Monday, May 20, 2013

Yesterday's Sermon at Highlands

“The Tower of Babelers”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
May 19, 2013

Once upon a time, everyone on the earth was the same. They had the very same color of skin, the spoke the very same language, they thought the very same thoughts at the very same time, and the worshiped the very same God in the very same way. Actually…what they worshipped was their sameness.

With the world at their command through their ability to say the same things at the same time using the same words, thus avoiding any miscommunication, distrust or lack of understanding that comes with speaking different languages, using the same words to mean different things and creating misunderstanding, lack of trust and understanding…despite all the power that came form always being on the same page…the people decided that they would us it all to build a monument to themselves.

“Come,” they said, all in the same language and all at the same time. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
“Let us make a name for ourselves,” they said.
With all of their ability to communicate and to work together and achieve great things because they all spoke and thought and acted alike…they were most concerned, not with what they could do to the glory of God but with making a name for themselves.
And so they set out to build a tower brick by brick…a tower to the heavens. I guess they figured that by building a tower to the heavens they would have a direct relationship with God. They could visit God regularly, perhaps have tea together, they could sit around with God and talk about the world’s problems, complain about the weather, gossip and tell jokes. A tower to the heavens would make their relationship with God complete.
God saw it differently. God saw them building the tower and thought, “This is only the beginning. If they build this tower, they’ll be hanging around heaven all day long, watching TV, eating me out of house and home, bothering me with their talk and gossip and complaints…accomplishing nothing. I asked them to go forth on the earth and multiply and do good. Instead they gathered in one place and are building this lousy tower to themselves.”
And so God came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. God scattered the people throughout the world and confused their language so that none could understand what the other said.
It came to be known as the Tower of Babel, because it was never completed but it was there that the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

God’s point in doing that? I think it was the self-centeredness of the people. Their sameness led them to believe it was only them who mattered to God…only those who spoke their language, who believed what they believed and acted the way they acted. And the only people they knew and cared about were people just like them…they didn’t need a relationship with God or others because they had themselves.

And so the tower was not built. No tower ever reached to the heavens…but God came down even though humans could not go up…God confused their languages and scattered them…but on the day of the Pentecost…something quite different happened.

Many of those whose languages had been confused and who had been scattered were together in Jerusalem. Parthians, Medes, 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 Arabs…all people of different cultures, people of different languages, customs and beliefs…people who worshipped God in different ways…as much as the people of Babel had been the same, these were diverse.

It was what we celebrate yet today as the day of Pentecost. They were all together in one place when they heard a sound like the rush of a violent wind come from heaven. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
And at this sound the scattered crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one whose language had been confused by God thousands of years earlier…heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Some asked, “What does this mean?” Others sneered and said, “It means they are drunk with new wine.”
But Peter said, “No, these people are not drunk. It is only nine o’clock in the morning. If you come back later in the afternoon, maybe…but not this early in the morning.”

Peter said there is something else at work here…what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Meaning…that it has always been God’s hope differences in culture, color, political and religious beliefs, differences God himself created…it has always been God’s hope that none of those differences would stand in the way of the visions of the young and the dreams of the old.

Yes…all of those gathered that day…different as they were…felt the spirit of God upon them…they were drunk with God’s new wine of diversity…suddenly…through God’s spirit, those who had been scattered were brought together…those who languages had been confused as a part of God’s plan for the world could understand one another.

The story of the Pentecost teaches that the God of Pentecost doesn’t have an official language. This is the shocking revelation one often lost in a country with a history of suppressing other languages in the name of unity and imperialism and in a nation where a xenophobic English-only movement is gaining ground, nation where those who are anti-immigrant hide their disdain behind claims that “they should speak our language.

But Pentecost, at its fiery heart, is not only about language, but it is also an act of divine rebellion through language. It is the windswept protest of a borderless God, standing against humanity’s misguided preference for the empty language of the majority. It’s God’s speech against humanity’s tendency to force unity through sameness and exclusivity, to find self-righteousness in the inability to understand those who are different.

On Pentecost, they heard from a God of many tongues, a God of many peoples and cultures, a God who doesn’t have an official language. God is a God who speaks through all and is present in all, who not only welcomes all languages but also achieves God’s hopes through all of them, red and yellow black and white.

Pentecost was God’s rebellion against those that would seek to restrict God to a single, official language, a single righteous people, a single theology. Pentecost was a protest in which God refused to be silenced by the languages of the powerful.

Instead, on Pentecost, God spoke. And the people in the streets understood. Nothing could have been more subversive.
You see, the ability to see the world only one way, to understand only one culture, to know only one way of thinking, to believe that is the way to make a name for yourself…is not what God wants…God is found in the complexity not the simplicity, in the diversity, not in the sameness…

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