Pentecost Sunday - May 19th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Of Babel and Pentecost - Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:22-31
Vicar Jason Toombs
On this day of Pentecost we celebrate the speaking of unknown tongues. More specifically, the speaking of unknown tongues by the disciples, but the hearing of these tongues in the native language of the hearers. This isn’t a command from God to babel about incoherently. This is a day where we celebrate the fact that the Bible is translated, read, preached, and taught to many different peoples in their own native language. We hear of the mighty works of God in our own tongues: English for us, Spanish, French, German, and many other languages throughout the world for others. We are not forced to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to find out what God has done for us. We hear plainly the mighty works of God, including God’s work of confusing the languages at Babel and the preaching in native tongues at Pentecost.
Before Babel the whole earth had one language. Men and women communicated freely throughout the world, you could travel everywhere and only had to know one language. Then they had an idea, “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.” Likewise, we have often thought the same things: let us make a United Nations where we can communicate freely and establish a world parliament where peace and development of nations is sought, let us build an International Space Station so we can further explore space.
But there is a difference at Babel. The people who came together at Babel wanted to build a tower into heaven. They wanted to climb up to God, to be able to see Him face to face. Surely this is a great idea. What could go wrong?
The wanted to make a name for themselves. We are a mighty people. We can build. Let’s build toward heaven one block upon another. Everyone around will know our names once this tower has reached heaven. You and I also want the spotlight. We are all stars in our own minds saying, “The world needs to know about me. Lights, camera, action. My show must go on.” Shows abound for you to make your mark. If you can sing, or even if you can’t, there’s American Idol, The Voice, and plenty more. If you’ve got things to sell, you can go on Antiques Roadshow or on Pawn Stars. If you can work with your hands you could be on Swamp People, Sons of Guns, or even Duck Dynasty. Like us, the people at Babel wanted to be famous. But fame comes at a cost.
Because they were trying to make their own way to God, God intervened and confused their language, so they could no longer understand one another, they could no longer communicate with one another. Still today, we do not communicate easily. Multiple languages abound. There’s also languages particular to each gender. Men have a language they can communicate freely in: sports. Likewise, women have their own nuances of language. Men and women think about things differently, talk differently, approach tasks differently. We can thank those people at Babel for this. We are no longer able to communicate effectively with one another.
Also, where there was once one people, God dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth. What was once one, has been shattered. We have been thrown to the ends of the earth. For survival, we have formed communities and nations, working with those we can understand to make a life together.
But what if God moves you from this community to another one? What if He moves you overseas? If we move from a small community, like this one, to a large city overseas, like London, Tokyo, or Buenos Aires, we will often search for people we know, who have the same kind of background. We will group together with fellow Americans. We want the comforts of home, the ethnicity, the food, the culture, even when we are away from it. There is comfort in people who are like us, but this isn’t our ultimate comfort. Our ultimate comfort rests solely in God.
Even though God dispersed mankind over the face of all the earth, He did not leave it this way. For God is not a God of punishment only, He is a God of love. And He loves us in this way, He sent His only Son to gather His people together. God sent His only Son down to earth, down to live amongst His people. God took on flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary. God walked with humanity again, though veiled in flesh, walked along the same paths as us, speaking the languages of that time and place. He walked as He was paraded down the streets of Jerusalem carrying His cross. Walked outside of the city, up a hill, and was crucified.
Before He was crucified, Jesus spoke with His disciple as only He can, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Jesus bestows the peace of God upon His disciples, upon His people. And He also promises the Comforter, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.” This is what the Holy Spirit is to do: teach. Teach you about Jesus, tell you the things that He has done for your salvation.
The Spirit alone isn’t to be celebrated. Neither is the Son, nor the Father. The entirety of the Trinity is celebrated, what God has done for us. How He created us. How He saved us. How He forgives us. We shouldn’t think of the Holy Spirit as separate from the Father and the Son. God acts in one accord toward humanity, out of His deep love for us.
And so today we celebrate, we celebrate with those visitors to Jerusalem. We celebrate with Christians around the world. We celebrate as the Word of God is read and preached in native tongues, in language we can understand, around the world. And so we arrive at Pentecost, the first appearance of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire, tongues speaking plainly the things of God.
The disciples were gathered together in one place, not dispersed throughout the world. The Holy Spirit came down from heaven, like a mighty rushing wind, and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. This was what Jesus had promised them. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, has been sent by the Father in Jesus’ name. Now is the time to preach and teach the things of God to others.
In Jerusalem there were Jews, devout men from every nation, who were now hearing, in their own language, the mighty works of God. These Galilean fishermen, tax collectors, and others were speaking in unknown tongues to themselves but heard in the native language of others. Parthians and Medes and others were hearing the mighty works of God. And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
What does this mean? It means that the promised Comforter, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, has come down from heaven. He has descended from heaven, we don’t need to search for Him. We needn’t build a tower to heaven, God has come down to us.
It also means that they no longer need to make a name for themselves. God has put His name on the disciples in tongues as of fire. And Peter preaches a sermon about what God has done for humanity in the person of Jesus. The conclusion of the sermon is striking, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” A striking blow has been dealt to the Jews. The Law of God has cut to the heart and they ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”
God has also promised to put His name on the hearers of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Repent and be baptized. This sermon is not only for the Jews, it is for you. You need to be baptized. You need to have the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, placed upon your head. You need the forgiveness of your sins as you cannot do anything to make up for your failings before God. You need to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, not as a tongue of fire but because He is the one who tells you the mighty works that God has done. The mighty work of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.
About 3000 believed and were baptized that first Pentecost day. Many more have been added to God’s family since then. The Holy Spirit has more work to do, more people to bring to faith, more souls to save from hell. We have been added to God’s family, a family with one language, the language of faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer.
Our language which was once confused by God has been restored, restored in His Son’s death and resurrection. We speak different languages on earth but we have the same heavenly language, faith in Jesus Christ. We will one day be gathered with all the saints throughout the generations. We will be gathered together before the throne of God worshiping as He has brought us from so many nations together into one nation once again.
We are still a dispersed people, scattered throughout the world, but we will be gathered before the Lamb of God in heaven. We will be of one nation in heaven, the nation of the Church, the bride of Christ. Covered by His blood, loved with His whole heart, we will know what true love really means, giving up His life so His bride can live eternally there with Him as her head.
You have been baptized with water and the Spirit. You don’t have to speak in tongues to celebrate this baptism. Paul has said, “as for tongues, they will cease” (1 Corinthians 13:8) but Jesus reminds us “my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). Instead of babbling about incoherently, simply speak through the tongue of the Holy Spirit, recalling what God has done for you in sending His only Son to die for your sins, to rise victorious over death and the grave, and all of this He gives to you. You are in Christ’s death and resurrection and God’s name is on you in your baptism. Rest comfortably knowing and believing the mighty works which God has done for you.