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Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 2022

First Reading: Genesis 11:1-9

1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east, they found 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, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Psalm 143

1Lord, hear my prayer, and in your faithfulness heed my supplications; answer me in your righteousness. 2Enter not into judgment with your servant, for in your sight shall no one living be justified. 3For my enemy has sought my life; he has crushed me to the ground; he has made me live in dark places like those who are long dead. 4My spirit faints within me; my heart within me is desolate. 5I remember the time past; I muse upon all your deeds; I consider the works of your hands. 6I spread out my hands to you; my soul gasps to you like a thirsty land. 7O Lord, make haste to answer me; my spirit fails me; do not hide your face from me or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit. 8Let me hear of your loving kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you. 9Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, for I flee to you for refuge. 10Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God; let your good Spirit lead me on level ground. 11Revive me, O Lord, for your name’s sake; for your righteousness’ sake, bring me out of trouble. 12Of your goodness, destroy my enemies and bring all my foes to naught for truly I am your servant.

Second Reading: Acts 2:1-21

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, {the apostles} were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and 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, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

Gospel: John 14:23-31

23Jesus answered {Judas, not Iscariot}, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26But 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. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.”

Babel in a Different Light

How many here this morning have stopped to consider where we are today?  I’m not talking necessarily about our location; I’m asking about where we are in time.  When you stop and think about it, from the aspect of the modern calendar, were nearly one quarter of the way through the 21st century.  If that doesn’t seem to hit home, think about where we are in terms of 2022.  This is the first week of June, thus were halfway through the year.  Six months of 2022 are in the past.  Most of our children are out of school having completed yet another school year.  The summer months are upon us, and soon we’ll be preparing for the new school year.

Liturgically speaking, we’re also halfway through the church year, as we’re now in the season of Pentecost.  Time has flown and we’re once again listening to a set of readings we’ve heard many, many times.  These readings are so familiar that I wonder if we’ve become numb to what’s going on here.  It’s a story that has been told and retold until I wonder if we even take the time to see it with fresh eyes.  It reminds me of a story about a question a Jewish child asked his father: “Daddy, why do people from different countries talk funny?”  

The response the father gave came from the story of the Tower of Babel that we find in our Old Testament lesson for today.  This is a reading we hear each year on Pentecost Sunday and is bracketed by both our Acts and gospel readings for today about the birth of the church and of how God took the barrier that separates humans and bridged the language gap with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Each year in our Genesis reading we hear how human pride and arrogance decided it would make a name for itself and build a city and a tower that would be a gateway to heaven.  Now if anyone ever had a doubt that God has a sense of humor, the Story of Babel will convince you otherwise.  Consider this story from this perspective: One day God looks down from His throne and sees a group of craftsmen in the design and initial construction phase of a monument they’re building to honor themselves.  God then calls to the hosts of heaven and said, look at those crazy humans, they think they can build a tower tall enough to reach my throne.  Come on folks lets go see what they’re up to.

Upon touring the building site God decides He couldn’t allow such a presumption, so He confuses the speech of the workers, and they begin to bicker among themselves.  Additionally, since they can no longer understand each other, they decide to relocate to other parts of continent, and of course, never complete the tower.  This helps us to understand why Germans don’t understand French, Italians don’t understand Chinese, the Arabs don’t understand Swahili, the Greeks do not understand English, and of course why no one understands teenagers!  This story also aids in explaining why that even today, we have problems communicating with one another.

Take international relations for example; translations often fail to convey the proper meanings.  Multinational corporations have learned this lesson the hard way.  One gentleman said that while he was in the advertising business, he was responsible for the Pepsi Cola account.  He’s the one who came up with the slogan, “Come alive. You’re in the Pepsi generation.”  I’m told that Pepsi tried to market their product in China using the same slogan.  It didn’t work.  In Chinese, the meaning came out as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.”  Pepsi’s communication problem was simply an inconvenience, but we know well that other international misunderstandings can lead to disaster.  

In David Brinkley’s book, Washington Goes to War, we find the story of the transformation of our nation’s capital from a sleepy southern town into the massive machine it became during World War II.  Brinkley was a young reporter at the time and recalls the isolationist feeling that was pervasive in America prior to Pearl Harbor, and blames much of it on the foolishness of previous conflicts, wars so stupid that when Kaiser Wilhelm II was asked during World War I why his country was at war with half of Europe, he responded, “If only I knew.”   War had become massively brutal, and modern technology only advances the brutality.

It’s no wonder the world has little enthusiasm for getting into another regional conflict in Ukraine.  Individual countries, as well as the world, need to communicate together, and we all breathe a bit easier when potentially hostile neighbors talk openly.  In this age of weapons of mass destruction, I’m not so sure we would ever survive another “If only I knew.”  Effective communication can mean the difference between life and death for the planet.  We must also acknowledge the fact that communication is tough even among folks who speak the same language.

The same word or phrase can mean different things to different people.  When one person talks about justice, they mean that everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that no one should expect a free ride at the expense of society… each individual should pull his or her own weight.  But when another thinks justice, the term means that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should be understood to guarantee a home, a job, and medical care for everyone, regardless of any other consideration, and we should all chip in to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.  Same word … justice … yet that word can have a vastly different meaning.  Then there are times when misunderstandings are accidental.  

 A little old lady planning a vacation wrote a letter to a particular campground to inquire about its facilities.  She couldn’t bring herself to write the word “toilet”, so she finally settled on the term “BC” which to her meant “bathroom commode.”  The initials baffled the campground manager who showed the letter to some of the other campers.  They didn’t understand either, finally one of them suggested the woman might be referring to a Baptist Church.  

The owner agreed and wrote this reply: Dear Madam: Thank you for your inquiry.  I take pleasure in informing you that a BC is located two miles north of our campground, and seats 250 people.  My wife and I go quite regularly, but as we grow older, it seems to be more of an effort, particularly during cold spells.  If you visit our campground, perhaps we could go with you the first time, sit with you, and introduce you to the other folks.  Ours is a friendly community.  Sincerely yours,” the management.

Mistaken impressions notwithstanding, research has been done which shows that some of what we do hear, and don’t hear is quite deliberate.  One experiment had two groups of subjects, smokers, and non-smokers, listen to messages, some of which implied that smoking causes cancer and others which claimed the opposite.  The messages were obscured by static, which could be eliminated if the listener pressed a button.  

Smokers more frequently removed static from the “smoking does NOT cause cancer” messages while NON-smokers more frequently cleared up the “smoking causes cancer” messages.  The conclusion is obvious: people are more likely to hear what they want to hear than what they don’t.  Any wife who has ever asked her husband to mow the lawn during a World Series game could say Amen to that.   It’s the Tower of Babel, 21st century style.  Sadly, communication problems can be just as bad in the church.

There are communication gaps all over the place…gaps between denominations, gaps between the pulpit and the pew, gaps between young and old, gaps between rich and poor, gaps between liberal and conservative.  If anyone wonders why, that in more than 2,000 years, we haven’t won the world for Jesus, the answer is that we haven’t communicated the Good News of the Gospel with much effectiveness at all.  Think about it.

For example, in the NALC we teach that the Bible is the word of God.  Everyone agrees with that.  However, one denomination will picture God dictating every word that appears; another denomination understands it to mean that Holy Spirit miraculously inspired the writers and still speaks to us through fallible human words.  Same phrase … the word of God … VASTLY different meanings.  The consequences of the Tower of Babel continues to impede communication and our witness of the Gospel.  But what if we looked at this story in a different light?

What if we read the story of the Tower of Babel from a different perspective?  What if we read this story from a gospel perspective rather than from the view of it being law?  You see, sometimes what we perceive or understand has been colored by past experience, shaded by what we’ve been taught.  This morning I’d like to take a few moments to simply dissect this story into its four individual parts and then reread this story based on an understanding of what the root elements are; thought, motive, action, and consequence.  I need to point out that none of these factors, thought, motive, action, and consequence, are inherently negative or positive in and of themselves.  Each of these can be good or bad depending on how they’re acted upon.

Obviously, no action or series of actions ever begun without a thought.  In this case the people gathered, and they settled on a plain in Shinar.  None of these thoughts and actions were inherently negative.  There’s nothing in the story that indicates a negative motive, it seems they gathered to share a space for the common good.  It’s the same thing people have been doing for millennia.  Next, the people got together and planned for the future: “Come let us make brick.  And burn them thoroughly.”   

Again, there’s nothing here that indicates a problem.  It’s what came next that turns this story south.  Here’s where a thought and motive meet and the motive is turned inward rather than upward.  Instead of working for the common good of all, to praise and worship the one true God, they instead are inwardly focused, and wanted to make a name for themselves.  They became inward in their thinking.  What was the original sin just 7 chapters earlier in Genesis?  In chapter 3 verse 10 we read, and the serpent said, “God knows that when you eat of {the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”  Their motive was to become like God both in the garden and at Babel.  So, they acted.

They made bricks and began to build, and God came and saw what was happening and God acted.  The consequence.  God confused their language and they quit building and scattered.  As I said, it’s a story we all know well.  Now let’s take this same pattern, thought, motive, action, and consequence, and look at it in a different way.  Take our history as an example.  Back in the 1700s, a group of people gathered, settled this area, and built a community.  In this community they got together and built a place to worship God.  The original church from the 1850 was replaced in 1893, and we refer to this this structure as the historic church.  So far, we have a similar story with Babel with the same general factors, but the difference is in the motive for the action.

In the case of this gathering, the motive was building a place to gather and uplift the name of Gad rather than making a name for ourselves.  And the consequence?  We’re still here today.  Yes, we have a new set of bricks in this sanctuary, but the same motive is shared today.  You see the Babel story and our story are similar, only the motive is different.  I’ve gone through this exercise for a reason, it’s to ask, if God were to come down to see what we’ve built today, what would He see?

Would God see that we’re simply trying to make a name for ourselves, or would He see that our motive is to worship and serve Him?  What would God see?  Would He see us busy about the business of His kingdom, or would He see us busy maintaining facilities for self-centered purposes?  Would God see that we’re reaching out to a world in need, not only through social programs such as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and clothing the naked, but also in our witness to God’s love in Jesus?  Would God see us reaching out to share the gospel in this community, or would He simply see us gathered here on Sundays to go through the motions of prayer, praise, and worship?  The story of Babel shows us how to look at what we do here as a community and helps us to examine our motives and actions to determine what the consequences will be.

On Pentecost Sunday God sent the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name to empower and to reveal to us God’s will for our lives.  Remember, when the church us born on Pentecost, the first thing that happened was they witnessed to those in Jerusalem. and 3000 people believed, called on the name of the Lord, and were saved.  What followed wasn’t a building program but a missionary program.  The people who gathered in Jerusalem for the feast, soon afterward returned to their home countries and some of the 120 disciples in the upper room that day were needed to go and be missionaries to the believers in those other countries.  The focus of the early church was on sharing the gospel, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.  The call and mission of the early church is still our call and mission today.

Today, we need to reread the story of Babel in our own context and ask ourselves, what would God see if He were to come to visit us today?  Would He see us making a name for ourselves, or would He see that we’re about the business of the kingdom?  It all starts with a thought.  That thought produces a motive.  That motive drives an action and from that action there is always a consequence.  The story of Babel is a great reminder for us to examine our motives and actions in light of our calling and mission as God’s people in this community.


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