Scripture: Acts 2:1-21; Delivered: May 19, 2013; Pentecost
A very, very long time ago, the people of the Lord came to a beautiful place called the Plain of Shinar. There, they found everything they thought they would ever need for a good life: The ground was fertile, water was abundant, for as far as they could see were peaceful places. There was no threat of an invasion. There were no worries of war. There was only hope that they would live very long lives and prosper greatly in that beautiful place.
One day, the community elders gathered together to discuss how fortunate they were, and they began to dream big dreams.
“Look how much we have already accomplished!” They gushed as they remembered all they had accomplished. “We have found this beautiful place. We have begun living peaceful lives in a land that seems as wonderful as heaven. Imagine what else we could do if only we put our heads together and joined forces!”
One suggested they built a city. Why be satisfied with a small community–with huts and tents that looked so temporary? He wanted something permanent.
Another took it a step further: They should build a grand city! It should be filled with awesome building and amazing sights to be seen. They should be the jewel of the Plain of Shinar!
And yet another carried it even further and suggested they build a tower–a testimony to their greatness. It should stretch up to the very heavens–It’s top should poke through the clouds and give them a glimpse of the divine. They would make a name for themselves.
They would be the people who had become equal to God!
And so, inspired by the possibilities tha lay before them, they began building.
Story after story were added to the tower until it spiraled high into the sky–higher than any human had thought possible.
To look up at the grand heights to which they aspiring would make anyone on the ground feel dizzy–and to stand at the top and look out at the world was to make the world seem so very small in comparison to what they were doing with their own hands.
And the tower continued to spiral upward, struggling toward the heavens.
Well–the tower was coming so close to heaven that God finally felt compelled, by the rules of being a good neighbor, to drop by and visit the people who were slowly trying to encroach on his territory.
So God came down to the earth…to the placed where it all began, and took a leisurely stroll around the place.
Whereas the people on earth seemed giddy with excitement about what they were doing, God was a bit concerned.
“True, they all got along…” God thought, “that had not always been the case with humanity.”
And it was true they were all working together…God knew this was no small feat for a humanity who had often fought amongst themselves…But they seemed delirious with their own power.
They were so busy looking at the works of their own hands that they had not even noticed God in their midst.
They could only think of what they could get out of all their accomplishments. They didn’t care a lick about anyone or anything else.
So God decided that their little experiment needed to come to an end.
Sooner or later, they would get that tower to the heavens and all that God had lovingly created would be at their mercy… and what then? Would they love the oceans and the plains and the mountains as much as God loved them? Would they understand the blue skies and the green grasses the way God understood them? Would they labor for justice and look out for even the smallest amongst them they way God always did?
So God–with the smallest and simplest of gestures–scattered the people far and wide.
In an instant–just an instant–the people were no longer able to understand each other.
When one spoke, the other heard gibberish.
And when simple, everyday conversation was no longer so easy, they suddenly had no desire to work together.
So they huddled together in little groups of people who understood each other and they headed to the North, to the East, to the West, and the South, and everywhere in between.
And the great tower–the one they had dreamed would make them equal to God–stood empty and abandoned. It became known to them all as Babel–the place where they could only babble to each other.
Since that day, humanity has had to struggle to understand each other. God divided our languages so that we would remember that we are not gods ourselves… but that we are Children of God and must learn to live together as children of the one father.
And like children, we have found that difficult to do.
Like children, we tend to gather together amongst the people who are most like us–the ones who accept us the way we are–the ones we don’t have to work so hard to understand… and we ignore the “others.”
When I was in school, a student always knew her place–The jocks hung out in their place by the gym, the cheerleaders were in their place nearby, the band hand the band room, the thespians had the theater, the nerds had the library, the geeks had the computer lab, the Goths had the back hallway, and the punks hid just outside of view of everyone else…
No matter who you were, you found your place and you huddled there.
Those were your people.
And as believers, we often tend to do the same thing. It’s been the case since the days of Babel. It doesn’t matter what your passion, what your hang-ups are, how you see the world, how you understand your neighbors…
There is a place for you.
If you can’t stomach the thought of sprinkling someone in baptizing, there’s a place for you!
If you want a lot of fire and brimstone and blood of the Lamb language, there’s a place for you!
If you want social action and protests and organizing and marches, there’s a place for you!
If you want a place where you can embrace all the people who seem so different from you, there’s a place for you!
And if you want to exclude anyone who doesn’t think just the way you do, there’s a place for you!
At least… there used to be places where you could hide from each other.
When God came down and saw what humanity was playing at and just what they were scheming to do, God scattered us far and wide. Suddenly, it took work to understand each other. People had to study for years and years to learn one another’s cultures, habits, and languages.
But a lot happened between then and now. A lot.
Because along the way God saw how lost we had all become.
God had scattered us across the earth and garbled our languages so that we would have to work to understand each other and so that we could remember that what really unites us–what really holds us all in common–is not anything that we build with our own hands or anything that we accomplish on our own, but God.
God has always been the common thread running through us all,
no matter what our language,
or our customs.
But we got lost.
We stopped working to understand each other and we fought with each other. We bickered and we squabbled and we fussed…and we judged and we condemned and we learned to hate…
And so God finally decided to give everything to help us find our way back.
God gave us his Son.
Some recognized him right away.
Some took a bit longer.
Some took a lot longer.
And some never accepted that Jesus was the Son of God–the very love of God incarnated amongst us.
But regardless of how the people reacted toward him, Jesus went to the cross on behalf of all humanity.
It was all sin that he took upon himself.
He paid the price for it all so that anyone who believed in him could find eternal life, and be freed from the burdens and cost of sin.
It was for all of us that Christ looked out upon the world and cried out those unforgettable words” “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
And when death could not hold its claim on Christ Jesus, it was for us all that he threw aside that stone and burst forth in radiant light to bring life back into this dark world.
The same God that had once scattered us and confused our tongues was the same God that had drawn us together under the protective love and grace of Jesus Christ…and was the same God who sent forth the Holy Spirit to bridge all the differences that had separated us for so long.
It was on Pentecost–nearly two thousand years ago, that group of believers stood baffled as the Apostles–Galileans each and every one of them–were suddenly illuminated by dancing tongues of fire and were suddenly able to speak perfectly, fluently, in languages none of them had ever learned.
It didn’t matter who you were–what your language–when an apostle spoke, you heard it perfectly!
It was more efficient than those headsets the United Nations uses to allow everyone to hear the meetings in their own language, no matter what language is being spoken.
The same God who had once scattered us so that we could remember that we were not gods, but belonged to the one true God, is the same God who is still working, even on this Pentecost Sunday today, to bring us together.
United in one family. United in one body–the body of Christ.
At Pentecost, God did not gloss over all the differences–
the different languages,
the different customs,
the different politics,
the different ideas,
the different understandings,
the different worldviews…
Although God could have, God did not do that–because the beauty of God’s family has always been in is diversity and complexity.
No–what God did was even better and more profound than just waving a hand and making us all the same: God gave us the ability to understand each other even in our differences.
And even today, it doesn’t matter what labels we wear:
God is the god of us all.
Even today, it doesn’t matter what language we speak:
Jesus Christ is still the Lord of us all.
Even today, it doesn’t matter how we understand the world:
it is the same Holy Spirit that is still bridging the differences.
So, in the spirit of Pentecost, let us set aside all the things that separate us and divide us… let us forget how we are not the same, and let us, remembering that we are one Body in Christ Jesus, remember what unites us all.
Let us remember that it will not be with what we build with our own hands that brings the new heaven and the new earth of Revelation, but it will be the work of God, being done through us all.
Let us remember that in a world of difference, God is the same in each of our hearts and lives.
For if there is one thing that Pentecost has taught us it is that different as we may appear to be, we have all been fused together into one Body by that same Holy Fire!