God and the City of Immigrants

There are many stories in the Bible that we learned so long ago in Sunday school as children, they are embedded in our brain, often with pictures further solidify the memory. If I say "ancient homogenous city Babel" in the form of a Jeopardy! clue, many of you will respond with either "What is 'Tower of...'?" or "People tried to build a tower to reach God, who demolished it, scattering the people." Others of you may say, "That is the explanation given for why there are so many languages. In humankind's arrogance to attempt to build a tower up to the heavens, to be on the level with God, instead the tower fell and society divided into desperate groups of people."

What if I told you that this story found in Genesis 11 was actually about the arrogance of unchecked technological advancement and the evils of a homogenous culture only concerned with others who fit the same mold; the division and scattering of the people, the plethora of languages that erupt a sign of God's good plan of difference enhancing witness? 

A further example of early Sunday school lessons sticking in the brain would be that famous story in Acts, when the wind rushed through the company, flames danced above their heads, and the apostles began speaking in tongues, is the answer to and fulfillment of the division wrought in Babel. What God tore asunder, God restored. Not precisely. In Acts, the diversity remains, the different cultures are still present, each person who hears the gospel spoken in their own language is not suddenly speaking the same Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew as the disciples. Rather, the disciples have been gifted the ability to make themselves understood in the different cultures. The diversity remains; it is the people who have a greater capacity for expression and understanding. 

The Pentecost readings from Genesis and Acts work together to emphasis the importance and richness of diversity, and the peace and compassion of making the attempt to truly understand one another. I will sign off this week with a song: City of Immigrants by Steve Earle. Can a city, a nation, a world, survive when we construct barriers between ourselves and those deemed "other"? That answer to that question is in the relationship between Babel and the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd