Painfully Hopeful


I preached this sermon on May 20, 2018. It’s based on Acts 2:1-21.

On the day of Pentecost, not long after Jesus’ ascension, the Spirit came down and rested “like tongues of fire” on each of the disciples’ heads, and they began to speak in other languages. The theological point of this moment is the reversal of the judgment which occurred at the Tower of Babel. Humanity had one speech and were one people, and they tried to make their own name great and not be scattered over the face of the earth by building a tower to reach into the heavens. People sometimes wonder what was so bad about this act, and in the context of the story it’s that the act of building the tower and determining to not spread over the earth was an explicit rejection of God’s blessing to humanity to fill the whole earth. So God stooped down to see their massive tower and determined to split the people’s of the earth up. If they’d stayed together, the way the story is told, their rebellion would have grown – God had just finished flooding the earth due to massive sin and violence, and the judgement at Babel highlight how God didn’t want to go there again. Instead, their languages were confused, and the peoples spread out over the face of the whole earth, just as God had commanded when Noah and his family were blessed after the flood.

Pentecost flips the tables. Whereas once the peoples of the Earth were split up by language in order to minimize the damage they might do to God’s Creation, on that day the languages melded back into one. And, whereas previously the unified voice of humanity had rejected the blessing of God, on Pentecost those unified voices instead declared the mighty acts of God. And, for Christians, the greatest of these mighty acts is the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord – Jesus Christ.

Jesus had come, Jesus had died and rose again, Jesus had ascended to Heaven and sent his Spirit to empower the Church. And in all these these things he showed why Jesus Christ is God’s mightiest act of all – because through Jesus’ great work he defeated of the powers of sin and death. That victory, won on the Cross and broken out into the world though the resurrection, is what opened up the door for the all the peoples of the earth coming back together – not just among ourselves, but back together with the God who has made all things.

2000 years later we are called to speak with that same unified voice – all tribes, tongues, and nations – and declare the mighty acts of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. We are meant to speak, and reach out into the the far corners of this world, to the New Reality brought about by Jesus’ victory on the Cross. We are meant to have our arms open to this world because our open arms are the continuation of Jesus’ work – his message, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This is the hope we have to offer to the world, and it is amazing!

And yet, for all the wonders of Pentecost, the vanquished powers of sin and death still run rampant. War, corruption, famine, and disease bog humanity down in misery. Racism seeks to reverse God’s overturning of Babel – evoking hatred instead of unity. Partisan ideology moves people to deny any connection 1 with those who don’t agree with their views.

And we’d like to think its not that bad, but it is. This past week a video surfaced of a man berating workers, threatening to call ICE on them all and get them out of his country. Because, according to him, “I pay for their welfare. And the least they could do is speak English instead of Spanish.” Let me play it for you. That is what evil looks like.

And this video led me to an incident I’d forgotten 2, one which actually happened to a someone connected to one of my High School classmates, a couple wrote a note to their Latina server on their check, “We only tip citizens.” This became a national news story, let’s watch it. Did you get the end of the story, the people who left the message returned to the restaurant, not to apologize, but to yell that they’d been shown in a bad light. That is also what evil looks like.

And here is why I’m preaching this on my fifteenth Pentecost at Central – Christ’s work is finished , but it’s not done. And I hope that one day the Church, and that Central Baptist would be in the front ranks, would stand up and shout, “Pentecost has undone all the divisions we keep recreating. And the unity we can have is because the powers of sin and death have been beaten by Christ!”

The continued examples of sin and death’s presence in this world cause me great pain, but my hope always come back to this, “Jesus Christ is Lord, and he is making all things new.” Amen.

  1. Even a common humanity. 
  2. The space to forget such incidents is a privilege I have, one which many people do not share with me.