On scattering and gathering

*a meditation on Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21*

Once upon a time, the people of the earth spoke one language and had everything in common.

They were a family – a BIG one – who moved together, stayed together, lived together.

When they sat around the fireplace over dinner each night and told stories of days gone by, no one ever felt left out or excluded because the tongue of the storyteller was the same tongue that they had learned in the lullabies that their mothers had sung to them as they were cradled tightly to the breast.

And so the people were on the same page; always in perfect harmony and accord.

People on the same page can accomplish great things with no misunderstanding or miscommunication to get in their way.

Yet of all the great things that this great big family could do, they decided to build a great city with a great tower in the center that would reach to the top of the heavens so that everyone throughout the ages would remember how great they truly were.

Shame. People can be so silly at times. And selfish. And self-important.

No one remembered “the Word” who had brought the world into being, or given them the language that they shared, or the very ability to speak for that matter.

So they gathered bricks and stones together and began to build a monument – a testimony to their dominion and domination; an empire, a kingdom destined to last forever, to put them on equal footing with the God they had forsaken; a tower of pride, of ego, of ambition.

And God came down to see what they were doing:
~ with their unity,
~ with their authority,
~ with their humanity,
~ with their mutual understanding.

But it was not very good.

God could have spoken a word and reduced them all to nothing. God could have devastated them as they had so uncaringly devastated the earth around them in their pursuit of greatness. God could have seen in them a seed of ego, of ambition, of pride that would be passed down from generation to generation and cause not very good things to happen and wiped them all out.

But God didn’t.

Instead, God took away their common tongue, and when they no longer spoken one single language, their other differences became intolerable.

These differences made it hard for them to look at one another around the common fire. Hard to share stories. Hard to plot and to plan.

And so they did what people do when their differences become uncomfortable, when they cannot find common ground: this one great family split into smaller clans and tribes who could still understand each other, and each set off to find their own place in the world.

The great city of Babel lay unfinished, abandoned; the great family fragmented, scattered all over the face of the earth.

Hundreds of years later, there were people of different lands and different languages gathered in a city called Jerusalem. There were Medes and Parthians, Egyptians and Cretans, Greeks and Libyans, Romans and Arabs – some living there; some just passing through for profit or pleasure or pilgrimage.

And on that day God came down again.

The Holy Spirit, like tongues of fire, settled on the heads and in the hearts of those who called themselves the children of God.

God came down not to give the people of earth a common language again for pride and ego and ambition still lurked in many of their hearts, but a common message in ALL of their own languages that they might know of God’s power and presence and love.

The God who had scattered is also the God who would gather all who felt unloved, unknown, insignificant and unimportant into God’s great family.

Some were amazed.
Some were perplexed.
Some even mocked the miracle.

Yet the words rang out of the presence of God with and within us always, and of the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

As we celebrate the gift of Spirit, the season of Pentecost, may we know the assurance of God’s presence in both the scatterings and the gatherings of our lives.

About Yvonne Ghavalas

A minister in the Uniting Church in Australia, sharer of stories, sandwich enthusiast, seeker, and sometimes fool (archaic), sporadic blogger at liturgies4life.com

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