St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
June 9, 2019
The Reverend Rick Veit
How has God disrupted or comforted you in life?
Today we celebrate the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day. As so much of our practice as Christians, the concept was originally started within Judaism. The word for “Pentecost” was used by Diaspora Jews, the ones who had been scattered from their homeland, exiled by brutal empires. It was a day-long harvest festival more commonly known as the “Feast of Weeks,” or Shavuot, scheduled fifty days following the Passover. The giving of the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible, occurred about fifty days after Passover (Ex. 19:1) as an act of covenant renewal, mediated through Moses. It would signify Israel’s future with God. According to one historian (Wikipedia), Christians posit that a new dispensation has dawned when the Holy Spirit through the Messiah mediates a new covenant, a new relationship, with repentant Israel and with all people. The day when the Holy Spirit comes in this special way occurs on the fiftieth day of the resurrection of Jesus our Savior, or seven Sundays following Easter day.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
We learned in both the Original and the New Testaments today of God causing a disturbance with regards to language. Language is one of the places that can connect people, either in positive or negative ways. It can help draw a community of people together or separate them.
During the Reformation in the 16th century A.D., one of the protests was that people wanted the liturgy and the Bible in their own language. The common language at the time was Latin, which was really only for those who were well educated. Martin Luther believed that if people knew the language of God’s Word, they would have better access to God. They would not just have to rely on priests and bishops who had, at times, gone astray. They were in many ways saturated with sin, focusing on themselves, keeping the power within the church rather than in the hands of the people. This would soon change. It eventually led to a Bible translated into German, or the Guttenberg Bible, and the first Book of Common Prayer in English.
Today, we learned in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, how God influenced languages to create an impact in the world. Following the great flood when only one faithful servant and his family were left on earth, along with two of every animal, everyone had a common language. When the flood had subsided, and after the family grew in numbers, they migrated east and came upon a plain in the land of Shinar (Shy-nar), a place that would include the city of Babel or Babylonia. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a great tower, one that would begin on earth and raise up to the heavens.”
Historically, we know that towers in the Babylonian culture, according to their beliefs, provided communication between earthly and heavenly realms. The base was on earth. The top was in the heavens. That is one reason why we have towers in church and faith communities even today, even at St. Mark’s. They give glory to God and they become a pathway to heaven, a “Stairway to Heaven” of sorts. — Haha. Only people alive in the 1970s would understand that one, a song from a great band – Led Zeppelin. But I digress.
The people in Babel, though united in spirit and as a community, were also united in sin. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower… and let us make a name for ourselves;” What is implied here is that this city and this great tower were only meant for their personal fulfillment, their gain – “Let us make a name for, who? For ourselves, not for God. They wanted fame and recognition. They were still afraid of being scattered abroad by God, but they were self-centered instead of inspired by God for His purposes. United in sin, they wanted to be isolated from the rest of the world.
Next, we learn that the LORD came down to conduct a judicial inquiry, to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. A powerful image, though addressing a people that had gone astray, God cares enough to descend to the earth, to “go down” and deeply engage, not just stay up in some ivory tower. Of course, like with any parent, sometimes He is happy with our actions and sometimes He is not.
When God came down, he found a people united in sin. And they were so powerful that, according to the scriptures, nothing they proposed to do would be impossible for them. So, God goes down and decides to confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech. If they cannot communicate, they will not be unified in mission to practice and expand their mission of sin. Sadly, because of the confusion, they became scattered over the face of the earth.
One shining moment though. Despite their sin, in scattering them throughout the world, God’s message of covenant and relationship spread as well. Through the disruption and mixing of languages, God used them to teach people throughout the world of his care and love.
In a similar vein, in the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, fifty days past Easter, the disciples were together, unified in one place, though frustrated and afraid. Their Savior had died. They felt abandoned. Things were not going well, probably some fighting and quarreling amongst themselves as they tried to organize the movement of the Way, what eventually was called Christianity. And through this violent wind sound, (something we know well in Wyoming), divided tongues appeared among them, and different languages rested on each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in those other languages. Confusion ensued. Bewilderment, amazement, even astonishment occurred amongst them. Some people thought that they were drunk. Not drunk though, but filled with the Spirit. God caused confusion, yet again, just like in Babel, to bring his message to the world. By giving them multiple tongues and languages, they were able to spread the message of the Gospel, the good news of hope and love and joy, as is God’s vision for us at St. Mark’s Church – A Growing Community of Love, Joy, and Hope. Through struggle in life, in the darkness, God brings a great light. God takes our sin and turns it around, impacting us and the rest of the world with goodness and love. And, as Peter reminded us in his preaching, in the midst of struggle, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
So what does this have to do with us today? First, be aware that God tinkers with the world and with our lives sometimes in order to deliver his message of love and compassion to us and to the world. A common phrase, originally coined in 1902 to describe the important role that newspapers play in society, was, “God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” In 1987, a preacher, Martin Marty, applied it to the Christian faith, particularly in how God is both merciful and judging. Once again, God will deliver his message to us and to the world through his Holy Spirit, despite our shortfalls, despite our failings, even though we sometimes do not love we when should love, even though we will look on the dark side instead rejoicing in the good of our Lord in the world. Despite the sins of humanity, God will prevail. If we are united in sin and hopelessness, God will cause disruption, sometimes even in our language, so that we can return to what is good, what is of God. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
How is God disrupting your lives? Or, put another way, what disruptions are happening in your lives that God is using to draw you back to the Gospel, to hope?
In me, God has used his Holy Spirit through my personal priest, my therapist, through meditation exercises like breathing. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, and breathe out for eight. Even the kids are doing this in school. God has used my marriage, my parenting, even my job as a priest to comfort and, at times, to disrupt my life.
On this day of Pentecost, may you be filled with the Holy Spirit, and may your lives be filled with comfort and disruption so the message and presence of the Lord may be made known to you and throughout to the world.