Babel to Pentecost


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 150, Deuteronomy 16:9-12, Acts 4:18-21, 23-33, John 4:19-26

Pentecost readings:
Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, , Acts2:1-21

Genesis tells us the first people of the earth built a city named Babel, and in that city built a tower which aspired to reach the heavens. God was displeased with this development, for he said mortals would soon be unstoppable, so he struck down the tower and confused the tongues of the people so they spoke different languages. Humanity was scattered across the earth. This story of Babel is often told as an introduction to the story of Pentecost.

On the day of Pentecost, which scripture tells us was ten days after the resurrected Christ ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of flame descended upon the gathered disciples. The surrounding crowd came from many lands, and each person heard the disciples speaking in his or her native language. Some people assumed the excited crowd must have been drunk, even though it was only nine in the morning. Peter assured them no one was drunk, and this event was a sign of fulfillment of prophecy. The Holy Spirit (also called the Advocate or Paraclete) promised by Christ had begun to work among the people.

How telling that the Holy Spirit’s first gift to us was the ability to understand each other. In our largely monolingual culture we take that for granted, but in much of the world traveling from your home for a distance less than the breadth of Ohio can result in a language barrier. Yet even within our common language, we lack common understanding. Never take for granted that your frame of reference or your assumptions and inferences are the same as anyone else’s. The unspoken meaning of words like “love” and “family” and “God” can vary widely from person to person. We may share a common vocabulary, but communication – like jazz and poetry – is all about context.

We should continue to rely on the Spirit to help us understand each other, to teach us to listen before we speak. God’s kingdom does not require forced uniformity of speech and thought; it is a place where those once scattered by pride reunite in understanding.

Comfort: The Holy Spirit works among us to further the kingdom.

Challenge: Pray and work to free yourself from the biases and assumptions of your own language, experience, and culture. Understand how this is not a rejection of your heritage.

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit guide and teach me to live and teach with the compassionate heart of Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What do you think when you hear someone speaking a language you can’t understand?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Gathering the Sparks


Today’s readings (click to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, Genesis 11:1-9, Hebrews 6:13-20, John 4:1-15

Though Charles Darwin did not write On The Origin Of Species as an attack on Christianity, many people interpreted it that way. The controversy of the seeming conflict  between natural selection and Genesis was not limited to Biblical literalists, but was also a concern for Christians who were not in theory opposed to more scientific theories of creation. The real danger of Darwin’s theory was what it said about the nature of life: it was not powered by love and redemption, but by competition and dominance. What did this reveal about God?

Maybe nothing as startling as it seemed. Another Biblical myth – the Tower of Babel – tells us that when God felt humans were growing too powerful and unified, he destroyed the tower symbolizing their potential, forced them to speak different languages, and scattered them across the world. God forced diversity upon his creation, setting tribes at odds with one another. Whether we read Darwin or Genesis, competition and diversity are central to the story.

In the Jewish myth of the Shattering of the Vessels, when God says “Let there be light” he sends forth his divine essence in ten vessels. The vessels are too fragile and they shatter, scattering divine sparks across creation. It is the duty of humanity to collect these sparks and repair the world. Division and scattering seem integral to our creation stories. We recognize the world as broken, and long to restore it.

Now consider Jesus at the well, talking to the Samaritan woman. They are separated by language and culture. As a woman and a Samaritan she is no one Jesus should be talking to, at least by the dictates of his culture. Yet he stops to banter with her, not to preach but to make a connection. They join their sparks to repair one tiny corner of the creation.

Other animals may be shaped by their environments, but humans can choose to shape the environment instead. When we choose cooperation over competition, we help repair the world. Each spark we collect illuminates what it means to be created in the image of a creator. Our brokenness offers the potential to create something divine in a way unquestioned wholeness never could.

Comfort: Brokenness is not a final state; it is the beginning of reconciliation.

Challenge: We have busy lives, and ignore many of the sparks of creation. Where can you slow down and make connections?

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your divine reconciliation. Amen.

Discussion: Are you by nature more cooperative or competitive? Why do you think that is?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!