Summary: The stories of the Tower of Babel and Pentecost teach us to: 1. Guard against prideful uniformity. 2. Cherish diversity as God's gift, and 3. Look to Christ as the source of our unity
When Unity Becomes Toxic
We tend to think of unity as a good thing. Military units aspire for unity. People in public office wish for it. Marriages hope for it. Churches aspire for it. Yet, sometimes supposed unity masks for uniformity, and can quickly slip into pride and exclusionism.
Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the birthday of the church. And it’s important to note that the thousands of folks who joined the very first church on earth came from at least fifteen nations and people groups, pretty much the entire known world of the time. Church unity sprang out of diversity, the very opposite of uniformity.
Today’s story is an Old Testament counterpart to Pentecost, and in some ways its exact opposite. Whereas at Pentecost the gospel message spread clearly across all known languages, at Babel the language of a united people was confused, so that people sounded like they were just “babbling” to their neighbors. Let’s look at some lessons through the stories of Babel and Pentecost. First, we should...
1. Guard against prideful uniformity
The root of all sin is pride. And so it was in today’s story. The people of Shinar, or Babylon, wanted to make a name for themselves. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, they wanted to be like God, so they aspired to build a tower that reached the heavens. They also wanted to stay together, in defiance of God’s original command to “multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Their pride led them into uniformity, to be like each other so as to do great and mighty things together. And God wasn’t pleased.
But aren’t we the same? Don’t we gravitate towards those most like us? Do you remember back to when you first visited the Village? As you walked the grounds and enjoyed a free lunch and an overnight stay, what you most wanted to know--besides the price--was, “Is there anyone here like me?” We want to know the same thing when we join a new recreational group, or a new church. If there’s someone kind of like me, then I feel at home.
Uniformity is not a bad thing in itself, unless it leads to pride. “I don’t trust people with a different skin color.” Or, “Only Pentecostals really know how to worship.” We start making these judgmental decisions in our head. It’s basic prejudice, which if you break down the word, is a pre-judgment, before you know all the facts, solely because that person is different from you.
Becky and I have discussed how, for so many years, we worried about having the very best church music style possible, as if there was a corner on the market before a creative God, as if he only preferred this music vs. that music, not realizing that God loves it all, when the intent behind it is right.
We gravitate towards people like us. Yet, truth be told, when we spend time with people different from us, that’s when we grow the most, that’s when we’re stretched the most, that’s when we perceive the wonder of God’s creative hand. Guard against uniformity. And secondly,
2. Cherish diversity as God’s gift
I remember hearing the story of the Tower of Babel as a kid in Sunday School, and looking at those large Bible pictures on an easel, as the teacher showed us this tower spiraling towards the sky (like the picture I put on your outline). Then, the mighty hand of God swooped down and confused everyone’s language until they had no choice but to move apart.
The story sounds kind of like God was threatened by humanity’s success, right? As if human beings could ever be so powerful as to threaten God. Maybe this perspective originates from the humans God used to capture the story for us. But consider that maybe God sent language diversity to bless the people, not to curse them. What if God did it for their own good? Are we not blessed today by the variety of languages and cultures and ethnicities around the globe, and really, right here in San Antonio? We were eating at an Indian restaurant last Sunday, and in the room we noticed a great variety of ethnicities representing several continents, all sharing quality food originating from one part of the world.
As good as hamburgers are, wouldn’t the world be a boring place if all we had was hamburgers, day after day after day? Never Chinese rice, or a rich Italian-style pizza? Or the exotic taste of chicken and rice our Saudi exchange students introduced us to a number of years ago? Or that wonderful calorie-ridden Southern cooking, maybe a chicken fried steak, some mashed potatoes and gravy, with cream corn? (Anyone getting hungry?) Diversity is a gift right from heaven, designed for our pleasure and appreciation and growth. God wants to expand our horizons. God wants us to learn and grow from those different from us.