Monday, May 24, 2010

Pentecost, Year C, May 23, 2010

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17 [25-27]
Communications, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney

We hear people say every day: “It is a communication problem” or “They have a communication problem.” Or “We have a communication problem.”

The ubiquity of this diagnosis has led the casual observer into the notion that everything comes down to communication. This leads to the assumption that what we have is not a communication problem, but a communication famine. The only solution to starvation is more food, more communication. When this misdiagnosis fails to solve problems then we turn up the amplifiers assuming that a communication problem is connected to someone else’s hearing loss. Then we try saying the same stuff only more slowly, sometimes with louder words and usually with a patronizing tone thrown in. This last assumes that all hope is lost and that the final solution is to punish those who don’t get it..

With the exception of patronizing, none of these solutions are bad in and of themselves. Slow, clear, simple speech which is audible is usually a good idea. The real problem is contained in Clarence Darrow’s wonderful question: “Even if you do learn to speak correct English, whom are you going to speak it to?” or George Bernard Shaw “The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it.”

Still the assumption is that some sort of technique or trick of the trade will solve what we perceive to be “communications problems.”

The story of the Tower of Babel is instructive here. Humankind wanted to be, well, God. With typical human ingenuity a bi-partisan committee awarded a contract to their friends and relatives to build a tower to God. The assumption was that if they could get close to God, God would rub off.

When we think about it, it was a pretty good idea. It was a good idea to everybody but God who said to Godself: “We can’t have this sort of thing, I am who I am, and they who they be and there is not going to be a merger anytime soon.” God created the biggest communication problem the world has ever known.

It continues to be a problem. It is not the biggest problem in the world. It is merely a symptom of it.

Couples who are experiencing relationship stress come to the counselor.

QUESTION “What seems to be the problem?”

ANSWER “We have a communications problem.”

After some probing the counselor discovers what everyone else already knew and was too polite to say: These people don’t like each other. They are communicating their mutual antipathy with clarity, precision, high volume and increasingly short Anglo-Saxon words including such global usages as “YOU” and “ALWAYS”. What they have discovered is that they are not the people each one thought the other was. They thought they were alike in values, appearance, social class, family structure and a host of other incidentals. Now they know that is not true. Someone is to blame.

The biblical story suggests that God is to blame because God didn’t like our plan to be God. God’s genius was that instead of simply hurling celestial fission and erasing the project, he used humankind’s strength against itself. God knew that if he knocked the tower down, people would simply vote in a SPLOST and build another one. So he took our greatest gift, the gift of communication, and stirred in a contaminate. Today we call it diversity.

We give lip service to diversity, but we secretly in our hearts wish that everyone were just like us so we could go back to a simple, edenic existence where there was neither pain nor strife; neither quarreling or divorce, but singleness of purpose and mind. In effect, everyone would be just alike with a few cosmetic variations to avoid boredom.

In our time we have convinced ourselves that the tower was unnecessary. We are god. God is the pious appendage we graft on our rhetoric to beguile the rubes who still think God matters.

Our fore parents sought God. We have God under control and no longer seek God. The only kind of God acceptable is one who looks, feels, sounds like us. We pretend we are all alike when deep down inside we know it ain’t so.

God’s gift to humankind was not only the invitation to strive forever to be with God, but to live with the consequences of that striving by being different from one another.

This is not a problem. It is a fact. We can decide it is a gift and rejoice in it. Or we can decide it is a curse on a fallen creation and subvert it by walling ourselves into various kinds of ghettos to keep the Other out. It is the emotional, spiritual, intellectual enclosures which are as damaging to our project as any shortage or failure in communication.

The gift after all is the hint that the incredible variety we experience on earth is already replicated, in God, in heaven. How do we know? We know because God changed her mind about keeping us out and sent her Spirit to communicate with us the gracious invitation and the empowering message that God is present in and through all of creation, even up to and including each one of us.

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