Rev. Caroline East
(Matthew 11:27-30, Genesis 11:1-9)
I bet you bring some of you bring your work home with you, and if you’re anything like my family, more often than not, it becomes a part of dinner-table conversation. My son and I were talking the other night about this and that, chatting about what we did that day, and eventually we got around to the question of what I was preaching about this week. Babel, I said. It is a Bible Story about, well, a lot of things, but eventually about too many people talking at once.
Later on, I was in our study looking at some books, and getting some work stuff organized, while [child] got ready for bed. And this is what I heard him say, he was reading- “One morning, they went to work [on the tower in Babel] as usual, but everything was different- now their words were all new and funny. You see, God had given each person a completely different language! Suddenly, no one understood what anyone else was saying. Someone would say, “How do you do?” and the other person thought they said, “How ugly are you!” You could be saying something nice like, “Such a lovely morning,” and get punched in the nose because they thought you said, “Hush up, you’re boring!” He read on, “It wasn’t easy to work together after that, as you can only imagine. People were always quarreling and fighting and getting in a dreadful muddle and becoming grumpier and grumpier…”
That’s out of The Jesus Storybook Bible, and it’s funny. As a children’s story. But the legacy of Babel isn’t funny at all. Because at Babel, I’m convinced, it wasn’t just the languages that got confused, but the people. I’d thought COVID would have changed it and the culture, but I’ve mostly been proven wrong- In the last year, many of us have assumed physical, mental, emotional loads greater than we ever have before.
Did you get my voicemail? Don’t forget to pick up the following things at the grocery…
Have you talked to so and so? I heard she’s mad about something you did.
What have you done to better yourself over quarantine? Oh nothing!? Hmmm.
Did you see my email? Have you heard from your brother?
Have you signed up for that program? Go to that zoom meeting?
Did you remember your mask when you left the house?
Have you checked the county positivity rate?
Will you ever return to the office- or are you deemed essential but then casually ignored?
Are you going to take on that leadership role?
Your membership expires in 30 days…
Your e-statement has arrived.
Everything beeps, all our tech wants to talk back to us,
It feels like somebody is mowing their lawn or using a blower every second of daylight hours during summer months.
And then, it happens: someone does something that should be only mildly irritating… like clicking their ballpoint pen or tapping their foot on the floor and it pushes you over the edge and you snap:That noise is driving me crazy!
The world is an incredibly noisy, busy, muddled place. It is SO loud, and so demanding. I find that, all too often it grates on my spirit and wears me down. As I mentioned before, I’m convinced that that is the real legacy of Babel. Not just the jumbling of languages, but the miscommunication, the distractions, the chaos, and all the sounds that keep us from really talking with one another, and keep us from really listening, and keep us from feeling connected with God. How badly we need a break.
Is it any wonder that many of us struggle to hear God? This is touched on a little bit in the Gospel of John. Jesus called himself the shepherd, saying, “[the shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” God does call us by name, and invites us into a relationship- “Do we listen to God’s voice often enough to know it when we hear it?” We hope so.
In today’s New Testament passage, Jesus again calls out to us, calls us to listen to good news for those of us who feel weary, worn down, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Rest for your soul. How badly do you need some of that? After the week you’ve had? After the year you’ve had? None of us returned to this community unaffected by all that we’ve experienced since we last met together- whether that was last Sunday or 18 months or 18 years ago.
I was so pleased when I found out about your sabbatical summer, and when I was invited to join with you in it. I think it is such a healthy thing- How fortunate this congregation is that a time of sabbath rest that was originally intended for last summer had to be postponed. How much more we need it now- a chance to tone it all down, to settle ourselves, be renewed before we dive into our new future. I’m thankful that this summer we get to explore sabbath taking, and leaning into new gifts for ministry, and prioritizing mindfulness together– that we are making space for rest. Jesus calls to us, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” Jesus knows us, cares for us, and never lets us go. He invites us to hand him all our burdens, and relax into our position as beloved. My friends, the holy rest and renewal that he offers is the antidote to all the babbling.
The word Subdued is listed as an antonym of the word Babbled online, and in the last few weeks that word has stuck in my mind. Subdued can meanquiet, rather reflective, calmed. An unexpected peace. A sense of Respite.
I can’t help but have the imagery from Psalm 131 come to mind,“like the weaned child at it’s Mother’s breast, I am calmed and quieted.” How often do we feel that way? Subdued. Close to the one who can quiet the chaos around us.
My friends, The tower is long gone, but the Babbling remains. It can be hard to feel God at work amidst the noise, but indeed God is here. Our inability, sometimes, to see it- or in our case, to hear it-says more about us than it does about God. After all, Jesus is not too busy. Things are not too loud for him. Jesus is not distracted or frustrated or confused- we are.
When God scattered the people at Babel, and gave them all different languages, the noise of the world got louder and louder and the people got more distant from each other, and more distant from God. But Jesus, the Prince of peace invites us all to come to him. To cut through the noise and find out the truth: that there is rest for your soul. Jesus is your peace. He welcomes you to come, weary as you may be. He said, “For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” This summer, especially in our time together, I invite you all to a time of rest, of peace- a chance to take seriously God’s invitation to feel subdued, cared for, and renewed by the one who offers us mercy, grace, and love.