Christ and offer salvation to all people, to those gathered in Jerusalem from a variety of nations, and to the ends of the earth.

But first – our story in Genesis. As our story begins, God is concerned about the hubris of mankind; clearly a problem that hasn’t gone anywhere in the many thousands of years since. And God’s short term solution is simple – just destroy our ability to speak to one another in a common language. More effective than a cease and desist order, this one move causes so much chaos and mistrust that the tower is left unfinished. That’s all it took… separate languages, to divide and rend the people apart.

Consider where we are now – in the midst of so much chaos and mistrust, anger and fear… it’s as if we were all speaking different languages already isn’t it? Yet in our story, with a common language the people were capable of anything.. when they could really speak to one another, they could see one another’s view, appreciate one another’s gifts, they were able to work together; and nothing was beyond their reach. We probably don’t have to worry about things going so well that “nothing that we propose to do will now be impossible for us” but maybe there’s a graceful pathway here for us, through the mess we’re in. What if we found a way back to some common language? A way to speak to each other, to see each other, to respect the other, the one with whom we disagree?

With virtually every conversation turning to politics, what if we began by talking about policies, and not the people who propose them? And when discussing these policies, we recognize them as different approaches to the problems facing us all, and not as manifestos of good or evil? At the very least, we can begin by being a calm, non-anxious presence in midst of this chaos.

Because the truth is, no matter what happens in November, at every level of the elections before us, no man or woman who is elected is going to save us. That is too tall an ask of any human being – and they will all be imperfectly human, trying to work within an imperfectly human (and often terribly broken) system. We don’t need any one of them to be our savior, we have one of those already. Thanks be to God.

Here’s where we come in, because we know this simple truth that keeps all of this in the proper perspective. And a few of us are going to have to hold that truth with conviction on behalf of the whole. Keeping our heads, being calm in the midst of the chaos and tumult… and voicing our conviction that all shall be well…. And modeling this novel, composed behavior.

When a community of faith models calm, it can make all the difference for those around them. I have witnessed it first-hand. After our General Convention in 2003, when The Rev. Gene Robinson’s election as Bishop of NH was confirmed, I returned from serving at the convention as an exhibitor, to the little parish of St. John the Baptist, Battle Creek, TN. The rector asked me to explain to the parish what had taken place and my experience as well, of having to walk through picket lines to get to the convention center, and the threats that dioceses would leave the church… And these are some of the comments they made – paraphrased (because I had no idea then how important this conversation would be to my understanding of ministry and witness).

One person responded: I didn’t know who the bishop of NH was before, why should this rock my faith now? A second: At least we are talking about this openly and honestly – he isn’t the first gay bishop, he is the first openly gay bishop and I can respect that level of honesty. Another: It’s time for the church to start really talking about issues like this that would actually be helpful to the rest of us who live in the real world. And finally: Well, I know how I feel about this. But – I was wrong about blacks. I was wrong about you women [becoming priests], so, maybe I’ll just sit this one out for a bit and see. So I’m going to just keep my head down and keep coming to church like nothing’s changed, and worry about what’s going on right here, between me, God, and these folks, and the people out there who need us.

What they brought to the greater conversation was a calm sense of knowing who and whose they really are and the wisdom to keep it all in perspective. They recognized the importance of the conversations being raised, even as they refused to be caught up by the hysteria. God was still faithful, and their little church just kept worshiping God, loving their neighbor and helping seminarians get through field education. Quietly shaping generation after generation of priests for the church, through their steadfast faithfulness to what really matters. Being truly faithful, authentically themselves, open to the Spirit, yet calm in the midst of whatever the chaos of the current crisis might be.

That’s the kind of witness the country needs right now, that’s how we might change the culture, calm the hysteria, and begin to pave the way through the election… through it, to the days beyond whatever it will bring. To our lives together on the other side of the madness, because God is faithful, we have our savior, Christ has risen and salvation is offered to all people…. ALL people.

Even those we disagree with, those we think are wrong – that doesn’t matter, won’t matter, not really, not in the long run. And friends, we are in it for the long run. Shall we begin building a common language that builds up and restores our bonds of common human decency? Can we do even better than that? Can we reach out and assure others that all shall be well – share the good news that somehow things will be okay, that no matter what happens, in the end we will still be in this together. It would be good to remember that now, and act accordingly.

With God’s grace, may we find pathways toward a common language of mutual respect and consideration that will translate across any language or disagreement; heal our wounds, and restore the integrity of our human community. Amen.