“Doxologizing” – Texts for Pentecost: Gen. 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:23-31On the surface, it would appear that Pentecost is all about language. From the tower of Babel, where language and the confusion thereof seems the main problem; to the day of Pentecost in our Epistle where the ability to speak foreign languages seems the miracle, to our Gospel where Jesus promises the Spirit to teach us all things in a language we can grasp, finally, divinely
It is an appealing line of thought, that language is the pivot on which all turns. It has been an appealing thought in late 20th and early 21st century theology and philosophy where thinkers like Wittgenstein remain popular for their attention to language as the crux of the matter. It’s an appealing idea on a personal level for any of us who’ve ever struggled to learn a foreign language, like oh, say, maybe a hypothetical college sophomore tackling Hebrew (being poorly advised to do so) with a succession of weak amateur teachers, who managed to convince him only of this: that the story of the tower of Babel proves that foreign languages are a curse from God designed to gum up all the works of the world, and that laboring in the foreign language departments of academia is a sure way to experience the ancient curse in a very first-hand sort of manner!
So, the takeaway from this line of thought is that if we can only get our language right, find the right words, attach them to the right concepts, drill them into our heads and those of others, then everything will come right and Paradise will be restored. So much of the modern church has been devoted to this idea that Christianity is all about getting our language right in our talk of God, the right words, concepts, propositions and the acceptance thereof.
But I don’t buy it.
Nope. I don’t think language was the problem back at the tower of Babel, nor that the Holy Spirit is sent mainly to make me talk pretty one day. I think there is a much deeper problem in all three of our lessons today that God addresses in Christ and that the language thing is just a means to a much greater end, just a wrench in God’s toolbox, for getting this bigger problem sorted.
So what is more important than getting our language of God right? In a word - Worship!!!
Worship is what we were made for. Our worship is what got all fouled up in the Garden of Eden. Worship was the issue at Babel, the issue at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the issue when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, and the issue that we are really trying to address in our catechesis, which four of our young people have undergone this past year and will be confirmed in this morning.
I have often wanted a bumper sticker (especially at pastors’ conferences) mirroring the old “It’s the economy stupid” that would say “It’s not the language, the concepts, the outreach, and it’s definitely not the numbers; it’s the worship, stupid!” The very word “orthodoxy” does not, as most think, mean “right teaching.” No, a beginning Greek student would tell you it means right glory, literally, the right glorifying of God which is to say “right worship!” The Christian Church is about worship, first, last, always, and the restoration of that true worship of God which comes to us through faith in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Look: in heaven there will be no more catechisms, no more debates, no more question and answer sessions, no more evangelism, no more outreach, no more books designed to reshape our thinking. No. All of that will be gone. There will be no more faith even, because we will see what we now must believe. But what there will be, forever and amen, is worship, the worship of God in Christ Jesus, the Song that goes ever on, the Dance that never gets old, and the Game we never tire of playing where each round is better and more delightful than the last. We were created to worship the Holy Trinity, and in that worship to share the fullness of the divine life and delight forevermore. This is the light that illuminates Paradise, that which makes it Paradise, that indefinable something we have been chasing all our earthly lives and never quite envisioning, never quite capturing...
Our earthly worship gives, on the whole, a very poor idea of the heavenly reality (especially when we try to make the Divine Service relevant to ourselves instead of ourselves relevant to God). What we do here on Sunday mornings, is just the barest hint, the vaguest shadow of what goes on before the throne of God in heaven. But it’s a start.
In our catechesis this year, we went through a lot (306!) questions and answers. And we had had fun with that thing, didn’t we? But the point of it all was not just to get confirmed and cash gifts, or to amass knowledge about God that we file away or impress others with. No, the purpose of all this was to draw deeper into the worship of Christ, to make all our words worship words, and what we do here on Sunday is meant to lead us to make all our lives one great doxology!
But I see some of you don’t look so convinced of this. That Pentecost is about worship not language. Alright. Let’s go back to the very beginning, [a very good place to start!] to Genesis and the Tower of Babel. Maybe if I convince you of this, the rest will fall into place.
In the days of Babel, the whole earth had one language and one speech. And what they did with that was to try to make a Name for themselves by building a City, a Tower topping out in heaven. Trying to make a Name for ourselves is a total rejection of the Name God gifts to us through faith by Word and Sacrament, in Holy Worship, Divine Service. So, when God saw the building of the Tower at Babel, He pronounced it a disaster. And He came down and confused our language, started foreign language departments to stop this project - the Babel Project.
And what was that Babel Project finally, if not worship, fouled-up worship? It was worship of ourselves, a monument to ourselves, the man-made heaven modern man still yearns for and dreams of. It was a total rejection of the heaven that God gives in Christ and a demand to substitute a Kingdom we’ve built through our own engineering and outreach endeavors. And once the Tower is built, we go conquer the world and make’em live in it (like-it-or-not) by our proselytizing.
The confusion of our language at Babel was not the problem. It was the divine solution, a temporary stop-gap to the real problem of fouled up worship. And so the restoration of true language at Pentecost was no final solution, just the means towards restoring true worship!
We still build our Towers of Babel today. Our businesses, governments, states, churches, are, too often, monuments to ourselves, attempts to scale heaven by our impressive works and too often explicit rejections of the heaven Jesus gives only as a Gift by Way of the Cross. Much of the modern church’s endeavors are just Babel-building!
You can drill people with the language of Christian dogma, but if that is the end-all, it is just another Tower of Babel. Language is an important tool, but one designed to be used to worship for Christ’s sake. That is to say, our language is only right when it is doxological, when it is by and for the worship of God in Christ. To that end, God sends His Spirit again today in Word and Sacrament, to re-shape our language yes, but more so to glorify, to eucharistify, to doxologize, all our words by the incarnate Word of Christ Jesus, that, ultimately, in the worship of Him, we’ll find Peace surpassing understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Sermon by: Pr. Kevin Martin (May 19, 2013 - Pentecost)