Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost, AD 2021

Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9

You are probably familiar with the story of Noah, that God sent a flood to destroy the earth, but preserved Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, on the ark, along with pairs of every kind of animal on earth. After the waters receded and the ark rested on dry land, Noah’s family along with all the animals were commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Humanity after Noah was intended by God to spread over the whole world.

In our Old Testament reading, we see that this is not what happened. After Noah’s son’s families had multiplied to a great many people, they still remained relatively close together. Migrating to the plain of Shinar, they planned to make a city and tower to defy God, to prevent Him from spreading them apart. They desired to be united by their own name and spurned unity with God by so doing. Yet God showed His might, that no one can overcome His will, and he confused their speech. The people, not being able to understand each other, had to spread over the earth as God originally intended.

It is commonly said that Pentecost reversed Babel. God makes people hear the gospel in their own languages. Now that the Holy Spirit has come, there is no more distinctions, no more separation of languages, and all are united. Therefore we should all come together, become the same, and build a big tower to heaven, but this time call it a Christian tower. Yet God did not spread out the people at Babel as punishment. The people were supposed to divide and fill the earth from the ark, even before Babel. This was the Lord’s original desire. Had they followed the Lord’s will, the dividing of the languages would have happened gradually, but God changed them instantly so they had to disperse.

The loss was not that the people were not gathered in one place, but that with the division of languages, the faith in the coming Redeemer was lost. Many of the stories of the ancient patriarchs, of Noah and the Flood, persist in the histories and mythologies of cultures all over the world, at least in part. Sadly, because of man’s sin, the memory of Noah’s faith was corrupted and lost. The Bible doesn’t describe what happened to the faith of all those people after Noah but moves on to Abraham. Even Abraham was specifically called out by God from pagan worship to follow Him. Abraham did believe God, but after him almost all believers in the world were his descendants by blood, with a few notable exceptions. Salvation was known through one people, the people of Israel, and by and large they rejected it and fell away.

For salvation was never through the people, or through being a descendant of Abraham by blood. This one people was preserved so the true source of salvation could come through them, Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God came down again, not the confuse languages, but to become man. He became man so that He could live under God’s law as we do, yet keep it perfectly. He became man so He could die for our sins. He became man so that when He rose from the dead, he made a way for we sinful humans to rise from the dead as well, by calling on His name. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Babel. It is what God desired to happen, that humanity would fill the earth and that His Name would be proclaimed throughout the world. Mankind is now united not by a common goal, a common place, or a common language, but by the name of Jesus Christ. The name which is put on us in baptism. One God, one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Father of all.

We are not brought together into one people without distinction. God did not remove all distinctions between languages at Pentecost, but caused all to hear the common language of the gospel. He caused thousands of devout men from all over the world, both Jews and devout Gentile converts, to hear that Christ died and rose from the dead, and thousands were baptized on that day. These men were visiting Jerusalem for the feast. They would not remain there all together, but spread back to their homes, bringing the message of Christ to their own nations by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That was then. What about now?

Is Pentecost obsolete? With technology we have overcome the problems God created at Babel. We can use our smartphones to interpret any written language and even speech for us. We are all united in one currency, we can buy and trade things from all over the world. We have overcome seemingly every barrier with technology so there is truly nothing we can’t do. Forget building towers, we can launch rockets into space. They say we have progressed as humanity and have truly made a name for ourselves where we need no help from outdated beliefs.

Is Pentecost obsolete? While the disciples were hit with a mighty wind and tongues of fire, our baptisms are not so interesting. Neither do we have so many. Our preachers do not preach as powerfully as Peter, converting thousands in a single sermon. Not only that, but they are limited to preaching in one language. Is the power of Pentecost over? A relic of the past, a passing dream? Many churches also say we should all be united, that the doctrine isn’t important, we can all united in love for one another no matter the belief. They say we have lost the power of Pentecost by focusing too much on the Bible and doctrine and should let the Spirit free for a natural unity to develop in love for one another.

Is Pentecost obsolete for you, our confirmands, Aliviah and Natalie? Or not to single them out, is it obsolete for all of you here today, who have been confirmed? You have been baptized, taught the faith from the Scriptures. Will you reject this and unite under something else? The world gives you many things to unite by, to build a new Babel. The progress of science, politics, your own sinful inclinations and desires. Yourself, your feelings, inclinations, and desires want to take precedence. You are constantly bombarded with temptations to join in building a new Babel, to make your own name great.

But take heart, Pentecost is not obsolete. As the Lord showed at Babel, and He shows again and again, all human attempts to unite on our own and make our own names great will come to nothing. They cannot last, for we do not last on our own. In your confirmation vows you promise to be faithful unto death. The reminder is that death comes for all. Yet the promise is that faithfulness extends beyond death. For the Holy Spirit has made you new, given you eternal life in Jesus Christ.

In your baptism, you are already united under one Lord and one faith. You have not only been forgiven of your sins, but you are one with all baptized children of God who call on Our Father in prayer. And Our Father still gives you every good thing. What you learned in your confirmation class was not merely information. It was the Word of God, the teaching of the scriptures. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit comes and strengthens you in the faith. And now you will receive the Lord’s Supper, another means by which the Lord strengthens you, giving you His own body and blood to forgive your sins and make you stronger in that eternal life you already have.

In the Ten Commandments you have learned what God requires of you. In the Creed you have heard what God has done for you. In the Lord’s Prayer you know to call on Him for every need. Confirmation class is over, but God does not consider this an end. He will not abandon you. He send His Spirit to continually be with you in His Word and Sacraments. Knowing the basics of the faith, you can now continue to grow.

And you will grow as a precious child of God, distinct from all others. You will have callings to places others will not, will be gifted in ways others will not. Maybe you will never live far from this church, but God still puts us where we are, as He did at Pentecost. Those men returned to far flung reaches of the world, but they also returned home. And there, most importantly, in their homes, they spread the good news about Jesus as they continually kept in the Word of God themselves.

When Noah came off the ark, he started growing plants. Paul also speaks about our Christian lives as plants, planted by the Word, watered in Baptism – and God gives the growth. Be where God promises to feed you. God will continue to fulfill that promise to make you grow and be fruitful where you are planted. Amen.

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