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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, March 10, 2019              

Today’s Scripture 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)

It’s a fun story, the Tower of Babel. People say, “Hey, we can make bricks! Let’s build a big city with a tower all the way up to God!” And God says “Not so fast! Now you’re all going to speak different languages! All of you, the Hittites and the Sumerians and the Babylonians and the French and the Chinese and the Inuit and all the rest of you! Get in line, get your new language!” And so everyone got a new language (the Swiss went through the line four times before they got caught), and then they all got scattered all over the world.

A fun story, about the time when great human achievement was paired with the creative vision of a toddler with a new box of Legos—“I’m gonna build a tower clear up to the sky!”—and God’s response was that of the bullying sibling, kicking over the tower and scattering the Legos all over the floor. Anyone can understand it. That’s the point. It carries the message “Don’t attract God’s attention.”

But there’s another message in this story, another truth: People can do great things; but if it all comes too easily they get really big-headed about it. So God made it a little hard on us, giving us all these different languages, but God also gave us the ability to learn languages other than our own. We can still do great things, but we have to make a greater effort. We have to humble ourselves, become beginners again, become children again, learning to speak—and, more importantly, to listen—in order to connect with each other. You have to value another person in order to do the work of learning their language. You need to want to hear them. Anything else is simple selfish arrogance, and the story is pretty clear on how God feels about that.

So let’s make an effort. It’s good for the soul, n’est-ce pas?

Lord, remind us that in order to love one another we have to hear one another. Remind us that we need humility to learn all the languages we need to build your kingdom. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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