Church Sermon Sunday 17th of May
Pentecost Sunday, 31st May 2020
Genesis 11:1-9, The Tower of Babel (GNT)
11 At first, the people of the whole world had only one language and used the same words. 2 As they wandered about in the East, they came to a plain in Babylonia and settled there. 3 They said to one another, “Come on! Let's make bricks and bake them hard.” So they had bricks to build with and tar to hold them together. 4 They said, “Now let's build a city with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth.”
5 Then the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which they had built, 6 and he said, “Now then, these are all one people and they speak one language; this is just the beginning of what they are going to do. Soon they will be able to do anything they want! 7 Let us go down and mix up their language so that they will not understand each other.” 8 So the Lord scattered them all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 The city was called Babylon, because there the Lord mixed up the language of all the people, and from there he scattered them all over the earth.
Acts 2:1-21, The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost (NIV)
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.”
Sermon ‘God’s Spirit filled future’.
This time last year I was part of a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea, working alongside our neighbours from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and from the United States, Spain and France. NATO has two common languages, English and French. And while my Commanding Officer was fluent in both, not everyone was.
This was evident when our Royal Marines were training with some of the Baltic Forces where we experienced communication problems because we didn’t all share the same language.
The early chapters of the book of Genesis contain stories that offer explanations as to the way the world is. And the story of the Tower of Babel gives an explanation as to how a people, who are all descended from the one family, don’t all share the same language.
The Tower of Babel is a favourite reading for Pentecost as it explains the communication problems caused by different languages and contrasts this with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when everyone was given the ability to hear the Gospel preached in their own language.
This Babel story tells of the human family united by common language and common goals. They had two goals – one to build a tall, proud symbol of how great they were and two, to stay located in the one place.
In the building of Babel then we see two great sins exposed. One is the emphasis on their own greatness, maybe even set up to rival God’s greatness. And the second is a refusal to obey God. The Babylonians refusal is in their rejection of the very first commandment given to humanity. We find this in the opening chapter of Genesis at verse 28 where, ‘God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.’ Or as the KJV puts it ‘Be fruitful and multiply’.
Their determination to resist being scattered is a determination to not go out into the world and be fruitful and multiply. They are living in direct contradiction to the will and nature of God who is a missional God.
We have lessons to learn from Babel. God scattered them, he forced them out. Out to make a difference. God wanted them to reach their full stature and they were selling themselves short, not living up to the potential fullness of what humanity can be. God gives them a push - go on, get out there, grow, develop, bless, prosper, reproduce, fill the earth, take charge. Go and be all you can be!
The same is true for us today. When the church hunkers down, pulls up the draw bridge, disengages from mission, then we are no longer fulfilling God’s purpose in us and through us.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples hunkered down in a locked room for fear of the authorities. But he did not leave them there, he rose from the dead, he returned and then he sent his Holy Spirit to empower the church to keep on doing all the great things he had done, and even more.
In his book, The Mission of God's People, Christopher Wright reflects on the gospel imperative to go out into the world and he states, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission.”
We are made for mission; it is in our founding DNA. But we are so tempted to genetically engineer it out! Like the first human family we really do like to be settled. We like our own security. We like our towers and we like our buildings.
I only had one Sunday with you in our Church building and I look forward to being here with you again. My point is not anti-church building, my point is that the church building is not our end goal. Our buildings are places where we meet for worship, where we learn and explore through prayer, teaching and building one another up and they are the place where we are sent from to go out into the world. And without that last part – the sending out part, the sharing the good news part, the going and challenging sin part, the caring for one another and creation part – with all the sacrifice and joy that all this entails, without this sending and going part, we – are no better than the inhabitants of Babel, because we are not being fruitful, we are not multiplying – we are then falling short.
Motivational speakers do not tire of telling us that in the Chinese language, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters, one representing ‘danger’ and the other ‘opportunity’.
I do not claim that the corona virus is sent from God, but this virus presents us with both real danger and real opportunity.
The danger is we just hunker down. But that is to sell ourselves short.
The same missionary spirit poured out on the first disciples is also poured out on us, giving many and different gifts to all.
So, let us go, because we have been sent by God – equipped by the Holy Spirit, let us go and be all we can be, be fruitful, multiply and bless the world.