The Bible is a talking book. It begins in speech. Not just any speech. Efficacious speech. Successful speech. Words that make things happen.
“Let there be light” God shouts into the void. And the lights come on. These aren’t just any words. These are words with wings. Words with legs. This efficacious speech.
The Bible is a talking book.
The Israelites brought their suffering to speech. In bondage to the Egyptians, oppressed and tormented, they cried out to God. And God heard their suffering.
And God, speaking to Moses, told Moses to have a chat with Pharaoh, saying: “Let my people go.”
The Bible is a talking book.
Ezekiel is in the valley of dry bones. It is grim there. Filled with death. God says to Ezekiel: “Speak to the bones, Ezekiel. Bring them to life with speech.” And Ezekiel does, and the bones do.
The Prophets are the whiskey of the Bible, strong, speech … speech that chokes and burns.
They rail and rage at the rich and whose ease is on the backs of the poor … the powerful whose peace and security masks the violence by which it was achieved.
The Psalmist is the one who with words, turns our insides out: whose words expose our ache, whose words render our bliss, our praise; whose words make palpable our defeat, our terror, our anger. The Psalmist is the wordsmith who turns our insides out.
After “Let there be light,” and “Let my people go,” Jesus is God’s next best word. Jesus is what God has been saying from the beginning, only we didn’t get it. Jesus is the logos—the Word on the tongue of God—the Word that becomes flesh and lives among us.
Jesus was himself a talker. He talked to fishermen, women, to Gentiles, Samaritans, to Pharisees, to lepers, the lame, the blind.
He healed with words: “Take up your pallet and walk.”
He freed with words: “Your sins are forgiven you.”
He saved with words: “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.”
He conquered death with words: “Lazarus, come out!”
Jesus was a talker. He talked to the tempter in the desert. He talked to crowds on a hillside.
He talked to a storm from a boat … he talked the storm down. He talked to Moses and Elijah on a high mountain. (Don’t you want to know what they said?) Jesus talked to God from the cross. Then from the other side of the grave, he talked to Mary and Peter and Thomas. From beyond death, he talked them back into life.
Jesus, the word that became flesh, came talking.
The Bible is a talking book.
The Tower of Babel is the story of the failure of speech, of confusion and cacophony, chivaree and pandemonium.
The Witch Trials and the hysteria were babble. Nazi propaganda was babble. “Separate but equal” is babble. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is babble. “Collateral damage” is babble.
Babble is everywhere around us. The so-called newscasters yelling over one another are babblers. Babble is the shock jocks; and the angry, blithering blogs. Babble is ideology and propaganda, cant and misspeak. It is the sound of human hubris, of dissonance and danger.
Babble is the sound of the serpent who engages Adam and Eve in gentle conversation. The serpent is the one who promises that this piece of fruit, this pill, this cosmetic, the Lotto ticket, this whatever will make you wiser, younger, slimmer, richer, stronger. Promise!
The story of Pentecost is the answer to the Tower of Babel and to human babble. The triumph of Pentecost is the intelligibility of speech … of words that work, efficacious speech … words that communicate… words that build and bridge.
The story says that all of them—all the followers of Jesus—were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak … Crowds gathered. They were in Jerusalem: a worldly, cosmopolitan city. The crowd included people from every nation under heaven: from Afghanistan and South Korea, from the Soviet Union and the United States, from Haiti and Uganda, the English and the Wampanoag, the Peruvian and the Pakistani.
Here’s what captured their attention. Here’s what was happening: each one—the Kenyan and the Syrian—heard them speaking in the native language of each. They were amazed and astonished, captivated, by this feat understanding.
And what was about which they spoke? About God’s deeds of power.
The One who spoke the world into being at the beginning of time …the One whose best Word became flesh and lived among us … this same One gives birth to the church in act of speech … but not just any speech … efficacious speech, successful speech … speech that bridges and builds … the kind that communicates … speech with wings and legs, speech that heels and saves.
The church was born in this moment, this act, this instance of understanding.
The church was born to speak intelligibly …
The church was born to counter the hubris and cacophony of Babel with speech that does some good.
Justice Samuel Sewall, an early member of this congregation, apologized for having condemned some of the so-called witches to death. He was the only one of the judges to do so. His speech of repentance and confession was Pentecostal speech, churchly speech, Godly speech.
Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Pentecostal speech … Godly talk.
Today we will confirm seven young people into this churchly business of talking.
They live in a babbling world. Amelia and Sara Ann, Willy and Nolan, Daniel and Pierce and Franny live in a world filled with babbling, misspeak, cant and propaganda … a cacophonous world populated with smooth-tongued (and not so somooth-tongued) tempters.
Years ago their parents brought them for Christian baptism. As babes in arms their parents carried them to church for Christian baptism. Their parents spoke for them, vowed on their behalf that their children would grow up to learn the difference between Babel and Pentecost … between trickery and truth … between the ways of the world and the ways of God.
Today, they have come to speak for themselves. They are here to declare their defiance of babble and their commitment to churchly speech, Godly speech, speech that edifies, builds, bridges, heals and saves. They have come to claim their place as those called and trained to efficacious speech … humble speech that asks questions and probes for insight … speech that points to God … speech that does some good, speech that raises the dead and dreams of what might yet be.
Today these seven—Amelia, Sara Ann, Willy, Nolan, Daniel, Pierce and Franny—are here to join their voices to God’s.
They are ready.