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 Christ Child in Mind

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Ephesians 5:4: Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.


Conflicts among shoppers aside, people generally are nicer to each other this time of year. That’s one of the happy side effects of drawing close to Christmas, as the lights and general tenor of the season take effect.

Let’s enjoy it while we can. Projecting niceness—politeness, thoughtfulness, sensitivity to others—is a dying art. I don’t think the pandemic was the beginning of our decline, either. It simply aggravated a growing tendency toward incivility.

Lately, I’ve noticed this tendency extends even into the way companies market their products. There’s a kind of ugliness designed into some brands and packaging. I assume professional marketers peered into peoples’ hardening hearts with their surveys and focus groups and said, “We can make money off this trend.”

For decades, we’ve had products with names and packaging that you wouldn’t want children or teens to see. They were kept away in special stores or catalogs.

What’s surprising is how these products now encroach on everyday places, like the shelves of big-box stores, bookstores and mom-and-pop businesses. I went to pay for my takeout at one of my favorite little family restaurants recently, and was surprised to see at the register a professional display of seasoning products, each item’s name a variation on a crude word for excrement.

I normally let such things go, fearing I’m somehow playing into the stereotype of the uptight or judgmental Christian. That day, I did comment to the young woman who rang up my order that I was glad I wasn’t standing there with a child or a youth group. I was imagining the conversation I would have to have later with a kid just learning to read, or a teenager confused about social boundaries.

Maybe we do need to speak up more, in a gentle way. I don’t want our culture to end up like other places in the world where I’ve seen nudity and bawdy jokes displayed on highway billboards.

More than ever, I appreciate Paul’s exhortation to avoid crude words and actions. By themselves, these social transgressions can seem relatively unimportant. But we have to consider how they slowly poison us, creating patterns of thoughtlessness that quickly devolve into meanness and sin.

Hey, when it comes to crude behavior, I’ve shown my ugly side much too often over the years, and I don’t guard my speech and behaviors enough now. But it’s time for a change, and the image of the Christ Child before us certainly should help.

Lord, in all situations, help us to bring gentleness into the world with our words and actions. Amen.