There are times when I don’t write out a whole manuscript. Those times are rare–I think better through writing, and the act of writing helps me remember better, so by the time it comes to preach, I am less tied to my paper than I would be with just notes.
But there are times when the week is too busy or when I don’t have the brain power to organize sentences, paragraphs and an organized rhythm to the sermon. So this usually results in bullet points, as in the Pentecost sermon.
I should note, that my bullet points do not always directly translate to what I say. Sometimes I have put things in much looser language than I deliver from the pulpit. Sometimes I have a coherent sentence in mind, and then I expound on it. All of which is to say that you should not take the below document as an indication of the quality of my Pentecost sermon. At least, I am 100% sure I didn’t actually say “Ye Olden Times”.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
June 4, 2017
Tower of Babel reversal idea undone. Holy Spirit unites us in diversity
- Let’s pause for a moment and recall a story from Genesis: the tower of Babel! People in Ye Olden Days were one language, one culture. Then, they got bored, maybe, and decided to build a tower up to heaven to reach God. This doesn’t thrill God, who likes being up there on his own, so he strikes down the tower, scatters the people and then everyone speaks their own language in their own place. Boom–cultural differences are created!
- So story of Pentecost, wherein disciples are again hiding
- Which they’ve been doing ever since the crucifixion, with momentary breaks whenever Jesus has shown up. But remember, he ascended, so now they’re back to the hiding thing. Because he told them to stay put in Jerusalem
- There’s the sound of a great rushing wind, and descending fire
- Both pretty scary images, actually
- And the Holy Spirit shows up
- The traditional understanding of the Pentecost story is that it is a reversal of Babel
- Babel was a sin against God, and caused division. Everyone worked together to build a tower to ascend to heaven, but this was pride and God put a stop to it.
- People were then divided by language, culture, creed, etc.
- So the old understanding of the Babel story was that this diversity was basically, if not a mistake, then something reversible.
- Pentecost, then, was an event in which the sin of Babel was undone. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the divisions which were in place were erased, and God united everyone in a common belief. Yay.
- I’m going to argue that this is not exactly correct.
- For one thing, the sin at Babel was pride. It’s another Genesis story where we conveniently get the sin wrong, not unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, where the sin was rape and a failure to welcome the stranger. Not, you know, anything else.
- People divide into different languages and cultures and fail to communicate….but you can also argue that this division also stems from pride
- What, after all, keeps us from trying to understand someone else’s point of view, but a deep-seated conviction that we have the answer and they do not possibly have anything to add? It’s a tower of a different sort.
- At Pentecost, pride isn’t erased. Language, culture, context still are different. The descending Spirit doesn’t erase the differences between people. Everyone doesn’t suddenly start speaking Esperanto, or King James’ English.
- Instead, suddenly people can understand one another. People who grew up only understanding Aramaic now can make sense of Greek. People who spoke only Latin now can comprehend Arabic. The spirit doesn’t erase the differences; it bridges them.
- As the church grows, too, it actually will rely on the differences to survive. Diversity will become its strength. In 6 chapters, the church will get booted from Jerusalem. In 7, it will be booted from synagogues. So it had better figure out how to rely on diversity or it will not survive.
- So perhaps the miracle of Pentecost is a reversal of Babel, in that the pride that keeps us from each other is removed, if only for a time.
- How easy it is, though, to forgo the gift of the spirit in this regard! How easy it becomes to shun the gifts that God’s diverse creation offers us, because it’s too hard, or too much work, or seems too confusing.
- The world encourages us to build walls. If not towers, to wall us off from people who look different, who sound different. Who live different. Telling us that the Spirit of God we know COULD NOT POSSIBLY be speaking to them as well.
- Last night I went to an iftar–a breaking of the Ramadan fast–with the Crescent Peace Society. Group whose sole purpose is to make Muslims known to non-Muslims in KC area, so they’re more than scary names on the news.
- We sat there discussing Boy Scouts, and annoying the sound of water bottle flipping was, and how to make really good hummus, which Girl Scout cookie bakery was better, and how scary the world is right now and how hard it is to get up each morning and do one small thing to make the world a better place, as we all agreed God called us to.
- We sat there as the news from the latest London attacks rolled in, and I thought, driving home, how blessed moments like that are. How important it is to sit with people you wouldn’t normally know, and listen for the work of the Spirit in their lives. Move outside our towers, and witness to the blessings they bring to the world.
- We may not get fire, and we may not hear wind, but we still do get the Spirit in this world. We just have to move out and look for it.