Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Festival of Pentecost, Gen 11:1-9, Acts 2:37-47, May 27, 2007

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

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Did you know there is a controversy about what the world’s tallest building is, well at least there was? For years the question has always been whether you count spires and antennas or just go by the highest occupied floor? If you count spires and not antennae the twin Petronas towers in Kulua Lempur were the tallest at 1483 feet. But if you count antennae then the title was in the hands of the Sears Tower in Chicago at 1729 feet. Highest occupied floor honors were also held by the Sears Tower and the highest roof at 1483 feet. But really, all of it is academic now because a new “World’s Tallest Building” has eclipsed them all. Taipei 101, just finished this year in Taipei Taiwan has a spire that reaches to 1667, It also now holds the record for the highest roof and the highest occupied floor. They say that the new tower that will replace the WTC towers will be the tallest building by virtue of its 1776 foot spire. (The old World Trade Center towers were 1360 feet). But all of them will be eclipsed by the Burj Dubai tower now under construction in Dubai, UAE. It will soar 2,640 ft, that over half a mile. Its highest occupied floor will be number 160. It’s a full 500+ feet higher than a proposed tower in Russia, and almost 1000 feet taller than Tapei 101. Ironically the new tower is being built by the Bin laden family of Saudi Arabia. I’m still amazed at the cheek of the Americans though. Because in the 1930’s we built 3 of the world’s largest buildings, and two of them are still in the top 25. The Empire state building stood as the World’s Tallest for nearly half a century.

Tall buildings have always been an interest. Just look at the design the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed in the 50’s, it was building (called the Illinois) that was to be a mile high. (Lot’s of people suggested that it be built to replace the WTC). But what’s all the height about? What’s it all for? What’s the money spent in these endeavors really all about? Well, actually, I think it is bragging rights. Bragging rights are important to us as human beings. Be honest, how many of you thought that the Sears Tower should hold the record over the Petronas Towers and even the Taipei 101 because if you count its antennae its really the tallest. We want “our guy” to win, even though we really don’t have any more of a real connection to the Sears Tower than the Petronas Towers. The Petronas Towers are a center for world banking. Sears sold the Sears tower long ago.

Bragging rights is really what it’s all about. And that’s just what the people in our Old Testament lesson were talking about. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” If we build a tall tower we will be important and we can stay right here and bask in our glory and our achievement. It’s the “If we build it they will come” idea on a grand scale. And they even talked about using the “state of the art” construction techniques that would be necessary to build such a tower. “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Most buildings in those days were built with dried bricks. They wanted their tower to last.

And the work began. They were proud of their accomplishments. It was the power of positive thinking at work. Slowly the tower rose, higher and higher. They must have thought that nothing was greater than their tower, and nothing was greater than the ones who were building it.

And then we have a very interesting turn of phrase in the text. 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. Moses, the one who wrote this text for us to read, is saying something important. Even though the “children of men” thought that their tower was the greatest thing since sliced bread, God had to “come down” to see it. Moses is using a literary device called Anthropomorphism to make a point. (That’s speaking about God as if he were a person.) The point is that from God’s vantage point the great work of these people wasn’t even tall enough for God to see without coming down. The picture he wants you to have in your mind is of someone squatting down with their face pressed against the ground to view an ant hill. After all their efforts at greatness their accomplishment this great tower they are building is really nothing at all from God’s perspective. It’s a puny little ant hill that God has to stoop down even to see.

So what exactly was wrong with what they were doing? What’s wrong with a little human ingenuity? What’s wrong with building tall buildings and making a name for yourself? Is God just afraid of losing power because “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. What’s wrong with building a tower anyway? The key here is a very small word in the first part of the text. “Let us build…” Let us do it… not “Let’s see if God would have us do it…” or even “Let’s do it for the good of all people. “Let us… according to our own will… according to our own power… according to our own ability.” What they were saying was, in effect, we don’t need God to reach the heavens. We don’t need God to be all that we can be. In fact if we stick together, if we are just unified, if we depend on one another, we can do with out God altogether. If we can unite in building this tower we can prove that we can do whatever we want. We can be in charge for ourselves. If we build this great tower we can build our own way up to God. And this tower itself will prove that nothing is impossible for us.

And on that point God agreed. “Nothing they propose to do will be impossible.” But, God’s mind is different than ours. God knows the evil that runs in the hearts of people. When God says “nothing they propose,” he knows what kind of evil will naturally result. He’s not worried about the building of great skyscrapers, that’s not the kind of thing He’s working to prevent. It’s the great evil that lives right in here even in our hearts. He knows about the lies that allow people to claim each other as property. He knows about the pride that leads to holocausts, slaughter of millions. He knows about the selfish ambitions the leaves thousands of dead soldiers lying on bloody beaches. He knows about the evil arrogance that leads to torcher chambers and mass graves in the desert. When God said, “nothing they propose will be impossible,” I don’t even want to know about the evil that he was acting to prevent, when he confused the languages and caused them to be scattered instead of unified he was protecting mankind for the evil that consumes us. But that’s where man is when he sets aside God, when he “goes it on his own.” History bears it out in spades. Just think what it could have become if people were unified in their evil with a common language.

Even now after God scattered the human race through the confusing of language. We continue to build. And God still kneels down to look at our puny towers… All the things we depend on instead of him. All the things we use to say, “We really don’t need you God. We can do it on our own.” We depend on technology; faster computers; smaller portable telephones; stem cell research; miracle drugs; bigger airplanes; we build it all to make names for ourselves. It’s not that these things are bad, just when they take the place of God; just when we turn them into towers of our accomplishment.

You and I have prideful towers we have built too. Just think for a moment about the things we use to help us to “make it on our own” and “make names for ourselves.” Just think about how we depend on all those things more than we depend on God. We really haven’t scattered far from that “baked brick structure.” We float along in life pretty well, feeling pretty much in control, standing at the foot of our man-made towers, using our Sunday church attendance to keep God right where he belongs. And when trouble comes we even may even pay God lip service through prayer. But really we believe that if we are just strong enough we can get through our problems by ourselves. Like when we have to face death in the family we say things like “I can get through this” or “I’m a strong person I’ll survive.” We live life and deal with trouble as if God lets us suffer so that we can show how strong we are. So we can build our own tower of strength and show how we really don’t need Him at all. So much for the towers we build for ourselves, weather they are built from burned bricks or silicone or just our own self-esteem. It all comes out the same. We want our bragging rights. We want to be in our own control. The sin of the people at Babel is our sin. That’s because all sin is rebellion, the desire to be apart from God. That’s our connection to those “baked bricks” of Babel.

Back at the Tower of Babel, God broke up the people’s pride by breaking up their communication. He scattered them across the face of the earth to prevent greater evil. He breaks our pride by allowing trouble and pain in our lives. That trouble and pain show us that we are fully and completely dependant on Him. Death shows us how helpless we really are. How scattered we become when we push God away.

But the God that scattered is also the God who gathers. The same God who took away the ability to communicate gave it back again. That’s what happened on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came and turned dis-unity, scattered people, dis-united, scattered language, into unified people who each heard “the mighty works of God” in their own language. It was a return to Babel, actually it was “Babel undone.” But God didn’t bring this unity so that those people could once again build a tower, a monument to their own interests. He did it to bring the true unity in Jesus Christ. Remember the “mighty works of God!”

Human beings naturally want to take care of things themselves. It’s because of sin that is in the deepest parts of our hearts. We want to earn our own way. We think that if we just build a tower tall enough we can make it to God on our own. If we just do enough good things we’ll be right up there with him. But God undoes that plan by having Jesus, His own Son, accomplish salvation for us. Jesus does everything necessary for us to be with God. We want to build our own mountain to reach God. But God has Jesus climb the mountain of Golgotha and hang on a cross for us instead. We want to make it to God by making our own false religion where our good works and efforts count for everything. God give us the only true religion where we are brought to God only through the free gift of His only Son. He gives Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world. All the sin of pride, and self-promotion, all the sin of depending on the things we make with our own hands, all the sin of leaning on everything but God, all the sin of wanting our own bragging rights; all of our sin was taken to the cross of Jesus. The pride that separates us from God is put to death there. With all of that done away with, God can start building.

Yea, God is a builder. It’s God who really does the building that makes a difference. He’s a much better builder we are. Mile high buildings might be impressive to us but to God they are nothing. The building He does is right here (in our Church) and it’s nothing like any building that we could ever hope to do. St. Peter talked about it:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (Acts 2:39-38 ESV)

What is torn down is build up by God. What is scattered is drawn together by the Breaking of Bread. Just look at the difference.

41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47 ESV)

The signs and wonders that we are told about here isn’t the building of skyscrapers, it is God turning hearts toward Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s the miracle of people being devoted to the Apostle’s teaching. That’s God building using His Word. It’s the miracle of God putting His name on people, making a name for them, through the Water of Baptism. It’s the miracle of God building up faith through the Breaking of Bread, the eating and drinking of the Bread and Wine and Body and Blood of Jesus. God’s building program seems to us to be un-impressive. Steel structures are more to our liking. They seem more important. But God’s way isn’t like our way. He’s the one who decides what is and isn’t important he builds in the way that he chooses, and he makes his building successful.

That what’s going on here again today, God’s successful building: Here we have the apostle’s teaching, the breaking of bread and prayers. It’s God building again. He’s building something more important that a tall-tower. In His Word and Sacraments, through the work of the Holy Spirit, He’s building up faith in you. Not so that you can take care of yourself, not so that you can depend on yourself, but so that you trust more and more in Jesus and less and less on yourself. You see, in the things of God all the bragging rights belong to Jesus. If you want to brag about something brag about him. As St. Paul says,“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17, ESV) Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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