Pentecost Sermon, Year C
Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17
Christ Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, VA
June 19, 2019
The great St. Paul, surprising Apostle to the Gentiles, once confessed, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Thanks to the Holy Spirit, his faith and understanding evolved, deepened and grew as he journeyed through life – as it intends to do during all of our lives.
As I turned to the Holy Spirit in prayer this week, I asked for help with today’s message. That’s always a good place to begin, and after some time, this particular passage came to my mind and just wouldn’t go away. It just seemed so appropriate in light of our reading on the Tower of Babel, as well as our having nine of our youth recognized as adults though the ritual of confirmation, and one adult choosing to affirm their faith this day as well. You’ve probably heard it before at a wedding or other community focused worship event, as Paul seeks to address the importance of the faith, hope and love we all share as Christians.
As I said, this quote came to my mind as I reflected on the Tower of Babel. I was fascinated by this story as a child with its dynamic images of a tall tower reaching towards heaven. I thought it was so cool. And then, we get to hear of punishment…or at least, that what it sounded like to me. In my juvenile mind, I saw the tower come crashing down in God’s anger with fire and brimstone or perhaps a mighty wind – much like I might have torn down my Lego towers while playing. I pictured this destruction even though scripture tells us no such thing. Scripture reveals that the tower survived unfinished, and the people were only scattered throughout the earth, never destroyed or abandoned. This was just as God intended when Adam and Eve were told to go forth and multiply and inhabit all the earth. The people of Babel would spread over time with new languages and eventually dynamic, beautiful new cultures. Each of these cultures conribute to a remarkable tapestry that makes our world a better place and helps glorify God. My childhood brain could certainly understand consequences for wrong behavior…but the wideness of grace and mercy? Apparently, I wasn’t quite ready to understand that.
This sacred story often shared even in preschools is at its depths no kid’s story. It is a mythic tale, and by that I don’t mean false, but a teaching story rooted in the past and revealing ultimate truths about ancient peoples, ourselves, and the sacred activity of God woven through it all. If you listened closely, you heard that the people of God, yet once again, have sought to be like God. They are chasing after the power, wealth and glory of this world and losing touch with who they were meant to become in the process. Much like Adam and Eve, they’ve reached for that unattainable fruit, and now, they face separation from God and one another. That’s always the way when we do such things, even today.
Like Adam and Eve, these people were sent out into the world, but just as Adam and Eve wouldn’t leave Eden without God’s grace and a plan for restoration, neither will the people of Babel. Adam and Eve would be provided clothing, protection and family. The people of the tower will receive something even better. God will make eternal good come from bad. Among all these new peoples, one people would be set apart. Remember the “children of Abraham?” Abraham would be given a trust in God that would rush and wind its way down through a very troubled, often sinful family line. This was often a family that fought amongst themselves, who were selfish and lazy, or sometimes meanspirited and lacking faith. They struggled with faith and often sinned. Yet, they spread out into the world and became what we know as the people of Israel. The Jewish people, a small, enslaved and often conquered people, would be used to fulfill promises delivered by the prophets. Through the Jewish people, all nations would become blessed. It was the Jewish people who lead us to Jesus, and some from this people will number among his first followers. Today, our confirmands claim their share in that sacred inheritance.
Yes soon, moments from now, our confirmands will be welcomed as adults in the church. They have been offered a choice to affirm the promises of their baptism…to seek to love Jesus by following his commands. Yet as they have hopefully learned (and all we Christians should understand), we can topple as easy as the people on that tower of Babel. We are they, and they are us…flawed, sinful, never able to be perfect on our own…people. We are just people. And so as we set off in the world with good intentions, Jesus offers us hope, help and a way forward. An Advocate was sent to live with us and in us. It came to us through the promises of our Baptism whether we feel it or not; understand it or not. For, it is God’s promise to us!
Now, as a child (even into my young adult years), I understood this wrongly. Yes, people promise (or have sponsors promise on their behalf when too young to do so themselves) to seek to follow Christ. Publicly proclaiming and affirming our faith is a great and appropriate thing to do each and every day, but if we are honest, we know our promises will break now and again. Fortunately, baptism is not ultimately about us. It is more about God’s reaching out to us. And so daily through our lives, the Holy Spirit…the One who came upon us at our baptism…who claimed us as God’s own at our baptism…who set us apart to bless nations…that very same Spirit will seek to affirm and fulfill a godly, perfect promise again, and again and again…even when we goof up… even when we don’t deserve it. With that Spirit’s first coming to dwell in the hearts of the Apostles, we were given a sign to help us believe. Recall, “All of [the disciples] were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:4).” What had seemed a curse for the people of Babel had now become blessing in the hands of our God…a gift meant to unify and call people of all nations home. They would be called through the voices of ordinary people.
Yes, it is true that through the ages we have inherited a sometimes fractured, imperfect faith skewed by human sin, but the Spirit makes even faith much smaller than a mustard seed “count,” or in other words have a powerful affect. Faith can impact us and transform our life. Our shared faith has made it to us through torture and persecution, corrupt church government and fallen preachers, and even our ancestors (sinner-saints all; people just like us). it couldn’t be stopped. It has come to rest upon us all these centuries later…lives inside us. Yet while the Spirit invites us to faith, it never forces. It challenges us each day to say publicly we believe (and also live like it too). God’s deep desire is to have all nations and peoples praise him in those many languages. And today on Pentecost, we are reminded that we have been chosen to become part of God’s story, the one who spoke us into being with a purpose.
When I was seeking to become a police officer, I had to take a complete physical exam testing both mind and body. I was younger back then, and I had no glasses. As I went through the eye test looking through a scope to read those small, random, letters in a line, they grew smaller and smaller. “What do you see know?” the technician asked over and over and over again. As it went on and on, I became confident that I had failed the test, and I finaly gave up. I was defeated, and I assumed my dreams were dashed. And so, I finally admitted that I could no longer make any letters out. It was only then the technician laughed and said, “No worries. You have excellent vission. I was just seeing how far we could go.” I share this story with you, because I had already passed the test without even knowing it.
As you, our confirmation candidates, come to profess your faith publicly today, you might not see clearly where your future lies. You might not fully understand how God intends to use you or has been using you already. You might even fear you are not up to the test before you or have doubts or struggle with even the idea of faith…so might we all admit such things at times if we are adult about it…but fortunately that’s not the key to this day or any of our days with Jesus. Jesus has passed the test for us. We need not worry, only believe.
Yes, we are already declared acceptable to God and deeply loved through this gift of our faith and baptism. As the head of our Synod’s Youth Council rightly proclaimed yesterday before the assembled “wiser” adults, youth are not the future of the church, they are already the church – now and into the future. With the Spirit’s presence in your lives (in all of our lives), I trust that even greater things are yet to come just as Jesus promised. I urge you to seek out the Spirit, and try to hold onto it. For when you have faith, you are in for one amazing ride. Amen.