Gathered by the Spirit (Pentecost 2011)


The Tower of Babel

God had given a command to Adam and Eve in the Garden, when He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)  God’s plan from the very beginning was for Adam and Eve to take part in His beautiful work of creation.  God had created the whole world, and He wanted them to take part in this great activity.

But things went awry.  They went so awry, in fact, that God sent a flood down to cover the entire earth.  Only Noah and his family were saved, along with the animals.  When they came out of the Art on Mount Ararat, the world was new again.  And God again gave them this command:  “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:16–17).

But this did not happen, either.  Rather than go out and spread God’s creative work, they huddled together, built up their pride and not the world, and forgot the very nature of what it means to be human.  In their pride they built up a tower to reach the very heavens.  We know it as the Tower of Babel.  They became so focused in upon themselves, that they could not see how their self-centeredness would not stand.  It was not stable.  The Tower would fall just as their pride would fall.  God confused their language, so that they couldn’t understand one another and they were forced to separate and spread out.  It was how God wanted it to be, but that is how it happened.

Since that time, we have been fighting our languages.  George Bernard Shaw once said that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”  And how many times have you felt as though men and women use two completely different language?  Or, how often have you heard an angst ridden high school student say of their parents, “they just don’t understand me!”

This is what sin has wrought in our lives.  Sin has brought us to our knees, so that there are so many times when we can’t even understand and speak to the ones whom we love, far less the rest of humanity!

This, dearly baptized, is what the great feast day of Pentecost is all about.  It is about the great reversal.  Instead of the cacophony of voices, the confused din of sorrow and sin that we all endure, God brings to you and me the one Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord said it this way in our Gospel for today, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

The work of the Holy Spirit is to cause you to remember the words and promises of Jesus.  That is why Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the Church.  When you hear Christ’s Word of sweet Gospel in your ears, the Holy Spirit is at work, forgiving your sins and drawing you together into that one, great family, the Church.  For it is here, in the Ark of God’s House, that our differences and squabbles and arguments and distinctions of class and race and gender melt away in faith.

So God gathers us together into this house, this home of His Church.  But He does not gather us in order to build up a new Tower.  No, He does not draw us here so that we can repeat the sins of our forefathers.  Sometimes it may feel that way.  Even in the Church we can get so wrapped up in our own lives and problems and challenges that we forget the world out there that so desperately needs to hear His Word of forgiveness.  Sometimes we even forget how wonderful the gift of God’s grace really is.  So He draws us here, preaches to us, and teaches us over and over again what it means to hear His Word and to give it away.  He teaches us how to be human, by going out into this world of hurt and sorrow and passing on the gift of life.

So what does this mean for you, sons and daughters of Adam, today as we sit in Church?  What it means is this.  First of all, this is your home.  This is the place where God has called you to be His children.  This home is a place of refuge for sinners like you and me who need to know that we are safe, and that we speak the same language, the language of faith.  Secondly, like any home, this is a place you go out from and come back to time and time again.  We leave from this place as the salt of the earth to go and draw many back into His kingdom.  This is your home, but this is not only your home.  There are so many more out there that need what only God can give.

So happy birthday, Christ’s Church!  Welcome home.  Come, be refreshed, be at peace, and God will be at work in you and through you so that many may come into His kingdom.  Believe it for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, may keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting.  Amen.

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