“Within the intimate but teeming space of the ark, Noah becomes, in the midrashic view, a new person. . . .The knowing of need is the highest measure of (the) curious tender concern” that makes for redemption (The Beginning of Desire). God’s plan for redemption (the cacophony of the ark—weasels, rats, snakes, camels, hissing, snorting, yelling) seems a little messier than what the people on the plain devise.
Arthur Waskow, whom I remember as an exciting theologian and political activist, from my college days in Washington, takes God's marvelous inclination toward wind-swept diversity even further. Yes, God tore down the Tower and scattered (freed?) the people who built it to the four ends of the earth. But look at this from his commentary on the text:
This diversity was not so much a punishment as a consequence of and a cure for their disease: Try to unify all humankind into a single empire, talking the same language so as to storm Heaven -- and the almost inevitable consequence, as well as the cure for this disease of arrogance, is that the top-heavy empire will dissolve into many many peoples, grass-roots communities of many tongues and cultures.
It's not a big leap from the dominance-yearnings of the builders of the Tower of Babel and the current dominance-yearning arrogance of invading the present-day land of Babylon, Iraq. Read Waskow to get his whole, wonderful argument.
So that is behind my sermon for Pentecost, where I am trying to put our "moving on" into starting a new church there in Brockton in a theological context of hope and of the mighty power of the Spirit of God. Tell me what you think about all this.
Sermon from St. Paul's, Brockton, May 27, 2007:
When we read Genesis, we are in the land of winds and waters. We’re only in the 11th chapter of the story of the beginning of the whole world. The Ruach ha’Olam, or the Breath of Life, the Breathing-Spirit of the Universe, the Wind of the World: the word means all those things in Hebrew. The Spirit – the Ruach ha’Olam – moved over the waters of the deep, and the whole creation got going. All the plants, animals, fish, birds, even we human creatures made in the image of God, in the image of this Spirit, this Breath of Life. The Spirit of God is a great, chaotic spirit, for God created a great, chaotic world.
The story right before today’s story of the
What a contrast then with the next story in Genesis, today’s story of the
One reading of the Pentecost story, from the Acts of the Apostles, is that for the followers of Christ, the Pentecost experience “undid” the “curse” of the
I think the Pentecost story is not just for Christians, and especially not for those who long for a world-dominating Christian empire where we all conform to one way of doing things. The Pentecost story does take us back to Genesis, to the wild and multi-variant nature of God’s creation. It is a story of how God redeems the world, how God heals the world, how God pulls us back from the brink of destruction, of self-centered-ness and isolation, and throws us into the midst of a wild and wonderful creation.
Imagine the joy: we can all hear God speaking to us – in our own language, the language our mothers taught us: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia (that’s those tower-building Babylonians), Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphilia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, Crete, Arabia. You don’t have to know Greek, you don’t have to read Latin, you don’t have to speak like Shakespeare or King James. God speaks to you: to sons and daughters, to young men and old men, to slaves, to men and women. Everyone, everyone, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
That’s the gift of Pentecost: we now have a choice. This rigid tower of hard-baked bricks won’t get us to God. But this, this community of young and old, of chaos and imperfection and change and dissent and diversity and newcomers and old-timers – in this messy and incomplete group, waiting as we are, waiting as the disciples did, for Jesus to come back – this is where God speaks to us, with the force of a mighty wind, and with words each of us can understand.