Acts 2:1-12, Genesis 11:1-9; A New Humanity (5-24-15)
The God of Creation gave humans a divine vocation:
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…”
God wanted humans to scatter across the world and become faithful stewards of the animals, land, waters, and the entire planet.
In Genesis 11, we observe REBELLIOUS HUMANS doing the exact opposite. 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; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad on the face of the earth.”
This is the great sin of humanity: they resisted God’s instructions.
This story reveals the truth about human nature:
they were self-seeking; they were secular; they were proud.
Humanity is self-seeking: they joined forces to build a comfort zone for themselves.
They refused to follow God’s vocation for them—they refused to scatter throughout the world.
Instead, they gathered together to make bricks and build a city.
Humanity is secular: they joined forces to build a humanity without God.
Their blueprints aimed at building a tower into the heavens.
This is a not so veiled attempt to replace the God of creation with themselves as the god of their own creation.
Humanity is proud: their proud boasting is revealed in their words—“Let us build ourselves a city…”
“Let us make a name for ourselves…”
Saint Augustine described this sinful attitude in the book he wrote: The City of God.
These people were building the “City of Man.”
These people were proud, secular, and self-serving.
They were living as if God was dead.
There were trying to take God’s place.
They were in rebellion against the God of creation.
This explains why God interrupted their plans and confused their language.
God wanted a relationship with the human race.
God perceived the deeper sin: humanity was trying to build a world that excluded God, that glorified humanity, and rebelled against God’s divine vocation.
This is why God said: “Look, they are one people and they have one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them…”
In other words, these rebellious people will be successful in building the City of Man.
They will achieve a world without God.
They will become their own gods.
The will worship themselves.
They will build a world where there is no relationship with God.
Sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it? This is relevant to today.
God was afraid for humans.
For if they succeeded in their building plan, they would fulfill the prophetic words of Jesus: they would “gain the whole world and lose their souls.”
God intervened for the good of humanity.
This intervention was a reflection of God’s love for humans.
God wanted to establish his divine vocation for humans—God knew what was best for humanity.
God wanted to develop positive relationships with humans.
God acted: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
This strategy was God’s attempt to rescue humans from themselves.
God confused their language so that humans could no longer build the City of Man.
The plan worked.
The people could not understand each other.
They stopped building the City of Man.
And they did what God wanted them to do in the first place.
“So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the earth.” (Genesis 11:8)
The city was given a new name: Babel.
“Because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the earth.”
Now we move across the entire Old Testament to the Book of Acts, chapter 2.
PENTECOST REVERSED THE STORY OF BABEL.
Acts 2 reveals some details of this earth-changing miracle.
The Christians were all together in one place.
divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,
And a tongue appeared 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.
Devout Jews from every nation under heaven were present in Jerusalem.
Each one heard them speaking in their native language.
They asked: ‘Are not these who are speaking Galilean?
And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language…we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.
Luke provides us a list of the nations of the known world.
Luke is telling us that this miracle was for all of humanity.
The descendants of the people of Babel who had been scattered in Genesis 11 have now returned to Jerusalem and hear the praise of the God of creation.
Peter tells them about this divine miracle: God has brought the world together to re-establish God’s divine vocation.
God has opened the doors for humans from every nation to enter into a sacred relationship with their Creator God.
The Christian Pentecost is a reversal of the Babel story.
God allows the miracle of a new language to call humans to a new humanity.
God is inviting the world to stop building the City of Man.
God is inviting us to join God and build the City of God.
God’s City is a divine reality.
God’s City is where God lives in perfect relationship with humans.
God’s City is where we accept our divine vocation.
God’s City is where we be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.
God’s City is where we stop being proud.
God’s City is where we stop building a secular world, void of God.
God’s City is where we stop living a self-serving life.
These Christians who experienced the miracle of Pentecost gathered together to become a new humanity—the Church of Jesus Christ.
This is the birthday of the Church: we must remember that this new humanity started as a world-wide movement of God.
God called the Church to reverse the tragedy of Babel.
God is miraculously helping the church to overcome language barriers, to overcome cultural barriers, to overcome personal barriers, and to become one unified Church in radical relationship to Him.
In our 2000 years, the Church has only modest success.
Sometimes we fail and spend all our efforts trying to build the City of Man.
We strap on our Rosetta Stone language tutors and try to “do” Church in our own strength.
Too often, this results in tragic results—we don’t succeed because we cannot listen and understand each other’s languages.
On the other hand, there are times when the Pentecost miracle appears suddenly, unexpectedly, and gloriously.
God is permitted to be our God in our midst.
We submit to God’s rule over us, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, empowered by God’s Spirit we truly listen to each other and begin to understand, this new found unity helps us build the City of God.
Like the early Christians of that first Pentecost, we just stand back “amazed and astonished.”
Several years ago, I was visiting the Holy Land with a bus load of pilgrims from Virginia and North Carolina.
It was a wonderful tour of all the holy sites—places where Jesus walked.
On the last day of the tour, we were visiting the Garden tomb in Jerusalem.
This is a beautiful garden owned by the Anglican Church.
This site replicates what the tomb of Jesus might have looked like in the time of Jesus.
It is a quiet garden with multiple places for group devotions and spiritual reflection.
Visitors are given a brief tour of the site and then allowed to worship and celebrate Holy Communion.
After each group finishes their worship time, they are invited to visit the empty tomb as a way of remembering the resurrection of Jesus.
Our group got in line.
There were 2 bus loads of tourists in front of us and another bus load behind us in line.
Each pilgrim had a chance to go into the empty tomb, take pictures, pray and reflect on Jesus.
The wait got a little long.
One tour guide took his group down the exit stairway and lined up like they were going into the tomb in front of us!
I thought to myself: “Oh no you don’t. No cutting!”
The tension mounted as the group continued to stand in this second queue line.
I kept my eye on them!
The wait grew longer and so did the tension.
The miracle of Pentecost broke into our experience.
Several folks in front of us started singing a resurrection hymn.
Soon the whole crowd was singing:
“Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia.”
That broke the tension.
Another hymn was sung.
Over 100 voices sang in 4-part harmony praise to Jesus.
Then the unexpected happened.
The group of Nigerian pilgrims waiting in line behind us changed from English hymns to Nigerian hymns.
Then the group on the stairs (the ones I thought were trying to cut in line) starting singing in an unknown tongue.
The whole place was filled with joy and praise.
I learned later that they were singing in Indonesian.
The miracle of Pentecost came upon us and we knew we were on holy ground.
The Church became united in God’s Spirit.
My distrust, competition, and self-serving anger melted away.
We were the church as God intended us to be.
We were there in Jerusalem, at the Garden tomb, gathered around the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection.
We were singing the praises of God’s love.
We were united in God’s divine vocation.
We scattered from that experience and took this Holy Spirit to our home churches—literally all over the world.
We became the new humanity—united by God’s power to build the City of God in our home churches.
This miracle need not end with this one isolated event.
It can continue here in our home town—in our local church.
God is calling us to be God’s New Humanity—God’s faithful church.
We have the chance to build God’s church.
We need to overcome our language barriers: practice patience, communication, listening and speaking the language of love.
We need to overcome our pride: not insisting that we are right and all others are wrong.
We need to overcome our secularism: resist the efforts to build a City of Man and focus all our efforts to build God’s City.
We need to overcome our self-serving attitudes and behaviors.
We need to stop building our own city.
We need to stop trying to make a name for ourselves.
We must be open to God and to one another.
We must pray: Come Holy Spirit! Lead us!
The Miracle of Pentecost can happen here!