Faithlife Sermons

Get Out of the Ghetto

Genesis  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
· 2 views

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ church must reject ghetto living and persevere in pursuing reconciliation.

Notes & Transcripts
Sermon Tone Analysis
A
D
F
J
S
Emotion
A
C
T
Language
O
C
E
A
E
Social
View more →
Genesis 11:1–9 ESV
1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Introduction

I have become somewhat of a coffee snob over the past 18 or so years. It all started when I began taking classes in seminary part time. I’d need a little pick-me-up to make it through that 7-10 pm class after a day of work. I now prefer to prepare my coffee at home just how I like it. But for many years, Starbucks was the primary place where I got my regular caffeine fix. Since I had given Starbucks so much of my money, I was interested hearing the story of Starbucks’ founder, Howard Schultz, when he was interviewed on 60 minutes back in 2006. He grew up in my hometown, Brooklyn, NY, but under different circumstances than me. He grew up in the projects because his family was poor. His father was a delivery driver, picking up and delivering cloth diapers. His father fell on the job, broke his leg, and was subsequently fired. With no worker’s compensation or disability package, his family spiraled down from working class to poverty. He said that he saw the fracturing of the American dream first hand at age 7.
Howard Schultz grew up in the ghetto. You could see the emotion in his face and the tears welling up in his eyes as CBS filmed him walking down that same hallway to apartment 7G. As a teen, he says, his dream was to get out.
“I never allowed myself to dream beyond that. I was afraid to dream beyond that.”
His dream was to get out of the ghetto. He could think of nothing better than to be free of ghetto life. It’s easy for us to resonate with Shultz’s dream if our sole picture of the ghetto is a run-down, densely populated urban area characterized by blight, crime and poverty. But y’all are sharp people. Since you’re so sharp, you’ve already realized that I’m only going through all of this to set you up. See, I also have a dream. And my dream is that the church of Jesus Christ would have a divine dissatisfaction for ghetto life. My dream is that the Church would get out of the ghetto.
What do I mean by that? I’m not talking about a ‘ghetto’ in its more common use, but ‘ghetto’ defined as an environment where a group of people live or work in isolation, whether by choice or circumstance; groups or communities living in isolation, getting their sense of worth and dignity from their identification with that community. And we have all kinds of ghettos in the church; racial ghettos, political ghettos, socio-economic ghettos, generational ghettos, academic ghettos, and the list could go on and on. When I look at what I see is that ghetto life, that type of ghetto living is the result of God’s judgment upon humanity at Babel. It is a blight, not a blessing.
Our text is comprised of four scenes, so I want to work through this message, “Get Out of the Ghetto,” with four “C’s,” Coexistence (One Big Happy Family), Construction (in Solidarity), Confusion (Deconstruction by Confusion), Community (Life in the Ghetto).

Coexistence

Genesis 11:1–2 ESV
1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
Practically everywhere we look we see bumper stickers and billboards, posts on social media calling out for peace and civility. In Howard County, MD, where I used to live, a few years ago there were bumper stickers all over the place saying Choose Civility in Howard County. You see bumper stickers calling for us to co-exist, seek peace not war. Rodney King asked a question twenty years ago that has become iconic in this land of hostility. “Can’t we all just get along?” People are left frustrated that we’re unable to come together as a human race and create this peace and civil coexistence.
Well, there was a time in human history when everyone had the same language and spoke the same words. Humanity was in solidarity. Moses tells us that everyone could speak and understand each other. They migrated together from the east and settled down in the land of Shinar (Mesopotamia). Everybody’s getting along. So what’s the problem with this picture? Before we hear the people speak themselves in v.3, vv.1-2 let us know that, yes, everyone’s on the same page, but they’re on the same page in their rejection of God’s command. They’re on the same page in their rebellion against what God has explicitly commanded them to do. After the Flood narrative in , God once again commands humanity to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth (9:1). Yet, what do we find humanity doing? In direct and conscious rebellion they determine, “we don’t want to fill the earth, we want to settle down right here.”
It’s not that they were ignorant of God’s command. They couldn’t claim that they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. We don’t find the Serpent here in ch 11 like we find in chapter 3, tempting humanity to disobey God’s word. Man as one big happy family was one big happy family against our Creator. The term “from the east,” or, “eastward” in v.2 marks a separation in Genesis. It conveys the reality that the Babelites are outside of God’s blessing. We see this reality expressed throughout Genesis. In 3:24 when God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, he placed the cherubim and flaming sword at the east of the garden. In ch.4 when Cain killed his brother Abel, he went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in Nod, east of Eden. In ch.13 when Lot separates from Abraham he journeys eastward to settle in Sodom (cf. 25:6, 29:1). So, in moving eastward and settling in Shinar the big happy human family is outside of God’s blessing.
That’s why bumper sticker theology is fruitless. Bumper sticker theology calling for coexistence by itself isn’t enough to do anything. Even if by some means we were able to achieve this corporate civility and peaceful coexistence by our own efforts, we would still be a corrupt people unified only by our sinful rebellion against God. As vv.3-4 tell us, our solidarity would be expressed in trying to use God’s gracious gifts to usurp his authority and make a name for ourselves.

Conctruction

Look at vv.3-4. Humanity has one language, speaking the same language, and look at what they say to one another.
Genesis 11:3–4 ESV
3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
Here’s their solidarity expressed in their construction project. There’s no attempt to even fake obedience to God. This is the warp, the dysfunction, the disordering that sin creates in the human heart. The sinful human heart wants to find significance by our own achievements. The sinful human heart wants to make a name for ourselves apart from God. The sinful human heart wants more than anything to have all the glory and fame come to ourselves. (The name they earn is “Confusion”.)
Let’s examine what they do in their futile efforts to establish significance and immortality by their own achievements. The rallying call is to make bricks and mortar in order to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.
In the ancient Near East, cities were not designed primarily to be lived in. They were intended for religious and public purposes. There, in Mesopotamia, they employed their technology to build this city whose central focus was this tower known as a ziggurat. The ziggurat was a massive and lofty, solid-brick, staircase structure. In Mesopotamian culture, it was an inseparable part of the city, and sometimes the temple complex was the entire city. Waltke,
Genesis: A Commentary Scene 2: The Human Word: To Construct a City and Tower (11:3–4)

Like Jacob’s staircase (see Gen. 28:12), the ziggurat mountain, with its roots in the earth and its lofty top in the clouds, served in mythopoeic thought as a gate to heaven. This humanly created mountain gave humanity access to heaven (28:17) and served as a convenient stairway for the gods to come down into their temple and into the city.

The city reveals the fact that the human spirit will not stop at anything short of usurping God’s throne in heaven. This is the city of man. At the heart of the city of man is love for self and hatred of God. Those are strong words, but they’re no less true today than they were back in Babel. Driven by excessive pride and arrogance, humanity was united in a spiritual endeavor to find, through the use of technology, meaning apart from God. Make no mistake about it, they were technological giants. God graciously gifted humanity with the ability to learn, discover, and make technological advances. It was no small feat to build the city and tower. But what humanity did, and what we still do is use our God given gifts to rebel and make a name for ourselves.
They are contesting with God himself.
Like Jacob’s staircase (see Gen. 28:12), the ziggurat mountain, with its roots in the earth and its lofty top in the clouds, served in mythopoeic thought as a gate to heaven. This humanly created mountain gave humanity access to heaven (28:17) and served as a convenient stairway for the gods to come down into their temple and into the city.
The city reveals the fact that the human spirit will not stop at anything short of usurping God’s throne in heaven. This is the city of man. At the heart of the city of man is love for self and hatred of God. Those are strong words, but they’re no less true today than they were back in Babel. Driven by excessive pride and arrogance, humanity was united in a spiritual endeavor to find, through the use of technology, meaning apart from God. Make no mistake about it, they were technological giants. God graciously gifted humanity with the ability to learn, discover, and make technological advances. It was no small feat to build the city and tower. But what humanity did, and what we still do is use our God given gifts to rebel and make a name for ourselves.
The city reveals the fact that the human spirit will not stop at anything short of usurping God’s throne in heaven. This is still a mark of cities that we build. At the heart of the city of man is love for self and hatred of God. Those are strong words, but they’re no less true today than they were back in Babel. Driven by excessive pride and arrogance, humanity was united in a spiritual endeavor to find, through the use of technology, meaning apart from God. Make no mistake about it, they were technological giants. God graciously gifted humanity with the ability to learn, discover, and make technological advances. It was no small feat to build the city and tower. But what humanity did, and what we still do is use our God given gifts to rebel and make a name for ourselves.
Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 179.The city reveals the fact that the human spirit will not stop at anything short of usurping God’s throne in heaven. This is the city of man. At the heart of the city of man is love for self and hatred of God. Those are strong words, but they’re no less true today than they were back in Babel. Driven by excessive pride and arrogance, humanity was united in a spiritual endeavor to find, through the use of technology, meaning apart from God. Make no mistake about it, they were technological giants. God graciously gifted humanity with the ability to learn, discover, and make technological advances. It was no small feat to build the city and tower. But what humanity did, and what we still do is use our God given gifts to rebel and make a name for ourselves.
“Today, self-idolizing humanity is storming outer space, hoping to subdue even the heavenly bodies, and through genetic engineering has the potential to clone and shape humanity according to its own imagination. What had historically been the prerogative of God alone has now come under the dominion of depraved humanity.”
We still pervert God’s good gift. We still want to make a name for ourselves. We still want to find significance and immortality by our own achievements. Apart from the Spirit of Christ working in us the only glory we will be thinking of is our own. So notice here in Genesis that the human word to construct in solidarity is now contrasted with God’s word to deconstruct by confusion in vv.5-7…
Genesis 11:5–7 ESV
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Confusion

The turning point in this text is v.5. Why are we told that the Lord came down to see the city and the tower? Was he somehow surprised by what was going on? Was he lacking in some knowledge about the building project, and needed to get a closer look so that he could decide what to do about it? No, absolutely not. The reason we’re told that the Lord came down to see the city and the tower is to emphasize the futility of human efforts against God. By human standards this city and tower was impressive. It was a work like none other. It was the result of all of humanity putting their minds together for a singular purpose. They thought that their technological breakthrough would enable them to transgress the heavenly realm where God dwelled. They thought that together, as one, their strength and intelligence would be unmatched. Yet, for all of their effort, for all of their building success, their tower is so puny and impotent that God has to come down to see it. They thought that they could transgress the heavens, but their best effort didn’t even come close.
We’re still striving to obtain significance through technological advancements. We continue to insist that if we can just find a cure for this disease or that disease, we’ll be closer to heaven. If we can use technology to improve the quality of life so that people will live longer and more materially prosperous lives, then we will prove that there is no need or use for any God. And all of the glory, fame, and significance will be ours (or more appropriately, ‘mine’).
That speaks to the futility of trying to make our own way apart from God. It speaks to the futility of our pride and arrogance to think that we could possibly do anything worthy of God’s recognition apart from him working in and through us, and apart from us working for his glory and not our own.
So, after the human word to construct, we get the divine word to deconstruct (rd. vv.6-7).
Genesis 11:6–7 ESV
6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
God comes down in judgment and affectively creates ghettos by confusing our language so that we can’t understand one another. And even in God’s judgment here there is mercy. When the Lord says in v.6, “They are one people, and all of them share the same language. This is what they have begun to do! Now of all that they plan to do, nothing will be impossible for them,” he mercifully moves to restrain our sin by confusing our language. There is grace in the judgment of Babel. How much worse would this world be if God allowed us to continue to be united in our sinful purposes? The willful rebellion of humanity against God’s explicit command resulted in the use of all our faculties united for an impossible goal. We were joined together to establish ourselves as God, with all authority and power. It was doomed to fail because God really is. He’s not a fable or a myth. He holds all power and authority and no creature can take it away from him.
This world ain’t as bad as it could be. If we all “just got along,” we’d be just getting along in trying to overthrow God together. Therefore, by divine judgment he creates ghettos. Our last “C,” community, is about life in the ghetto.

Community

God’s plan will not be thwarted. If his mandate to fill the earth was going to be accomplished God was going to have to do it himself, in spite of us, not because of us. In judgment and mercy, he confused our language. They were trying to make a name for themselves, and the name they end up earning is the name God gives them in v.8, “confusion.” Now, because they can’t understand each other they had to stop building the tower. They had to spread out over the earth. But as a result of the confusion we no longer trust each other. And the spirit of Babel is still with us. We are still in solidarity against God, yet this solidarity is expressed in isolated communities. These ghettos, because they are in rebellion against God, are also naturally against each other. So, what happens far to often is that we understand our human dignity and value as coming from isolated community. And we love our ghettos, our ethnic ghettos, our social ghettos, our cultural ghettos, our economic ghettos, our academic ghettos. And we love them to a fault. When we see cultural and ethnic differences we don’t embrace our dissimilarity, we immediately distrust. We instinctively reject and often mock because we’re still confused and don’t understand each other.
Can I tell you something? You have no idea how much your understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to live a good life, what it means to experience love, what it means to be a friend, a husband, a wife, a worker - you have no idea the depth to which your identity is informed and shaped by your ghetto. We’re actually blind to all the facets of it because it’s the water we’ve swum in our whole lives. And when we see or experience something different, our first impulse is to react in judgement of that difference.
We’ve been living in ghettos ever since Babel, finding our sense of value and worth from our group. But, whatever your group is, it’s only a facet of the human experience.

The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be.

Only humanity in its entirety—as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as prophet proclaiming the truth of God, as priest dedicating itself to God, as ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation—only it is the fully finished image, the most telling and striking likeness of God.

And how do we get out of the ghetto? What’s the solution? It’s nothing short of the blood of Jesus. It’s in the Christian community, in the community of the redeemed that we should see the dividing line of hostility broken down. The mono-ethnicity of most churches in America is a blight on the body of Christ, not a source of pride (English/French in Canada). We too often still love our ghettos in the church. But ghetto life was reversed at Pentecost. In Acts chapter 2 we see the reversal of Babel. After ascending into heaven Jesus, just as he promised, sent the Holy Spirit to his Church. And what happened? These men from what Luke calls every nation under heaven, Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians; they all heard the Apostles speaking in their languages telling the mighty works of God.
In Christ we can understand each other. In Christ we recognize our solidarity as those who have been adopted as sons and daughters and made the family of God. (, do good to all…). In Christ we have more in common with those who are ethnically, economically, socially, academically different than us, than we have with those who share these things with us apart from Jesus Christ.
The Spirit does not remove diverse languages but allows the regenerate people to hear and understand one another. With the Holy Spirit, we hear and understand; without him, we misunderstand through fear, distrust, and self-ambition. Unity cannot be engineered; it is a matter of the Spirit.
That’s the vision that drives me in pastoral ministry. As difficult as it still is to work out the cultural and ethnic difficulties, it is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who reversed the confusion that existed since Babel is still reversing the confusion today. He’s still convicting us to die of our preferences and seek the unity in the bond of peace across ethnic and cultural lines. Because the reality is that when we don’t, we lose out. We lose out because we miss out on the beautiful aspect of the image of God that others bring to the table.
What does this mean on the ground in our day to day lives? It means you have to walk with humility. You have to know that when we’re talking about and engaging the issues that still divide us in this land, your thoughts are informed by the ghetto that formed you that you’re simply unaware of. And we need to be shaped and reshaped by other brothers and sisters in the Lord who come out of a different ghetto if we’re going to learn to love well, and to strive for the things that are just and right in our communities.
The question for every local church is are we striving to get out of the ghetto? It can be at times uncomfortable, but it’s close to God’s heart. Jesus Christ is described in as worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing because he by his blood ransomed people from every tribe, tongue people and nation. God’s plan will not be thwarted. That vision will come to pass; not through the UN, but through the church of the living God empowered by the Spirit of God. May God give us the faith and strength to persevere in pursuing this glorious vision.
Revelation 5:1–10 ESV
1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Related Media
Related Sermons