Monday, May 24, 2010

Sermon - Genesis 11:1-9 - Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday (Youth Confirmation)
Genesis 11:1-9
May 23, 2010
“Reaching Heaven”

What were they thinking, when they decided to build that tower? Really, I mean, did they think they could actually reach heaven? Sooner or later, the laws of physics and nature would have made this tower project come to an end.... even today our tallest buildings reach only 2000 feet or so.

And surely God knew that they would get nowhere. Was there really a threat they would come knocking on his pearly gates?

But it wasn't that God was feeling threatened. It wasn't that he needed some space. He didn't come down in judgment because their rebellious act would actually be successful. It was what was behind the action that was more troubling. It was the sinful pride – the attitude – not the tower itself.

“Look what we can do” “Look how great we are” “Let's make a name for ourselves”. Sinful pride. The opposite of humility. Another expression of that impulse born and bred into all of us – the desire to be our own little gods.

To be like God – knowing good and evil. Better yet, to set the rules of good and evil. Good is what I want to do, evil is that evil that I don't think I'm doing. To be like God – and to receive worship and adulation from others. And perhaps worst of all – our sinful impulse to be like God is the thought that we can be our own savior. That we can make it to heaven on our own.

God knocks all that down. But not without due process. He “comes down to see”. Not because he needed to – he's omniscient, after all. But there is a formal judgment to be rendered – and God plays by the rules. He is not fickle or whimsical. He is not hasty in his judgment. He always gives us more time than we deserve. But he does not wait forever.

We are not, after all, like God. We are not patient and fair and just and righteous. We are not in heaven, and we cannot get to heaven. In fact, we deserve to be somewhere quite worse.

God is merciful. It could have been so much worse. Here, even in his judgment, as he so often is – he is merciful. This punishment is for their own good. He confuses the languages. He scatters the people. To keep them out of trouble, or at least mitigate the damage they can do together. For sinful people united in sinful pride is bad news. Merciful God makes it difficult for us to work together, and thus our human pride is kept in check. He makes it difficult for us to communicate with one another, and so divides us – nation against nation.

How confused and angry and grief-stricken those tower builders must have been, when God's verdict took effect. Do we feel the same emotions when life doesn't go the way we plan? When we can't get along with others? When our projects and dreams come crashing down? When our pride is stripped away and we are laid bare in the embarrassment of our failures? When the illusion of our never-ending health and life is shaken when the doctor tells us the test results?

Why does God do this to us, or at least let it happen to us? Confusing, frustrating, downright maddening are his ways. There isn't always an answer that satisfies us. But know this, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

The law hurts. But it prepares us to be healed. Suffering and pain are temporary, but peace and joy in Christ are eternal. Death comes for us all, and brings grief. But life comes for all who are in Christ, and in him is our hope.

God confused the languages and scattered the people for their good. And God uses the troubles of this life for our good. God pronounced judgment on their sinful pride for their good. And the condemning word of God's law is for our good. The law keeps us humble. It shows us our sin. It reminds us of our need.

And the Gospel gives us hope. Hope for a true tower, or stairway to heaven. Not one that we build up, but one which God extends down to us in Christ.

In Christ, heaven comes down to earth. In his cross, forgiveness, life and salvation are won. A better way to reach heaven – a cross. Humility, not pride. Bending down, not reaching up. The only way to heaven, is through Jesus Christ and his cross.

And in his word, and here at font and altar, forgiveness life and salvation are distributed. The means of grace. The places to go and look for heavenly blessings. In our daily reading of his word – and in our weekly gathering around the proclaimed word. The word of God is the beating heart of the Christian's life. And heaven comes daily to us in that word.
Heaven comes daily to us, through the water of baptism. Though we were baptized long ago, though we confirmed that baptism long ago, we daily confirm it as we return to its promises. As we repent and are forgiven in Christ, heaven is opened to us, again and again.

And in this meal – the body and blood of Christ – he who sits on heaven's high throne – is given to you, for you. Think about that – the ruler of the universe – God of God – comes down to be here, for you, not just to see from afar – but to touch, to eat, to drink. Heaven on earth. And you get to be there.

Permit me a few words to the confirmands....
You have been instructed now for years. As your parents have raised you in the faith, and as you've finished your formal training in class with me. Today is a highpoint for you – I'm sure you've looked forward to this day (if for nothing else to be done with sermon reports). But in this mountaintop moment, a word of warning to you – don't fall for the sinful pride.

Don't think that you've reached the top and this is the end. Don't even be tempted to pridefully put God aside or behind you, “now that you're confirmed”. Don't neglect receiving his gifts here in worship. Don't stop listening to the sermons. And don't think that you've learned it all and know it all. For God has a way of knocking down such pride.

But also a word of encouragement: remember what Christ has done for you. Remember that here in worship he serves you. Remember that his body and blood is given and shed for you – for the forgiveness of your sins. Remember that the Gospel is about what he does for you – and that's what's most important. And you will be blessed here and for eternity. (And for all of us...)

The tower of Babel reminds us of the danger of sinful human pride. It shows us a God who often knocks us down a peg or two, for our own good. But it hints a God who brings himself even lower, in Christ, on the cross, to raise us up from death to life and eternal glory. He reaches down, lifts us up, and we reach heaven through him. Amen.

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