Who are we? Do we need to make a name for ourselves? Will we ever be satisfied with God’s Word present among us?
God created the universe. On the seventh day God rested and declared it was all good. God created us with such potential: the potential to reach for the stars, the potential to love one another, ourselves and even our enemies. Our power of imagination to see what is not and strive to accomplish things new and wonderful carries us from one generation to the next. We can share the breath of beauty, the wind of hope, and the fire of the future with one another.
God also gave us freedom, so that we have the potential to reject the gifts God gives us. The goodness of life is fragile. There are so many ways for life to go wrong. We can choose to dive into the depths of darkness, to hide our false pride and our self-centered arrogance, to wallow in the despair that consumes generation after generation. We can succumb to addictions and armed conflict, to abuse and terror that causes PTSD in its victims, to Gaslighting, bearing false witness, and even murder. We have the potential to destroy all of life on earth, but the real destruction are all the avenues we create for life to implode on itself.
Jane sat at the table in her favourite restaurant, enjoying the familiar smells that reminded her of the news she had received here. Years ago, on this very spot she’d opened her letter of acceptance into university, the first one in her family, ever. That shaped everything about her life, now a Doctor of History, a professor emeritus, a famous author. Later that same day years ago she’d received the other news that formed her life and was bringing it to an indecent early end. She had MS. She had lived with it for so long, many years in a wheelchair, but now her systems were slowly giving out. Her name given to her at her baptism is Jane.
In the lesson from Genesis we read how the people came together to build a marvelous city and a tower that would reach the heavens, in order to make a name for themselves. They also distrusted God’s rainbow, and wanted security from any future flood. God comes to bless the people with confused speech, with different languages, so that their prideful project will halt. Divided the people disperse far and wide to inhabit the earth. Ever since, we create divisions and conflict more easily than we build healthy communities. We have built more than a tower of Babel as our fossil fuel consumption produces more pollution than the earth can tolerate, resulting in violent climate change. Our civilization is built on time bombs that destroy people.
George and Emily
George and Emily walked the beach, they’d grieved the addiction of their daughter for an eternity, grieving the birth of grandchildren, each lost to foster care. Now they’d received the phone call they’d feared. Jenny had overdosed on drugs yet again. This time she had not recovered. Their names are George and Emily and they gave Jenny her name at her baptism.
Languages A Gift
Today we recognize the power of languages. They keep us apart and distinct. Yet when we live in a second language, we experience not just different grammar and words. We experience more of the world that God created good. Different languages carry different pieces of the marvels of this creation which we can barely fathom in a full lifetime.
That first Pentecost the disciples proclaimed in their own language the wonders of God’s work for everyone. God inspired the listeners to hear the disciples in each listener’s own language. As at Babel God confused the language of the people to save them from their pride, so at the first Pentecost God overcame the language barrier in order that people could hear and understand each other and the Good News of what God had done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Language is powerful.
Greta was born in Jena, in East Germany. A Christian, at great cost she had dedicated her life to serving Christ. Working with youth she excelled, until jealous gossip was started about her. Under intense pressure and unearned shame Greta slowly lost her confidence, then her sense of self, and finally her sense of reality. She succumbed to a half living state of senseless babble that sometimes erupted into excruciatingly painful clarity about what had been done to her, and how helpless she was. Her name, given to her at her baptism, is Greta. She remained Greta even as she lost her mind to the horrendous cruelty of gossip that pretends to know reality beyond God’s goodness.
Clarity in Miracles
Like the disciples we always want God to be more clear. The words are plain enough. Yet God rarely leaves it to just the words. The signs, the miracles, that accompany the Good News are remarkable. We may not recognize what God is doing, but we always hope that in the end all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well, for God created the universe and said it was good.
That first Pentecost so that people could not miss the miracle of the Holy Spirit given to God’s children, God marked the disciples with tongues of fire.
One of the distinct gifts God gave humans is Fire. It is powerful, both for good and for evil. God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, guided the people through the wilderness with a pillar of flame, and will cleanse us at our judgment with God’s purifying fire.
As we have breathed these past weeks, the result of climate change brings more wildfires, and more smoke that covers vast areas, inhibiting life in so many ways. Humans are not the only ones affected by wildfires. The smoke reduced the available solar power, a nuisance at least for those whose electricity is produced by solar power. The greater loss was to the plants whose basis of life depends on photosynthesis.
In the face of life so challenged, God finds ways to bless us, with hope.
Sam and Allicia
Sam and Allicia both lost their childhoods to wars of terror and genocide. In their teens they each survived the squalor and hunger of refugee camps, their families having all been killed. Sponsored as immigrants in their late teens by a Lutheran congregation in Edmonton, they met, shared the struggles of finding their way, fell in love, were married and are expecting their first child this summer. With different mother tongues they communicate in Canadian English. Their names given to them at their baptisms are Sam and Allicia. They have chosen names for their first child at its baptism, in memory of their families lost.
Though we reach for the stars, to make a name for ourselves, to succeed at what we attempt, even to make life more than it is, there is no name that we can make for ourselves greater than what God has already given us. With tongues of fire God has marked us, anointed us, and called us.
Three Confirmed, we stand with them
As these three, Tristan, Connor, and Aysiah, were marked with the cross in their baptisms, and now they stand as young people, maturing, beginning to accept responsibility for their own being, so we each were marked. At the right time we also stood on our own to respond to the gifts that God gives us, promising to receive, abide in, act out of, and grow into the people God calls us to be. Today we still stand, not on our own as if our faith were merely personal or private. Rather we stand as one faith community united by the fire of the Holy Spirit. As we stand with one another in love, so we stand with these three young people. Their names, given to them in their baptisms, are Tristan, Connor, and Aysiah.
Our name: potential as love
Again today we share with them the name God has given us all. There is no greater name. It is not a name we could make for ourselves. It is the name that God gave us in our baptisms and shares with us each day. God names us God’s children.
The language of our name is not limited to one of the diverse languages that God gave us to propel us across the earth, to inhabit it and do well by it. The language of our name is love, in all its rainbow colours.
In our love for one another we best reflect the One who abides with and in us, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. It is in our love for our enemies that we dance with the miraculous power of life which the Spirit pours down on us in the form of flames of fire.
As we do what it takes to love one another, though the world roils with conflict, abuse, and destruction, we rest in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. We have no cause to be troubled. Nor do we suffer the greatest enemy: the denial of evil’s potential. Nor do we need to fear flood nor fire nor anything, for God is at work to keep evil in its place and God in God’s place … and to keep us on earth with and for each other.
Our name given to us in our baptisms is children of God. We are the inheritors of the miracle that brings life to be with a word, with a breath, with a breeze, with a fire.