Sermon for Day of Pentecost Yr C, 30/05/2004
Based on Gen 11:1-9
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
One day a reporter from the Celestial Times came to God and asked, “Have you seen what those people are doing down on the plain of Shinar?”
“Why, no,” God answered. “Why should I be aware of something so far from my home?”
“Well you may want to go take a look at their silly little project. You see, they think that they can build a tower so tall that it will reach up here to your place. And, get this, they are building it out of mud bricks and using pitch for mortar.”
At that God gave forth with a hearty laugh that made the whole house shake, then replied, “Let’s go on down there and see what games these children are playing. It is a long way, but worth it if I can get another laugh like that.”
So God and the reporter made the journey to the plain of Shinar to see the tower. “Now tell me,” God whispered to the reporter so that the humans would not hear, “is this a tall tower by human standards?”
The reporter said with a grin “The tallest they have ever seen. They think that any day now they will arrive on your doorstep. The joke’s on them, eh?”
“Let’s have a little fun,” said God with a playful gleam in the divine eyes. “They want to stay in one place and work together rather than scattering like I said. Let’s see them do it if they all speak different languages.” So God caused the workers to speak different languages. When work began again one worker would greet the others with “Good morning,” and another would respond “Guten morgen” and another “Buenos dios.” That wasn’t so bad, but later when one of the workers would ask for bricks they were likely to get a handful of pitch. Or when they wanted the bucket of pitch they would be tossed a brick—often striking them on the side of the head. Finally everything became so confused that the tower project was abandoned and the people scattered across the earth.
Oh yes, God and the reporter had a good laugh on the long journey back. They say that this is the reason that the place is called Babel, because God turned the peoples’ market research and planning into babble. Perhaps God only showed it up for what it really was all along. 1
The tendency of people to think that they are greater than they really are is stated very well in a Charlie Brown cartoon. In the cartoon Charlie asks Lucy: “When you get big, do you want to be somebody great?” Lucy turns to Charlie, gives him an indignant look, and replies: “That’s an insult!” Charlie, surprised by Lucy’s answer, asks her: “An insult?” And Lucy answers Charlie: “I feel that I’m great already!”
In our first lesson today, we discover that God responds to the people with an act of grace. The people, we are told, all spoke one language. So God intervenes to confuse their language and scattered the people all over the earth. By speaking one language the people could understand each other and depend upon themselves for everything. When God confused their language and scattered them all over the earth; he provided the people with an opportunity to depend on him, to worship and follow him. They could no longer understand each other or depend on themselves for everything—therefore, the confusion of their language was God’s act of grace. Only by the grace of God could they stop working their own way into heaven. And, only by the grace of God could they stop trying to become equal to God.
Today many people still try to build their towers of Babel. They still think they can control themselves, other people, and even the world. They think they will rule forever. They think they are superior to everyone. They think that there are no limits as to what they can accomplish by themselves. Yet, in reality, it is the grace of God through Jesus our Saviour who is in control of all people and also in control of the world. He will rule forever, not us. There are no limits as to what Jesus can accomplish and has accomplished for all of us. Each day Christ gives people the opportunity to stop building their towers of Babel, and start living by his grace. For it is not what we accomplish by ourselves that matters—rather, it is what Christ accomplishes in, with, and through us.
Thank God that the story does not end with the tower of Babel. In the fullness of time, God starts a new building program. This building program is not based on human self-centredness, human pride, human lust for power, or human community. This new building program is based on Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Brother, and Friend. He is the cornerstone, we as God’s people are his living stones and the new house is spiritual, and eternal and cannot be destroyed by any kind of human false security.
Today we celebrate the birth of the Church and the coming of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit has worked in us to turn the Babel experience around. God has given us the language of the Spirit to draw us closer to God. With the wisdom of God’s Spirit, we discover that life is not building our towers but being built up into Jesus Christ. Therefore, let the transient towers of sin and self crumble so that in Christ we can live in a loving, healing, caring community and be made whole with the Holy Spirit’s presence at work within and among us. Amen.
1 Cited from: Michael E. Williams, editor, The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible, Volume One, Genesis (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), pp. 63-64.