Sunday, December 02, 2012
Sermon: Genesis 11: 1-9 Confusion!
A few years ago, we were on holiday in Lanzarote. We went on a bus tour, and the guide was pointing out various features of the island. As we drove along, she was talking about a town with an Amy Grant museum. Now, Amy Grant is a famous Christian singer, but neither of us realised just how popular she must be in the Canary Islands. Strange, but ok. Until we realised, as the guide continued to talk about the museum, that it was an Emigrant museum, dedicated to the people who have left the islands, and not an Amy Grant museum!
We were both speaking English, but confusion reigned supreme. Or think of when you encounter Americans, and they talk of trash (rubbish), gas (petrol), sidewalk (pavement/footpath) - as someone once said, two nations divided by a common language.
Now imagine that you’re in the middle of a building site, you’re working on a big tower, and suddenly, you can’t understand a word your colleagues are saying! They can’t make you out either, there’s just confused looks all around. You were communicating yesterday, but now, it’s all Double Dutch. What’s happening?
If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that we saw the command to Noah and sons as they came out of the ark to ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’ (9:1). In the chapter we skipped over (Genesis 10), you find a big long list of names and families and clans and places. It looks like God’s word has been obeyed. Except, in Genesis 11, we find the circumstances that led to the scattering.
In verse 1, we’re told that ‘the whole earth had one language and the same words.’ All the people are still together, banded together, when they settle at Shinar. Rather than doing as God had commanded, they stay together, finding safety in numbers.
It’s here that they decide to work together: ‘Come, let us make bricks’ (3); ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city’ (4). The town planners get to work; the builders start working, and the plan is to build, not just a city, but also a ‘tower with its top in the heavens.’ Just think of a city skyline, with the skyscrapers standing tall - the Empire State Building or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (the tallest building in the world at 2722 feet high). They’re working on the first ever skyscraper.
They’re clear about their motives: ‘let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ They’re out to make a name for themselves; they’re motivated by pride and prestige, wanting to be famous for their achievements; reaching for the top.
Reaching, in fact, for the very top - to heaven itself. As they labour and build and climb, they’re seeking to prove themselves, wanting to succeed, to replace God, to do away with God. So they press on, doing all they can, doing it themselves. We don’t need nor want God!
Come, let us. Higher and higher they go, building their empire. Come, let us - higher and higher we go? Building our empire? What is it that we give ourselves to? What is it that our pride pushes us to do on our own? How are you trying to make a name for yourself, to be known for?
Is it in your family, to have the best, most perfect children, the highest achievers? Perhaps it’s the have the cleanest, tidiest house. Maybe it’s in your work to succeed and make it to the very top. Perhaps you’re building your tower of wealth and riches, wanting everyone around to be in awe of your success. What are you giving your energy to?
Reaching up, building up. In verse 5, we find the start of the Lord’s response. It’s like a little bit of humour, it’s a moment of irony. They’re building up, reaching towards the heavens, but verse 5: ‘The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.’
Imagine that you have ants in the garden. They start to build an ant city. They’re working away, it’s something very grand and impressive in the ant world, never been seen or done before. They think they’re going to knock you off your perch and take over your garden. But for you to see what they’re doing, you have to get down on your knees, get the magnifying glass out, stoop down and look carefully - that’s a bit like what’s happening here. The Lord comes down - it’s as if he couldn’t see it from heaven!
The people banded together with ‘Come, let us’ - the Lord responds with his own ‘Come, let us.’ ‘Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ The people reached up in sinful pride, the Lord stoops to curse by bringing confusion of their language. The scattering happens, the nations are divided, the peoples spread out over the face of all the earth. The city lies unfinished, its ruins a testament to the folly of pride. It’s name? Babel - babble.
So when it comes to our own prideful ambitions and projects, what will come of them? Do we really think God will allow them to continue? Will we forever get away with making a name for ourselves and building our own kingdoms? Whether suddenly or slowly, confusion creeps in; our plans are frustrated; our pride leads to a fall; our towers lie in ruins.
We simply cannot reach up to heaven. We can’t build our way up to heaven. It’s not possible. Indeed, as we’ve seen right through these opening chapters of Genesis, our first parents are just like us. We’re scattered, lost, alone. Our achievements are temporary, they’re soon toppled.
But the good news is that, in Jesus, the curse is reversed. In Jesus, God comes down, not in judgement, but in grace, to seek and to save the lost. In Jesus, God comes down to lift our humanity to the heights of his throne. In Jesus, the confusion of language is reversed, as the risen Jesus sends out his disciples to preach the good news and make disciples of all nations, so that on the day of Pentecost, people from all over the place hear the good news in their own languages, and on the last day, gathered around the throne, will be ‘people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’ crying out ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ (Revelation 8:9-10).
On this Advent Sunday, we’re reminded to get ready for the coming of the King - against whom earth’s pride empires pass away - whose kingdom stands forever. Will you come to him in humility, to find your salvation in him?
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 2nd December 2012.