From Scattering to Gathering
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 14:23–31
The Festival of Pentecost
June 5, 2022
“From Scattering to Gathering”
The school year is quickly coming to a close, much to the joy of students and teachers – maybe not so much joy for parents who have a couple months with kids at home. This is the final week of school here in Fairfax County, and that means that there will soon be a scattering as people take off for summer vacation. Even with high gas prices, people have travel plans, especially after COVID. We see a scattering in today’s Old Testament reading (Genesis 11:1-9) as mankind’s hubris led to plans for building a tower that will reach to the heavens. The motivation here was very self-serving as the people said to one another: “And let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4a). And God’s response to all of this? “The Lord God came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (Genesis 11:5). The impression we have here is that God, who made the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1-2), is stooping down to examine this as we would stoop down to look at an ant hill. From man’s perspective, it is everything; from God’s perspective, it is nothing. Man’s hubris leads to humility as the Lord God confuses their plans by confusing their language, making it impossible to communicate. As a result, plans on the massive Tower of Babel came to a screeching halt. The upshot here is the last verse of today’s first Scripture reading: “Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:90. The Hebrew word for “confused”is similar to the word Babel, which is how it's come down to us today. Someone who babbles is not saying anything intelligible. But this scattering at Babel is not the final word. Today on the festival of Pentecost, through the outpouring the Holy Spirit there is a gathering that once more brings people together. This becomes the theme for preaching entitled, "From Scattering to Gathering." May the Lord's rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing and the living of his Word for Jesus' sake
Within our Christian faith, there are three major festivals: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Together these three festivals proclaim the Triune God whom we worship and serve. Two of these festivals are familiar and well-known with many customs and traditions associated with them. The third one is sometimes called the forgotten festival of the church. Christmas celebrates the gift of God the Father in sending his only begotten Son into the flesh. We all know that Christmas is on December 25 and there are lots of festivities that are part of Christmas, a favorite of so many people. Although the date for Easter moves around each year, this is also very familiar to us. Easter celebrates the resurrection of God the Son who rose from death and the grave, giving to us the hope of our own resurrection in him. But what about Pentecost? Are you hosting a special dinner to celebrate with gifts and festivities? And that's why Pentecost is sometimes called the forgotten festival. Despite this, it remains vitally important as it tells us of the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. Lots of folks would struggle to tell you when Pentecost is observed (fifty days after Easter), and maybe that's because we don't have any customs or traditions that go with Pentecost. And so part of what this day is all about is helping us to reclaim the importance of Pentecost, and of the Holy Spirit who "calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." Did you hear that word there in Luther's explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed? Gathers
The original scattering of people at Babel was rooted in pride and self-exaltation. Long before the Ten Commandments were given by God, people were all about trying to make themselves God. This is what the First Commandment is all about: “You shall have no other gods before Me”(Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7). We see that clearly at the Tower of Babel. After countless generations of being scattered and divided by race, language, and culture, God has a plan to gather his people together once again. Through the God-Man, Jesus Christ, death and hell were shattered and the heavens were opened, not because we built a tower so high that we could storm heaven, take it by force, and declare ourselves to be God. No, heaven came down to us through this God-Man, Jesus Christ, who lived the life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will that we could never live, and who died the death we rightly deserved because of our sin and disobedience. By means of his own Son, the Father has graciously worked to gather his scattered people once again to himself. What was scattered at Babel was gathered together again at Pentecost in Jerusalem.
The presence, the power, and the peace of Jesus now comes to his people through the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit’s influence and encouragement, we are led to faith in Jesus and all that he has done for us. In describing the Spirit in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says this: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). That word “Helper” is a rich and descriptive word. The original word here is a term for the Spirit that we don’t hear much anymore: Paraclete (παράκλητος). Found only in John’s Gospel and Epistles, this is often translated as Helper, Advocate, or Counselor. But the original sense of the word is stronger than that. It means someone who stands beside you and speaks for you; someone who represents you in a court of law. A better translation might well be “Defense Attorney.” This is who the Holy Spirit is: the One who gathers together the scattered people of God, breaking down divisions and barriers that separate us from God and from one another. Paul the apostle describes the work of our divine Defense Attorney like this: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to receive the gift which Jesus gives to his formerly scattered and now gathered people: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). This verse from today’s Gospel lesson is very near and dear to me. It is my Confirmation verse given to me many years ago, and a go-to passage from God’s Word for my life. I pray that it will be near and dear to you as well. On this Pentecost Sunday, we are privileged to gather around God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament to be strengthened and sustained in faith. Wherever we may have been scattered, it is the Holy Spirit who calls us, gathers us, and keeps us together in faith for Jesus’ sake, all to the glory of God the Father. Amen.