Do you live in a bubble? It is quite likely that most of us here live in a bubble of our own making, one that very well suits us and others like us. Yet, we have the kind of God who has a way of messing with us that may put a crack or two or three into that bubble. For example, during Bible Study last Monday, most people in attendance, besides me and Rev. Rodger, had never heard of a ‘food desert.’ Do you know what that term means? It is likely you may have never heard of it because you live in a middle-class to upper middle class neighborhood or most people you know live in those two economic categories.
A food desert is found in a part of a community, town or city where there are neighborhoods that have little access to food, especially if they have no transportation. Many people in these areas have to rely on a gas station convenience store or fast food to get food to sustain their lives. There is little access to fresh fruits and vegetables or fresh meat from which to make nutritional meals. There are parts of Paris that are food deserts. There are no more Mom and Pop grocery stores on corners of streets in various sections of town. You have to be able to get to Walmart or Kroger’s.
As some of us in this congregation worked with a local family whom we helped, several of us discovered empty cupboards or shelves that were filled with junk food. All this leads to a food desert. Most, if not all of us take for granted that we get in our car and drive to Walmart or Kroger’s here in town or to Terre Haute to Baesler’s and, now, the Fresh Thyme market. We don’t think about people who can’t get to stores conveniently enough to buy healthy food or even know how to choose healthy food options and how to prepare them. We are likely living in a bubble that doesn’t reveal that to us.
I took a “do you live in a bubble,” quiz on Friday and found out, not surprisingly, that I was a middle class, educated person from upper middle class parents who makes a point of getting out away from home, other than work, quite often. I know that I am most comfortable with people who are like me although God has seen fit to put me in the path of people with widely differing political and theological viewpoints than my own and even now, with Franco, who speaks a different language and finding English difficult to navigate. Still, the results of my quiz showed me in a much-thicker than thinner bubble, insulated from the struggles and differing ways of others.
I have little doubt that Jesus would point out to us the rather thick bubbles we live in with the people who speak our language and more or less have similar political, economic and theological views. Jesus, who hung out much more often with the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcast, would say, “Look, take notice how much you are isolated from a deeply hurting world.” And, most of the time, we like it that way. It is certainly more comfortable and while I’m not saying we need to seek out discomfort, sometimes being uncomfortable, in unfamiliar, (and I’m not talking about a place here), territory can be a good thing. I’m finding out that very thing as I visit Franco and try to help him navigate the problems he is dealing with now. Not only is there a language barrier but a rather considerable cultural one too. Patience is absolutely necessary and, just ask Camille, sometimes I lose it! Acceptance of our differences is very important to my communication with Franco.
Do you remember the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11? It is a strange tale that tries to explain, for the ancient writer and reader, the origin of why there are so many languages on this rather small planet. At one point, so the story goes, all people had the same language and gathered together, deciding to build a city where they could all reside. They also built an extraordinarily high tower “reaching to the heavens.” The Creator didn’t like this so God came down and threw them into a mess, confusing their language and scattering them to the four corners of the earth. Why did God chose to do that when it would have been so much easier for people to stay together with one language? Was God really threatened by these similar people speaking the same language?
Jill Duffield, who writes Monday afternoon lectionary devotional reflections for the PC (USA), pondered this question. She equates the Babel story with the Pentecost story in Acts chapter 2 you often hear read at this time of the year. That story also has people thrown into chaos because the disciples start speaking in other languages that the many foreigners in Jerusalem at the time could understand in their own native tongue. Some people, gathered near the place where the Spirit with tongues of flame had descended upon the disciples, decided that they were drunk, because it was so bizarre. But the disciples weren’t drunk. The disciples were showing the power of the Holy Spirit, a gift that Jesus said would be bestowed upon his disciples, and eventually other followers, after his ascension into heaven.
In our John 14 passage, actually parts of two passages, Jesus reminds us that we will know him if we know our heavenly Parent, God. He stated that if his followers knew God they would know Jesus and know that he would always be with them. Why? – because he was sending his followers an Advocate, another word for the Holy Spirit. This Advocate would be with Jesus’ followers down through the ages, strengthening and encouraging them. In this passage we have the beginning of Trinitarian thought for God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.//
On this Pentecost Sunday, Jill Duffield asks her readers to think about a place where they can go to hear many languages. Are we in those places very often? The few of us who have traveled overseas extensively may know of many places where that is the case. Still, even those of you who do travel, come home to this smaller, rural town where 99% of us speak the same language and live in the same or very similar culture. I thought about where I’ve heard many different languages spoken. That would be when I was walking down the streets of New York City or of Chicago and, when I walked around Disney World, mostly Epcot Center. I actually like hearing different languages spoken, although I wish I could understand what the people are saying in those languages. It makes me feel like I am more a part of the whole world.
Ms Duffield quotes Jacques Ellul, a philosopher, sociologist and lay theologian, who in his book, “The Humiliation of the Word,” explains with conviction, “the blessed uncertainty of language is the source of all its richness. I do not know exactly how much of my message the other person hears, how he interprets it, or what (she) will retain of it. I know that a kind of electric current is established between us as we seek, together, to weave a new design of life lived together.”
Still, most of us simply are not familiar with the messiness of the Babel story or the chaos of the Pentecost experience. Jill Duffield says that those two stories are different, even if they seem similar on the surface. She explains that there is a type of electric spark creating a two- way experience for the people of the Pentecost experience, in the Book of Acts. There is a back and forth, a give and take as the disciples speak in languages other than their own and others who speak those languages hear and learn of the incredible thing God is doing in the giving of the Christ’s Spirit to those who hear and believe. There is some dialog about what is going on in that story. That is not the case in the story of the Tower of Babel; there is only confusion.
I’m concerned that today too much of the world lives in their own isolated communities not experiencing other languages, other cultures, other experiences other than their own. That is a great explanation for why there is so much animosity between different races, ethnicities, and cultures. We don’t embrace our differences to become a richer, deeper people with much give and take, back and forth. The bubble we live in becomes smaller and smaller until we willingly live with people vastly unique from ourselves. Surely, the bubbles in our world need to burst if we are ever to learn of the peace Christ promises and until they do we will continue to live in chaos where anger, hostility, hatred, malevolence, slander and a lack of respect for others runs rampant.
You see, people of God, we are all God’s creation and must live out our existence in a very small space, together. Until we learn to do that there will be the abject poor, those who are forgotten by polite or “civilized” society, war and continuous conflict. Our task as Christian people is to live in Christ’s peace and pass that on to all others, whether or not they grasp it. The Apostle Paul states that we who are led by the Spirit are children of God and must seek to live in that way through faith, hope, love, kindness and gentleness of spirit. Our unruly tongues must be reined in as we seek to always honor God with what we say and by how we live with others different from ourselves.
May the Pentecost Spirit be felt by each one of us here.