9,000 years ago bricks were invented, and they are still around today. I have no idea how many bricks make up these walls, but I do know these bricks define this sacred space, as a place set apart. Without bricks the windows would not be held in place, and the ceiling would not vault overhead. But bricks are only as good as the hands that hold them. They can as easily be tossed through windows as made into walls. The power of a brick rests in the hands that holds it.
9,000 years ago, bricks were a new technology. That is what this Genesis reading today is about… new technology. Suddenly a community had a sense of permanence and power never before known. Walls were built that could hold people out indefinitely. Towers reached into the sky and allowed the eye to see the enemy or the friend coming from a far.
Walls were to be feared. So powerful where they that emperors and kings prohibited cities from building them. When Ezra and Nehemiah returned from the Babylonian exile, they needed a special permit to build a wall around Jerusalem from Cyrus the Great.
For the people who arrived in the Valley of Shinar we hear about in Genesis bricks were a game changer; which is why the authors believed it was God’s concern that the new technology of bricks would unite humanity in a way where they no longer needed God, or worse still, became more powerful than God. And so, the story goes, God scrambled the languages, scrapped the tower, and scattered the people.
At first blush, of course, this sounds like a petty, little god, who is insecure. But since we know, through Jesus that this isn’t true, then, as a learning church, we take a second look. And what we find is a community that doesn’t trust themselves with the power they have been given. They are nervous that they are as likely to build a wall that holds a window as they are to throw a brick through it.
Do you know what I mean? It is like my fear of heights. As I stand in some high place with a flimsy railing separating me from a precipice; a fleeting thought always seems to dash through my mind: What if I throw myself over the edge? No, I’m not going to do this, but I have that weird thought, nonetheless, which always makes me wonder: Can I trust myself? I used to have that same thought holding my babies (one who we are celebrating here today)–what if I drop him? Can I trust myself? These weird thoughts flash through our erratic brains when confronted with a new and novel situation, like a high place, or a new baby, or a brick as a technology that had never existed before.
The question the authors in Genesis are really asking is: Can we trust ourselves? Can we trust ourselves with this new technology to do good with it when we could as easily do harm. And where is God in this world of bricks? Can God exist, they wondered, in a world where there are walls?
And the answer was “yes,” if they built a place for God with these bricks and invited God in. So, they used the bricks to build a space of beauty for God like the one we sit in. They sought to make a space that was a porous place between the temporal and eternal, the profane and sacred, the knowable and the mystery… all which happened in rooms made for God, like this one; which is good, and which presented a problem… because now that there were walls, people found they could leave God behind when they left the room.
So, the room managers (aka: priests) created walking around rules, if you will, to give people guard rails they could trust in, to call forth the good and inhibit the bad. New technologies were developed to facilitate this. The Babylonians carved rules with cuneiform letters on basalt rocks. The Jews wrote their rules down on papyrus scrolls and carried them with them.
But it seems the walking around rules had a few problems:
- not everybody agreed on them;
- people who did agree, didn’t necessarily abide by them;
- And even people who wanted to abide by them, who wanted to trust in them, to choose good and inhibit bad, weren’t able to do so.
Then the Holy Spirit did something new. It happened on the day of Pentecost 2000 years ago when God relocated sacred sites made of bricks, or written on papyrus, from a space out there, to a place in here… sacred sites to permanently reside within each human heart. In a universal, instantaneous action, as only God could do, a heart transplant in all people took place – captured by that scene from the Book of Acts: as a mighty wind rips through Jerusalem; and flames dance upon the heads of the disciples; suddenly all people understand one another despite speaking their native tongue, each in their own language they heard people speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (Acts 2:1-13/ para)
And these deeds of power they experience? The assurance that wherever you are God is with you, and you can trust in that, even in those moments when you aren’t sure you can trust yourself…because God is available right here, right now. There is nowhere that you can be that God is not.
At Pentecost Jesus’ words – “In my father’s house there are many rooms, with one prepared uniquely for you.” (John 14:2/ para) At Pentecost these words became a reality physically, ontologically, eternally. Think of it like this: There is an enormous mansion, built and owned by God. All people, throughout all time have a standing room reservation, with a sign on the door that reads: Vivian’s heart. Ainsley’s heart. Jessie’s heart. Theo’s heart. Sylvie’s heart. Audrey Anne’s heart. That is what we recognize as we baptize Sylvie today, that there is within her a door only she can open and close. Each person ever created is free to let God in or not; but when we do, we are instantly connected, networked to all other rooms in the mansion. We have the WiFi password. It is: H O L Y _ S P I R I T (all caps). That is the power revealed on the day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago, the hardwiring of every human heart for access to the connectivity of God.
Now it has taken us another 2,000 years to figure out how to express this internal reality as an outward and visible practicality. But we have done so through the development of the virtual realm. The Internet era represents the network of individual hearts within the infinite dimension of God. God loves new technology, which is why we invest in it and use it here at Epiphany as a means of communicating heart to heart with each one of you.
But we also know that new technology, whether bricks, papyrus, or fiber-optics can be employed for good or for harm. What we see play out in the virtual realm is a reflection of human heart health in the people who participate in the power of this new technology.
The Internet is like a meta-cardiovascular system with the many rooms from Jesus’ mansion metaphor, enough rooms to express every heart’s desire, which can be magnificent or horrific. The heart is known by the rooms it travels too, and so, your heart health can be assessed by looking at the places you go on the Internet.
- Consider what you watch on the Internet, and how much time you spend there.
- Consider the encounters you have on Internet which lead to real, soul to soul connections, or not.
- And third, and most importantly, ask yourself how you reveal God in the rooms you visit in the virtual realm
Here is the core question theologians are asking in this new era we call the Age of the Holy Spirit: “Is God in cyberspace?” Religious philosopher David Hartman wrote: “In some ways cyberspace resembles the world the prophet’s spoke about: a place where all humankind can be united and totally free.” He went on, “The danger is that we are unifying humanity in cyberspace, but without God – actually without any value system, without any filters, without any government, and that is why we find ourselves asking the essential question: “Is God in cyberspace?” (Thank You for Being Late, pg. 339).
That question was asked of Rabbi Tzvi Marx. He responded by quoting Isaiah: “You are my witness. I am the Lord” (Isa 43:10) Talmudic scholars in the second century interpret this to mean, “If you are my witness, I am the Lord. And if you are not my witness, I am not the Lord.” In other words, unless one bears witness to God’s presence by good deeds God is not present. Unless one behaves as though God were running things God isn’t running things. In other words, we are responsible for revealing God’s presence by the choices we make. And the reason this issue is most acute in the virtual realm is that no one else is in charge there. (Thank You for Being Late, pg. 338)
The virtual realm reflects the sum total of all human hearts. There is not another realm in which the human heart has more freedom to express itself than the virtual realm where we are all connected, in one mansion, free to open the door of our room and let God in, or not.
God loves new technology, but leaves it up to us how to employ it. Our ancestors chose to invite God into sanctuaries made of brick. Our ancestors chose to invite God through words on papyrus on scrolls. We are the generation born to uniquely answer the question: “Is God in cyberspace?” It is a new place, precious like a baby, and yet precarious like a high cliff. It is an outward and visible sign of the power of God hardwired into us at Pentecost; permanently present and accessible, a new technology has arrived that is only as good as the hands that hold it. It is up to us to invite in the good of God by choosing to open the doors of our hearts.