Urban Blight

Revelation 18:2-7

There is not a whole lot of set up for this morning. Once again we are beginning our year together by looking at the call to Model Love in the Model City. Last year we talked about why we needed to love this city, and this year I want us to notice why it is so important for us to be about God’s business of loving a city that is dealing with some Urban Blight. Last week we began by acknowledging the truth that things are not the way they're supposed to be. We are living in a fallen world and if we have any hope of Urban Renewal we need to look past all of the perceived issues and deal with the heart of the problem.

Jerrie Barber used to say, if someone has yellow skin there is a perceived problem and a real problem. You might perceive their yellow color and think that they just need to get a little sun. But the real problem is not their yellow skin, if you will look past their skin you will notice that the real problem is with their liver. When we look at the Urban Blight in our community, there is a perceived problem and a real problem. It’s easy to look at the dilapidated buildings, empty store fronts, the vacant lots, and assume those are the problem. When the truth is that there is a deeper problem that God desires to enter into and bring real healing. 

Our text this morning comes from the book of Revelation, which I know makes some of you a bit uncomfortable. Others of you might find the passage a bit intimidating since it deals with judgment. But this passage is about more than the fact that our righteous and holy God will deal with the evil in this world. It is a passage that points to the real reason that this city is dealing with urban blight.

So let’s unpack what is happening in our text. John is writing about the city of Babylon and the judgement that is going to fall on this great city. There was a time that Babylon was the epicenter of the world. It was economic, political, scientific, and a cultural center of the world in very much the way that New York City is today. Babylon was one of those everything' cities, if you could make it there… well you know.

It helps to remember that Revelation was written in an apocalyptic style, and there is a lot of symbolism in the letter. Babylon was destroyed over 500 years before Jesus was born, so John is not talking specifically about Babylon, it’s more than likely he was talking about Rome or any of the other great cities that have existed in human culture. The passage is not dealing specifically with the sin of Babylon, but with the sin of mankind, your sin and my sin, and God's judgment of that sin.

John is intentional about the words and language that he uses in this letter, and he chooses to use the language of blight. In Revelation 18:2 he writes: Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen! We could we use those same words to describe our community. We could stand on the street corners and cry Anniston is fallen, the great factories are fallen, Fort Mc McClellan has fallen, the city has fallen.

It’s so easy to use the language of blight and cry about the perceived problems in our community. But we need to understand that John is not talking about the blight of physical buildings or broken bridges. It's much deeper, much more profound than that. Babylon, for all of her glory, for all of the bright shining success and wealth and power had become a very dark place.

Can we admit that we know more about the dark places than we want to admit. Even with all of the beauty that surrounds our city, we have our own dark places. There are things that are happening in Anniston that should break your hearts. There are places in Anniston where our young people are being abused and murdered; there are things being done right now in the dark recesses of this city that should send a chill down your spine. And sure, there's renewal, physical renewal you can see. But there is also a deeper, more profound blight. I believe that God would also cry out, Fallen is Anniston because there is urban blight in our neighborhood, on our streets, and in our homes.

Our text this morning is calling us to look deeper, to see the real reason that there is such profound darkness in our city. Our text answers the question of why darkness continues to hang over Anniston like a cloud. And it’s not just Anniston, the same can be said for Oxford, Piedmont, Lincoln, and Talladega. Our text moves past the perceived problem and diagnoses the real issue at the heart of our urban blight. John says that it is not just the city that has fallen but the people living in that city have fallen as well.

Let’s go back to the text and pick up in verse 6 and see what John and God have to say is the real reason for the blight of the city. Do to her as she has done to others. Double her penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so brew twice as much for her. She glorified herself and lived in luxury, so match it now with torment and sorrow. She boasted in her heart, ‘I am queen on my throne. I am no helpless widow, and I have no reason to mourn.’ Therefore, these plagues will overtake her in a single day— death and mourning and famine. She will be completely consumed by fire, for the Lord God who judges her is mighty. (6-8)

Did you catch what John said was the real problem in the city of Babylon? Did you hear the fatal flaw of the city? It’s found in three words right there in verse 7, she glorified herself. You might be wondering what that means, how does that explain the blight of the city? Let me give you a mustard seed, incase you decide to take a nap and you miss the rest of the sermon. So write down this mustard seed; When man is at the center of the culture, that culture will always fail.

The fatal flaw of Babylon was the flaw of self-glory. And the fatal flaw of any community is when they decide they were placed here in this place and in this time to find their own glory. Now that’s not a new struggle; do you remember the Story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11? Maybe you can still see the flannel graph picture of the tower. Maybe your bible class teacher talked about how difficult it would be if you were trying to build the tower and all the sudden you spoke a different language and couldn’t ask for a hammer or nails.

But the point of the story is not how did different languages and dialects originate in the world. The point of the story is that any community that desires to find their own glory is doomed to fail. In Genesis 11:4 we read Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves. The whole point of the tower and of the city was that other people would see the tower and talk about how great were the city and citizens of Babel. And in 2019 we find ourselves still struggling with the desire for personal glory.   

We are always looking for our little bit of glory. That’s why we love when they bring the cake out at the restaurant for our birthday, even if all the singing embarrasses us. That’s why we all dream as little kids of making the game winning shot or being a princess. That’s why we stand in line for an hour at the amusement park to get on the ride with the amazing death-defying 500-foot drop straight down because we long for this self glory that no human being is ever meant to experience.

In our text this morning, John says that Babylon’s fatal flaw was not that they became a cultural center and the epicenter of knowledge, art, and power. The mistake of Babylon was not even that they were searching for glory. Their fatal flaw was that they were only interested in self-glory, because self-glory can never satisfy our desire for real glory. It only corrupts the whole system.

It’s always good if we can let the Bible explain the Bible. Look with me at another book that John wrote, lets turn to John 6. Now a lot has been going on in the life of Jesus up to this point. He attended a wedding feast at Cana that caused quite a stir, then He threw the money changers out of the temple, which was a bigger stir, then there was the conversation with a Samaritan Woman at a well that caused a whole town to come out and see this new Rabbi, followed up by the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda which would have been fine on a Thursday, but Jesus healed him on a Saturday and got the religious folks in a tizzy. 

When we get to John 6 we find that Jesus has attracted quite a crowd. We are told that the people are showing up because they saw the miracles that He was doing and wanted to see the show. Jesus, felt compassion on the crowds and fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Then we get to verse 22: The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them. Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.

Go back and look again at what Jesus was saying in verse 26. Jesus is saying, Don't you understand? You got the glory of this moment all wrong. You have stopped at shadow glory, you have stopped too soon. You think that the food was the big moment, you are willing to follow me around the country side because you want to see the show. But you stopped to soon, what you thought was the glory, the thing that excited you the most was just an arrow on the map that is supposed to point you to the real glory. You go so fixated in the window dressing, that you missed the big picture. Jesus said the real glory of the miracle was that I am the bread of life; when you eat my flesh, and drink my blood, then you will see the kingdom of heaven. I am the only bread that will meet your need and I won't be your King just because you had your bellies filled. 

Think about it this way. Trafton wants to go to New York for his senior trip. He is already talking about what he wants to do, and where he wants to eat. He has looked at webpages about broadway shows, watched Diners, Drive Inns, and Dives to find the best places to eat, and talked with people who have been there to know what he absolutely needs to do and what he needs to skip. So imagine when the time comes that we pack our suitcases and get on the plane. There is this excitement in the air that after all of our planning and making arrangements that we are finally going to get to go to New York. And once the plane lands at LaGuardia we get of the plane and set up shop in the airport. We spend our entire vacation walking around the airport, eating in the airport, looking at the gift shops and listening to the music that plays over the speakers. Would you say that we were able to have the vacation of a lifetime? Or would you say that we stopped too soon? We confused the window dressing with the real picture.

The reason that our community is suffering with urban blight is because we have sought after the wrong glory. We have gotten glory mixed up and chased after the glories that were merely a shadow of the real glory, we chased after the things that were meant to be an arrow that pointed us to the ultimate glory that can only be found in God.

What we are doing here this morning is not for our glory, but for God’s glory. The sermon, the singing, communion, is all for God’s glory. This building is for God’s glory, the classes, the conversations, everything is for God’s glory or we have stopped too short and been confused by the shadow of glory.

As long as you are chasing after the shadows of glory you will never be satisfied, because the things that were created were not meant to satisfy you. They don't have the capacity to satisfy you because what you are actually seeking can only be found in the Creator. He alone is the bread of life; He alone is the glory that will fill your soul. And so, what happens is you get addicted, and you get hooked, and you chase glory after glory, and it's got to be a bigger, better job; and a bigger, better house; and a bigger, better car; a bigger, better church; a bigger, better whatever.

Because we have been chasing after the wrong glory, we have invited the darkness of this world into our communities. We invite darkness into our community when we do with sexuality what we were never supposed to do. We invite darkness into our community when we do with money what we were never supposed to do. We invite darkness into our community when we do with relationships what we were never meant to do. We invite darkness into our community when we do with our possessions what we were never meant to do. We invite darkness into our community when we forget those things are not capable to bring us the glory we were created for. And we actually become part of the very blight that we hate because we have gotten glory wrong.

Church I know how seductive it is. I know how easy it is to be tricked and to get addicted to things that will never bring the fulfillment and satisfaction we long for. There have been times when I thought that I would find glory in the acceptance of another human being, and I spent my time and energy riding the roller coaster of how someone else would respond to me.There have been times when I thought that I could find glory in stuff, and I spent my life chasing the newest gadget or gizmo only to have to buy the next new thing and then the next new thing. The history of my life is chasing one shadow of glory after another shadow of glory. And when I am seeking my own glory, I contribute to the blight of the city. 

The truth is that whenever you are chasing any glory other than the glory of the Redeemer you have become a part of the blight of this city. If we are truly interested in helping the Model City find renewal, it must start with God’s people, with us, repenting of the false glories that have claimed our hearts. That repentance needs to start with the house of God. We need to get on our knees, put our faces in the dirt, and ask with tearful hearts for God to forgive us. Everywhere we look we see the evidence that our community has longed for and sought the wrong glory. We have been tricked, deceived, and seduced into chasing after the shadows of glory. But we must understand that those shadows will never fulfill us or bring us the peace that we so desperately need.

In our time of invitation this morning, I want to ask you if maybe there is a chance that, while you're one of God's children, while you would say, I love the Lord, is there is a chance that you have been chasing self-glory? Is there a chance that you've gotten glory wrong? Is it possible that you say you want to be a part of the renewal of the city, but the truth of your life is that you are seeking self glory?

If that is the case, then let me remind you that we still have a God of salvation. He is a God of forgiveness; He's a God of deliverance; He's a God of new beginnings and fresh starts. And He invites you to come and know true glory this morning.

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