This Sunday, the story of the tower of Babel will kind of form the core of my sermon (Genesis 11:1-9). A good passage to reflect on in preparation for Sunday is Proverbs 2:1-5. The title of my sermon is “Babel (on and on and on)”.
This year at Millersburg Mennonite, those who want to are reading through the Bible in a year (see our church website for a reading plan if you’d like to join us). It’s a big challenge, and it can feel like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. But, it’s also been really rewarding thus far.
In reading the scriptures over the past 8 days, I was struck by the story of Babel, and by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 concerning true character. There is a human tendency to seek greatness and glory…whether by achieving great feats as they did at Babel, or by polishing a veneer of righteous living, as they hypocrites do in Matthew 6.
At Babel, God comes down and confuses their language. No longer able to communicate effectively, the people give up their project and go their separate ways.
It’s interesting that God never commands them not to build the tower. It was enough simply to make communication a bit more difficult. God knows that when we set our minds and hearts to becoming great or achieving great things…we lose patience to look beneath the surface of another person’s life.
Language can indeed impose a barrier to human relationships…but not one that needs to separate us from each other. I think we can read God’s action here as an invitation to know one another on a deeper level…an invitation we still refuse because we’re in too much of a hurry to build our own towers; monuments to our selves…and communicating across language barriers simply takes too much time and energy away from our own goals and ambitions.
Likewise, Jesus teaches in Matthew 6, that pagans babble when they pray. They think they will be heard because of their many words.
But he teaches another way. Jesus instructs his followers to pray alone, to give in secret, to not let on that you’re fasting…in other words, Jesus teaches us to focus on our own inner work before God rather than the tower of Babel that we’re seeking to erect.
I’m also intrigued by the idea that there’s a possibility that Babel and Babylon were the same place…they might not have been…but regardless, I like the idea that Babylon…the center of power in the ancient world, the high and mighty nerve center of an empire…could share a root that’s come to mean ‘nonsense’.
All empires seek their own greatness and preservation at any cost. All empires build themselves up, heaping words upon words, babbling all they can in order to drown out any competing stories.
God’s way is different, and requires us to listen, to learn each others language, to discover that many times our giving, our praying, our fasting…it changes us more than the other.
We’re also having a potluck featuring Biblical foods after church. Feel free to join us. Sunday school begins at 9:15, the worship hour at 10:30. I hope to see you here!