Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost - Confusion to Clarification

I took this mornings Pentecost service at out 8.00am service and this is the sermon from then.

This morning’s sermon is focusing on the Bible readings from Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21

Genesis 11:1-9
The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a Or from the east; or in the east] they found a plain in Shinar[b That is, Babylonia] and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c That is, Babylon; Babel sounds like the Hebrew for confused.]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Acts 2:1-21
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a Or languages;] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b That is, the Roman province by that name] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” [a Or languages;]  12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,  I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’[c Joel 2:28-32]

We read this morning from the book of Genesis how God scattered the people of Babylon but in Acts they were coming together. One describes confused languages and scattering while the other looks to renewed understanding and gathering.

It bothers me how the first one plays out. God said, “These folks have it all together – there’s no telling what they’ll do going forward! Let’s make it so they can’t communicate.” They became a scattered people because they lost what held them in common. God didn’t want the people to communicate. The language was confused. The conversations stopped.
Was it because they weren’t ready for the leaps knowledge/technology they would make?
Was it because God thought they would turn evil?
Could it be this is more a Bible story that seeks to explain why there are so many different languages, and puts the blame on God as if God needed folks to have a limited ability to work together?
No. There’s something wrong here.
It doesn’t fit the theme. God creates, we mess up, God redeems, we mess up . . .  In this case, we create, God confuses, we scatter . . .

In today’s Pentecost reading, the Holy Spirit arrives and instead of people being confused and scattered, they start understanding each other. The conversation begins again! A whole long cycle of God creating, us messing up, and God redeeming is on the upswing!

There are times when communication can be very confusing.  Even when we all speak the same language, there are cultural and psychological differences that cause all kinds of problems when we try to share our thoughts with one another.

Communication was not like that before the Tower of Babel.  Everyone spoke the same language.  They could work together as a team - like a finely managed emergency department. A common language made it so that it almost seemed like everyone could read the minds of everyone else.  God Himself said, "Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them."  God was not concerned that they would do something worthwhile and noble because they understood one another so well, but He was concerned that they would use their fertile imaginations to dream up all kinds of evil and then bring those evil things to reality.
In order to slow down the growth of evil in the minds of man, God confused their language. 
Vocabulary and grammar changed.  No one made any sense to anyone else.  The Babel Tower project was thrown into confusion and the people dispersed over the face of the earth. 
Now Mankind could list confusion of language with all the other frustrating curses that our sin has brought into the world.
What was the precise sin that the people did to earn this curse? 
The direct violation of God's law of His command to Noah, [Genesis 9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.]”Fill the earth."  God commanded mankind through His servant Noah to spread out over all the earth and care for it as God's agents.  But the people stayed together and created a city to glorify their own name.

If we look deeper, we can see the same sin that got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden.  Before we reach for the forbidden fruit or start making bricks for the tower - before we commit any sinful thought, word, or deed - we must remove God from His rightful place in our lives. 
When you break any commandment, you must first break the first one, "You shall have no other gods."
We may not think it consciously, but before we can commit any other sin, we must first assume that either God does not know what is best for us or that He does not want what is best for us.  And even move away from Him.
The lie that Satan told to Adam and Eve when he said, "You will be like God." is the same lie that the people told themselves in today's Old Testament lesson when they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." The seduction of sin really doesn't change through the ages.

The first breakdown of communication already happened in Eden.  When God created Adam and Eve, they had a sweet, intimate, loving communication with God who was their dear Father.  Then they sinned and broke our relationship with God.  Our communication with God became a time of fear and trembling.  God was no longer intimate or sweet.  God was far away and something to ignore or even despise.

In today's reading from Acts 2, we receive a glimpse of the reversal of Babel.  The Holy Spirit revealed Himself with an audible roar and the visual appearance of something that looked like flames resting on the heads of the approximately 120 disciples who were waiting obediently in Jerusalem.  On that day, the communication barrier dropped.  The Holy Spirit prepared these disciples to witness to the works of Jesus Christ in every language under heaven.

Because Pentecost was one of the three great feasts that God gave to His Old Testament saints, the city was full of Godly pilgrims from all over the world.  The rumble of the Holy Spirit drew these God-fearing pilgrims to the disciples.  They heard, in their own languages, the mighty works of God. 
6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
In church we gather and talk with what folks call a common language, but too often we speak so exclusively that no one else can understand. I call it “churchy” language
Pentecost – that’s today - is a churchy word. It means 50 days. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter.
“The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways” is a churchy phrase. It means, “I have no idea what is going on.”
“I was convicted to say something”   means “I thought I should say something”
Churchy words are a conversation ender. So are ‘draw a line in the sand’ arguments.
It seems everyone knows the truth and no one is willing to listen to anything that may be different from their version of it. But that is not the message for us today. Today we’ve heard about an amazing event.

The Holy Spirit arrived in dramatic fashion.

Close your eyes and imagine if you will
The wind in the house sounded like a tornado. Fiery tongue-like things appeared and rested on the people gathered there — and then they started speaking in other languages. And then other people who gathered there started hearing words in their native languages. The believers were all gathered in a house — and all of a sudden there was a violent and rushing wind that filled the place where they were. It was intense — thrilling — moving — troubling . . . Strange things seemed to be flying all over the room. It was unsettling! And after the wind came, things would never be the same. Some were excited by the change. Others were angered and just wanted things to get back to normal.
Oh – and folks talked about the experience. They told people what they’d felt, seen, tasted, and heard. They shared stories with one another. They engaged each other in conversation.

On that day, in that place, there was a unity of communication from God to man that had not existed since Eden.

In the sweet, intimate, unity of the divine communication of that day, the disciples did not utter heavenly gibberish, but they proclaimed the divine story of salvation in the native tongues of every person who was there.  They told how Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Messiah.  They spoke of His perfect life, His innocent suffering and death, His resurrection, and His ascension.  They spoke of sin and its forgiveness.  In the perfect communication of that day, they praised God by telling of His mighty works, especially the work of saving us from our sin.

Can we rediscover the life-changing art of conversation?
We can no longer be a people of exclusive “churchy” language. We can no longer be a people who shy away from conversation with folks we disagree with. We can no longer be scattered and apart. We are all in God’s family. We are all people who should be part of the conversation. The conversation with those who don’t know or understand.
Through the perfect communication of that day, the Holy Spirit changed God's church. 
Before Pentecost, God's people looked forward to the day of the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.  We, who live after Pentecost, look to Jesus and believe that He is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God and the saviour of the world. 
On that Pentecost day, the church of the Old Testament became the church of the New Testament through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today's readings are like two bookends in history. 
As a result of the Tower of Babel, God confused the language of the people and dispersed them over the earth. 
On that Pentecost when the Holy Spirit rumbled into Jerusalem and revealed Himself with a fiery appearance, He drew the people together and clarified their languages so they could hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
The Tower of Babel teaches us what happens when we rely on ourselves. 
The fulfilment of Pentecost teaches us about the power of God the Holy Spirit to work faith in our hearts so that we might believe that God the Father has saved us by His grace for the sake of his Son Christ Jesus.

From today's readings, we receive confidence to confess our faith to the people in our lives.  The pilgrims who were drawn by the Holy Spirit's rumbling noted that these preachers were Galileans, common labourers, fishermen, tax collectors, liberation fighters, and so forth – really people just like us today.  The message of Pentecost encourages all of us to confess our faith confidently, for no matter how clumsy our communication is, the Holy Spirit has promised to use it to bring salvation to the people we meet.  Then they too can participate in the rumble and fire of Pentecost.  
John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Let us pray
Come, Holy Spirit. Set our hearts on fire! Let us experience the excitement as we are amazed and astonished as at the first Pentecost
Let us be the people who are willing to start and continue conversations.
Let us be a people who seek to understand more through sharing and listening.
Let us be a people who are part of the Holy Spirit’s world-changing wind.

Sermon Fiona Van Lent 19/5/13
 All scripture is taken from New International Version 1984  

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