Sermon for Pentecost Sunday + June 9, 2019
Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21
Watch Here (Minute 30:54)
In the name of Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
God commanded, the people disobeyed, and that’s the story of the Tower of Babel in our first reading this morning. For a more complete version of the story, we have to go back to the beginning.
In the beginning God commanded. The command is recorded in Genesis 1:28, from the first creation story in the bible: “God blessed humankind, and God said to humankind, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” The command was enjoy the gift, to enjoy the gift of planet EarthGod had given the people. In the following verse, God says “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; and you shall have them for food”
God said: “Here is this beautiful gift. “Fill it. Be fruitful and multiply.”
Genesis 10, immediately before the story of the Tower of Babel, describes where the people are to spread and to multiply. Genesis 10 records the people spreading to the coastlands, to the hills, into the land of Shinar and Assyria, in the direction of Admah, Zebeoiim, and Lasha. This was what obedience to God’s command looked like.
But … but then we encounter Chapter 11 – the Tower of Babel.
Jesuit theologian Richard Clifford, commenting in the Paulist Biblical Commentary, suggests that Jewish scholars see the Tower of Babel, “as the people’s refusal to disperse in accord with the command in Genesis 1:28 to fill the earth.”
God said: “Go, fill the earth.” In the building of the Tower of Babel, the people said: “Nah, we’re going to build a city instead.”
God said: “Go, fill the earth.” The people said: “No thank you. Right here is fine.”
God said: “Go, fill the earth.” The people said: “How about we stay here and climb to heaven?”
The people said: “This tower is going to reach to heaven.” God said, “I don’t see anything down there. Let us go down, and see if we can find this thing.” An interesting reminder that those things we think are so huge in our drama, are really quite insignificant compared to all that is going on.
Clifford writes: “the divine rebuke says nothing about arrogance or heaven storming, but that the building project will only be the first of more self-willed acts.” The problem is not with the tower itself, the problem is that the people disobeyed God’s command. “God takes no action against city or tower, doing only one thing – dispersing the nations all over the earth by making them unable to communicate with one another on their common project.”
Clifford indeed acknowledges the people’s pride, but it was not the pride of trying to be like God – but the pride of refusing to obey God – “refusing the Lord’s intent to journey to their territories.”
With these insights, we receive the story of the Tower of Babel today, not as an anthropological reason for cultural and linguistic diversity upon the earth. Instead, we receive it as a story of faith. It is an ancient story of a loving God leading the people to life, pointing to the gift of creation made for the people to enjoy, and in turn, a rebellious people choosing to disobey God and go their own way.
As we receive this story today … we would do well to ask ourselves, what does the Lord command of us? What commands do we receive today as God’s people? Identifying and recognizing those commands, what is our response?
In faith, do we say YES to the will and direction of God. Or, in rebellion, do we say: “No thank you God, I think I’ll do it my way?”
Jesus commands us to love one another. Do we obey this command to love? Or, do we say, “No thank you God, I’m not moving into the land of love. I’m staying right here to build a tower for my anger, for my pride, and for my hurt.”
Jesus says that we meet him in the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the visiting of the sick and the prisoner, and in the welcoming of the stranger. Do we venture forth to meet and experience Christ in the building of relationships with the most vulnerable among us? Or, instead do we say, “Nah – no thank you. I’m not moving into relationship with those people. I’m staying right here to build a tower for my comforts, my conveniences, my safety.”
In the witness of scripture, we are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit – fruits of patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control Do we bear these fruits? Or, yet again, do we say to God, “Not going. I’m not moving into the Spirit’s vineyard. I’m staying right here to build a Tower of strife, jealousy, quarrels, dissensions, factions …”
In the story of the Tower of Babel, we see that God commanded and the people disobeyed. In the story of our lives, we know that God commands, and we disobey.
But there is Good News on this Pentecost Sunday!
The Good News is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in wind, and flame, and tongue!
It is the Good News that God who scattered the people to the ends of the earth doesn’t abandon and forget the people there. The peoples are not left alone and ignored by God – but in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit all peoples receive the same word of God’s love and grace.
The Good News is that God no longer intends for us to live divided by sin. God does not want us to be confused about how to live as one human people on earth, or suspicious of one another and our efforts. God does not want us to build Towers to our disobedience.
Instead, in Christ, God brings us all together, in Christ God draws us together so that we may fill the earth with the love, healing, and mercy of Christ. God turns our attention NOT upward today – but outward in the Holy Spirit with the one message of Christ for all the earth.
The Good News today, is the Good News of the Holy Spirit poured out upon ALL flesh.
The Holy Spirit poured out upon the young seeing visions and the old dreaming dreams.
The Holy Spirit poured out, according to the ancient prophecy of Joel, upon women and slaves. Think about that – long ago, through the prophet – God’s liberating, freeing, and comforting Word was promised to those excluded and dehumanized, those owned and marginalized by economic structures.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all people, upon all who desire it, upon all who yearn for salvation. “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Here today, the Holy Spirit doesn’t use wind or flame to pour out the Spirit. Instead, the Spirit uses Water and word, bread and cup. Here today, to us, rebellious Tower Builders that we are, the Holy Spirit speaks Christ’s forgiveness and God’s grace and sends us out as the body of Christ to the world.
Gathered together by the Holy Spirit … may we turn from our sin and live. May we stop building towers of sin, and start living for each other in faith and in the power of the Spirit.
In the Holy Spirit, may we hear today the words of life we need to hear so we may know God’s love for ourselves.
In the Holy Spirit, made one in Christ, may we go forth to live, to love, and be the body of Christ in the World, speaking to all peoples, the ONE language of God’s love.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!