Day of Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Genesis 11:1-9 Sermon
May 27, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
126 “Come, O Come Thou Quickening Spirit”
130 “Holy Spirit, Truth Divine”
124 “Creator Spirit By Whose Aid”
121 “Come Holy Ghost In Love”
USING THE GIFT OF LANGUAGE
TEXT (vs. 5-9a): “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel— because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world.”
This morning, I have decided to share one or perhaps some of my pet peeves with you. In doing so, I’m not singling out anybody in particular; so if you’re guilty of any of these things, please don’t take offense. There are certain words and phrases that, when used incorrectly, are like someone grating their fingernails across a chalkboard to me. It really sets me on edge.
First of all, I’m not talking about colloquialisms or the mannerisms of informal speech. Things like “T'aint funny McGee,” or “fixin’ to do something,” or other common slang doesn’t affect me too much.
What I’m talking about are instances where educated people and those who should know better use words they either don’t know or assume the meaning of, or they use them in the wrong way. Of course, I’m going to give you some examples.
Say for instance you are at a gathering, and someone comes up to you who is in need of a ride home. They’ll come up and ask you, “Will you bring me home?” Ack! No, I won’t BRING you home, but I’ll TAKE you home. If I were to bring you home, that would mean you wanted to come to my home, and not yours. I won’t BRING you to my home, but I’ll TAKE you to yours.
Or say for example you are at the doctor’s office, and the nurse asks you to please LAY down. No, no, no! The nurse needs to ask you to LIE down! Lay is something you do to something else, like laying carpet, or laying a book on a table. If it is something you do to yourself, then you lie down to take a nap, or you tell the dog to go and lie down; you never tell someone to lay down!
Here’s another one. How many times have you heard someone call a similar furnishing to what I’m standing behind a podium? Of course we call this particular object a pulpit; but how many people use the name “podium” for a similar device?
It is NOT a podium, nor does it even resemble one. A podium is a box, which is commonly about 4 feet square and stands anywhere from 6-10 inches high. A musical conductor or a speaker stands on a podium to elevate themselves so they can be seen. The object that holds a speaker’s notes is called a lectern, and not a podium. I’ve even heard TV news people make that mistake, and sadly too often.
Hey, I’m on a roll here, so here’s another one. When somebody does something praiseworthy, have you ever heard someone say, “You did good?” Wrong again! The proper way to say it is, “You did well.” If you want to use the word “good,” then you’d say, “You did a good job.”
And there are others too, like the difference between a burglary and a robbery. A burglary is when someone breaks into your home and steals something, and a robbery is when someone takes something from you by force, like at gunpoint. Or there’s the difference between slander and libel. Slander is when someone says something false about you, and libel is when they write it down.
Yes, I could go on; but I’ll let that suffice for Pastor Dan’s grammar lesson for today.
Today is the Day of Pentecost, and one of the key topics for today is language and speech, and God’s involvement with it.
I’ve chosen for our text today the words of our Old Testament Lesson, which is the account of the Tower of Babel. It is here where God confused the language of the people; the result being that today there are approximately 5,000 known languages on the earth.
Language is very important. It’s the way we communicate with each other, and it is also the way God communicates to us. Furthermore, it is important that we are well acquainted with our native tongue, so that we don’t misinterpret or misunderstand what is being communicated to us.
As we look at our text for today, we see a situation develop amongst the people where they were disobedient to God, and wandered further and further away from him.
These people were the descendants of Noah; and as his descendants, we know they would have all spoken the same language. They would have had the same manner of speaking, the same vocabulary, and the same dialect. They were able to understand each other perfectly. There has been some speculation as to what that language might have been. Since the Bible doesn’t give any specific indication, we don’t know for sure. But people have speculated that it might have been Hebrew, which was the language of the Jews and the Old Testament Church, and therefore the language of the Scriptures. But that’s only a guess.
Even though the language of these descendants of Noah hadn’t changed, their attitude had changed drastically, and not for the better either. These people were known as the Shemites, those who had received a special blessing from Noah. Their marching orders from God were to “fill the earth”—to disseminate and populate the world.
Noah’s ark had come to rest on Mt. Ararat, in present day Turkey. From there, the people journeyed to the southeast, through the Tigris-Euphrates river valley into Mesopotamia, which today is Iraq. It was there that they came upon the fertile plain of Shinar.
Once in Shinar, they felt that they had found the almost perfect utopia. The climate was great, the ground was lush and fertile—perfect for farming, and there was plenty of everything. So, in disobedience to God, they took it upon themselves to stop right then and there, and build themselves a city.
They had intended this to be a permanent settlement too. They made bricks from clay which were baked and fire-hardened, and not the sun dried bricks or stones used for temporary dwellings. They used bitumen, or tar for mortar, and not the mud used for short term construction.
What was their intended purpose of all of this? The crown of their construction project was this enormous tower, as it states in verse 4 of our text, “…so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
They were building all of this in direct contradiction to what God wanted. They were building it to their own glory, and not to the glory of God. They were selfish and disobedient, and had wandered further and further away from him. Something had to be done.
Their language was one of the key things which bound them all together. So in order for God to accomplish his original purpose, he created different languages amongst the people. We don’t know how many different languages materialized on that day, but we do know that it was enough to break their self-centered unity.
Since they couldn’t understand each other, they could no longer work together. And worse yet, they no longer trusted each other. The spirit of unity and friendliness and confidence was replaced by suspicion and doubt. They had to move away from their “dream home.” For them, it was no more “glory to man in the highest.”
That settlement in that beautiful area became known as “Babel” which means “confusion.” That’s where we get the English word “babble” which is used to describe incoherent or mindless chatter.
As we now move into the New Testament era, we come to the Day of Pentecost. It was here where God reversed the confusion of languages which happened at Babel. In our Epistle reading today, from Acts chapter 2, we read verses 4-6: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”
The confusion of languages happened because man was seeking his own glory instead of carrying out God’s purpose. And now, the disciples are given the ability to speak in all of the other languages, so that God’s Word could be communicated to the whole world.
Jesus Christ had come into the world. He was born, he lived, he died, he rose again, and he ascended into heaven. The Messiah that had been promised from the beginning of civilization had done his work. He had taken the sins of man upon himself, and became obedient unto death. He conquered death, the grave, and Satan himself to give freedom to those in bondage to sin.
By a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God gave the disciples the ability to communicate to the whole world. The Holy Spirit would empower them to stand boldly and confess their Saviour. The Holy Spirit would work through the very words being spoken to reconcile sinful man to God himself. Through the words being spoken, the Holy Spirit would convict man of his sinfulness and create a saving faith in their hearts. Yes, God the Holy Spirit, working through those words, would give man the faith to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Far too often, our lives reflect our dedication to ourselves. We have the tendency to erect our own “Towers of Babel” to our own glory, instead of dedicating our lives to God and his glory. We have been guilty of ignoring what God says, thinking we know better. We have drifted away from him as we replace his will with our own.
We can be thankful however that the Holy Spirit operates in our midst. We have the clear Word of God which shows us our sin and shows us our Saviour. The Holy Spirit worked in us at our baptism, creating a saving faith in Jesus Christ even at infancy. The Holy Spirit is also at work in the Lord’s Supper where we receive forgiveness for our sins and strength for our faith.
Through the spoken and written word, God continues to speak to us in clear and unmistakable terms, in both Law and Gospel.
So how important is language, and our knowledge of it? There’s a story that illustrates the importance of knowing exactly what words mean, and what happens when uninformed people only think they know the meaning.
There was a gentleman who had been a well-renowned university professor, who took a position as the training director for a large company. He circulated a memo that he had entitled, “Sound Pedagogical Principles.”
When the woman who was the Executive Vice President saw the memo, she was furious. She demanded that he be fired, stating that they had no room for “such perverts” in their company.
Completely confused, the man and the Human Resources director went into her office. It seems that the Executive Vice President thought that the professor was circulating a memo on how to be a pedophile. She never read the whole memo; she had stopped when she read the title. She didn’t realize that pedagogy meant the art and craft of teaching.
So, the Executive Vice President circulated a memo herself, stating that all company memos must only use words that could be found in the Sunday newspaper. Several frustrating months later, the professor submitted his letter of resignation, in which he carefully cut and pasted every word from the Sunday paper.
On this Pentecost Sunday, God tells us just how important language and words are. Confusion of the languages at Babel threw the people into a state of chaos. The miracle of Pentecost bridged that communication gap; and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached and taught to the people in their own native tongue. Where sin and disobedience created confusion and separation, the Gospel of forgiveness and peace brought unity and concord.
Today, the Bible has been translated into virtually every known language on earth. It is accessible to people even in the most remote and isolated locations. The Holy Spirit works through these various languages, bringing people to faith from every nation, race, clan, and tongue.
God speaks to us in the language we use every day. I’m sure God doesn’t have the same pet peeves that I do when it comes to petty instances of incorrect usage. However, when we know our own language, how it’s used, and the definition of words, there can be no mistake as to what God is telling us. The Holy Spirit is working through those words so we may receive life and salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.