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Genesis 11:1–9; John 14:23–31

James T. Batchelor

Feast of Pentecost, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, May 15, 2016 

Today is the third major feast of the Church Year.  Christmas directs our focus to the nature of Christ that He is true God who took up a true human nature.  Maundy Thursday through Easter directs our focus to the work that Jesus did to earn forgiveness for us His perfect life and His suffering and death followed by the sign of the resurrection to confirm His victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil.  Today is Pentecost and on this day we focus on the delivery of the forgiveness of sins by the Holy Spirit.

On this day we always read from Acts 2 the account of the Holy Spirit revealing Himself in the tongues of fire, the SOUND of the mighty wind, and the speaking in tongues.  However, the Three Year Lectionary complements the account of this revelation with different readings every year.  For some reason, I especially like this years readings with the account of the Tower of Babel.  There is a certain symmetry with the confusion of the languages at Babel and the speaking of languages on the Pentecost that followed Christs ascension.

We have all grown up in a world of different languages.  We cant really understand what it was like for humanity when the languages were confused.  On one day, everyone spoke the same language.  They could work together as a team like a finely tuned Swiss watch.  A common language made it so that it almost seemed like everyone could read the minds of everyone else.  Then the next day came along and no one understood what you were saying.  It had to be utterly terrifying.  You would try to talk to your friends and all you heard was gibberish or babbling.

What was the precise sin that the people did to earn this curse?  After the flood, God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. (Genesis 9:1) God commanded mankind through His servant Noah to fill the earth that is, to spread out over all the earth and care for it as Gods agents.  Instead, the people stayed together and created a city to glorify their own name.

At a deeper level, though, it doesnt take much unpacking of todays Old Testament lesson to find the same sin that got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden.  Before we reach for the forbidden fruit or start making bricks for the tower before we commit any sinful thought, word, or deed we must remove God from His rightful place in our lives.  We may not think it consciously, but before we can commit any other sin, we must first assume that either God does not know what is best for us or that He does not want what is best for us.  As I often tell the catechumens, when you break any commandment, you must first break commandment number one, You shall have no other gods.

The problem with the people in Babel was not that they were building a tall tower.  Some of the sky scrapers we build today are taller than the tower of Babel.  The problem was attitude.  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 Lords 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.

God Himself 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. (Genesis 11:6) When I was a little child, I thought this meant that humanity would have invented all kinds of cool stuff if God hadnt confused the languages.  It wasnt until I was much older that I noticed that humanity tends to take the interesting discoveries it makes and turn them into weapons.  Alfred Nobel invented dynamite as a stable explosive for efficiently removing rock from construction sites, but it wasnt long before it became a weapon.  Nuclear power is an incredible source of cheap power, but its first use was the bombing of Japan that ended World War II.  God was not concerned that humanity would do something worthwhile and noble because they understood one another so well, but He was concerned that they would use their fertile imaginations to dream up all kinds of evil and then bring those evil things to reality.

When God judged Babel, He determined that the evil creativity of humanity knew no boundaries.  When humanitys creativity is bent on sinning, it is not good that nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them.  So the Lord placed a limit on the spread of evil in this world by confusing their language.  Work on the tower stopped and the people spread out over the face of the earth.

The second reading relates the events in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost after Jesus rose from the dead.  Pentecost was a festival that God established through Moses.  Its original title was the Feast of Weeks.  It was one of the three annual festivals in the instructions that the Lord gave through His servant Moses: Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. (Deuteronomy 16:16) So it is that there were many Pentecost pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit made His presence known with the sound of a rushing wind and the tongues of fire.  Naturally the Holy Spirits revelation drew quite a crowd.

When the crowd came together, the Holy Spirit gave His disciples the ability to speak in the native tongues of all those Pentecost Pilgrims.  Just as God confused the languages at Babel so He also overcame the confusion of those languages with the gift of different languages.

The ability to speak in different languages had a profound effect on the curious people who came to see what all the noise was about.  The question they asked was very natural: How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:811) God provided the ability to speak in other languages so that the disciples could proclaim the mighty works of God.

When God confused the language at Babel, He was restraining evil.  When God granted the ability to speak in many languages, He was proclaiming the mighty works of God.  That is what the Holy Spirit does.  He proclaims the mighty works of God.  Today, He proclaims the might works of God by providing translations of the Bible in thousands of languages around the world.

What are these mighty works of God?  Peter tells the gathered crowd exactly what these works are in the words that immediately follow todays second reading.  Peter addressed the crowd and said, 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 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:2224) The mighty works of God are the works of Jesus of Nazareth crucified and raised from the dead.

The mighty works of God are the works of Jesus Christ that earned the forgiveness of sins for us now and forever.  This forgiveness of sins heals our strife and division with God.  We are no longer Gods enemies.  Instead, the Holy Spirit works faith in us and adopts us into the family of God as heirs of eternal life.  We become Christs brothers and sisters and His Father becomes our Father.  God will always be with us while we live here in time and we shall always enjoy unity with God in eternity.  This is the good news of the Gospel.

The Holy Spirit works to spread the Gospel because He works through the Gospel in order to establish and maintain the saving faith that receives all these marvelous gifts.  As the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. And again, Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) It is through the Word of God that the Holy Spirit introduces us to Jesus Christ so that we may know Him and trust Him.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His apostles in the Upper Room on the evening before He died on the cross.  On the very next Pentecost, the Holy Spirit created a miracle of divine communication.  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 Gods church.  Before that Pentecost, Gods people looked forward to the day of the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.  We, who live after that 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.

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.  We can hear that message proclaimed and we can study that message together.  It is the message that unifies the church.  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

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