• Saints & Sinners – from October 30, 2016

    Genesis 11:1-9: (NIV): Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

    They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

    But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

    So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

    So Bill and I went to Church Conference last week, and it was okay. We didn’t know any of the music, though. It was all Christian Contemporary. Some people love it; it’s just not my thing. Not Bill’s thing either, apparently. So we stood with everyone else but only managed to sing a few words along on the last chorus of each song.

    I’ve been in a musical drought for the last few years. I don’t listen to the radio very often. It’s all a bunch of babble to me. Commercials, talk, talk, talk, talk. When I’m in the car, I want peace. Or, I want music I can sing along to or music that lets me think. The problem with that is that I don’t encounter a lot of new music. People are always asking me about songs on the radio, and I’m just lost. The only way I meet new music is through word of mouth or through the few television shows I watch. My playlist was getting boring.

    But Jay likes the radio on in the car, and I’m tired of my boring playlist, so I turned the radio on a couple of weeks ago. It was just on in the background, and I heard the singer take this breath in the middle of a chorus. There was something about that breath that made me google the lyrics I could remember when I came to a stop. And that’s how I met the music of Jon Bellion.

    One download led to another, led to another, and now I own his first “for sale” album, because as part of his record deal, this 25 year old guy from Long Island put his first three albums out for free. And when I heard this song, “Maybe IDK,” I knew that finding him was a God thing. (I’m gonna play this but here are the lyrics for readers. This is the second verse and chorus.):

    “I wonder why I feel emptiness and I sing these blues
    I wonder why I feel hopelessness when I watch the news
    I wonder why I can’t find my voice in my dreams
    I wonder why they say hate your brother and hide your gold
    I wonder why we all fear the things that we might not know
    I wonder why I can’t find my voice in my dreams
    Although I guess if I knew tomorrow
    I guess I wouldn’t need faith
    I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace
    I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God
    So maybe I don’t know, maybe I don’t know
    Maybe I don’t know, maybe I don’t know
    But maybe that’s okay
    Maybe that’s okay, maybe that’s okay
    Maybe I don’t know, maybe I don’t know
    But maybe that’s okay”

    So why the sudden stop on the music? Because the next section of the song is NSFC – “not safe for church.” Because he’s not a Christian Artist with two capital letters – Christian. Artist. But he is a Christian artist, with one word capitalized – Christian.

    In Genesis Boot Camp, we’ve been learning about the different voices that contributed to the Torah. The oldest stories in the Bible, the stories told around campfires so generations understood who they were and whose they were and from whence they came – are sitting right there in Genesis for the world to read. These are foundational stories to the Jewish and Christian faiths. They tell us why life is the way it is and how God is involved in making things the way they are.

    These stories answer the questions their children, and our children, and we as children asked – “Why are there rainbows after the rain?” “Why do parents have to work so hard to make a living?” “Why are snakes so awful?” and the question my brother asked my mom the first time he heard people speaking a foreign language: “How do they know what they’re saying?”

    One of these stories is the Tower of Babel, which explains why people all over the world are so spread out, why we speak different languages, and why God lets it (or wants it) to be that way. And while this story explains to children and adults why God has us spread out and we speak  other languages, it also tells us something very important about God – God is not us.

    That’s one of the themes of these foundational, told around the campfire, explain life to your children stories. God is not us. We are not God. These stories often emphasize the difference between the Creator and the created. These stories say, “God made us. We didn’t make God.” These stories say, “We are the creatures. God is the creator.” But sometimes people get that twisted, don’t we?

    That’s the trouble in today’s story. The people got it twisted. They weren’t just building a tower, they were building a tower so they could get up to heaven, see God, and say, “Heeeeey!” They were building it to show off to others what they could do by working together. They weren’t even using the stones God had provided in creation. Nah. They were making bricks. And baking them. And using tar. That was fancy. They were gonna reach God, and God said, “No, no you’re not.” So God changed their languages and scattered them, not because God was afraid of what they could do but because he needed to untwist them. God needed to confuse them so they’d remember who God was — and it wasn’t them.

    Halloween is actually All Saint’s Eve. All Saints is one of the days when we remember the saints who have gone before us. Since tomorrow is Halloween, that means we’re on All Saint’s Eve Eve. What makes a person a saint? Alex, whose church formally recognizes saints, told us in Sunday School that making saints is a kind of marketing for the Catholic Church. Next time, ask him what he really things. So cynical!

    But even though we don’t formally recognize saints in our church, we have known them. We have said goodbye to many here. And we even have some among us now. So what’s the difference between a saint and a sinner?

    If you read the writings of some of the folks the Catholic church has recognized as saints, it becomes very clear that they have that line between Creator and created figured out. Kids get it. Adults somehow lose it in all our independence. Saints remember it.

    When I think back on some of the people that I remember as saints, I realize that every one of them got the foundation provided by these earliest stories. They might not have been the best students of the Bible, but they got this — God is not us. They knew they were sinners and the forgiveness offered by Jesus. They knew they were saved and not the Savior. They knew they were creatures and not the Creator. They weren’t trying to build a tower to heaven, but everything they built sings the song of their Creator. That’s what makes us remember them when they’re gone in our hearts as a church family. They got it — that thing we are striving to get even though we feel like we’re in control of our lives right now — they got that God is God and we aren’t.

    Saints aren’t perfect. They’re sinners that know it. They’re sinners that know the answers to their sin – Jesus.

    It’s kinda like the Jon Bellion deal. There’s a line between a Christian Artist and a Christian artist. I tend to like the artists who are Christian. They’re not necessarily trying to make music that screams Christian that can be played at church. Instead, they’re on the mainstream radio and Christ just pours out of their music because He’s in them. The foundation is there. They’re not trying to build a tower to heaven, but what they build sings the song of their Creator.

    I guess if I knew tomorrow, I guess I wouldn’t need faith.
    I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace.
    I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God,
    So maybe I don’t know.

    On this All Saints Day, remember the saints you’ve known and work toward becoming one by knowing that God is not us. And maybe that’s okay. Amen.