A Spirited Bunch
The Rev. Dr. Lucia Kremzar
Hebrew Lesson Genesis 11:1-9
1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then 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; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” 5The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
NT Reading Acts 2:1-21
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes 11Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘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.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
The story of Babel and the story of Pentecost go hand in hand. They both have to do with language and God’s purposes being carried out. Let’s eavesdrop on what is happening in of of the earliest Biblical narratives:
The Babel story, Babel meaning scattered speech and where we get the word Babylon, explains how people of earth came to speak multiple languages. The earth is new. People are mono-linguistic, speak one language and are sticking together like glue. Their togetherness is idealized. One people, unity at all costs, strength in numbers. Then God comes along, mixes up their languages and scatters them across the lands. Why would this not have set well? Because together meant triumph, victory in the midst of trauma, fear, and defeat. Then God comes along, mixes up their language and scatters them across the lands. What was God’s reason? The text doesn’t tell us. We can surmise:
- God is sovereign. I am God and you are not.
- God considers the Tower they are constructing as idolatry.
- God at the least considers their work selfish.
- God endorses a nomadic or rural life, instead of an urban one.
We can’t be sure of God’s motivation, but we do learn in this short story, a lot about humanity:
- Language is powerful. In this narrative, wealth nor weapons are a concern for God, rather language is the point of contention. God knows that language, communication is a powerful tool that can be used for good or evil, just take a look at social media!
- Difference is not a punishment, rather God is concerned that the people’s tight knit cohesion based on fear and threatened by others will be their downfall—a little too much togetherness!
So…God mixes up their languages and scatters the people, sending them way back then on the Great Commission—Go ye into all the world and preach my covenant to all the nations! The scattering had an upside and a downside. Upside: scattering fulfills creation’s purpose-many languages and cultures-varied peoples in a richly varied world. Downside-exile and displacement, loss of identity and home.
The scattering also speaks to Divine Action: God calls us to more than just togetherness and sameness, but to deeper covenantal relationships with God and one another, where difference is celebrated and otherness is a positive. God’s scattering calls us to cooperation with others and deeper connection with God and neighbor, where tolerance yields to acceptance.
God comes along, mixes up languages and scatters the people across lands to fulfill the mission of covenant and hope.
Fast-forward some 4,000 years to 50 days after Passover, thus the name Pentecost, pente meaning 50. The Pentecost crowd is diverse—young and old, slave and free, shepherds, foreigners, and Roman soldiers. Jews have come back for the Festival of Weeks, on which they gather to worship. The devout Jews are from every nation. They come to Jerusalem in droves. And on that day, the Holy Spirit descends like flames of fire and wind. The people are challenged to call upon the name of the Lord; show allegiance to God in these uncertain times. Suddenly the people could hear and understand one another though they spoke different languages. God overcame the things that would keep people apart. They didn’t need an interpreter. Despite their unique differences, they were one in God, their Maker.
This Pentecost Miracle is a barrier-breaking moment when God spoke to, through, and in whatever language necessary to communicate the Gospel. The Word was going to flourish through Holy Spirit power, regardless of any barriers that might exist. We in the church would do well to pay attention. How can we have fewer barriers to God’s message and more accessibility? Or as I like to say fewer walls and more Love as we:
Share the word, give to others, provide excellence in hospitality and worship, praying together, studying together, loving God and others as ourselves, spreading Good News, forgiving, asking for forgiveness.
God first changes the languages and scatters the people. Then God provides inspiration so that people can communicate and complete his mission on earth as it is in heaven. Today, we are part of that completion in the works. We have a role to play– to have less fear and more hope, to have less argument and more joy. To accept difference instead of being threatened by it. I remember when I divorced, I felt like “the other” disenfranchised, cut off and judged. I remember it broke me every time I’d sit in church and hear the leadership talk about “the family.” I felt left out, because the family wasn’t so nuclear anymore. Differences can create false divides when we judge one another.
The story goes of a preacher committed to helping the congregation he served to reclaim their cultural heritage. Some members were reluctant, threatened by change and being perceived differently. The preacher explained: Different doesn’t mean deficient. He cast out the fear of difference and the culture of suspicion.
(story of American Dirt, the novel. People who are different, yet so much the same- in search of hope and safety.)
The National Humane Genome Institute confirms that humans are 99% genetically identical. The 1% hair texture, eye and skin color are still interpreted as reasons for suspicion. Why not celebrate that 1%? God makes us beautiful. God calls the church to extend toward, not retreat from people who are unlike ourselves. God scatters us to the four winds to preach the gospel to every nation! The disciples were thought to be drunk when they spoke so all understood. The carriers of the Gospel had to persevere through misunderstanding to carry God’s word forward, to take risks in love, to show radical hospitality, and to follow where the Holy Spirit called. They had each other and God’s promise that I will never leave nor forsake you, I will be your God and you will be my people. Committed followers throughout the ages have been faithful to the vision of how God works through difference to make all things new. No less is our call. Alleluia and Amen!