May 15, 2016 – Pentecost Text: Genesis 11:1-9
Dear Friends in Christ,
Do you remember the first word or words you ever spoke? Did your parents tell you or write it down in a baby book? Ever since that day you have been adding words to your vocabulary. Today as you sit here most of you know thousands upon thousands of words. Language is an intimate part of our daily lives. Since the beginning man has been talking. But do we understand what is being said? Most surveys would say no. Miscommunication is always listed when people talk about the problems in their life.
Today is Pentecost and we are looking at the Biblical account of the “Tower of Babel.” The problem of proper communication has always been part of our sinful world. With the leading of the Holy Spirit . . .
Have you ever wondered where language came from? From the very beginning the Spirit and Word of God were living and active. Holy Scripture is the story of language. It begins when God speaks in Genesis 1:3. God then passes this on to Adam by breathing his Spirit into him. Adam is then invited to name the animals. Adam then names Eve a woman. Eve first words were to the serpent in Genesis 3. Have you ever wondered about their small talk in between those two events? “Do you come here often?” “It’s you and me babe, let’s make the best of it.” One thing we know they didn’t communicate was how nice their clothing looked!
By Genesis 11, and because of the fall into sin, people were using this great gift of God, words, in a tragic way. Verse 1 says they “had one language and the same words.” But they use this gift in the wrong way. On the surface there is nothing wrong with making bricks and building a tower. But look at why they wanted to build it – to make a name for themselves and not be scattered. This is a clear violation of God’s command to fill the earth and call on His name.
There is great power in language. Look at how the media has reshaped people’s views on social issues. The language they use is all part of the manipulation. Anti-abortion instead of pro-life. The rights of the homosexual but rarely the rights of the Christian. Internet bullying by words can lead to suicides. But language can also be positive. A gentle word from dad or mom after a rough day at school. Words that lift up when you doubt your faith.
God recognizes this power of language. People had given up calling on the name of the Lord and were breaking what would be the 2nd Commandment. God has invited us to call on His name by the power of the Spirit living in us. God’s name was sprinkled on us in the waters of Holy Baptism. That day the assurance was given that you belong to the Lord. You can talk directly to your living Lord.
The problem with these builders of Babel is that they thought they were so clever that they could make a name for themselves. We do this in a variety of ways – the idolatry of self. Places named after donors. Stretches of roads named after politicians. Ballplayers prostrating in front of crowds. We too lift ourselves up if we feel we are not getting proper recognition. Listen to your words carefully and see how many times you use the word “I.” In our language it is an epidemic.
So God came down. Astounding! This tower was suppose to reach the heavens but is so small that God had to leave the heights of heaven to inspect this tiny structure of men. God came down. The early Christians understood this verse to refer to the preincarnate Jesus. God appears to the Old Testament people the same way He does to the New Testament people – through His Son. The Son of God, after all, is himself the Eternal Word later to become flesh. The punishment that the Word of God inflicts is to confuse the word of man. We talk big, but God’s Word always has the final answer. Like the story of the fall, the story of Babel shows that rebellion against God ultimately leads to divisions among people. People are driven away from paradise and from one another. Improper words and language can do that. Most of us have seen it in our own lives.
Thankfully, this wasn’t the last time in the story of language God came down to earth. He came down through the words of prophets like Moses, Elijah, and Ezekiel. But ultimately, God came down in the person of the Word to live, die, rise, before going back up. Jesus’ word from the cross, “It is finished,” declared that all our sins of self are forgiven. When we lift ourselves up or continually use the word “I” the Lord has washed that away in the blood of the Savior. The Word in Baptism and Holy Communion powerfully remind us of how God changed the world through His words. “You are mine.” “You are forgiven.”
The Lord humbled the people by confusing their language and dividing and dispersing them. That dispersal was reversed on Pentecost Day, when God caused the one Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to be preached in a multitude of languages. So now the Church takes up the call to get the words of Christ out to languages of the world. So Let’s talk – the Lord’s words. Amen.