Acts 2:1-21 CEB
There is a gift to waiting. It is during our time of waiting we need to prepare for the work God is going to give us, and God isn’t going to give us anything we cannot handle. We, on the other hand, apart from God, often give ourselves tasks too difficult for our current state in life. Call it impatience. Call it stubbornness. Call it selflessness to an unhealthy extreme. Whatever you call it, it happens when we choose to take control over and beyond God. If we can honestly live in the waiting period and use that time to prepare, we can expect God to allow great Pentecost type moments to occur. Otherwise, we will only be setting ourselves up to be put in our place. These are moments that look and feel like the wrath of God but is actually God’s love keeping us from taking more than we can bear. Let me explain:
First of all, how do I define ‘wrath of God?’ I believe, in my innermost being, that God is a God of love. I do not think love is always an action that feels nice or comfortable. True love for someone or something means wanting the best case scenario for that person or thing. From a parental standpoint, sometimes that means punishing your child, the one you love, so they hopefully learn a lesson and become a better person for it. Sometimes love means keeping someone away from something because they are not mature enough to deal with it correctly. I can remember when my son, Aeden, was a toddler. We were in a small room and I saw him staring at the door knob intently. Curious myself I turned the knob while he was watching and pushed the door open. Closing it again I watched as he put his tiny hands around the knob and opened the door for the first time. At first I was ecstatic that such a young mind could comprehend the mechanics of a door. Then, a moment later I realized we had to finally use the door knob covers. Putting the door knob covers on the doors wasn’t punishing him for his early discovery, but protecting him from the harm that a really young toddler could get into behind those unprotected doors. That is how God is to us. The wrath of God is not a bad thing; it protects us when we are not ready for our own creative ingenuity.
One of my favorite ‘wrath of God’ moments happens in Genesis 11:1-9. I am talking about the tower of Babel. In this scripture you have the people of the world working together, being innovative, and just plain being successful. In Genesis 11:1-9 there is nothing negative about what the people are doing. Just like, there was nothing negative about my toddler opening a door. Are you starting to see where I am going with this? What the people were doing wasn’t inherently bad, but what they could do could be catastrophic. Listen to the word of God, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose will be impossible for them.” Now there are two ways to look at God’s reflection: positively and negatively. You could see the people of the world, working together, would be able to cure all disease, end world hunger, and bring about world peace. You could also see how working together the people could bring desolation, destruction, and the complete end of all things. You had to look at what God was saying in its entirety. It is one thing to have power and it is completely another thing to know how to use it. The people of Babel were apparently not ready for the power they had. Humanity was not ready to handle that kind of power and God saw it. In an act of love, language was confused and the peoples were spread out all over the earth.
Now, what I find interesting about this ‘wrath of God’ moment is its similarity to Pentecost. No, Pentecost is not a ‘wrath of God’ moment, but both appear extremely easy to compare to one another. In both scriptures we have a group of people who all speak one language. In both scriptures God chooses to give them multiple languages. In both scriptures, God acts in love. These similarities leave me to believe that the Pentecost story is a restoration of Babel.
This wasn’t a complete restoration of Babel. The story does not conclude with every person on earth being able to understand one another’s language. Therefore, this isn't a story where the Apostles are given the gift of one language. God knew, and probably still knows today, we are not ready for that extreme kind of restoration. What is interesting is the Apostles already speak one language for they are all Gentile. Apparently the Gentiles were not ones to pick up on other languages. We should compare these people to ourselves. Most of us don’t take the time to learn anything but American English because even if we go overseas on vacation we would probably find someone who spoke our language. It might not be for lack of want. I am sure many of us would love to know a second or third language. Awhile ago I saw a movie filled with German. I know a decent amount of German and it was nice to follow the actual dialogue without following the subtitles too closely. (But don’t throw me in Germany. I would look for an English translator.) So naturally we are mocked by other foreign countries for only knowing one language. In the same way, Gentiles were also ridiculed.
Overall, language is an exclusive thing. Even if we were only to focus on English, what you say and how you say it can determine what social status you hold and what groups would be more likely to include you. Steven Colbert, from the Colbert Report, actually unlearned his Southern accent in order to sound more intelligent. “Y’all,” “You all,” “You guys,” and “Yus Guys” all mean the same thing but each one makes a statement about who and what a person is. Just as “Hello,” “Hola,” “Gutentag,” and ”Bojurno” all mean the same thing but clearly show a national preference.
Pentecost begins the path to restore unity again among the nations but doesn’t do it at the cost of individuality. This inclusive group, that all spoke one language in one dialect, was given the gift of diversity. Instead of God making everyone else like them, God made them like everyone else. I read one commentary that suggested Pentecost was a unifying event because the gift came to everyone present and not to specific individuals. While I believe that is the case, I also believe it is an individual event because each person was given the gift of different languages. The scripture never says they all spoke the same alternate languages. It doesn’t specify what languages they were speaking. I believe individuality is directly tied to diversity and through the diversity of the Pentecost moment they were each given individual gifts of language.
Maybe I get around to it a different way than some of the most learned Rabbis, but I think the biggest threat God saw in the Babel event was the loss of individuality. God said they could accomplish anything and anything could include the ability to lose the self. A group of people would become mindless robots instead of thriving individuals. The trick to true unity lies in being willing to work with a bunch of individuals. The act of unity requires the inclusion of diversity. So it makes sense that the gift the Apostles receive is further diversification. They are given the gift to be able to reach more people; not the other way around.
This week leads up to Pentecost and we need to realize our own Pentecost moment. God is not going to change the world outside so that they can fit in with us. God is not going to make everyone the same so it is easier to get along. Each of us is unique and that is a blessing from God. It is our job to learn their language and go to them. It is our job to include them through their diversity not our own. We have to be the ones who step outside our comfort zone, not the other way around. This is the house of God and this is not just about having the proper welcome mat for our guests and visitors. It is not just about moving the welcome mat to the world wide web so it is easier for guests to learn our language. This scripture should blatently show it is wrong to require others to learn our language of worship in order to learn about God. Instead, God is giving us the ability to learn their language in order to set fire and light up scripture in a new and brilliant way. I think we are done waiting. I think God has a Pentecost moment just for us. Let’s be the Apostles, the ones who go and do.
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