Genesis 11:1-9; Philippians 1:27-30
One of my favorite stories in all literature is The Tower of Babel. Traditionally this fable is an explanation for all the world’s different languages. But the true meaning behind this hilarious story goes a lot deeper. I like to think the conception of this story started out innocently enough, but eventually the satirist just couldn’t help himself. Imagine the writer compiling all those incredible stories that make up the first ten chapters of Genesis. First was creation, then the introduction of sin, which resulted in expulsion from paradise. Next there was the issue of capital punishment. Most people wish the incident had been a home invasion or drive-by shooting. But the writer knew where most violence finds its origins. He made it a family crime. Then he expanded the conversation by introducing Noah, a man caught between humanity’s egocentricities and God’s desire for a selfless community. With the conclusion of Noah’s watery odyssey, the writer was ready to begin the traveling sideshow known as Abraham and his family. But the writer hesitated. The stories would flow better if there was a piece of comic relief, allowing the reader to breathe before having to swallow the tale of an octogenarian with an overwhelming desire to be a father.
This is how it might have happened. Our creative genius worked endlessly without any inspiration whatsoever. Just as he was about to call it quits his son entered the picture to save the day. Elam was a good kid, but once he entered public school he seldom came home happy.
“Dad, why can’t I go to a school where everyone speaks Hebrew?”
“Son, we don’t live in Jerusalem any more. Your mom and I want to give you the best. If you want to go to Babylon Tech you need to understand the language and customs of the folks who call this place home.”
“But Dad, the Persians are so full of themselves. All we talk about in school is this ziggurat and that ziggurat. They sure are proud of those Temples. Are their churches really better than the one we left behind?”
Elam’s dad didn’t hear another word. The answers to his literary segue stood right before him. He would write a story about the arrogance of his Babylonian captors.
It began like this. “Once, when everyone spoke the same language and were of the same mind, the leaders came together and said, “Let’s build a tower to the heavens. People will marvel at its magnificence. Everyone will want to come to climb this stairway to heaven.” Some of the folks applauded. Some of the folks wondered if it was necessary and one was a bit curious. “Why do you want to build a tower to the heavens?” The answer exposed the real reason for the venture. “It will make a name for us. People will see the tower and declare us to be one with the gods.”
And so the building began. No real thought went into how you build a tall building. In fact they were so busy trying to make it look pretty they didn’t bother constructing it with solid stone. They paid off the local OSHA inspector and brought in substandard materials. The project went higher and higher, becoming less a monument to God and more a testimony to their giant egos.
A meeting was called to go over the final plans. This was to be a critical conversation. Only it never took place. From afar God looked down on the temple and was less than pleased. What was to have been a holy place had become wasted space. With the snap of holy fingers God put an end to the whole travesty by creating languages. Suddenly no one could understand what anyone else was saying. Since listening to each other had never been a priority, with the language barrier, communication became impossible. They all went their separate ways. Eventually the city came to be identified with the crumbling tower known as Babel for it was here that God had confused the language of an already babbling people.
The storyteller smiled, looked out on the city of his captivity, and knew one day the faulty foundation on which Babylon had been built would soon crumble into the dust.
More than six hundred years later some people in the community of Philippi were in the process of building their own “temple.” Our glimpse at these people comes through the rose tinted glasses of Paul. He loved this little church more than any other church he had helped create. It was his first effort on European soil. They were a generous people who had created a spot for themselves within a culture that was often hostile to Christians. Paul wrote, encouraging them to be about the glorious task of living each day as Jesus would have lived it. He reminded them that Jesus emptied himself of all ego in order to be one with God. He told them whatever they did, don’t do it to glorify me or bring notice down upon yourselves. Live your lives, raise your families, serve your community and build your church in a manner worthy of Christ.
As the folks in Babylon and Philippi and many other churches have discovered, temple building is a hard task. During the last year many voices have weighed in on how we might address the problem/opportunity known as our fellowship hall. If you all agreed on what we should do, I would be really worried. Fortunately this congregation prides itself in listening to others even if you can’t stand what your neighbor might have to say. A lot of voices have weighed in. Some folks feel confident they have the solution. Some folks feel a bit nervous about their neighbor’s confidence. Some folks want a few more questions answered. A few folks are getting weary of answering questions. I can tell you from experience that no building project begins or ends without heartburn, confusion, and disappointment. Projects always cost more than anticipated and projects never meet the needs of everyone. I think you know that. From hearing you talk, from reading your questions, from examining the survey many of you completed after our town meetings, we may not all be on the same page but we are speaking the same language.
What I have appreciated and what I believe will sustain us in whichever direction we go is our overall approach has not been self-serving but rather an opportunity to further glorify Christ. Our decision is not a means unto itself but rather a mandate to proclaim God’s grace, expand our inclusiveness, and celebrate our missions as we continue to be a light in our valley.
Do we repair, do we reboot, i.e. complete the footprint, or do we rebuild? Whichever becomes our directive let us do so in a manner that is worthy of Christ. Let us stand firm in one Lord. Let us build together using the best materials God has given us:
A trusting heart,
A generous soul,
A prayerful spirit,
An open mind,
Voices that glorify God and God alone.
We are a people of many voices. Each voice is an honest understanding of what God would have us do. Let us trust God and each other to find our collective holy voice. Then let’s trust that voice to make our endeavors sacred.