Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-27
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Technology of itself is neither good nor bad. But the way we use technology is not neutral, either morally or spiritually. Scientific advancements bring new problems, as the tools we use end up using and changing us. The invention of the automobile, the airplane, the telephone, and now mobile technologies have changed how and where people live, how we view the world and interact with each other. You’ve seen others–and perhaps even yourself–become chained like a slave to screens–televisions, computers, and handheld and wearable devices.
The account of the Tower of Babel is about certain technological advancements that occurred among the people of that day. Without good stone for building, they learned to mold clay into bricks, bake them, and bind them together with asphalt. This was, no doubt, a good thing. But they employed their technology in a manner serving their own desires and their own pride. They sought to build a tower that would be to their own name, to their own glory. That is why St. Jerome referred to the Tower of Babel as the “Tower of Pride.”
“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language,” God said. “Us” shows already here that there is One God in Three Persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the counsel of the Holy Trinity it was determined to bring judgement on these builders who used their language and their technology for evil.
Now clearly we live in a far more technologically advanced age than the one in Genesis 11. While this presents opportunities for greater good, there is also the opportunity for greater rebellion and pride and the sense that we are the ones who run the show. As an example: In the church we see the benefit of technology in being able to stream our services as a temporary solution for those who are physically unable come to church. However, even this good thing can become an evil if people begin to think that watching church on their computer screen is enough or just as good as physical attendance. Biblically speaking, there’s no such thing as a virtual church that exists somewhere in cyberspace. For we believe in the incarnate Jesus who calls us to gather in the flesh with one another, to hear His words face to face and to receive His true and literal body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Our God is an in-person kind of God. We should be willing to risk all the treasures of this world in order to have these treasures of heaven.
Likewise also out in the world, we benefit from great and wonderful medical advances and treatments. And yet at the same time we see human life being manipulated and destroyed in the name of research or choice–millions of human embryos in the IVF lab and unborn babies in the womb are killed. In the midst of the wonders of global communication and instant contact through the internet, there is a vast wasteland of pornography, voyeurism, and just plain idiocy. And, of course, in our age we also construct great and tall buildings and monuments, which is fine and good. But is this to God’s glory or our own? We advance technologically and decline morally.
This decline is reflected in our language and the way we talk. Not only do we sometimes engage in spin and the manipulation of words to deceive or to push our own agendas, but our culture uses euphemisms to try to pretty up and justify sin: marriage equality, reproductive rights, non-binary, gender fluid. The elites of society actually cowtow to the person who insists on being referred to as an individual with the pronouns “they” and “them,” or even nonsense words like “ze” and “zir.” It’s no wonder that the judgment God pronounces on fallen mankind who abuses language is to confuse the languages.
So let us be on guard against the desire to find our security in the wisdom of the world, it’s achievements and advancements. Let us not pridefully stake our lives on things that pass away, on wisdom that is really just prettied-up foolishness. God’s judgment will not be thwarted. He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts. It is written, “The Lord came down,” which is a human way of saying that the Lord, who is slow to anger, finally said, “Enough!” and began to punish. Let us be warned, repenting in our minds and hearts and behavior, and turning to Christ for mercy and help.
For in the glorious events of Pentecost that we are celebrating today, the LORD came down in a new and different way. When the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the gift of speaking in other languages that they had not studied or learned, the judgement at the Tower of Babel was reversed. Pride caused the languages of the world to be divided; Christ’s humility caused the good news of God’s forgiveness to be preached in a united way to every language. What the Tower of Pride split apart, God has put back together in the holy Christian Church. Pride caused one language to become many. In the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, those many languages and peoples are made one.
The Church is not German or Roman or Greek or Jewish or any other ethnicity. The Church is Christ’s, and the day of Pentecost reveals that the Gospel is for everyone. The Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of our own resurrection and life in God’s kingdom is for every tribe and nation and people and language. It is a tremendous thing when a people are welcomed into the Church not because of the color of their skin or common cultural background, but because they are fellow sons and daughters of Adam, who in Holy Baptism are made to be fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
We, who come from different places and have different talents and gifts–we have in Jesus a common inheritance. Today’s Gospel declares Jesus’ farewell gift to you, the inheritance He leaves with His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”
“Not as the world gives.” The world does have a certain kind of peace–but it’s a fake peace, a temporary truce. What Jesus gives is real, lasting, deep and true. Isaiah prophesied, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.” You have been reconciled to the Father in Christ. You are at peace with God through the cross of Jesus. This is the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes through the blood of Christ that has atoned for your sins, that calms your consciences. God is not your enemy. He comes down to you in Christ with mercy and pours out His Holy Spirit upon you through the Gospel and the Sacraments. So it is that Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.” There is no reason to fear any more, not even when you’re confronting the grave. If you are right with God, then you can face whatever is going on in your day to day life with His strength and with the confidence that He is with you and will guide you through His Word. This is not worldly peace which fails; this is peace given by the Spirit of God which never fails and which endures forever.
If you want to know what the Holy Spirit does, look at what Jesus does. Note how the Son and the Spirit are both sent by the Father. “The Father sent Me,” Jesus declares, and then He says, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will … bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” The Father who sent the Son sends the Spirit to deliver the work of the Son. The Son wins forgiveness for us sinners, and the Spirit delivers that forgiveness, so that we are reconciled to the forgiving Father. The Spirit is poured out to unite us with the Son in Baptism, and so we are made children of the heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit is not off doing His own strange and bizarre thing, but is always connected with Jesus and delivering His Gospel.
The Holy Spirit comes to make you holy in Christ. And if you doubt this about yourself, if you know your own unholiness all too well and wonder if because of your sin you may not have the Holy Spirit, consider these words from Martin Luther: “To be sure, the Holy Spirit sometimes lets His Christians fall, err, stumble, and sin. This is to forestall any complacency, as though we were holy of ourselves, and to teach us to know ourselves and the source of our holiness. Otherwise we would become arrogant and overweening.”
When we sin, we are not sure if God really accepts us. But our Lord says, “You must not look at yourself; you must fix your eyes on what I have done for you and what I give you–the forgiveness of sins, Baptism, the Sacrament, and the Gospel. These are the tokens of My grace and peace.” That is where the Holy Spirit is present for you in rich measure with all of His gifts. That is how Pentecost continues for you each and every day: through the words of Jesus, who is the Word made flesh. Remember, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, who puts language to its proper use, who doesn’t use words to spin or manipulate or deceive, but to preach Him who is Truth Incarnate, so that you may call on the name of the Lord Jesus and be saved.
So even though God would be completely just in coming down as He did at Babel and visiting you with wrath and destruction, yet once again God has given you opportunity to repent, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on you generously. By His holy inspiration, you have heard the words of Jesus repeated to you, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.” Do not take not this gift lightly, nor wonder if it is truly yours. This consolation is for you. Say to yourself on this feast of Pentecost, “I am baptized. I, an unholy sinner, have been declared holy, and have received the Holy Spirit. The Father has made peace with me through His Son, and my home will forever be with Him.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to the Rev. Christopher Esget)