Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon -- Pentecost (May 24, 2015)

GENESIS 11:1-9 
In the name + of Jesus. 
     After the Fall into sin and the Flood, the Tower of Babel incident is the most catastrophic event in world history.  It resulted in thousands of languages and dialects, and created division all over the world.  People look upon each other with suspicion and animosity.  If you’ve ever walked by two people having a conversation in a language you do not understand, you know the tension.  You wonder: Are they talking about me?  What are they saying?  Are they plotting to do something to me?  Chances are, they aren’t saying anything about you, but the fact that you don’t know what they are saying makes you view them as a threat.
     The Lord confused the languages at Babel in response to their sinful rebellion.  The people 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.” (Genesis 11:4)  This city and tower were not a snap decision.  They had made extensive plans for a permanent city.  Their goal was to make a great name for themselves.  Their tower would be a monument for their glory and exaltation.  
     And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do.  And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7)  This was merely the beginning of their rejection of the Lord.  If the Lord did not intervene, these people would persist in their sins.  If left unchecked, they would perish forever.
     It is no coincidence that the name of the one who confused the languages of the people is the LORD, that is, Yahweh.  This is God’s covenant name.  It proclaims his love and redemption of sinners.  The Lord was not willing to let these people continue in their sin.  Therefore, he confused their speech.  The suspicion and the tension which resulted from this compelled the people to scatter from each other.  If they could not understand each other, they would not trust each other.  No longer could they unite in their confession of their own greatness.  No longer would they be united in building the monument to their own glory.  The different languages led to a spirit of division, and the various nations were forced to scatter.
     The sins of Babel still exist today.  We still desire to exalt ourselves.  We still want to make a name for ourselves.  We want to know that we matter and that we made a difference.  We want people to sing our praises.  Eulogies are devoted to that.  But the world remembers precious few people.  Many will go to cemeteries this weekend to remember soldier who died in the line of duty.  If you read the monuments, you will know names, dates, and perhaps the branch of service.  But you will forget that person in only a few steps away from the grave marker.  Every grave marker is not a monument to someone's greatness.  It is a monument to our mortality.  We will all die; for we are all sinners.  No matter how much we might try to make a name for ourselves, we do not endure.  Whatever glory we have does not last either.  We have no reason to boast of our greatness.  Rather, our voices should be devoted to a confession of our sins.  Repent.
     Because our sins have been many and great, we have given God good reason not to love us.  Still, the Lord does not merely reveal to us that we are sinners.  He reveals his mercy and salvation to us.  The Lord has sent his Holy Spirit so that we can know and believe that God loves us.  The Holy Spirit reveals that love by showing us Jesus Christ who came to deliver us from our sins.  Jesus has removed the curse of sin from us.  Jesus humbly and silently went to the cross to die for boastful sinners.  Jesus did not exalt himself before his enemies, but quietly accepted the charges of every sin against him.  That is why he died—for every sin.  Yet, at the end of his sufferings, Jesus raised his voice to declare, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  The curse has been taken away.  The sacrifice is complete.  You are forgiven.  You are loved by God.
     Since God so loved the world, Jesus commissioned his apostles to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel.  On the day of Pentecost, however, many people from around the world came to them.  Jews from nations all over the Roman Empire gathered together for the feast at Jerusalem.  When these people were there, a mere 50 days after Jesus had risen from the grave, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles so that they could proclaim the Gospel to all of these people in their native languages.
     The Lord gave the apostles a voice to proclaim the Gospel.  In this way, the Lord reversed the curse at Babel.  Back then, the Lord confused the languages to drive the people apart.  On the day of Pentecost, the Lord enabled the apostles to speak in the many and varied languages in order to gather people together into the kingdom of God.  He did not completely reverse the curse so that all the world now speaks with the same language and vocabulary.  Instead, he chose to keep the variety of languages and dialects and cultures.  Instead of condensing the many languages into one, the Lord honored all of them by giving them something of value to say.  The Lord gives us a voice to proclaim the Gospel.
     The crowds observed: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11)  As the Spirit enabled them, the apostles proclaimed God's love for the world—proven by Jesus Christ who paid for the sins of the world.  This is why you do not need to go out and make a great name for yourself.  You have been baptized into the name of the Triune God.  You bear the name of Jesus Christ.  You are children of the Most High God.  There is no greater name you could have.  Nor do you need to fret about making a mark by which the world will remember you forever.  You have been made children of the resurrection.  Even if the whole world forgets you, the Lord does not forget his children.  He will raise you up and give you life everlasting.  In the meantime, the Lord calls you to serve in the various vocations he has given you.  You have not been given the charge to change the world.  You are called to love and honor your spouse, to care for and discipline your children, to be an honest and honorable employee,  to be a law-abiding citizen, and to be a compassionate friend.
     What's more, the Lord has given you something valuable to say.  The Lord gives you a voice to proclaim the Gospel.  You get to confess what God has done for you and for all mankind.  You get to declare the mighty works of God—that is, that God has proven his love for mankind by sending Jesus Christ who suffered and died to take away our sins and who rose from the grave to guarantee our resurrection to eternal life.  This confession does, indeed, change the world because it saves the people in it.  It delivers us from trying to make a name for ourselves, usually at the expense of others, and has us honor the name of Jesus by serving our fellow man in his needs.
     The Lord has been pleased to have us raise our voices to proclaim the Gospel so that people can be united once again—united in the kingdom of God for the praise of his name.  Though the Church still speaks with many languages, we all confess the same Savior and rejoice in the same salvation.  And the curse of Babel will find its perfect reversal at last in the kingdom of heaven.  There, St. John looked, and behold, (he) saw a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, and from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)  In Christ, we are one people and one Church, united in one voice and one confession, praising one Savior-God.  The Lord has given us this one voice to proclaim the Gospel which continues to gather into God's kingdom the people from this fractured world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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