Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost

                                                                                                            Gen 11:1-9

            “Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.”  This is a thought that often crosses my mind these days when I read about existing and proposed procedures that involve human reproduction.  During the second half of the twentieth century, science made stunning advances in its understanding of DNA and its ability to work with human eggs and sperm.
            At the cutting edge of this today is the current proposal in England to create a child using the DNA from three different people. The argument is that such a process could be used to avoid diseases in babies.  It appears that scientists in England are going to be permitted to proceed.  Needless to say, there are quite a few ethical concerns here, never mind the fact those who are clearing the procedure for implantation admitted, "Until a healthy baby is born, we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe."
            Louise Brown, the world’s first “test tube baby” was born in England in 1978.  Today in vitro fertilization is a common treatment for infertility.  And it has given rise to an industry that boggles the mind.  College women at elite universities are recruited to sell their eggs.  Young women are paid thousands of dollars to take drugs and have a procedure that allows a company to “harvest” the eggs from their bodies.
            Male homosexual couples who want a child are a target market for these eggs. They give sperm to fertilize the eggs.  Of the many eggs that are fertilized, a few are chosen.  But the human embryos created need a female host who is going incubate the growing baby and give birth to it.  So in poor foreign countries, firms line up even poorer woman who are implanted with the embryos. Eventually the less promising babies in the womb are aborted. The woman carries the baby to term and gives birth.  And then the homosexual couple takes the baby back to the United States to raise it.  All of this is not cheap.  There is good money to be made.
            The commodification of human eggs and wombs, the abortion of unwanted extra babies, and the fact that homosexual couples make use of all this to get a child demonstrates that sinful, fallen humanity uses technology to act like God.  In our Old Testament lesson about the tower of Babel we see that it has been this way since the beginning.  In fact, the existence of the many foreign languages is a result of God’s judgment against this.  On the Feast of Pentecost we learn that where sin had divided, God acted through his Spirit to unite people in the crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
            Our Old Testament lesson narrates what happened after the flood. The previous chapter lists the generations of the sons of Noah and then the verse right before our text says, “These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.”
            Our text tells us that as some of these people migrated from the east they found a plain and settled there.  In that setting, they determined that they could use their own building technology.  They said, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” They didn’t have stone available, but they knew how to make their own building material. They knew how to fire bricks and then use bitumen as the mortar.  This is the exact method used for the building the ziggurats – great square towers in ancient Mesopotamia.
            However, the city and its tower was far more than a building project.  It was a arrogant statement.  It was an assertion of their own importance and their own control.  They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a 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.”
            The fact that their building efforts were infected by sin immediately becomes clear in our text.  We are told that the Lord came down to see their city and tower.  And he said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” 
            The fact that the whole earth had one language and the same words is announced at the beginning of our text.  And now, God says that this is a problem.  This unity meant that nothing would be impossible for man.  It was the sinfulness of humanity that had just prompted the flood.  The capability inherent in their unity meant that there was no limit on what their sin could do.
            And so God said in words that remind us of the Trinity, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.”  God confused their language and dispersed them over the face of all the earth.  They stopped building the city and it was called Babel because of what had happened there – because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth.
            In our text, it is sin and God’s judgment on it that produces divisions in the world.  It is sin and God’s judgment that makes things harder as people can’t communicate and they are dispersed over the earth.  And you find that sin continues to produce division in your lives.  It does so because thought you and your spouse or children speak the same language, the things you say are mean and hurtful.  It does so because you envy the success or lifestyle of another person.  It still makes life harder because hurt feelings harden into a grudge as you seek payback.
            The sin that Adam brought into the world is the root cause of all that is wrong in the world.  It was the cause of the problems at the tower of Babel.  It is the cause of all that is wrong in your life. But the good news of the Gospel is that Adam Is not the last word.  Instead, God sent the second Adam, his Son Jesus Christ.  Paul tells us, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”
            Jesus’ righteous act was his death on the cross as he the righteous One was numbered with the transgressors.  He took your place in receiving God’s judgment against sin as he died on the cross. And then on the third day he rose from the dead.   Because Jesus did this for you, you are now reckoned as righteous by God.  Because of Christ, you are forgiven.
            Jesus had accomplished this fifty days earlier, before the events of Pentecost narrated in our second reading.  Ten days earlier as he was about to ascend into heaven he had ordered them to remain in Jerusalem.  He told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
            On the day of Pentecost Jesus’ words were fulfilled.  The sound like a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit.   The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised.  They began to speak in the foreign languages of the Jews from all over the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world who were dwelling in the city.  They proclaimed the mighty things that God had done in Jesus Christ.
            The existence of foreign languages had been caused by God’s judgment upon sin.  The judgment had produced the divisions of language groups and the dispersion of the population.  God’s action on Pentecost through the outpouring of the Spirit didn’t end the division of languages.  Instead, the disciples spoke the message of the Gospel in many languages.  It didn’t end the dispersion of the population.  Instead, the Spirit would prompt the message of the Gospel to be dispersed in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
            What the Spirit did was to create a unity that went beyond languages and geography. The Spirit united all he called to faith in Jesus Christ.  This is a unity that is grounded in Holy Baptism.   As the people heard Peter preaching that day they were cut to the heart, and said to him and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
            Through baptism, the Spirit poured out on Pentecost has given you new life.  You were born again of water and the Spirit, and so you were joined together with fellow believers.  Paul told the Corinthians, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”  Because of the work of the Spirit, you have been joined together with Christians from other places in the world who speak other languages.  You share a bond with them – the bond which is your crucified and risen Lord Jesus – a bond that you do not share with those who live in your own country and speak your language but do not believe in Jesus Christ.
            In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit prompted the Church to share Jesus Christ with others.  He prompted – even forced – the Church to share the Gospel with Samaritans, and then with Gentiles in Palestine, and then with Gentiles in Asia Minor and Greece. 
            Today the Spirit continues to move the Church to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. The Spirit prompts you to tell others about the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has won for all people.  And in a simple yet powerfully important act, the Spirit leads you to invite them to come to this place where his Means of Grace have been uniquely gathered. Here they deliver forgiveness to those same repentant sinners of whom Jesus spoke when told the disciples after his resurrection: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”


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