Consider this sermon as the first reclaiming of a signpost after long nights of wrestling, and coming away wounded. Inarticulateness rendered poetry (thanks in part to good friends like CoolPastor...).
Acts 2: 1-11 (NRSV)
Gen 11: 1-19 (Alter/Fox/towanda)
And all the earth was one language, one set of words. And it happened as they journeyed from the east that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to each other, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.” And the brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.”
And the HaShem came down to see the city and the tower that the human creatures had built. And HaShem said, “Here, they are one people with one language for them all, and this is merely the first of their doings – now there will be no barrier for them in all that they scheme to do! Come, let us go down and baffle their language there, so that they will not hear each other’s language.” And HaShem scattered them from there over the face of all the earth and they had to stop building the city. Therefore it is called Babel, for there HaShem baffled the language of all the earth-folk. And from there HaShem scattered them over all the earth.
The wild wind of God will blow where it will. The wild divine breath inhales, exhales, moves, scatters, gathers.
Listen to the ancient language, a language from beyond memory, listen, as it breathes in between the letters on the page, in the ear.
Havah ner’dah v’nav’lah sham sh’fatam asher lo’ yishm’u ish sh’fat re’e’hu
Let us go down
v’nav’lah sham sh’fatam
let us baffle their language
asher lo’ yishm’u ish sh’fat re’e’hu
so that they will not hear each other’s language
lo’ yishm’u ish re’e’hu
they will not hear each other
they will not hear, they will not obey, they will not listen to
The breath of the Divine blows, baffles, slips between the creases of the story, so old, worn with the tracing finger.
One word. One people.
Let us make, let us burn, let us build, they say. Let us make a name for ourselves.
To whom are they listening? Who tells them to make, to burn, to build? Not God. Not God. They stopped listening to God.
Noah listened before, Abraham will listen after. But these...no listening. Only orders, to each other. Make. Do. Build.
One word. One people. One language. One tower. One name.
They listen not, to God. Where is God?
God says, listen to me! Not one word. Not one people. Not one language. Not one name.
Be scattered! Be many! Not one, many!
Many peoples, many languages, many names.
The people are baffled.
Are we not meant to be one? Are we not meant to be unified, to be one people united under one banner, one cause? Would it not be easier, to just be one? Would we not be less afraid? Would we not be less afraid?
The wild breath of the Divine breathes into the in-between spaces, inhales, exhales.
How many species of fish? How many shades of sunflower? How many kinds of rock? How many shapes of tree-leaves? How many colors of fire? How many songs of how many birds? Not one, many.
Your fear will not be calmed by trying to force to be one what was never meant to be one. God desires many. Many. Many kinds, many colors, many songs. Many, many songs.
Your fear will not be calmed by trying to force to be one what was never meant to be one, by attempting to homogenize the particular and the distinct , by trying to build a tower to the heavens, by trying to become like God, storming the heavens , forgetting who you are and whose you are. You belong to God. Listen!
The wild wind of God spins over history, forward and back. Look: One people, one language, one name becomes one empire, becomes Caesar, becomes Constantine, becomes heresy trials and crusades and the burning of Torah scrolls.
One people, one language, one name becomes conversion as civilization, becomes the ghetto, becomes blood purity rules.
One people, one language, one name becomes Indian schools, becomes border walls, becomes English only laws.
One people, one language, one name becomes one race, becomes Nazism, becomes genocide.
When you attempt to storm the heavens, with your tight, closed towers built of hard, burnt bricks, this is what you risk. One people, one language, one name becomes the only people, the only language, the only name.
Tight, closed hearts. Hard, burnt fists.
The sacred, interweaving, un-pinnable breath of God slides in between the clenched fingers, in between the heart’s knots, breathing life, breathing Divine life into the burnt tightness of fear.
Listen. Listen to the breath. We are not meant to be the same. We are meant to be many, many peoples, many languages, many names. God desires them all. God’s purpose is for them all. And so the breath, the Divine breath disrupts the univocal orthodoxy , moves, spins, scatters, baffles, inhales, exhales, assuring, ensuring the many, the multiple, the abounding variety of multitudes.
What, then, of our fear? What, then, of community?
Listen again, another language, breathing into the spaces of the text.
Estaban todos juntos en un solo lugar. De repente vino del cielo un ruido como el de una ráfaga de viento impetuoso que llenó toda la casa donde estaban sentados.
Todos juntos en un solo lugar...all together in one place. In one place. One.
And again they are scattered. The wild Divine breath – una ráfaga de viento impetuoso – a rushing, impetuous wind – fills the house, fills each with a new language to speak, fills each with a new ability to hear.
The miracle is in the speaking, and the miracle is in the hearing. And yet it is no miracle. For there is no language without breath, without the Divine breath breathed in to our nostrils, inhabiting our lungs. Listen to the Divine breath – beyond the unfamiliar sounds, beyond the nouns and verbs and slippery prepositions, beyond the guttural Hs and the lilting dipthongs, beyond the physicality of the language itself, listen to the Divine breath in each person, each language, each name.
There is the breath of the Divine in each of us, all of us, and here is where community is to be found: In listening to the sacred breath of the One God singing in each one of us. Hearing the breath of the other into speech, into song, this is creating community, oneness only in the unity of the breath, oneness only in praise, in doxology, in all the rituals, all the prayers, all the songs, all the dances, all the languages, all the peoples, all the names, all the abounding varieties of multitude.
In the scatteredness, the wild, impetuous Divine breath can move among us, touching each of us, filling each of us, all of us, the many. In the many we are whole, not one, but whole.
The whirling, spinning, multi-vocal, multi-lingual, sacred breath of God blows where it will, uncontained, uncontrolled.
The wild Divine breath inhales, exhales, moves among us, within us, around us, between us.
Listen to the Divine breath in all the abounding varieties of multitude.