Last month I posted a question about America’s #1 problem today.
I framed the question around the idea that problems in life have stories and stories present us with different options in way of an ending. As we imagine a better ending we come up with our best solutions. So I asked what folks thought about America’s problem story and how it might evolve into a better ending ahead.
The problem story I chose to then tell is found in the Bible’s book of Genesis, chapter 11, verses 1-9. It’s the story of a people who had the means and motivation to build a great tower that would make of themselves a great nation. This story, known as the Tower of Babel, began well enough. Then things changed, and they all came undone. The people became divided. And, to be sure, the problem arising from the Tower of Babel involved misinformation, miscommunication, misunderstanding. This tale was used in the writings of the Hebrew Bible to explain how the world evolved into different nations and languages.
A story of how a people seeking to become great became instead divided, fragmented, and then conquered.
What’s neat about the Bible, and about the God of the Bible, is that stories like the Tower of Babel never really end in defeat. They illustrate a problem, but then the story evolves into an actual solution. During the years when I served as a Church Pastor, I would weekly offer up what I called “problem solving messages.” My sermons were pretty simple: 1) what is a common problem we humans are facing today? 2) where in the Bible were humans then faced with this same problem? 3) how did Jesus Christ figure into the solution then and how can he figure into our solution today? I called my own model simply “problem-solving preaching.” Not sure how effective I was because I stopped getting calls long ago to do any preaching in churches. Preaching about problems is not an effective way of eliciting speaking engagements.
But here’s my point.
For every problem in the Bible, the story of that Tower of Babel revealing the problem of misinformation, miscommunication, and misunderstanding, Jesus figured into the actual solution. Truth be told, the Church of Jesus figures into the actual solution.
Yes, the Church as created by Jesus Christ to complete the bringing of God’s heavenly Kingdom to earth. That Church.
Maybe I’ve lost you at this point, but let’s go back to the Genesis story of Babel and see how the problem of misinformation, miscommunication, and misunderstanding experienced by the people of Babylonia (yes, it was a mythical place in keeping with God’s use of mythical stories or parables for the purpose of identifying and solving actual human problems) became solved by the Church of Jesus. Let’s call the Babel story Act I. The problem-story identified.
Now it’s time for Act II. The problem-story resolved. Here the story continues in the Christian Bible’s book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 1-11. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Pentecost. The coming together of Jews from all nations and languages not to build a tower for themselves but to present the first fruits of their spring harvest some 7 weeks after Passover. These fruits were their way of saying God comes first; the first Commandment from Mt. Sinai meaning no other gods before God.
Do you remember how that story of Pentecost continued?
If we read on in Acts 2 we learn that the people became united by one common Holy Spirit within each person there who then gave people a new understanding not only of each other but of God and, in particular, of Jesus Christ.
Pentecost. The birthday of the Church of Jesus. The story of Pentecost was the ending to that earlier story of Babel. It was the #1 solution to arguably the #1 problem of not only the mythical Babylonia then but all of humanity in every age and place. The Church of Jesus Christ.
Yet today in America the Church has become possibly our #1 problem. We build towers to gratify Christianity. We want to make Christianity great again. Together we put in our nation's highest office a man who made his fortunes by building great towers with his own name atop and who’s next agenda item was building a great wall and billing our neighbors for it, all in the name of making our nation great. We claim to be victims and we seek protection for ourselves at the point of a gun, yet not just a gun but military-grade or semi-automatic rifles designed for nothing but the killing of other human beings en masse. So is it any wonder today’s church has helped produce problems of misinformation, miscommunication, and misunderstanding? If America’s problem story today is the Tower of Babel, many of the workers on that tower are members of our Churches hammering away in the name of Jesus Christ.
Now you know why I don’t get invited to preach in today’s churches!
But this is not about me in the least. Nor even about the problem we as the Church have become here in America, divisive as we are in our self-serving messages. This is about how the story of Pentecost can be reclaimed for the Church such that we go from being the worst part of our problem to the best part of our solution. This is about how to restore or re-story the Church of Jesus Christ so we can help bring America from its Tower of Babel problem to its Pentecost solution where, e pluribus unum, we become “one from many” instead of today's many from one. A source of new information, communication, and understanding gets my vote for America’s #1 solution today. America’s problem story began well but has reached a breaking and dividing point. The Church has joined if not led in that story development. Now it’s up to the Church to clean up our own mess. To bring about our #1 solution.
As before, I’ll invite you to share in this solution-story development. How, for the sake of a happier ending to today’s problem-story, do you think the Church can help today's America? Some of you may say "just die or at least get out of the way." Others may say "just stay out of our politics and ignore our problems." And I want to hear as many different answers as possible. What do you think?