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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Today’s Reading | Genesis 11:1–9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (NRSV)

Our forgetting started in the very beginning. In the first creation poetry, we learn that part of humanity’s name is “daughters and sons blessed by God and called very good.” And yet in our second creation story, we watch as both Adam and Eve forget the “blessed and very good” part of their names and try to add “divine” in its place. That forgetting continues through the stories of Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood. In this fifth Genesis story, Genesis 11, the forgetting keeps going.

This time, though, the people make the decision for this forgetting to become permanent. This decision is stated in seven words: “Let us make a name for ourselves.” In scripture, making a name for one’s self implies the act of establishing an enduring identity. We see it repeatedly whenever God makes a covenant. God typically changes a person’s name to signal the covenant promise. Think Abram into Abraham and Sarai into Sarah. In this story, the people are determined to establish their own identity, to maximize their own power. And this is one idolatrous decision God will not tolerate. So God confused their language and scattered them all over. The next thing the people knew, they could no longer communicate together or work together or make a name for themselves together.

But I wonder: Might God’s actions of confusing and scattering be yet one more moment of grace? I would like to think God’s actions shook them up enough to bring back their memories of who they were and from whom they had come. I would hope they realized they did not need to make a name for themselves. They already had one! And that name was “daughters and sons blessed by God and called very good.” Do you think they ever remembered?

Gracious God, as we go through this day, help us not to forget our name. Help us not to forget from whom we have come. And may this knowledge give us courage, humility, and a deep grounding in your hope. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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