(Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, 25-27)
Psalm 104:29-30 reminds us that when God hides his face from us, we are dismayed. But when God sends forth his Spirit, we are created; the face of the ground is renewed. The Genesis and Acts reading for today, Pentecost Sunday, illustrate the truth of this statement. The Tower of Babel story from Genesis illustrates our disconnection from God and the consequences of that disconnection, while the story of the arrival of the Holy Spirit illustrates our connection to God and the consequences of that connection.
The Tower of Babel story begins by stating that the whole world had one language (Gn 11:1). Humans had settled in Shinar, which was the name for the southern region of Mesopotamia. They had become disconnected from God. Instead of discerning the direction of their lives by connecting to the Spirit of God, they had begun to rely only on themselves. Relying only on their own vision for their future, they decided to build a city, with a tower reaching to the heavens, so that they could make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the face of the earth. Instead of relying on God for their “daily bread,” they decided to rely on their own ingenuity and industry, and they began to build what we now know as the Tower of Babel.
What we see happening here is the beginning of humans becoming disconnected from God due to insecurity, fear, and anxiety about the future. This insecurity, fear, and anxiety led them to build a city with a tower in the center that would represent their accomplishment. They didn’t want to be “scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But, if they were scattered over the face of the whole earth, they would be using the resources of the earth provided by God in a sustainable manner. Just like non-human creatures migrate in order to naturally receive what they need to survive in terms of food, water, and shelter, humans used to do the same. Rather than having permanent settlements, they migrated with the seasons and thus didn’t overuse or misuse natural resources. Permanent settlements usually lead to the overuse or misuse of natural resources. An example of this is what we see today with industrial farming (and other things in modern life).
The Tower of Babel story is an illustration of what happens when humans don’t rely on God to lead us to fulfill our need for food, water, shelter, clothing, and community and, instead, rely on ourselves. We disconnect from God, which leads to the sin of pride, and the other seven deadly sins follow: gluttony, lust, greed, envy, wrath, and sloth. Had the humans in Shinar turned to God when they felt insecure, fearful, and anxious about the future, God would not have needed to “confuse their language” – in other words, make them speak many languages and thus not be able to communicate effectively – and scatter them over the face of the earth (7-8). Instead, God would have led them in whatever ways were necessary in order for them to have their needs fulfilled.
Let us remember that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:19-21). And, “[D]o not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. . . . Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they” (Mt 6:25-26)? And, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray for our “daily bread,” not our weekly bread, or our monthly bread, or our yearly bread (Mt. 6:11).
God confused the language of humans and scattered them over the face of the earth, but God also provided a way for us to connect to him and each other again. God did so first through Jesus, and then, after Jesus had ascended, through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples gathered for prayer and worship. The story of the arrival of the Holy Spirit makes this abundantly clear. The Holy Spirit arrives with a sound like the rush of a violent wind that fills the entire house where the disciples are sitting, and tongues of fire rest on each disciple (Acts 2:2-3). They are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages as the Spirit gives them ability (4). A crowd hears what is going on and gathers (6). Each person in the crowd hears the disciples speaking the native language of each (6, 8). All of the sudden, at Pentecost, the language confused in the Tower of Babel story is no longer confused, and everyone can understand what everyone is saying about God’s deeds of power. So, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disconnection from God that humans had fallen into – which led to disconnection from each other – was transformed into connection to God – and thus to each other. Pentecost reversed what had happened with the Tower of Babel.
When we feel insecure, afraid, and anxious, let us remember to remain connected to God and turn to him for guidance rather than relying on ourselves. When we turn to God and are open, the Holy Spirit will inspire and guide us in ways that are in alignment with God’s will for us and our world. We can do this as individuals and as a church. Remaining connected to God enables us to be connected to others. It also enables us to interact with God’s creation in ways that are respectful and sustainable. It enables us to be faithful stewards of the glorious home God has given us on earth. Lest we think that non-human creation is not important, Psalm 104 reminds us it is, when it sings, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (24). So, let us praise and thank our God for the glorious earth that sustains us with food, water, air, shelter, and clothing, and let us thank our God for his Holy Spirit, which inspires and guides us into the future God desires for us. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, June 5, 2022, Pentecost Sunday.
*Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay.