Language of the Spheres

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Babbling in Babel,” rooted in Genesis 11:1-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Acts 2:1-15


By Chuck Griffin

I’ve made a living through the use of the English language all of my adult life. Part of that time, I have attempted to serve Christ’s kingdom via preaching and writing. Our ability to communicate in nuanced detail often is a tremendous gift. We need to remember that words have their limits, though.

Languages reflect cultural differences in how our minds work, so they often reinforce cultural barriers. One of my favorite examples is the German word schadenfreude, which has no English equivalent. It describes an emotion that is familiar to most people, the improper joy we sometimes feel when another person experiences misfortune.

The emotion likely is universal, but in naming it, the Germans have a better grip on this dubious feeling than we do. I have suggested “malevejoy” as an English equivalent, but it has yet to be an entry in Dictionary.com.

I’m sure many of you quickly realized the preparatory text linked above is part of the story of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit ignited the first followers of Christ.

When I hear the Pentecost story, I see great beauty in that moment where everyone,  regardless of which language a particular listener may have spoken, suddenly understood what was being declared about “God’s deeds of power.” United in Christ, many of those people discovered that language barriers and other cultural impediments had been torn down.

I also think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1, where he spoke of the critical importance of love. In the process, he mentioned “the tongues of mortals and of angels.” That little phrase gives me images of heaven, a place where a higher, better language—one as godly as can be—will keep us in perfect union with the Creator, and of course, with each other.

I imagine the heavenly language to be so much more than mere words. It must engage all the senses at once, employing a grammar of motion, music, color and other means of communication we cannot even imagine.

Knowing language has such potential, I feel inspired to do a better job of incorporating Christ into the mortal language available to me now.

Lord, may our words reflect your holiness as we draw from your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Open Door

Revelation 4:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

As part of my preaching on Ascension Sunday, I referenced Christ reopening Paradise for us. Much can be seen through an open door.

When John of Patmos looked through the door, what did he see? Well, God, of course. And despite seeing, he could not find words for what he saw. The best he could do was describe exotic items of our world—jasper, carnelian, emerald, crystal—and say they somehow look like God and what surrounds God in heaven.

John’s vision reminds me of Plato’s allegory of the cave, written 380 years before Christ. Plato compared unschooled people to people who have lived all their lives shackled in a cave, their backs to the opening, seeing nothing but shadows against the wall before them. The shadows would be their reality.

If one of these prisoners were to break his shackles and escape through the cave’s mouth, he would find reality incomprehensible. There would be no way initially to connect the movement of the beings and objects outside with the shadows that had seemed so real. And if the man were to go back to his shackled friends and try to explain, they would think him mad.

John of Patmos was like Plato’s escaped prisoner. Instead of a cave opening, he looked from our shadowy world into heaven. And he found it very difficult to describe in words the glory he witnessed.

There are aspects of his vision that remain familiar, however, and we’re reminded we can get at least a glimpse through the now-open door. We have moments where we’re lifted just high enough to peek over the threshold, particularly while in worship and prayer.

In John’s view of heaven, God is the point of worship, as God should be here on earth. In heaven, beings both bizarre and familiar to us sing of God’s holiness and exist in a constant state of pure and perfect worship.

There also is evidence in John’s vision that our worship here lets us participate in worship there. As we read in chapter 5, we see the prayers of the saints—those of us here on earth—used as incense, our smoky praises and petitions floating before God.

We also see Christ in the midst of this vision, described as the “Lion of Judah” but appearing as a slain lamb. Having come to earth to be with us and die for our sins, Christ then returned to heaven at the ascension, carrying our humanity with him. He has complete power over our fates and how history is to unfold.

A view of heaven changes everything, doesn’t it? At least for as long as we can remember the view, cherish it, and revisit it through worship and prayer.

People who once looked lost to us suddenly have infinite potential. Situations that looked hopeless are actually full of promise. This shift in thinking happens because we see those people and situations against the backdrop of the open door. The light that shines through, twinkling as if it has passed through jasper and carnelian and crystal, recolors everything in this world.

A view of heaven is one powerful benefit of being among the church, the collection of people who look toward the open door.

Lord, grant us new visions of the life Jesus has unlocked for us. Amen.