Saturday, May 23, 2015

One Language

Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-15
Pentecost, May 24, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Genesis 11:1-9
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then 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 upon the face of the whole earth.” 5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Acts 2:1-15
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

I hate wind. I do. I really, really do.

It is part of my identity to hate wind.
I grew up in the windiest town in the country. There are windier places in the United States, but for velocity and frequency, Dodge City Kansas is the real windy city. That wind blows. All. The. Time.

Wind isn’t good for much.
It kicks up the dust in dry places – and Dodge City is dry.
It blows in open windows and throws papers around the room.
It blows over outdoor decorations, and plants, and knocks down branches.
It blows your car door shut on you, when you are trying to get out or in.
It whips open the storm door and breaks the hinges.
It blows dirt in your face, whips up allergens, and will blow rain sideways.
It will snatch paper out of your hands and send you on a crazy chase.

At its worst, wind is not just wind, but a tornado. Windstorms can turn to tornadoes and obliterate entire towns. In the path of strong wind, as we have recently observed, trees get uprooted, homes are destroyed, lives are lost and belongings get scattered across the countryside, miles and miles away from their owners.


I hate the disruption and disorder,
the chaos, the undoing of what I have done,
whether it is my hair or a stack of paperwork.

That wind of Pentecost, that Holy Spirit wind. It was like that.
It blew in with a roar and a rush and completely disrupted and rearranged everything. There they were, all the nations, living in Jerusalem, gathered for the festival to celebrate Shavuot, the annual celebration of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. They were gathered together in one place, but they were not one people. The writer of Acts takes great pains to tell us that.

They had not ever been one people.
They were scattered like the babbling builders of the tower of Babel, separated by language, by customs, by location, by allegiances. They had adjusted, living in Jerusalem.

They learned the common language, the language of business, of trade. But they were a nation divided, and each held to their native dialect, the mother tongue of their region or their home country.

This was no mere question of potato or po-tah-to.
It was not a simple difference of whether they said potluck or covered dish dinner or pitch in or bring-a-plate. This was a serious, visceral, fundamental division that would not go away. The language they spoke was a symbol of who they were, a mark of their identity, their tribe, and their loyalty.

Now, in blows the Holy Spirit,
in a rush of wind,
whirling around their thoughts
and unjumbling their language
and lifting up their ideas
and setting their hearts aflame.

From a proliferation of languages, there were only the tongues of fire.
From an ordered hierarchy of status and culture and country there was now only one message. From a Babel of diverse races and cultures and ethnicities, there was now one people. Their differences did not disappear. Their languages did not meld into Esperanto or a common tongue. Their countries of origin, their politics, their ethnicity, their families – none of them were changed.

But their hearts!
Oh, their hearts!
Their hearts were set aflame by the Spirit.
Their hearts were swirled and unsettled by that wind.
Their hearts were burning with passion,
fed by the wind,
whipped up into a frenzy of love.
And for that moment,
and from that moment,
they were one people.
The fire. The wind. The water.

Come, now, Holy Spirit, and blow through our church!
Come, now, Holy Spirit, and blow through our lives!
Set our hearts aflame!
Swirl and unsettled our settled convictions!
Let our hearts burn with passion for your gospel!
Let your winds blow until we too are whipped into a frenzy of love.
Make us one people, with allegiance only to our God,
not our politics or positions or predispositions or even our convictions,
but to our God –
God our creator,
Jesus Christ our redeemer,
the Spirit, our comforter!

Come, Holy Spirit, make us one holy circle,
our hands joined by our own will,
our hearts joined by your power.
Make us one people, with allegiance to
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
and one language, one love.

Come, Holy Spirit! Amen.

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