The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Our world, our nation, our people are so very divided. There is no unity. In fact, about the ONLY thing we may be able to agree upon is the fact that we’re so utterly divided and fractured… perhaps beyond repair. Things are so hopelessly rent asunder nowadays that we can’t even find unity in the simplest of things, such as agreeing to what the definition of male or female is or how a woman who is 9 months pregnant and in labor shouldn’t be allowed to murder her child in the name of convenience and “reproductive healthcare.” We are a divided people, and as long as whole parties of people believe that a man can give birth and breast feed or a woman can have prostate issues and testicular cancer, there is no hope for unity. There can be no unity. And it’s not simply a matter of “we’ll just agree to disagree. No harm, no foul.” Nope. We’re way past that. The issues that divide us today incite great anger and hostility… even violence. If someone disagrees with you; if someone dares to have a different opinion than you, it’s perfectly acceptable nowadays to try and “cancel them.” Harass them, threaten them as well as their family, torch their home, their car, their place of employment, destroy their credit, destroy their marriage, destroy their reputation and livelihood… and then turn around and sue them because they hurt your feelings and you’re the real victim in all of this. From Washington D.C. to small town grade school PTA meetings (and even within the confines of Christian congregations), this is life in our 21st century “United States.”
And you know what’s really scary? Look at the Old Testament lesson appointed for today: the Tower of Babel account. There is nothing good ever associated with the Tower of Babel, right? And yet… in looking at this text you discover very quickly that this huge nation of people; a people who were descended from Noah’s sons and living only about 150 years in the wake of Noah’s flood, truly had all things in common. They weren’t at all like us. The people of Babel could look at us and say, “Wow! Those folks are messed up!” They were united. They had unity, and it wasn’t just lip-service. They had one language, one culture, one understanding, one like-mind and one singular plan and purpose, and they were all onboard with that plan/purpose, all pulling in the same direction.
Ahh… but all this unity isn’t exactly a good thing. They had one like-mind and one unified plan and purpose… and this was a HUGE problem! Ask yourself: On what or on whom was their collective group mind affixed? Was that singular mind of the people fixed on God and His Word? Whose plan and will was the group united around and concerned about: Their plan/will or God’s plan/will? Remember what I said about the timeframe and the context of this event? Believe it or not, but this is important. God’s command to His people, already in the Garden of Eden, was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. This same exact command was given to Noah and His sons after they came off the Ark. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Folks: God wanted His people to disperse. Big Christians make little Christians. He made the whole world for them. He wanted them to go out into that great big world and fill it with His Gospel goodness and the corresponding faith and trust in that Gospel goodness.
This is where you can see the sin of the people in Babel coming into play. The fact that they shared one language, one culture, and so on wasn’t the problem. The problem was the fact that the people weren’t obeying or trusting in God. The very fact that they tried to huddle up (so to speak) and do their own thing and not disperse showed their sinful, fearful disobedience as well as their complete lack of faith and trust in their Lord. “Go out and fill the earth? No way! We’ve got a good thing going right here.” That’s what the tower project was really all about. It was something they could unite around/rally around. It was a big grand symbol of their own notion of “oneness.” This tower was an attempt to show their unity and their perceived sense of being in control. “Look at what we can accomplish when we work together. We don’t need to be under anyone’s thumb anymore… including God. Look at what we can do for ourselves.” And that’s just it. As truly united as they were in all matters, they didn’t have true unity where it mattered most—faithful unity with their Lord God. And in this way, ironically, this tower was a huge symbol/trophy of their unity; the unity they all shared in rebellious, self-serving sin. They were all united in being divided and separated from God; united in their enmity with Him.
Listen to God’s Word and you can hear the arrogant transgression of the First Commandment taking place in their own words. “Let us make bricks. Let us build a city and make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Let us do this. Let us do that. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. I’m not going anywhere I don’t want to go, and I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do. Sound familiar? Ask yourself: Who was their god? Who is your god? Whose plans, will, and timelines do you work with? Maybe it’s just me, but none of this self-serving (on their part as well as on our part) sounds very much like Christ’s faithful petition, “Father, not my will be done, but Your will be done.”
And you know…that’s the great thing about this text. This is why we actually celebrate this text on Pentecost Sunday. I know this sounds hard to believe, but this lesson isn’t a “bad news” account, as if this text is to be held in stark contrast to the Epistle account of Pentecost; a warning shot and lesson in “what not to do.” That’s not the case at all! Folks: God’s will is done, even in spite of the sinful plans and purposes of His wayward and sinful people. That’s good news! God knew that if this unified, sinful people kept on the course they were headed, nothing would ever be considered out of bounds for them. Nothing would ever be considered taboo or wrong. Nothing would be impossible for them to devise and bring to fruition, no matter how debased and ungodly it may have been. Sinfully speaking, the sky would have been the limit. My…how far we’ve come.
This is precisely why God stepped in and mixed things up. He was saving them from themselves. I find it rather amusing that God uses the same exact First Commandment language of the people to accomplish His will, though He speaks His Word the way in which He intended it to be understood. “Come, let us…. Let us go down….” He’s in charge. And a little aside here. I love the fact that the almighty Triune God dialogues with Himself in such a way. “Come, let us go down and see this thing they are building.” You very much get a sense of proper perspective with God’s Word here. The people, no doubt, thought they had built a massive tower to the heavens; something so big and magnificent and awe-inspiring that they would no longer need God’s help to get to heaven. They could just use their own massive stairway to heaven. They could just ascend up their own workings and efforts. But then God comes along and makes it clear that man’s efforts are smaller than a fly speck. God’s language here gives the impression that He has to go down and squint in order to see this pathetic little construction. “Come, let us go down and see this thing. Let us go down so that we can see this thing.”
But I digress. “Come, let us go down….” God is in charge, and this means that He is always working all things for the good of those who love Him. God confused their language in order that His will would be done. He confused their language so that they wouldn’t cause more harm. The people were dispersed over the face of all the earth… just as He had intended all along. This confusing and dispersing was, believe it or not, an act of love for His people and their salvation. With the false sense of sinful pride and security now rent asunder and done away with, the people—all of them—had nothing and no one…no one except their heavenly Father. Again, in a paradoxical, ironic kind of way, their splitting and dispersing did bring about unity. They were united in sinful helplessness. More importantly, they were united in having to put their fear, love, and trust in God alone.
Look around. Like it or not; whether you want to admit it or not, we are united. We’re united with the people of Babel. We’re united, one to another. We are united. No… we may not all have the same likes, dislikes, and opinions. We may see things differently. We may do things differently. And yet… we’re all united. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. “All” means EVERYONE, right? We are united in our sin. We are united in our need for a Savior. All are redeemed in the blood of Christ. We are united in Christ and His all-redeeming sacrifice. The sinful veil that once divided/separated us from our holy and righteous God has been rent asunder, uniting us/restoring us to fellowship with our heavenly Father. How’s that for unity? Christ died and rose again for your sins, for my sins, and for the sins of the entire world; even for the sins of those who still choose to follow their own propositions, plans, and purposes, trying to make a name for themselves. “It is finished” was spoken for them too.
Look around. Look at where God calls you and gathers you in order to unite with you and with His people, not around a grand monument or building or anything like that. Man looks to such things and is impressed by such things. Not so with God. He comes down to us and unites with us around His lowly cross. He unites with us in the lowly and unassuming waters of Holy Baptism. It is here in these life-giving waters that He unites us to Him; to His death and His resurrection. He comes down to us to unite with us in, with, and under these lowly elements of bread and wine, uniting His very Body and Blood in, with, and under these humble means in order to unite us with His blood-bought mercy, grace, and cruciform victory. It is here at this lowly little altar that He unites us with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. It is here that all the saints of this one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church are united; united—all of us—to Christ; united one to another in Christ.
My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus; all of you who have had the name of Christ put upon your heads and your hearts, marking you as united to Him and His blood-bought redemption: As you disperse from here today and go out into this great big scary world that has been thoroughly corrupted by sin, I pray that this blessed Christ-centered Pentecost message of unity sticks in your hearts and minds. More importantly, I pray that this unifying message of oneness in Christ is actively witnessed in all that you say and do. Don’t go out seeking to make a name for yourself. Make the unifying and sanctifying name of Christ known, because it is His name alone—His Word alone; the Gospel message of Christ crucified and risen for all mankind—that the Holy Spirit uses to work the miracle of life, salvation, and Christian unity in all who hear and believe. “Thy will be done.”
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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