Jun 1, 2022
Focus Readings: Genesis
11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17
In Douglas Adam's Science Fiction series, the Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy there is a fish called the Babel fish which can be inserted into the ear and which translates whatever is being said in any language instantly to your own. He writes "by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation."
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
It's meant to be a funny line because often people argue that if only we really understood exactly what other people were saying, people of other cultures, languages, faiths, and so on then there would be world peace. I will be honest and say there are times when I don't say exactly what I think and there have been times when I have been very glad that people have misunderstood what I was saying because what I was actually trying to say was not good or perhaps just foolish.
The Babel fish by translating exactly what people are trying to say would mean that we would hear and understand the best of what our fellow human beings are saying but we would also hear the worst.
The Tower of Babel story is about how God gave us separate
languages because we were trying to make a great name for
ourselves. Instead of receiving and caring for creation as a gift
from God we were seeking to do the very thing that Adam and Eve did
in the Garden of Eden to be like God, to make ourselves great. This
is what the Bible calls pride. Pride is not taking pride in the
achievements of our work or craft or our children, spouse or
family. Pride is believing that we are better than others. It is
believing that we should have special privileges because of our
knowledge, our wealth, our skill or our position. As Psalm 10:4
puts it "Psalm 10:4 (NLT)
4 The wicked are too proud to seek God.
They seem to think that God is dead.
That is what is happening with the tower of Babel. "Let us make a name for ourselves." God recognises their pride and that "this is only the beginning of what will do", and so scatters them. This division of people by race and language is a result of sin. It is not that any race or language is better or worse or that there are not magnificent things in every culture, but the underlying division between them is as a result of sin, just as the underlying division in the relationship between us and God is also the result of sin.
The story of Acts 2 of the first Pentecost Sunday is a reversal
of the story of the tower of Babel. It is a story of people being
gathered together from the corners of the world. It is a story of
the division of language being broken down so that everyone hears
the same message from the same people in their own language, the
language of their heart. Those building the tower were scattered to
the four corners of the earth and their languages were confused.
Those who hear Peter and the disciples preach are gathered from the
four corners of the earth and they hear together without confusion
What makes this a real reversal of Babel is that what gathers those people together on this morning is not the wonderful works of human beings, the wonderful work of a great tower, or the wonderful work of creating a new organization, what brings them together are the wonderful works of God. "In our own languages we them speaking about God's deeds of power"! the crowd says. Moreover, what brings them together is not their pride, them making a name for themselves it is the Name of Jesus who brings them together. And so our Acts reading for today concludes "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."
Babel has been reversed the scattered have been gathered, the confused have heard of the wonderful works of God with one voice and with one tongue and they have been brought together not because of their own power or special achievement, but in the Name of the Lord, the name of Jesus.
And this message, this pouring out of the Spirit on that first
Pentecost Sunday is not just for the 100 or so disciples, men and
women gathered in the upper room, it isn't even just for that crowd
gathered together 2000 years ago, it is for all people including
Acts 2:17-18 (NLT)
17 'In the last days,' God says,
'I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants-men and women alike-
and they will prophesy.
All people have this gift of the Spirit, the power from on high, the Advocate , the Spirit of truth from the Father who takes us into the relationship between the Father and the Son. We have the Spirit, we have seen the Son and so we have seen the Father. We are not orphaned, we are not by ourselves, we are no longer alienated from God and each other. We are one great fellowship of love and this is true for us and ultimately it will be true for all Creation which groans for the Children of God to be revealed so that it may be freed from its bondage and "obtain the freedom of the glory of the Children of God." (As Romans 8 reminds us.)
This story in Acts 2 is the beginning of this new creation. It is the reversal not only of the divisions of the tower of Babel, it is the reversal of the broken relationships that began with Adam and Eve who in their pride rebelled against God. It is the reversal the division between of Cain and Abel and Sarah & Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Mary and Martha. To quote Colossians 3:11 This day, Pentecost, marks the beginning of the renewal of all things the in which "there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!" (Col 3:11)
This is the very heart of our faith. Essentially we are in the
unity and reconciliation business. We have been separated from God
and each other, but Jesus through his, life, teaching, friendship,
ministry, death and resurrection has reconciled us to God and to
each other. In the last week I have been reading Reconnected: A
Community Builder's Handbook by Andrew Leigh, Nick Terrell. As I
type this I am only up to chapter three. The first two chapters are
about how Australia and other Western countries are becoming less
and less community minded and more and more individualistic.
Involvement in all kinds of community, political, religious, and
community life are declining, as is trust, and volunteering. On
average people also have fewer close friends and much less contact
with neighbours. As people in the unity and reconciliation business
we should be concerned about this not just because it means the
church is in danger of fragmenting but because the community is
too. It is an attack on not only the church but on the world God
As Chistians we believe that this is not the ultimate truth or destiny of the church or the world. We believe that in Jesus and through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit all people are reconciled to God and each other and all people are being reconciled to God and each other. This current fragmentation is not the final end. Our call is to live out that truth, to quite literally love our neighbours and make community connections through the church and in our family and community life.
We have the same Spirit and we are called to the same thing that Peter and the disciples of the upper room were called to do. We are called to proclaim the wonderful works of God. We are called to announce the Name of Jesus by which everyone can be saved. We are part of the same story of the reversal of the tower of Babel, the beginning of the unity of all people and all peoples by the Spirit. We are the fellowship of reconciliation, not only for ourselves but for all the world.
This is our purpose! This is what it means to be salt and light for the world. This is what it means to shine God's light from the hillside into our community. If we are faithful to the Spirit's call it may be that some will say we are crazy, that we are drunk, but others will be amazed and look beyond us to see the Lord.
At the 2019 Synod meeting the Norman and Mary Millar lecturer Professor Anne Tiernan from a purely secular point of view spoke about how the division and polarisation of our nation and the world could be reversed. I quote, "I want to suggest that creating a strong, healthier, more vibrant, inclusive and fair Queensland (and Australia) is a shared task," said Professor Tiernan. "I strongly believe that we-the Churches, universities and other civic and public purpose organisations-have the capacity and potential to do what modern politics cannot." End of quote.
I believe she is right! We could do that even in our own strength. But even more wonderfully we have the Spirit of the Living God, we have God's love poured into our hearts, we have the Advocate and Witness drawing us into the relationship between Jesus and the Father, the one who made all things and who is making all things new. If we recognise this and are faithful in our witness, how much more can God do with what we bring.
God will bring this new creation, with or without us, but it is God's desire that like Peter and the women and men of the upper room, like the woman at the Well and like Andrew who brought the Greeks to see Jesus and the boy to share his bread and fish for the multitude we should be a part of the story. The story which ends with the nations gathered from the East and the West from the North and the South, with God dwelling among us, where there will be no more morning and crying and every tear will be wiped away and we will be united in one great fellowship of love.