Jun 9, 2019 – You can’t climb a tower to reach heaven’s Grace
I got a new app on my phone. It’s a universal language translator – it’s great because now I never have to make an effort to understand or be understood by anyone else. It’s all done for me by this gadget. I’ll never again have problems with communication. It takes care of how to make my words and thoughts clear to everyone else.
That being said I’m going to turn it on now so that you’ll perfectly understand everything that I say and every nuance of meaning that I intend. Trying to make myself understood is no longer my problem – it’s up to this device to make you understand. In fact, this’ll make it so that all that I say and speak will make all the difference in your life. This device makes my speaking the best that ever was or ever will be spoken. I’ll be able to do anything I want just by using this to speak to others. I’ll get what I want, how I want it and when I want it… you think?
You’ve got to be asking yourself, does he really believe this? Does he really think that toy thing can make him into the best speaker in the world? What a load of… tripe. What a foolish idea. He’s so full of himself with that thing. What arrogance, what pride.
Aaand there it is! We’ve finally come to it. Arrogance and pride. My arrogance and pride.
What is that? What is arrogance and pride? And what does it have to do with us here today?
Well, our pride and arrogance, is just that, it us wanting to be self-sufficient and proud of who we are in ourselves. It’s us wanting to be in the place only God should be in our lives. Today that’s revealed in the Old Testament lesson – that pride and arrogance is what God showed us at Babel.
Babel was us being proud and arrogant, not humble and receptive. It’s us standing before heaven shaking our tightly-closed fists in the face of God, rather than standing, or better yet kneeling, in quietness and reverence with our palms opened and receptive. Such a humble posture before the God of heaven is different than trying to climb up to heaven and take from Him what belongs only to Him. That’s what Babel was about. That’s us trying to put ourselves in the place of God.
It’s one thing to receive humbly and with thanks, what God offers / and it’s a different thing to try and take it away from God. The tower was man’s arrogant and prideful attempt to reach into heaven by ourselves and on our own. But we as Christians, as we live on earth, we receive what God offers to us by the blood of Jesus from the cross and through His promise of the Holy Spirit. He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to unite us, which is the opposite of what happened at Babel.
Actually, what God did at Babel is a merciful thing. It helps us to confront our need for the gospel; of our need for a savoir, a savior who in fact brings us to heaven with Him, out of His love for us! (X2)What happened at Babel can be seen as the reverse of what happened at Pentecost in today’s New Testament reading. The pride we displayed at Babel is the root of our human faults and failures. Pride is the bottom-line reason we can’t communicate well, and we struggle to understand one another. Our arrogance is why something like a fictional universal translator toy seems so attractive.
Like all of God’s law, the purpose of confusing our speech at Babel is to make us see our need for our Savior and His cross. We are prideful and willful, and we want to make a name for ourselves. Look at verse 4, of the Old Testament reading today. Read that verse with me out loud. “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 and not be scattered over the whole earth.”
To make a name for ourselves means that we want to be in charge and answer to no one else. The power of a name, the power to name something is an enormous thing. The name that something or someone has is its signifier. The name helps to define and understand the thing or person.
Do you remember what Adam’s first job was in the Garden of Eden? It was to name the creatures as God brought them all before him. To give something its name is to define it. You’re in control when you put a name to something or someone. That’s why when we name our children it’s a serious thing. We instinctively know that. We know that whatever name, whatever signifier, we give our child will have an impact on their future.
The classic example of that in our culture is the old Johnny Cash song, a boy named Sue. That song, in a fun way, makes the very serious point we’re talking about. Remember the line in the song, “So I give ya that name and I said goodbye; I knew you’d have to get tough or die; And it’s that name that helped to make you strong.” The name, the dad knew, would define how that boy grew up. And Sue knew it too, the last line in the song goes; “And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him… Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!”
The point for us is what the people said when they were deciding to build the tower; let us make a name / for / our / selves. We were so proud that we wanted to claim the power to make our own name by our own effort and strength. We wanted to possess the power of God. So, we decided to make a tower so large that we would make to heaven on our own.
However, God, it turns out, is rather clever. Rather than attack the tower, which was just the symptom of our pride, God took away the common language that gave us the ability to join together to build it. He took away our common speech, the source of our arrogant power. Speech is what we use to name things and speech is what we were using to confront God with. The tower was a symptom of our lust for God’s power and for His rightful place in our lives. To have a common language is to have a common power.
God knew this, since speech was His idea in the first place. Look what He says in verse 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.”
Language, speech, is power, true power. And to be able to speak a common language is to have power in common. That’s also what makes Pentecost so important. The languages expressed at Pentecost weren’t changed into one language, but Pentecost is what gave the power of speech to the one unifying message of God … the gospel.
Our one language at Pentecost became, not a common tongue but a common message. Pentecost shows us that what’s important is the language God the Holy Spirit gives us in the message of the gospel. The unifying message, the common thing we have to speak about now, is only to be found through the Holy Spirit as He was given on Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit was promised to us by Jesus in today’s gospel lesson before He went to the cross to die for the sin of the world. He went there to die for all our sin, including our pride and arrogance that caused God to confuse our language at Babel. Jesus in verse 26 of the lesson, promised to send to us the Holy Spirit who truly would make clear all things that Jesus taught. We ARE not self-made nor are we self-sufficient. We were created by God… to need God.
At Babel we tried to replace God with ourselves. We did so because we are full of pride. Our giving in to Satan’s temptation and bringing sin into God’s creation was because we wanted to be like God! We wanted the pride of God to be ours instead. And God, our creator God, in His mercy showed us just how dependent we are on Him. By confusing our language, we were shown that He alone has all power, even the power of speech.
Without the power of speech, we’re alone and lost. We can’t even speak to God or hear from Him without His gift of speech. Jesus died on the cross to make it possible for God to again speak with us. Our sin, pride, and arrogance had cut Him off from us. In sin, we silenced Him in our lives: and so, left ourselves in deathly silence.
But through His promise and through the work of Jesus, on the cross and by His resurrection, God restored us to ‘speaking terms’ with Him again. And beyond that, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to guide us in our speaking with God. The Holy Spirit lives in us… granted to us in our baptisms and by faith, and He makes us understood to God. He is truly the translator for us when we don’t even know how to make ourselves understood.
All our sin, all our deathly silence, all our inability to communicate with God are resolved… in /Christ’s /cross. On Pentecost we were given the ‘common tongue’ the common language of the Holy Spirit. And there are times when we can’t even understand how to use Him in our own minds. We must humbly rely on the Spirit to speak for us and in us. Sometimes when we’re confused or at a loss to understand our circumstances, we simply must rely on the language that is the Holy Spirit living within us.
We’re reminded of that in Romans 8 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
What Jesus did on the cross is too deep, in many ways, for my mind and heart to understand. I can only sigh in the Spirit in the face of such an act of love that brings heaven to me. I’m left truly speechless before the cross. Only the Holy Spirit can create faith in me and so direct my thoughts, my heart and my mind to receive such a wonderful gift. This faith, my faith, receives the gift of the redemption of my soul from the silence of hell. Jesus has overcome the sin, arrogance, and pride that are in my nature and bring me back to a ‘speaking relationship’ with God.
God promised, throughout His holy written word, through His power of speech, that He would do this. And in Jesus’ death and resurrection God’s word, His promised word, is fulfilled. What He speaks happens. We can only speak back what He has first given us and poured into us by the Holy Spirit to speak. That is truly His gift of peace and joy for us. God comes to us in His word and in His sacraments and He gives us the words we need. He gives us the power of language to speak; to speak His unifying message of the gospel to others. And His message is that we don’t need to build a tower to heaven to grab God’s grace from Him. In Christ coming to us, His grace is His gift, to you.
In Jesus name, amen!
Sermon #1031 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Genesis 11:1-9
11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar 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—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Second Reading Acts 2:1-21
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 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, 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!” 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.”
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.’”
Holy Gospel John 14:23-31
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 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. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.