Sunday, May 19, 2013

Listen to the Wind


Listen.  Listen to the wind of God.

In the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.[1]

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with them in the ark.  And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.”[2]

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.  The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.  The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.[3]

Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”  I prophesied as he commanded me, and the wind came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.[4]

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting . . . All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.[5]

God is not done creating.  From the “In the beginning” of Genesis to the “new heaven and new earth”[6] of Revelation, the biblical witness consistently insists that God is bringing creation to its fulfillment.  When chaos, oppression, and alienation threaten creation, the wind of God blows again.  God will not leave his creation alone.  God is absolutely relentless in his commitment to all that he has made.

At the heart of the biblical narrative is the beating heart of God. God is not an “ unmoved mover,” not a god who winds up creation like a clock and then lets it tick on, unconcerned and disconnected. God is passionately in love with all of creation.  It is God’s love that holds it in being: that keeps the wind blowing new life into it again and again.

The conflict driving the biblical narrative is that between the human creatures, who resist the Creator’s desire for creation’s fulfillment, and the pathos of God, who continually suffers with and for these recalcitrant creatures.   The moment we turn and hide from God, we hear him crying out in the Garden, “Where are you?”[7]  When our alienation from God breeds rivalry and violence, reducing creation to chaos again, God is grieved to his heart.[8]  But he remembers Noah and the wild and domestic animals with him in the ark.[9]

When we were slaves in Egypt – whenever imperial ambition and greed destroys the dignity of the creatures of God – the Lord says, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed I know their suffering, and I have come down to deliver them.”[10]  When we imitate the very oppression we sought to escape in Egypt, the pathos of God reaches its dramatic climax in Hebrew Scripture:
How can I give you up, Ephraim? . . . My heart recoils
within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. [11]

God remembers that he is God, even if we forget that we are created in God’s image.  He cannot, will not, abandon his creation to destruction. 

It is God’s compassion that Jesus reveals to us.[12] In the face of human resistance to love, a resistance that leads finally to the Cross, God continues to do a new thing, surprising us with grace.  Jesus, who was crucified, is risen.  His resurrection takes the form of forgiveness and his Spirit, the very wind of God, now blows upon us with fresh urgency, drawing us into God’s desire to reconcile all things to himself.[13] 

St. Paul recognized the Risen Christ as the realization of God’s passionate determination to bring the creation to fulfillment:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.[14]

The story of Pentecost gives us a glimpse of what this new creation looks like through the lens of the first ambassadors of Christ.   As the Spirit blows over the disciples like a mighty wind, we see a new creation coming into being, reversing the chaos into which the old creation had fallen.   Pentecost is the anti-Babel.

The story of Babel comes at the very end of the primeval history in Genesis.  God’s struggle to bring creation to its fulfillment is not going well.  Human resistance remains strong.  Fear and the illusion of control trumps trust in God’s gracious sovereignty.  What is at issue is the relationship between unity and diversity. 

The tower of Babel is emblematic of humankind’s rejection of the divine mandate to fill the earth and care for it as stewards of God’s blessing.  Rather than finding their unity in obedience to God’s command to care for creation, they seek to “make a name for themselves” by building a city with a great tower.   Their unity is founded on imperial ambition, imposing unity through uniformity.  They fear being scattered.[15] 

But God’s intention is precisely that they be scattered.  Unity grounded in obedience to God’s gracious command is perfectly consistent with a diversity of peoples uniquely fitted to act as stewards of God’s creation in particular times and places.  Such diversity reflects and nurtures the creative efflorescence of life in all its dazzling variety.  The diversity of human cultures is an adaptation to the limits of sustainability in particular environments.  The recognition of limits is in the serve of life and is the way in which creation comes to fulfillment in its rich variety.[16]

The tower of Babel represents a failure to accept human limits, an arrogant abrogation of the purposes of God designed to preserve creation as a blessing within the boundaries established to foster life.  This usurpation of God’s sovereign grace is rooted in fear and distrust, leading to anxiety and attempts to impose an illusory sense of security. 

As with all such attempts to establish unity and security through imperial ambition, human diversity – expressed through language – finally undermines the Babel project.  Work on the tower ceases, and the people are scattered.  Now, however, the scattering represents human social fragmentation and disunity, rather than a creative diversity rooted in God.  Creation is devolving again into chaos.

The critical verse here is Genesis 11:7:  their language is confused so that they did not listen to one another.[17]  Unwilling to be obedient (listen) to God, people are unwilling to listen to each other either.  When we do not listen, we cannot respond to God’s creative word to us, much less to one another.  God’s word is always gracious and inviting, never coercive, respecting the freedom and dignity of the creature.  We can ignore it; refuse to listen; and resist God’s intention for creation.

But God keeps speaking, keeps creating.  The disciples gathered in Jerusalem, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer,”[18] attentively listen for the sound of the mighty wind of God making all things new, and are filled with its power.   They hear and respond to God’s desire to reconcile the whole world to himself through Christ.

Their response shows how clearly God’s project contrasts with the Babel project.  At Pentecost, the diversity of languages is honored; it is not a barrier.  Each person is able to hear – to listen – to the disciples in their own language.  Unity grounded in God’s reconciling love embraces human diversity.  It opposes all human attempts at a unity that denies and destroys difference. 

These ambassadors for Christ hold open the possibility that God will yet bring creation to its fulfillment; not through coercive uniformity, but through patient listening and responding to God’s gracious word, God’s vision for his creation; and not just for some elite, but also for everyone of every language, people and nation.  The wind of God blows on all flesh, sons and daughters, young and old, even upon slaves.[19] 

As we renew our baptismal vows this morning, we recommit ourselves to being ambassadors for Christ, carrying the message of God’s reconciling love for the whole world.  We listen and respond to the wind of God blowing through the whole creation, finding our unity in obedience to the One seated on the throne who says, “See, I am making all things new.”[20] 

Listen.  Listen for the wind of God.  God will not leave his creation alone until it comes to its fulfillment.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Genesis 1:1-3.
[2] Genesis 8:1.
[3] Exodus 14:21-22.
[4] Ezekiel 37:9b-10.
[5] Acts 2:1-2, 4. 
[6] Revelation 21:1-7.
[7] Genesis 3:9.
[8] Genesis 6:6.
[9] Genesis 8:1.
[10] Exodus 3:
[11] Hosea 11:8a,c-9.
[12] John 3:16-17.
[13] Ephesians 1:1-10; cf. Colossians 1:11-20.
[14] 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
[15] Genesis 11:4.
[16] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2010), p. 99.
[17] Brueggemann, pp. 18, 102-103.
[18] Acts 1:14.
[19] Acts 2:16-18.
[20] Revelation 21:5.

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