Hyde Park, thank you for your hospitality today. Jan, thank you for asking me to speak today. I have so much joy for this occasion. Tonight I want to share with you a theological and architectural observation: Sermons Make Disastrous Towers.

Our passage is Genesis 11 and Mark 8. (Read more about Babel here)

Hyde Park, Jan, colleagues, elders, and siblings in the faith. Preaching is mostly reminding, so I’m going to jog our memory of an important fact.

Ministry is Challenging

Ministry asks a lot of us. We don’t just stumble into a well-organized consistory meeting, do we? It takes preparation, organization, and foresight.

It is difficult to know and love congregants and then to walk with them in the painful moments or seasons in their lives. 

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel, accessed via Wikipedia

Expanding your theological horizons is important but often difficult because we typically read books that bolster our viewpoint. It’s the academic version of comfort food. 

Of course, there are church finances and caring for the building. 

Preaching. I love preaching. Jan you will preach, what, 45-48 times this year? By the end of the year, you will write and speak the equivalent of a novel. Grammarly will love you. By the way, don’t repeat yourself. 

But consistory meetings, loving and caring for others, expanding your theological horizons, organizing church life and church finances, and preaching are difficult, but they are not the hardest things you will do. 

Sermons are Easy; Self-Discovery Is Hard

The hardest thing you will do is not make a sermon. The hardest thing you will do in your life is make a self. 

The most difficult task we are all called to is to know and be aware of our gifts, passions, pitfalls, skills, personality, and calling. 

The task is to be anchored deeply in the reality of God so much so that we gain the strength to be ourselves in the presence of other humans in the wilds of the world, especially the wilderness of the pulpit.

That’s the task. It is life-long, and part of becoming a self is being willing to show yourself, but it’s hard to live an exposed life. What if I speak and people don’t like me? What if I speak out of my false self and people like that version of me? What a pickle we can get ourselves into!

We All Hide, Especially in Our Sermons

The people in Genesis 11 are like us. They know what we know. They know it is difficult and scary to live an exposed life. They don’t like the thought of being revealed, of going out into the wild, wild world to trust God in all things. So, they build a tower to hide. That tower, they think, is their salvation.

That seems silly, but it’s no less silly than hiding behind a sermon or hiding behind busyness, self-importance, or comfort. It’s no less silly than hiding behind the ways we distract ourselves with media. Life gets hard and we go to our tower. We all have a tower—food, sex, distraction, alcohol, overwork, and comfort-seeking, always being right, or “just getting along.”

It’s tough to live exposed! To be exposed is to be vulnerable and to have to trust I will be okay. 

The people in our passage have been told to go out into the world and to cultivate and care for it, to be fruitful and multiply. That means that they have to learn to be vulnerable and they have to learn to teach others to do the same. They must learn resistance and resiliency and teach others how not to hide. What a task.

Fear and Anxiety Can Be Motivating Factors of Hiding

What’s behind this tower building in our passage? I think it is fear and anxiety. I believe in their collective life there is a memory of a time long ago when the unimaginable happened: a great flood fell upon the earth and killed almost everyone and destroyed almost everything. They have lived with this fear memory every day of their life. It’s underneath everything and shows up in this action.

Imagine living every day thinking the worst could happen. What would you do to avoid a flood? You’d build a tower. 

I’ll make a tower and I’ll be safe. When we want safety, we crave certainty and that often means sameness—that comes with an unwillingness to change or to be challenged. 

So they build a tower and they say, we’ll spot danger from miles away and even if it floods, the worst case is that the basement gets wet. We’ll survive. We’ll be safe. We’ll be certain. We’ll be the same. This tower is actually a fig leaf. It is very much like the ones Adam and Eve used. It’s a cover for being afraid or unwilling to live with the truth in the presence of God or in the intimate presence of another person.

Let’s build it strong and big and this tower will be our refuge and shelter.

This way of thinking is seen as crossing the line of pride and contempt for God. Why shouldn’t you have to trust? Why shouldn’t you have to go into the unknown? Why should you be allowed to hide? There’s a whole world out there that needs you to be you and to bring your full self to bear.

We see that God confuses their language and scatters them. The tower fails them. The world will not be tamed.

The hard truth is this– life is dangerous. Ministry is uncertain. Just because you do a good job, are a decent speaker, and excellent leader, you are not guaranteed success or if anyone will care. Often, we don’t know the way into tomorrow. Sometimes we get overwhelmed. Sometimes we don’t know if we can lead that meeting well or talk openly with that person. It’s scary. It’s hard.

God is Our True Refuge and Strong Tower

We would greatly benefit if in those times we approached God in prayer or quiet meditation so that we may really see ourselves and what it is that is stirring us to fear or be anxious.

This is much healthier than blindly following your reflex to go to your preferred tower.

Any place of refuge that is not the Lord is doomed to fall. 

What’s the option? The option that I see is found in our assurance of pardon: “the name of the Lord is a strong tower and the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10) 

In the first half of Scripture, the word “righteous” means those who are willing to be influenced by God. It doesn’t mean morally perfect. It is a word used to describe those on an open journey with God.

You probably know that in the first half of Scripture that to know someone’s name was to know their personality, and who they really are. Our help is in the reality of God who knows us, is committed to us, and shows us dedicated love and devotion.

The reality of God is a strong tower. We run to God and we are safe.

Justification By Faith Not Towers or Sermons

What I’m reminding us of is the fact that God is our justification. We are not justified by our performance as professionals. We are not justified and saved by our ability to do “good things for God.” We are not justified by success and we are not disqualified by failure. We are not justified and saved on attendance. Attendance makes horrible ramparts. Sermons make lousy towers.

God is our strong tower, who gives us the ability to recognize the truth and to live toward it. God can help us grow in our self-awareness and can help us see the gifts, passions, skills, and abilities we can exercise faithfully even if it is imperfect.

We can lead with compassion and courage.

We can explore other theological paths and not be scared by questions or new or different answers.

We can say, I don’t know. 

We can say, I disagree.

We can say, let’s try something new.

We can stand and preach in our own words in our own ways about the Word of God, Jesus Christ made flesh for us and our salvation. 

Embrace Authenticity and God’s Faithfulness

Tower by tower will crumble.

Fig leaf by fig leaf withers.

Yet, Christ clothes us with mercy, compassion, wisdom, and fiery conviction.

Towers may fall but God does not fail.

Embrace the hand of God and go into your life with full trust that the one who began a good work in you will complete it.

Put your hand to the work the Lord has put in front of you here and make the name of the Might One great. Amen.

Below is a video about trust: God Does Not Use a Helicopter

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