Monday, June 11, 2012

The Miracle of the Ear

May 27th, 2012                “The Miracle of the Ear”               Rev. Heather Jepsen

Genesis 11:1-9 with Acts 2:1 -21

          This morning we celebrate Pentecost, when the fire of the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles to mark the birth of the church.  It was a miracle of language; a miracle of hearing and speaking.  But before we discuss this miracle of communication, we must first discuss the moment when communication was thwarted.  I want to begin our story this morning in the book of Genesis, rather than Acts. 

In Genesis we find the story of the tower of Babel.  This is the first story of humankind after the flood of Noah, and people have gathered together in a unity of sorts.  They are one nation with one language and they have decided to build a great city with a tower that reaches into the heavens.  The people want unity, which is not in and of itself a bad thing, but, they are seeking power through a unity that is in opposition to God. 

A few chapters earlier, students of Genesis read of the sins of Adam and Eve; the sin of individuals.  Here we have one of the first examples of sin in community.  Just as Adam and Eve challenged the limits God placed in the Garden of Eden, this community is seeking to challenge the limits of God by reaching a tower into the heavens.  The fear of this community is that they will be scattered and lose their ability to challenge the boundaries God has laid before them. 

The Lord descends to the earth to see this tower that has been built.  And as in the story of Adam and Eve; God enters into the scene to punish those who cross the boundaries that have been set.  In this case, God scatters the people, much to their dismay, and confuses their language so it becomes harder for them to work together against God. 

In verse seven we read, “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  The Hebrew word for understand used here is shema’ which can also be translated as listen.  So an alternative translation of this passage is “let us confuse their language, so that they do not listen to each other.”

God confuses the people in this story so that they can not come together and challenge the limits that have been set.  It is not that God does not desire unity of people.  Unity is willed by God, but it should be based in a loyalty to God.

Now, we will fast forward to the time of Acts.  Jesus Christ has come and gone and the disciples are gathered in the new community that will be the church.  Suddenly they experience a fire from heaven and their mouths are filled with the words of other languages.  Likewise, those that can hear this miracle gather around and their ears are open to hear all the languages spoken and more.  Luke takes pains to point out how far and wide the people have come from that participate in this language event.  This is a gathering of people in a miracle of language.  This is a reversal of the dispersion that occurred at Babel.

In the story of Pentecost, humans experience the ideal speech situation.  The power of language that was lost at Babel is once again re-harnessed – but this time in the power and purpose of God.  People now have the ears to hear and the tongues to speak.  There is a fresh capacity to listen – and not to just any message, but to the word of the Lord.

          We refer to Pentecost as the birth of the church and that is expressed in the energy and life that flows from this text.  This is a time of new life; a time when people from all places were once again gathered together, as they had not been since the time of Genesis.  This is a time of universal understanding that is a God ordained reversal of the universal confusion of Babel.  God has once again intervened into the lives of humanity – but this time to bring us together rather than scatter us apart.

          This hope for unity is alive in the church today.  Though the literal tongues of fire may have burnt out, the spirit and hope of Pentecost lives on.  This hope lives on in our desire to connect with each other among our Christian communities.

          We often think of the miracle of Pentecost as a miracle of the tongue but I like to think of it as a miracle of the ear.  At the time of Babel – God scattered and separated the people.  By giving us multiple languages God made it impossible or at least very difficult for us to listen to each other.  In the miracle of Pentecost, God opened our ears to listen again.  All people were gathered together to witness and participate in a miracle of listening.  All people once more had ears to hear the message of the Lord.

          Imagine if God touched you this day with the power of Pentecost.  Not the power of tongues to fill the air with speech, but the power of the ear to listen to the message of the Lord.  If we were a people who listened, how much we would hear!  We would hear the sounds of praise to our God, from the birds of the air to the chimes of a church bell.  We would hear the words of the Lord coming from the mouths of strangers and friends.  If we had ears to hear we would listen to the message our neighbors were trying to send.  With open ears we would be able to hear those things we sometimes choose to ignore; like the cries suffering and starvation, of war and strife, of pain and fear.  And of course we would also hear sounds of joy.  From the coo of a young baby, to the blessing from a parent to a child, we would hear more clearly the joys in our world.

          This is a time of transition and new birth in the life of this church, Warrensburg First Presbyterian.  This is a time for all of us to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and to be willing to experience a miracle of the ear.  If we are going to work together; if I am going to be your pastor and a part of your church family, then we are going to have to listen to each other.  In many ways we are like the folks at that first Pentecost morning for we don’t really speak the same language.  Though we all speak English, I’m not from around here, and you are going to need to be patient with me as I learn about your community’s culture.  And though we both speak Christianity, we probably have some different ideas about what it means to be the church. 

This is a time when we need to trust in the Lord.  I believe in my heart that the Holy Spirit brought us together.  And just as Cretans and Arabs, Libyans and the folks from Egypt all heard one Holy Spirit that Pentecost morning, we all hear one Holy Spirit as well.  As we begin this new adventure together, as the Holy Spirit breathes new life into this church, we are going to need to open not only our ears but our eyes and our hearts to each other so that together we can discern just where God is leading this community.

On this Pentecost Sunday, our first of what will be many together, I want encourage you to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Pentecost is the birth of the church, and as the story of Babel tells us, we can not be the church together if we cannot listen.  I invite you to let the Holy Spirit touch you this day, with a gift of the tongue to speak the word of the Lord, and perhaps a gift of the ear to listen to the Lord in the world around you.

          May we be a people of the miracle of the ear who are able to listen to each other; a people who are able to listen to the message of God in our world.  May God touch our church, our lives, and our ears this morning with the fire of Pentecost.  Amen. 

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