In today’s scripture, the word chaos comes to my mind as I picture what is going on at Babel Tower. The language was confused and they were scattered all over the place on the whole face of the earth. They could not live in the city. They built together. They were very scared of being scattered. This is what he says, “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.” Not only did they want to make their name great, but they were very scared that they may be scattered upon the whole earth. They built a city and walls around it. Every week, the staff gathers together to have a Bible study. Every Friday we reflect on the passage that we are going to preach on that Sunday. So the staff gathered together, and they ask about your insights so they bring in their insights. This week, our youngest staff member, James Park, gave us great insight and he said that “Maybe, Reverend, the reason that they built a tower so tall was because when the flood comes again, then they will be able to survive.”
I thought it was great insight because this happened right after the flood. Many years passed, but story-wise after the flood story, then came the Babel Tower story. After the flood, people were obsessed with their survival. That’s what people do when they experience tragedy. They become very scared. Like after 9/11, they were obsessed about the safety of the city. Just last Wednesday, one elder told me, he was kind of walking around there and I asked, “Why don’t you go in?” And he said, “I’m scared whenever I do worship because you don’t know who may come into our sanctuary and do anything because all kinds of crazy things are happening.” So after the flood, they were obsessed about their own survival. They didn’t want any of that to happen again. They needed each other to survive. They needed to work together to survive. Being together gave them a better chance to survive than being scattered. After 9/11, we said, “United, we stand. Divided, we fall.” That was a slogan that we always recited. That’s why they were gathered together. They were scared of being scared. I told you before that I translated Mary Jo Leddy’s lecture. She reflected on the experience of the first settlers from Europe in Canadian soil. As soon as they arrived in Canada, they encountered massive land. I mean, they never experienced this kind of massive land in Europe. Rivers are small and the cities are small but as soon as they got here, St. Lawrence River and the Ontario Lake is huge. Massive land that they experienced, not only massive land but they also experienced tremendous extreme weather. It was so cold. It was different from the first settlers in the United States because they had relatively good weather. But up here, it was severe weather they experienced. And they also were surrounded by a hostile environment and threatening environment, including the people who lived in indigenous people, the native people who were living in it. As soon as they encountered this threat and danger, the first thing that they did was build a fortress. But soon, that fortress mentality became their culture and their mentality; their way of thinking. They created fortresses, garrison mentality. And then within it, they were nice to each other because they need to survive. They built walls around it. Within the fortress, they felt very safe. So they were nice and kind to each other. So they are saying Canadians are nice and kind to each other in that way. So they kind of built this kind of character. But outside of their fortresses, they became exclusive. They were nice to each other, but they were hostile to others. Their unity was for their own survival. And this kind of unity is destructive and selfish. It creates collective selfishness. This kind of unity, in my opinion, is false unity.
You achieve unity for your sake. You achieve unity for your own survival. That is not the kind of unity God wants. That is not the kind of unity God had in mind. It is not the unity that human beings create for our own survival. That’s not what God wanted. When Jesus came to this world, he saw that kind of unity, unity for their own sake. They had a system that unified them, but that system also oppressed the weak and the vulnerable and gave the powerful, the privileges and benefits. That was far from the unity God wanted for us human beings, so Jesus was very troubled. They are very unified. They are together, but all together, they were oppressing the people who were outside of their own fortress. And Jesus did not like to see that. That’s why he was even harsh in his words. Let me read for you. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” It sounds like Jesus came to give this world confusion and conflict. In the eyes of the powerful who control that selfish unity, what Jesus did looked like that. To maintain their unity and a Jiminy. A Jiminy is a power to collect. People collect their power there to kill Jesus, just to keep that false unity. They had to get rid of Jesus. That’s what false unity does. The kind of Jesus wanted was not the unity for survival, but the unity of love that would deeply connect all of us regardless of who we are.
You can see that fairly clearly in Jesus’ last prayer. He prayed for the unity, but that unity was not unity for your own survival or for your own selfish reason, but the unity of love. This is what Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It is unity of love. The unity human beings created is a unity at the cost of excluding people who are different from us and are not helpful to us. We have to ask ourselves what kind of unity we are creating. If our unity is the kind of unity where other people cannot come in, then it is man-made unity and the man-made unity will soon collapse. For survival, you don’t need to worry. That’s what we believe. God will take care of our own survival.
Unity of Love
People who built a tower did not believe that so they took matters into their own hands. They gathered together to collect their power, but God will take care of what we shall eat, what we shall drink and what we shall wear. God promised that. We are the people who believe in that. We are Christians who believe in that. God will take care of our needs. God will take care of our survival. What we need to do is not to pursue the unity for our own survival, but to pursue the unity of love. The kind of unity that takes care of people and includes those who are less fortunate than us and who are alienated and ostracized. That kind of unity, it is a unity of love. You don’t create unity just for yourself. You create unity by including those who are ostracized, who are less fortunate than us. By doing that, we build the unity of love, not unity for survival. They are not the people, the weak people or other people to be excluded, to preserve our unity, but we have to embrace them with love among you, around you who are excluded, who are ostracized, who are alienated. The poor, the have-nots, the people who are disadvantaged. They are the people that we need to include to achieve true unity of love. In today’s story, we see confusion, but later in Acts of the Apostle, we see unity and that kind of unity is one only the Spirit can give us. Not what we human beings can create, it’s what the Spirit gives us. That’s a miracle. Let me read for you, “And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews, and proselytes, Cretins, and Arabs,” all different people. In our own languages, we hear them speaking about God’s power, the power of unity. All these people were able to hear in their own language. Today is a day of Pentecost. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came and brought true unity to us. The Holy Spirit made us one who is different from God’s power. How the Holy Spirit came down is not important. With tongues of fire, or all that? Oh, that’s just a movie. That’s a sensation. That’s nice, but that’s not what’s important. The speaking in tongues, that’s not what’s important. What is important is what the Spirit did when the Spirit came down. The Spirit brought us unity which is impossible for us to create on our own.
The Spirit came to this world and brought us, brought the divided humanity to be one. And we are called to do that work. Disciples of peace and harmony proclaim the unity; we are called to do that. That’s why Saint Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” He said that 2000 years ago. Can you believe that? I don’t think it was his own opinion. It is Spirit who gives in this word.
It is so nice. I want to read with you together today so let us read together. “There is no longer Jew or Greek. There is no longer a slave or free. There is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus came to do that. Saint Paul experienced tremendous persecution and hatred from his own people, not from the foreigners, not from the Romans. He received prosecutions and threat from his own people because Paul said, you don’t need to discern circumcision. You don’t need to keep the dietary rule, but circumcision and dietary rules were identity markers. That’s what defined who Jews were at the time and Paul said, “You don’t need to do that, but we are one in Christ.” We are one in Christ. Since Saint Paul experienced tremendous persecution, but he recognized this unity is what the spirit gave me to do. So he risked his life to achieve that. I pray that the Holy Spirit comes upon us and makes us one. I pray that we become one in the Holy Spirit. That is the meaning of the Pentecost. We celebrate the Pentecost as a day of coming of the spirit, but the Pentecost was not a Christian celebration from the beginning. Pentecost was a Jewish Celebration. It is kind of like a harvest festival, but on Pentecost, not only did they celebrate harvest, but they also celebrated the coming of the law, receiving of the law from Moses and when it comes to the New Testament, the Acts of Apostle, It became the day when they receive the Holy Spirit. What the law could not do, the spirit was able to do through God’s grace. Laws cannot make us one. Only the grace of the Holy Spirit can make us one.
Don’t get along with people only who are like you. Whom you like, whom you’re comfortable with? That’s not what church is. Meet people who are different from you, who think differently from you, embrace them, especially those who are voiceless. Embrace them. The true unity is possible only in diversity when there is no diversity, unity is not possible. When we accept each other with the grace of the spirit of God, then we can achieve unity. You are called to do that. You are the disciples of Jesus Christ. You are called to proclaim this unity in your family, among your friends, in the church, in our society. God called you to do so. Let us deeply think about what true unity is.