It is upon us. May has arrived with all its fury. Graduations. Dance recitals. Band performances. Warm weather. In the midst of a flurry of activity, things begin to wind down. Summer vacation is near! Before we get there, however, we have to mark the changing season in the life of the Church as well. The 50 days of Easter are nearly over. The Day of Pentecost is near. Churches will celebrate with balloons, cakes, and polyglotenous readings of the Acts of the Apostles. Preachers will most likely steer clear of the lesson from Genesis, but they do so at their own peril.
I will readily admit that the story of the Tower of Babel is a fascinating tale, rife with theological difficulties. It reads more like Greek mythology than it does Christian Scriptures. It makes God sound vindictive, coercive, paranoid, and mean-spirited. It is a dense story that requires a lot of unpacking, which is all the more reason to tackle it, even on the Day of Pentecost. The story of the Tower of Babel serves as a helpful reminder of the unending folly of humanity.
Again and again, humans attempt to place themselves on par with God, and again and again, we are reminded that only God is God. The story of the Tower of Babel is a story of human pride. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” is the cry of a people who have forgotten that their very breath is a gift from God. The desire to “make a name for ourselves” or to find fame or to be remembered through history is the ongoing struggle between the will of human flesh and the will of God who gives us all things as gift. To forget that is to succumb to the same temptation that cause Satan to fall.
Pride. The folly of [hu]man[ity]
You don’t need to spend a full 12 minutes on the text, but I think it will be helpful for your congregations to be invited into the story, to look at the ways in which pride tries to place us on par with God, and to see how the Pentecost miracle essentially undoes the confusion of the people. The confusion that came from humanity speaking of its own deeds of power is made whole as the 120 proclaim God’s deeds of power in languages that the whole world could understand. The pride of humanity is replaced by the glory of God, in the Pentecost miracle, and that, I think, is worth at least a brief mention.
Of course, I’m not preaching this week, so it is very easy for me to tell you what to do. No matter what, your words this Sunday will be important. May you be like Peter, and boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.