Pentecost 2021

In tonight’s Vigil readings, the Church pairs up the Feast of Pentecost with a story you might not expect, the Tower of Babel from Genesis chapter eleven. If you think about it for a second you realize: oh, yeah, the language thing! The miracle of everyone understanding across language barriers at Pentecost is the undoing of Babel. Cool.

If you keep thinking about it, this actually runs incredibly deep. The building of the Tower of Babel begins with people saying “let us make a name for ourselves.” In English we use that phrase to mean something like getting famous, making your mark. In the Biblical Hebrew it’s much deeper than that. In seeking to “make a name for themselves,” their project is to create and choose for themselves an identity. To make up for themselves who they are and what their lives are about.

This sure resonates in the world you and I are living in. Isn’t this the way our young generation is being brought up, isn’t this what they’re being told by the world? Create your own identity, decide who you want to be, decide what you want your life to be about, and what it all means. The big question the world has for us, especially the young, is: how do you identify? Tell us the name you have made for yourself.

Genesis tells us the result of this quest: that people are scattered and can no longer understand each other or work together. And the more you think about this, and the more you look around at our own world, the more it makes sense. Because if I’m whoever I decide I am and you are whoever you decide you are, then how in the world can we really feel profoundly connected? We all begin as islands unto ourselves. Maybe our chosen identities will overlap in places, such that we can be allies in very superficial ways, and in ways that will always divide us from others, and right there you’ve got your identity politics.

But here’s the even bigger problem. A life that only means what you decide it means is a life that is inconsequential — and ultimately just so intolerably boring. If I tell you that you can do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be, and that nobody else can tell you otherwise, maybe that sounds like a message of empowerment. Maybe it sounds like I’m being welcoming and tolerant. But what I’m really saying is that you don’t matter at all. There’s nothing we need from you. There’s no mission that will go unfulfilled if you don’t show up. You just don’t matter.

No wonder so many of us are dying inside from anxiety and depression. And all the world can tell us is try to ignore that and keep laying another course of bricks in the Tower of Babel.

But the Spirit of God comes and it comes with fire. It lights that fire deep inside you and says, I made you. I have made you a name from all eternity. I have a mission for you, and I need you to live it because you matter. You’re necessary. You’re needed. You have a place in this world and you have been given a name.

And now we can understand each other again, because now there is a connection between us that’s real. And a mission, a quest, a war that we’re in together. We’re at war with injustice on the other side of the world and close to home, we’re at war with the loneliness of people in our own neighborhoods, we’re at war with everything inside of ourselves and of each other that is keeping us from being who we were made to be.

Because we matter. Because we’re in this together.

Church, we’ve got an amazing opportunity staring us in the face right here and now, an opportunity like I don’t think every generation of Christians sees. People are hungrier than ever for real connection. More aware than ever that nothing that happens on our gadgets and screens comes close to cutting it. And connection… that’s our thing. Not just connection, but Communion. The Church should shine now like never before in our times, by setting an example and inviting others into it. 

Let’s be creative about it, let’s be smart about it, but most of all let’s beg the Holy Spirit to take the lead, to show us the way and make it His work. 

How do we start? Let’s start with the basics. I really do think this time calls for creativity and innovation, but let’s start with the basics. Come to things. How’s that for basic? Come to things. A whole lot of you worked on that great event or showed up for it last weekend. We needed it, didn’t we? And we need much much more of it. No guilt trip if last Sunday didn’t work out for you, that was just one thing. There will be more things. Come to them. We have a Holy Hour every first Friday of the month; we average about a dozen people. Let’s pack the house. Why wouldn’t we? Let’s show that there’s a real hunger for Adoration in this parish and that we need so much more than an hour a month… how I’d love to see that! 

Get involved. Two suggested alternatives here. One, think of the parish thing you’d be most excited to be involved with, and start showing up. Or, think of the one thing you most wish the parish was doing, the biggest hole you see in our mission, and get to work filling it. Recruit a few others and get started doing the thing you think the parish ought to be doing.

This Church is the Church called and instituted by Jesus Himself, and the same Holy Spirit that blazed on Pentecost is with us now. Let’s throw some fuel on the fire. Let’s start with reasonable, modest goals. Reasonable and modest goals, like doubling the size of this parish. For a start. And I’m serious about that because I know you actually could do it. You have a name spoken by God from all eternity. You have a place. The people around you right now… look around… these are your brothers and sisters, your teammates, your companions on the front lines.

Incredible things will happen when brave, willing hearts and the Holy Spirit get together. We have Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit will show up. How about us?