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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

31-PEN-R-C-2004 Babel – Lebab
Acts 2:1-21
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
May 30, 2004

The New Living Translation recounts the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel like this:

At one time the whole world spoke a single language and used the same words. As the people migrated eastward, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. They began to talk about construction projects. "Come," they said, "let's make great piles of burnt brick and collect natural asphalt to use as mortar. Let's build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies-- a monument to our greatness! This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world." But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. "Look!" he said. "If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later. Nothing will be impossible for them! Come, let's go down and give them different languages. Then they won't be able to understand each other." In that way, the LORD scattered them all over the earth; and that ended the building of the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because it was there that the LORD confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth.

Today we celebrate Pentecost, which is a kind of Babel in reverse. “Lebab,” if you say it backwards. And if that sounds like speaking in tongues, so much the better.

According to the legend of Babel, we got our different languages when people came together to worship themselves. God confused their language, which was just enough to scatter them across the earth.

At Pentecost, the worshipers of God heard the gospel in a vast collection of languages. Instead of confusing their speech, God united their words, so that however you said it, people heard the story of Jesus Christ. Now, the Babel curse becomes a blessing. No longer confined to ceremonial Hebrew and the people who knew how to speak it, God blows the doors to worship wide open. The God who once confused our languages to break us apart, joins us by the Spirit to make us one.

We may speak a thousand different languages. We may speak with a twang or a chang or a click. But when we worship, we worship One. On Pentecost, 2004, may we be one.


Memorial Day Weekend 2004, and our country is at war with people we can’t understand and who have no desire to understand us. We have a homeland security system that’s color-coded because there are no words to classify terror. Some of us grew up calling this holiday, ironically, Decoration Day – as if there were any way to make the honor of fallen soldiers more beautiful, or to make their loss less tragic. Why people can’t settle on any better way to resolve our differences defies understanding, and understanding defied continues as the hideous root of our wars. The curse of Babel continues -- a permanent stain on human life.

The church – or more correctly, God – has a habit of taking the ugliest parts of humanity and turning them backwards, into symbols of eternal majesty. We seek life in front of a cross. We eat at the table of a Last Supper. We baptize in the waters of chaos. And when we remember the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit we decorate our house of worship in red – the red of the blood of Christ, poured out for our sakes. There is no way to make more beautiful the sacrifice of our Lord, or the sacrifice of Christian martyrs whose blood flowed for their beliefs. Their red makes us better. But red also reminds us of the Babel curse that continues to stain. This morning, as we come to speak of One, red also reminds us how often we can’t understand each other, much less people who speak Arabic and live on the other side of the planet. Red reminds us of our blessing, and our curse – the blessing that will not go away, and the curse that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Red reminds us that God has a habit of turning us around. On Memorial Day Weekend 2004, may our nation and our world turn around the One axis of the Holy Spirit.


Pentecost 2004, and we need the Holy Spirit more than ever. When we share God’s Communion, we need to eat and drink, both with the world and for the world. This world’s blood still runs a very combined color of red. Pentecost offers the hope that we can listen beyond our languages and see beyond our skin, to bring honor to the life’s blood we all share.

Today as we share Communion, let us stand shoulder to shoulder with this world, its blessed and its cursed. Let us eat and drink for the street children of Cambodia. Let us eat and drink for the African towns where AIDS infects almost everyone’s blood. Let us eat and drink and pray for the Iraqi villagers afraid to leave their homes. Let us eat and drink with the Muslims, with the Jews, with the imams and rabbis, who may never speak the name of Jesus Christ, but who speak the Holy Spirit’s language of unity and compassion. Let us eat and drink with the soldiers who are taking a morning’s break to stand beneath a camouflaged tent and eat and drink with us. Let us eat and drink with the spirits of the saints whose faith is the decoration of our church.

Today as we share Communion, let us be as the disciples – amazed and perplexed. Let us be astounded that we can hear God’s deeds of power in our own language, in whatever way our hearts need to hear. Let us be properly puzzled that the Holy Spirit can speak to anyone, anywhere, and use anyone, anywhere to work the good works of Jesus Christ. Let us be overjoyed that God can turn a curse backward, into a blessing.

Pentecost 2004, and God is still blowing the doors to worship wide open. Pentecost 2004, and God is still speaking to this world, God is still looking for disciples, and God is still talking to you. As long as your blood runs red, as long as your heart has hope, as long as you have life, you can be a sign of good news. You can be the breath of the Holy Spirit. And even though you may not understand, even though you may not be understood, you are part of the One, the One we worship, the One who gives this world life.

We may speak a thousand different languages. We may speak with a twang or a chang or a click. But when we worship, we worship One. On Pentecost, 2004, may we be one.