Pentecost - the antidote to Babel

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Preached by Revd Keith Underhill on 20th May 2018 — Pentecost Sunday.

Often on Pentecost Sunday, when we recall how God's spirit was poured out, (with a sound like the rushing of the wind and what appeared to be like tongues of fire), we call to mind the birthday of the church — as that band of disciples, confused, timid and afraid were emboldened and took the good news to the streets.

Some churches cut cakes as part of their Pentecost celebrations and sing happy birthday and whilst there is of course an important point being made when they do so, today, I'd like us to take a different but still connected tack.

For if we simply sing happy birthday to the church and pat ourselves on the back, there is a danger that we become too parochial, too inward looking and too limited in our understanding.

There is always the danger that we make Pentecost Sunday too personal and therefore, unintentionally belittle the significance of what actually happened and took place.

For the event that we remember and joyfully celebrate today, has at it's heart a global dimension — it was something for the whole word, and for all of humanity.

Set in Jerusalem, Pentecost was played out on the world's stage!

As we have already heard read to us, Luke recounts what happened amazed and astonished, the crowds asked, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.'

Pentecost is not just for a few but for all — and the list of the countries and nationalities mentioned in this passage is so very important.

Luke in giving us so much geographical information and detail is using a well-known political tool of the time and putting it to good
theological use.

Luke echoes similar lists from that period in history that celebrated Rome's position as ruler over the inhabited world.

So, in effect, Luke is turning Roman power and importance on its head declaring instead God's universal authority and that the true empire belongs not to Caesar but to Jesus, who as Lord and Saviour reigns over all people.

Pentecost is not just for us in our churches, it is not just about our small corner of God's kingdom, but for the whole world and for all people, for those of every nation and of every langue, dialect and tongue.

The other thing to note about the events as mentioned in Acts chapter two, is with all those gathered from around the world hearing about the good news of God in their own language and tongue, Pentecost is a reversal of and an antidote for, the Tower of Babel.

In Genesis 11 — we are told that God seeing what was going on, said; "Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech."

Ever since, Babel has become a symbol, a title a name if you like, that is invested and loaded with meaning.

Babel stands not only for the division and separation of humanity by language and tongue but also of all that divides and separates us.

Babel is shorthand for the anger and hostility, violence and bloodshed, suspicion and intolerance, prejudices and insecurities that come in to play where there are differences between people.

Babel is the voice that we hear so loudly echoing around our world today.

Babel is the language and the attitude of our age. Babel is the soundtrack of our time.

Babel is all to do with mistrust, discord, hostility and alienation

Babel is that which is being daily proclaimed by some politicians and leaders, playing on people's fears and prejudices.

In the aftermath of last Monday in Gaza and the increasingly bitter and toxic political climate in our own nation, The US of A and parts of Eastern Europe as well as so many other events in the world, (yet another gun massacre in an American school), we need to ask ourselves what do the great festivals and truths of our faith have to say to the times in which we live?

Well, to Babel, and all it stands for — comes Pentecost!

Which is why with the events of this past week and a recognition of times in which we live, it is right, proper and fitting, to remind ourselves of the world wide significance and importance of what Pentecost is about.

Yes, Pentecost is in so many ways the birthday of the church — but it is far more important than that.

Pentecost is not just about the church, it is not just about the individual — Pentecost is about the world and most importantly it is about God!

Those gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, all heard in their own native tongue and language the great things that God had done, the wonders of God, the mighty miracles of God and God's deeds of power; depending on the translation of your Bible..

Pentecost is an opportunity to look heavenwards and to refocus ourselves, to be reminded of who we are and whose we are.

Pentecost reminds us of Him in whom we live, breathe and have our very being.

Pentecost tells us that our priorities, values and very lives are not about the vagaries of this world, but about the things of God.

Pentecost assures us of the moving and power of God's spirit, calling to us by name and set loose in the world to bring about healing, life and transformation.

God's Spirit we recall, was there at the beginning of time, hovering over the face of the waters bringing order and beauty out of chaos — God's spirit renewing and transforming, giving life and new possibilities.

In Pentecost, that same spirit hovers over the chaos of our day and our age and offers a different view, a different example and a different way of being, offering once more the possibilities of life, and of transformation and an end to the divisions of Babel.

Pentecost gives us hope for the future and a truth to hold on to in the divisiveness of these times — speaking as it does not of division, nor of Babel but of unity in diversity.

A unity that is modelled and lived out through the experience of our trinitarian, three-in-one God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Pentecost (an annual act of remembrance that reflects the truth of a daily reality) challenges us all to live as those whose lives are touched by God's spirit.

It is though, as our prayers of confession earlier in this service reminded us, not always easy to do, for even as we proclaim and that "God's spirit gives light, the reality can often be that we have preferred darkness, as God's spirit gives wisdom we have been foolish, and as God's spirit gives power, we have trusted in our own strength.

But Pentecost is about the reversal of all of that and so we claim for ourselves the transformative power of God's holy Spirit to help us day by day in all that we are, say and do.

Pentecost challenges us in and through that Spirit to be those who seek to build unity, to build bridges and not walls and to denounce the
ways of Babel and of darkness and all that would divide.

To be those whose lives reflect the truths of Pentecost and in doing so, be a light to all the nations, to those of every language and every tongue.

To be those who live lives shot through with the reality of the coming of God's spirit.

Pentecost challenges us, even as it calls us to be a light to the nations, for that light to be like those of lighthouses, guiding others and providing hope and assurance in the dangers and darkness that surround us.

The strength to do all of this of course we find in the meal that we are soon to share around the Lord's Table. The foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all people which draws us not only closer to God but to each other.

This meal is a sign of what is to come, and where all that the world uses to divide and to categorise and to pigeonhole, disappears and melts away and all are one in Him.

Pentecost challenges us to continually be those who point not to ourselves, to our own perceived greatness or glory, but to God alone and to the great things that God had done. And, as Bishop Michael Curry reminded the world yesterday, at the heart of all that God is and has done, is love.

Love for you, love for me and love for all people regardless of language or tongue.

And, remember this, Pentecost will always triumph over Babel, just as love will always triumph over hate and life over death.

Amen! — Happy Pentecost

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