Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Different Tongues, One Language

Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost, preached on Sunday, June 9, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    Language and words are important.  We need them to communicate, to understand one another.  Language and words can unite us.  But in today’s world we see that words are being redefined and given new meanings.  New words are even being made up.  This brings about confusion and conflict and division.  It’s hard to communicate today, to know what we can say and can’t say.  And if we can’t communicate, if we can’t speak to one another and understand what’s being said, then it’s impossible for us to be united.
    But this division of language and words wasn’t always the case.  At one point in our history everyone spoke the same language.  Everyone was unified in tongue and speech.  And to physically show this unity, the people planned to build a great city with a great tower reaching all the way to heaven.  The Lord, seeing what the people were doing, came down and stopped them by confusing their language so they couldn’t understand each other.  People opened their mouth and all that came out was babbling.  Unable to communicate they were confused and became separated. 
    As a child I had a hard time understanding the Tower of Babel.  Why didn’t God want the people to build that tower?  What was wrong with it?  Looking at the skylines of today, I couldn’t understand why these new tall buildings were okay, but the Tower of Babel wasn’t.  As I grew in my faith, I learned that it wasn’t the physical building that was the problem, but the people's’ attitude in building it.  Listen again to their motives for this building project.  They said, “Let us build ourselves a city and 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” (Gn 11:4).
   The purpose of the tower was to make a name for themselves.  That is, they didn’t want to be known by God’s name, as His people.  Instead, they wanted to be their own.  They trusted in themselves.  They trusted in what they could do.  In their effort to reach heaven they wanted to do away with God and become their own gods.  This is nothing less than the sin of idolatry, the very same sin of our first parents in the Garden.  Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they wanted to be like God, they wanted to be their own gods.  And this is ultimately what all of our sin is as well.
   All sin is the breaking of the first commandment.  All sin is idolatry, because in all our sin what we’re really saying is God and His Word doesn’t matter to us.  Our sin is turned inward.  It’s all about us.  It’s about what we want as individuals.  It’s all about “making a name for ourselves,” doing what we want; living how we want; believing what we want to believe. 
   All of this has one effect, separation.  That’s what sin does.  It separates.  It divides.  It keeps us from being united with one another and with God.  Look at the effect of the Tower of Babel.  The people wanted to be unified in one place, but they ended up divided and dispersed all over the earth.  In the Garden, Adam and Eve were divided, they turned on each other, blaming each other for their sin.  And not only that, they were separated from God, banished from the Garden. 
   Our sin separates us.  It causes us to turn on one another.  Just look at the conflict we have in our world.  Look at the conflict that we have in our personal lives.  That’s our sin.  It keeps us from living together, unified, as God planned for us.  It keeps us from being unified with Him. 
Our sin keeps us from God who gives life.  He is the source of life, and when we’re separated from Him, we die.  The wages of sin is death because sin separates from God.
    We recognize we’re a divided people.  That’s an easy fact to see.  And for many of us, we’re tired of it.  We want to be unified.  We want peace.  We want to bring an end to division and separation.  So, we seek this unity by talking.   
It’s good to talk, to communicate with one another, to work together and come up with solutions to our problems.  But we must remember that ultimately, we can’t come up with a solution for our sin.  We can’t bring about true unity just through our words, because our words can’t fix our sin that separates us.  We can’t overcome sin by talking about it.  No, only God can overcome sin.  Only God can restore what’s been separated and divided.  And He does, through His Word incarnate, Jesus Christ our Savior. 
    It’s only through the forgiveness that Christ won for you on the cross that your sin is overcome.  Christ’s death undoes the death that your sin causes.  His forgiveness takes away your sin that separates you from God.  He brings you back to God the Father and restores that relationship.  He restores all your relationships with those around.  God unites us with Himself and with one another through His Gospel language, through the words of the Good News of Christ our Savior. 
At the Tower of Babel the people became divided in language, and on Pentecost the Lord fixed that, not by unifying tongues and making everyone's words and speech the same, but through the universal Gospel language. 
    It’s this language that unites all God’s people, whether they speak English, German, Russian, Swahili, Tanzanian, Chinese, Japanese, or any other language.  It’s this language that unites us together as God’s people, as His forgiven children, saved by Christ alone.  This language we all understand through the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit. 
    I personally haven’t worshiper in another language, but I know several people who have.  And when I’ve asked them about that experience, every single one has said the same thing; even though they might not have understood the exact words that were being said, they knew what was being spoken.  They knew when the pastor was speaking the Absolution.  They knew when Christ’s Words of Institution were said.  They knew when the Lord’s Prayer was prayed.  They knew these because they knew the universal Gospel language.  They knew their Savior and His salvation.
  Language has the power to divide and unite.  But no matter what physical language we speak, God unites all His baptized children together in the one Gospel language.  By this true and life giving Word of our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord, we’re united to our Savior, and with one another.