Searching from the Observation Deck
Rev. Kurt Lantz Pentecost C Genesis 11:1-9
June 05, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people of all nations, languages, and peoples,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The incident of the Tower of Babel still troubles us, at least it troubles me. We seem to have all kinds of views on current immigration of people from different cultures into Canada, while we are still trying to sort out our own national issues between First Nations and early European settlers. Is it all God’s fault, stemming from when He came down and confused language, dispersing people over the face of all the earth? Would it have turned out better if He had stayed in His heaven and left the people to build their tower?
God gets dragged into the discussion quite a bit due to residential schools being administered by religious denominations and acts of terrorism and hate crimes by and against religious groups. Notice is often taken of the religion of fanatics and the god in whom they believe, resulting in the judgment that all gods are sources of hate and violence.
In the incident of the tower, it is worthy to note that God did not initiate the conflict. The people were trying to build a tower to reach the heavens. It was their intention to invade God’s dwelling place. They were not content to be His people, receiving His blessing to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9;1). Rather, they wanted a name for themselves. They were acting in defiant disobedience and rejection of God’s blessings, refusing to spread out and fill the earth.
Their fears show that they were already divided in religion and ideology. They hoped that a tower with its top in the heavens would be a source of unity for them, that such a grand symbol would be a rallying point allowing them to replace the God of heaven and take up residence there themselves.
Mankind is still creating symbols and building towers in vain attempts to bind together people of disparate religions and ideologies. The woke culture in which we dwell seeks to open our eyes not just to the problem of conflict and discrimination on the basis of culture and ancestry, but to their leaning towers of Babel, by which they continually seek to displace the God who created mankind in His image and blessed them to take that godly image throughout all of the earth.
The foundation of these towers rests upon the sand of our sins. The symbols and slogans serve to point out that the division is of no fault but our own. It doesn’t originate in heaven and it is the very thing that prevents us from reaching there, no matter how tall our towers are constructed, how colourful our flags, our strong our military might.
When I was a little gaffer, the CN Tower in Toronto was a source of pride for all Canadians, being the tallest free-standing structure in the world at that time. I have been up the CN Tower to the observation deck a couple of times. You can see a good way out over Ontario in all directions. And of course, on a clear day, you can see the CN Tower from here. After the service you can take a short walk to the patio around the library tower and see if it is visible today. But I always had a hard time convincing our neighbours south of border of the grandeur of the CN Tower, for they had structures and symbols of their own that they felt reached higher in ideology, if not in elevation. And now, depending on your definitions, the CN Tower is somewhere around tenth place in height, with many of the higher structures not just towers, but hotels and skyscraper dwellings.
What are the towers and symbols that we have constructed in order to try to hold ourselves together as we continue to rebel against God, reject our unity in Him, and try to displace Him in the heavens? Could these include a move to a global economy, a World Heath Organization response to pandemic, a United Nations or North Atlantic Treaty Organization? Can we find them more locally in monuments like the Brock Monument at Queenston Heights, the name of a local school, the meaning of a coloured crosswalk, the structure of a family tree? Whoa, that’s getting very close to home. Could our towers also include the height of our church buildings, the length of the list of activities in the bulletin, or how highly liturgical or creative our services can get?
At what point do these constructs stop uniting us and start dividing us?--Right at their foundation when they are based on our sinful motives to make a name for ourselves or to circumvent the will of our God. The ongoing troubles stemming from the Tower of Babel incident are not due to cultural differences but to a sin that runs so deep and strong that it spreads throughout all of created mankind. It will always cause its problems even as we seek to unite ourselves together.
That is why God had to come down and interrupt the progress of the Tower of Babel. It was not progress for mankind. It was regress. It was a prideful display of sin and a desperate but failed attempt to correct the fear of bearing the image of God throughout all the land of the earth. If God did not intervene, not only would the tower have been a failure, but every other attempt that they would make to be united outside of God would bring further and further alienation from the one true source of unity, peace, and love.
So God in His mercy came down and confused their language and dispersed them throughout the land of all the earth. It was a merciful judgment against the depths of their sin in trying to storm the heights of heaven. It was not that God wanted to keep them out and away from Himself, but that He knew they would never reach Him by such debased attempts.
Yet God did not leave them scattered abroad, alone, and vulnerable. He came down again in a more wondrous way, when the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary. He united Himself to mankind in an indissoluble way, not seeking to enslave us or oppress us or abuse us, but to be a sacrifice for us. He suffered abuse at the hands of sinners. He was despised and rejected. And through His suffering and death He paid the price for all of the debased sins of prejudice, bigotry, and hatred that mankind has levelled against his brother from the dawn of Creation.
And in order to unite people from every nation under heaven into one, on the Day of Pentecost, he overcame the division of languages in order that all people could hear in their own language the wonderful works of God in Christ Jesus (Acts 2:8-11). That same Spirit Whom He sent in such a tangible way on that day, was poured out upon you at your Baptism, and you also have confessed the wonderful works of God in Christ Jesus in your own language.
That is how we are united to one another and to all nations, languages, and peoples. We find each other baptized into Christ. We confess the same faith in Christ’s saving work for us all. We gather together to hear His Word and we all eat of the body and blood of the One Saviour of the world. We have not made a name for ourselves, but we have received one from Him. We realize the desire of our hearts in Him. He binds us together. He brings us to heaven. He dwells with us. And that is what we have been searching for from the observation decks of our towers.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.