Rudyard Kipling wrote: “All good people say; and all good people agree that… All nice people, like us, are WE — And everyone else is THEY.”
We are a divided people. Separated by national boundaries, limited loyalties, and by barriers of status, economics, education gender, age, and language.
We have learned to hate those who are not like “us.” We are suspicious of “them.” Life is so much safer when we associate only with those who think and speak and act like “us.”
Jesus Christ came into our world of “them” and “us.” He refused, however, to accept a society based on divisions. Jesus envisioned a world in which there would be no “them” and no “us.”
The Bible is filled with stories of division and disunity. The Bible also proclaims the hope of unity and oneness. The story of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-17) is the account of how we became a divided people. The story of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-8) is the account of how we can overcome our differences and become “one.”
BABEL stands for what humanity has done, and is still doing! Once upon a time, in Eden, we were one people. We spoke a common language, We understood one another. We worshipped together; we worked together; we enjoyed being together.
We were on speaking terms with God, and with each other. We were not content!
“Let us make bricks…” Disobedience begins in a small way. We had no intention of defying God‘s authority, of disobeying His commands. But, one little white lie won’t matter. Cheating just once won’t make any difference.
No one will miss those few dollars I take from the company — I’ll pay it back. Small acts seem to lead to larger acts.
“Let us build ourselves a city …” Life under God is hard; we miss Eden. We’ll build our own city, the City of Man. Our town will be called“Paradise,” “Utopia,” “Heaven-on-Earth.”
The foundation of our town is built on selfishness. The walls are constructed of pride, greed, envy, and hatred. The walls are high and thick — designed to separate “us” from “them,” to keep “them” out.
The City of Man prospered and grew; and we said, “Look what we have done! There’s no stopping us now!” “Let’s build a Tower that will reach to high heaven. We’ll make a name for ourselves…”
“We” have the technology, the education, the personnel, the resources, and the power to do whatever “we” choose! In the process, we eliminated our need for God!
It was at this point that God intervened. “This is only the beginning of what they propose to do; and nothing will be impossible for them…”
So God confused their language. And because they could no longer understand each other, the tower was never completed! The Tower of Babel/Confusion still stands as a sign of our separation from God and from one another.
PENTECOST stands for what God has done, and is still doing! In the shadow of the Tower, there stands an Upper Room; it was here that the Disciples gathered, and experienced the Holy Spirit!
“They were all together…” Obedience begins in small ways. Jesus had told them: “Go, and wait.” A simple request that any person could follow.
They went. They waited. They drew strength from being together.
“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” There was no boasting about “what we have done”; all rejoiced in “what God had done”!
“They all heard them speaking in their own language…” No divisions, nothing to separate us from God, or one another. We spoke the same language; we clearly understood each other. Thus, we are able to worship and work together to accomplish God’s will!
“All who believed had all things in common…” They lovingly shared all they had; all their God-given gifts and resources.
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved…” People were attracted to the Fellowship-of-Believers because they saw how full of life they were, how loving and caring they had become. They experienced a Community-of-God, a place where there were no divisions.
And as they, too, were touched by the Holy Spirit, the Church prospered and grew! They were truly one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.
Praise be to God for Pentecost! Fill us, today, with the Holy Spirit!
(Dr. Don Kuehle is a retired United Methodist pastor in Missouri.)