The Day of Pentecost – Series C – Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Unity for the sake of unity, does not mean much. In fact, it doesn’t actually mean anything at all.
Today in our lessons from Holy Scripture, we do observe a common and continuous theme of peoples being united throughout each of the readings.
Whether that’s the people of Babel in Genesis 11, or the city of Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2, or the disciples with Jesus in the upper room in John 14, in each of these there is a form of unity, of people being gathered into one mind, one body and one will.
And indeed, on this Day of Pentecost; the harmony of God’s people, the uniting of Christ’s body is one of the major themes that we receive comfort from and proclaim to all nations.
We pray for it in the Kyrie, we plead for harmony in the prayers of the church, we yearn for unity in the hymns that we sing, and the Creed that we confess.
We desire to be one body, to be united in heart and mind and confession. We long for this as the church gathered, and in our own hearts, at home in our families and in our communities.
But we do not long for unity, just for the appearance of unity.
No the Church’s song is much deeper than mere appearances, her foundation is built of much stronger stuff than mere sentiments.
It is not simply unity for the sake of unity. That doesn’t mean much, it doesn’t bring comfort, hope or peace in any lasting or real way.
The bigger question, the more important theme on this Day of Pentecost, is not simply are we united, but what are united in, who have we been brought together for?
That’s the question that matters, for its answer brings us either the terrible and confusing consequences of the Tower of Babel, or the lasting and eternal promises of the Day of Pentecost.
Unity is utterly meaningless, and it will never come to anything more than rubble, if it is not bound together in the promise that we celebrate this day.
For as we look first to Genesis 11, and the people who migrated east and settled in the land of Shinar, we observe that they were in fact united.
That they were of one body, one mind, and one will.
They came together to accomplish great and marvelous things. The construction of a city, to the building of a tower that would reach even into the heavens.
Even the Lord Himself, gives credit to their unity, as He says that, “Nothing that they plan to do from now on, will be impossible for them.”
But of course, it doesn’t last, the tower is never finished, the city is eventually abandoned and left in rubble.
They were united, one body, one mind, one will…but that wasn’t enough.
For their unity was one of rejection, a casting off and tossing aside of the Word of the Lord.
The Word which came to Noah and his sons and was given to all peoples that said, “Be fruitful, and multiply and fill the face of the Earth (Gen. 9:1).
This Word from the Lord was that which united His people as His own, it was the covenant of harmony and peace with God.
And it was that Word and that uniting covenant that the people of Babel rejected.
For they sought a different word and a different covenant, one that came on their own terms, and fed their own pride, it justified their selfishness and gave honor to their arrogance.
And so the Lord scattered them.
He tore down the towers of their pride, so that they might return to Him in humility, he exposed the shame of their arrogance, so that they might repent, believe and live.
He scattered them, so as to make and call them as one. To unite them not in the pride of their sin, but the righteousness of His coming Son.
Genesis 11 provides us the clear cut mirror into the heart of our sinful condition.
It may not be pretty but it is true.
For as much as you and I might be able to confidently and immediately answer the question of what is it that unites us? What or whom are we brought together in?
Namely, the person of Christ, His death, resurrection, work, righteousness and faith.
As much as we may know and confess that answer, it doesn’t take away from the tempting picture of man united at the Tower of Babel.
Here we see our sin, but we also see our heart’s desire.
For the sinful heart of man, united in unbelief does accomplish great and marvelous things.
As much as the mirror of the Law exposes the foolishness of our sin and the shame of our unbelief, we nonetheless find ourselves attracted to unity of prideful man and all that He desires to do.
The Tower of Babel is tempting, it’s beautiful and magnificent in its own way, and we in sin, believe its lies more often than not.
We long for all that we could accomplish if we joined together in our selfish quest for wealth, power, fame and influence.
We fear our paychecks and reputations more than we do God’s presence among us.
We invest time, energy, devotion and worship into the rotting bread and fleeting things of this life more than we do that eternal bread and steadfast Word of the Faith.
In the Church, we often buckle under the pressures of the world around us, and so we latch on to any kind of appearance of unity, at any cost, even the cost of our confession…even at the cost of Christ.
The great and marvelous works of Babel still attract us today, they still whisper in our ears and lead us away from the unity that we have in Christ Jesus.
And perhaps, it is that part of the appeal to the unity of Babel, is found in the contrast of the great and marvelous works of man, and the meek and humble realities of Christ’s Church.
That man in his pride, builds a tower formed with the strong, powerful, rich, famous and wealthy…whereas Christ in His mercy and in His Cross, gives birth to a Church full of sinners. The weak, the lowly, the oppressed, and the hurting.
In the eyes of man, there is nothing great or marvelous about the Church of Christ formed through Holy Spirit.
And you, dear Christian, know this.
For there were no fireworks or marvelous signs when you were buried with Christ in your baptism. Just simple water, included with God’s Word, marking and making you His child.
And there is no pomp and circumstance, there are no special effects when you are fed the very body and blood of the Son of God at this altar.
And there is nothing, at least in the eyes of men, great or marvelous when you hear this Word.
It comes to you without pomp, without a flashy display of amazement and without entertainment.
And perhaps, that, is why Babel is so attractive.
The Holy Spirit is not interested in special effects, or gaudy displays of entertainment.
He is about the work that Christ declares in John chapter 14, the peace that the world cannot give, the teaching of His Word, the delivering of His redemption, and the keeping of His faith to eternity itself.
Unlike the tower of Babel, and unlike the prideful hearts of you and I, the Holy Spirit does not seek to draw attention to Himself or entertain us with fantasy and imagination.
Instead, He ever draws our attention to the salvation that He comes to give by the will of the Father, through the perfect, atoning Sacrifice of the Son.
There were no fireworks at your baptism, and thanks be to God for that, instead the clear and certain promise of Christ’s own Word was given, put on display and held fast to you, without distraction, and without any other name.
There is no entertainment at the Lord’s Supper, and thanks be to God for that, instead His body and blood is given to you with the attention and fixed promise of His Word, take eat, take and drink, it is for you, it is forgiveness, it is Christ.
There is no marvel in the eyes of men at the Word of God, but it is His own Word, and therefore His own Work, it unites His body and keeps His church from stumbling now and forevermore.
This is unity not by the will of men, but by the work and mercy of God.
It is of one faith, one Lord, and one baptism.
And it exists, it continues, and it remains, whether or not we see it with our fallen eyes.
For it is the unity of faith, the unity of confession, the unity of the Word of God that remains forever.
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Flesh and blood do not, and cannot reveal this, but the Father in heaven can, and does.
Every time the Church confesses the faith, proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, they do so by inspiration and unity of the Holy Spirit.
They speak in a tongue alien to fallen flesh, which they did not learn.
This, at the end of the day, is the greatness and marvelous miracle of Pentecost.
It is not simply the fire, nor is it the many tongues.
It is the question from the crowds, at hearing this uniting and forgiving Word, “What shall we do?”
That is the real miracle; for it is the work, that only God can do.
It is intervention of Christ Himself, through the Holy Spirit, by the Father’s will, to bring the dead to life, the faithless to faith, the divided to unity, and the violent to peace.
Whether we have fire or tongues today, does not matter. God has united His Church through His Word and by His Holy Spirit, and He continues to call the dead to life through the confession of His peace.
We are united in Christ, and by His work.
Through Pentecost, the Church opens its mouth, for the Lord continues to gather His scattered people.
His is a unity not for unity’s sake, not for the sake appearances, and not for the sake of men.
For the uniting of Christ’s body, is born of God’s own will, his passion and his heart.
Indeed, it is His kingdom come.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.