Pentecost 2019

Babel Undone – A Greater City Awaits

Greek mythology tells the story of a man named Narcissus.   The myth tells us that He was a good looking guy and he knew it.  His story tells us that he was very cruel to the women who were attracted by his good looks.  The punishment for his cruelty came in a very appropriate way.  One day he came across a reflecting pond in a wooded area.  There was no breeze to disturb the surface of the water and it therefore reflected everything perfectly.  As Narcissus passed by, he saw a reflection of himself and realized how handsome he really was.  He fell in love with his own image and was unable to move from the spot.  He remained rooted to that spot until he died.

People who study psychology have come up with the term narcissism based on this Greek myth.  Narcissism is the personality trait of people who are self centered.

The myth of Narcissus arises from the simple observation that being self-centered can be self-destructive.  This observation is so universal that almost every culture has some variation of the Narcissus myth in order to warn people that self-centered behavior can be dangerous.

Today’s Old Testament lesson tells the account of a group of narcissists.  These narcissists were busy making a name for themselves.  Their own words betray them.  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.”  Their goal was to make a name for themselves.  In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father in Heaven and say, “Hallowed be Thy name.”  Instead, these people in Babel wanted to say, “Hallowed be our name.”  The people in Babel were self-centered instead of God-centered.

In essence, that is the problem of all mankind, isn’t it?  We want what we want when we want it and what we want is more important than what God wants.  We can go clear back to the conversation between Eve and the serpent in Eden.  The serpent convinced Eve that God was holding something back.  Eve decided that she didn’t care what God wanted.  She wanted the fruit and she was going to have it.  She put her own wants above God’s wants.  We have been doing that ever since.

What is the result of this obsession with self?  Listen to the judgment of God from today’s Old Testament reading.  “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  Today’s Old Testament reading goes on to say that the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

From this account of the Tower of Babel, we learn that we are to be God-centered and not self-centered.  We learn that God’s judgment on our self-centered behavior is confusion, division, disunity, and ultimately dispersal.  The account of the Tower of Babel teaches us that whenever we see tension between people – wherever there is strife – wherever there is jealousy, narcissism or self-centeredness is somewhere at the root of the problem.

It is one thing to make a name for oneself.  It is quite another when one is remembered for performing a selfless act to benefit another.  This past week was the 75th anniversary of D-Day when hundreds of young men paid the ultimate sacrifice to free France from Hitler’s occupation.  Only a few hundred of those WWII veterans are still alive.  They are honored for their bravery and sacrifice.  I have visited with officers who have risked their lives to rescue others from grave danger.  Most do not seek accolades.  They are not even sure what to say told “thank you” by those rescued.

There are times we try to make a name for ourselves by association.  I met so and so and got their autograph and selfie with them.  I noticed that Carson Wentz is having a meet and greet in Fargo.  Folks can sign up to win the chance to spend time with Carson.  They will be able to say they met Carson Wentz.

There are those who seek to make a name for themselves by going out in a blaze of glory.  We have seen this in workplace and school shootings, suicide situations and other acts of violence.  Others try to leave their mark on history by defying recognized and God-given norms.   This is most evident when we talk about when life begins and the definition of marriage.  Christians who speak up to defend life or indicate what godly marriage is are then viewed as being judgmental and told to remain quiet.

So how do we make a name for ourselves?  Is it possible to do so in a God pleasing way?  The truth is that we can do nothing.  We don’t have the power to change ourselves.  Anyone who is a parent knows that we are all born worshipping ourselves.  Every baby believes that the whole rest of the universe is there to keep him or her happy and comfortable.  The idea, that anyone or anything is more important than we are, is totally outside of our thinking.  That is the reason that our salvation must come from somewhere outside of us.

That is what today’s Epistle is all about.  The Holy Spirit comes from outside of us with the gifts that God has for us.  The Holy Spirit came down in one of His rare demonstrations of power.  There was the sound of the mighty rushing wind.  There were the tongues of flame resting on the disciples.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.  On this day, they were not seeking a name for themselves.  In fact, they were putting themselves at risk by proclaiming the truth of Christ.

It was then that God dealt with the judgment of Babel.  Suddenly, the disciples were able to speak in the native languages of the Pentecost pilgrims who had gathered from all over the known world.  The list included in today’s epistle is extensive – Parthians and Medes and 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 Arabians – and this list may not be complete.  Suddenly, all these languages became one again.  For a little while – on that one special Pentecost – the curse of Babel was erased.

What was the message that was so important that the Holy Spirit lifted the curse of Babel for a while?  The text of our Epistle tells us.  We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.  The Holy Spirit lifted the curse of division, self-centeredness, strife, and conflict so that people of all nations could hear about the mighty works of God.

What are these mighty works of God?  Peter tells the gathered crowd exactly what these works are in the words that immediately follow today’s epistle.  Peter addressed the crowd and said, [Acts 2:22–24] 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.  This is the message that unifies and heals all strife, division, and conflict.  The mighty works of God are Jesus of Nazareth crucified and raised from the dead.

The message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins does much more than release us from our strife and division with one another.  The forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for us heals our strife and division with God.  We are no longer God’s enemies.  He has placed His name of on us, the name that is above all names has been placed on us.  We did nothing to make a name for ourselves.  Instead, the Holy Spirit works faith in us and adopts us into the family of God as heirs of eternal life.  We become Christ’s brothers and sisters and His Father becomes our Father.  God will always be with us while we live here in time and we will enjoy unending unity with God in heaven.  God made a name for Himself when He gave us His Son, Jesus, the name that means, “The Lord Saves!”  That is exactly what Jesus did for you.  He rescued you from your aspirations to make a name for yourself, changing your heart to one that seeks to honor Him.

Because Pentecost was one of the three great feasts that God gave to His Old Testament saints, the city was full of Godly pilgrims from all over the world.  The rumble of the Holy Spirit drew these God-fearing pilgrims to the disciples.  They heard, in their own languages, the mighty works of God.  On that Pentecost, in the city of Jerusalem, there was a unity of communication between people that had not existed since before Babel.  On that day, in that place, there was a unity of communication from God to man that had not existed since Eden.

In the sweet, intimate, unity of the divine communication of that day, the disciples did not utter heavenly gibberish, but they proclaimed the divine story of salvation in the native tongues of every person who was there.  They told how Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Messiah.  They spoke of His perfect life, His innocent suffering and death, His resurrection, and His ascension.  They spoke of sin and its forgiveness.   In the perfect communication of that day, they praised God by telling of His mighty works, especially the work of saving us from our sin.

Through the perfect communication of that day, the Holy Spirit changed God’s church.  Before Pentecost, God’s people looked forward to the day of the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.  We, who live after Pentecost, look to Jesus of Nazareth and believe that He is indeed that Christ, the Son of the living God and the savior of the world.  On that Pentecost day, the church of the Old Testament became the church of the New Testament through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, today we celebrate the birthday of the Holy Christian Church.

The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins.  That is the message that removes the curse of sin because it is the message that the Holy Spirit uses to create saving faith in us.  That saving faith holds on to the gifts that Jesus Christ earned for us with His suffering, death, and resurrection – the gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  The only true unity that we can have is in these gifts.  These gifts bring us unity with God as our father and unity with one another as the body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit no longer puts in His appearance with rumblings and tongues of flame.  Never the less, He still comes to us in the message that the disciples shared with the crowds on that special Pentecost.  We have that message in many and various forms – ink on paper – words on a screen – words taken to heart and memorized.  Simple water connected with God’s Word of power cleanses from sin and makes one a child of God.  Simple bread and wine are the life-giving food as Christ attaches His very body and blood to these normal, everyday means.  We receive His gifts even as we hear the message proclaimed and as we study that wonderful message of God’s amazing love together.  It is the message that unifies the church and places the wonderful name of Christ Jesus over all who trust in Him.  Rejoice, in Christ your sins are forgiven.  It is the message proclaimed since Pentecost and it is true for you.  It is a message that we are privileged to trumpet as the Holy Spirit works through the Word to create and nurture life giving faith in Jesus.  It is the message that Christ in His love died for sinners and, as sinners, we all qualify as the recipients of that love.  Amen