Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Living Tongues of Flame

This weeks scriptures are Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-12.

The comparison of images in these two passages is startling. In the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel, they make bricks. Hard, solid, unchangable. Their goal is a kind of emotional/spiritual/social safety. They will "make a name for themselves" and will "not be scattered." And to meet this goal they will make something so solid, so long lasting, that it will provide focus and security.

God's response is to scatter them. Now, we have to be clear that this story is a theo/political one. It is a story written against urban living (as opposed to nomadic) and against the technology of the day (firing brick and the art of building great buildings). The truth is that we are all on the side of technology and urban life (even the most 'back to the earth' of us would not go for the kind of nomadic lifestyle that the proponents of this story were advocating).

But beyond this, what does this story have to say to us? Perhaps the answer can be found in the reasons that they wanted to build the tower. It was a desire for security based in the self and in image. Though these are not necessarily bad things, in their place, as foundations for life they leave a great deal to be desired.

Now turn to the images of the story from Acts. In the first place, these were not secure people. These were the same people who had recently deserted Jesus. They were still struggling with the meaning of their sightings of the risen Christ: what did they mean? Was this a ghost? What were they supposed to do?

These were not great and powerful men and women who could decide to build a tower. They came from the poor, the working class, the formerly outcast. But they had gathered in obedience to what Jesus had told them, to wait for the Spirit that He promised would come.

And when the Spirit came, it did not come as something solid....something one could grasp and came as flame and wind. It did not come as something they called, or controlled. And when it came, it changed everything.

So much of our lives are spent in search of security. We want something tangible to hold on to. We want to not 'be scattered' and to 'make a name for ourselves.' We live out of a fear that what we do won't matter. As a man on the back side of middle age, it's often scary when I look at my life and ask "what did it all mean? What's it all about?" And philosophys and church doctrines that offer quick answers and firm securities are a great draw to many.

What God offers at Pentecost is flame. It is the same flame that guided the Children of Israel on their wilderness journey to the Promised Land. And now it is being offered to Jesus' disciples....and to us. It will posess us. It will call us to speak to people that we could not ever imagine speaking to before . It will create bridges across barriers. We will have a name for ourselves; and that name will be 'redeemed', 'christian', 'brother and sister to all Christ loves.' And we will not be scattered. For everywhere we look, there will be others....and we will find them in suprising places.

We have been offered flame. Will we accept?

See you Sunday.

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