He worked for the Chrysler Corporation in the development and research department. Fifteen years into his career, he developed a car engine that reached 60-miles-per-gallon. This was the late 1960s. Perhaps those with keen insights saw the oil crisis creeping into America. So, this highly efficient engine would save money, save gas, and save the freedom to travel anywhere anytime.
That engine never reached production. This man shared the discovery with corporate leadership, but within weeks, executives from the Shell Corporation strutted into his department. They bought the patent to the engine. As the new owners, they removed the engine, the diagrams, and schematics and forbade him to infringe on their copyright.
Why would an oil company want the patent to a high-efficient engine? So that people keep buying gas. That reason is selfish. The engine could be used for good: it could save money, save resources, lead to better development. Yet, the corporation took something good and used it for their own good. What does this say about the human heart?
God gives good blessings, like one common language. One language to encourage each other. To work together. To tell of God’s love. Yet, one common language is used for selfish pursuits— the same problem with language today. Instead of using language to gain personal comfort, Use Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to share God’s Name. Use it to unite God’s kingdom.
In our Old Testament selection, you read: Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. You could expect that. This account happened shortly after the worldwide flood. These people are all relatives of the one man, Noah. Coming from one big family means they share one common language.
That language would provide convenience. One language means clear communication of desires, intentions, and instructions. No Spanish, no English, no Hindi or Mandarin; you can understand your doctor or the tech support on the phone. Everyone comprehends a common lingo. All know that ‘pop,’ ‘soda,’ and ‘Coke’ are the same beverage and that the Party Store does not carry party supplies. One common language allows for efficient, easy communication.
You watch this group use one common language quite efficiently. [P]eople migrated from the east, [and] they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” [T]hey had brick for stone, and [tar] for mortar. The plan is to settle permanently. Kiln-dried bricks last longer than clay bricks. Tar does not crumble away like mortar. That does not sound too remarkable except for one fact: God commanded this people, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). These seemingly-innocent intentions intentionally disobey God.
That’s not my interpretation; that’s their motive. [T]hey said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens… For what purpose? [L]et us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.
God blesses all people with one common language. A language to share the promise of Jesus with children. A language to encourage those in despair and depressed. A language to celebrate the ways God led you through problems. You can use language to share God’s ‘Name;’ you can use language to communicate God’s reputation, behavior, and characteristics. Yet, this group uses one common language for attention. They want everyone to admire their planning, marvel at the construction, and praise their intellect and foresight. One common language is not used to bring glory to God. One common language is used to bring glory to humanity.
The sinful human heart can warp the greatest of God’s blessings for the most self-serving of purposes. And Christian congregations wrestle with that same sinful heart. You see, congregations get excited when they first form. Members eagerly invite friends, co-workers, strangers to worship. Volunteers arrive early Sunday morning to a rental space and set up chairs, furnishings, and refreshments. This group of believers strive to strengthen faith by promoting Sunday School and attending Bible Class. Momentum rolls. The congregation grows spiritually, they grow in numbers. Soon they plan a permanent worship space. A loan is secured. People give towards the building project, the congregation keeps reaching out, construction begins, the building finishes… and then the focus shifts. As soon as a building exists the focus can suddenly turn inward.
The attention shifts from ‘How can I share Jesus?’ to ‘How can I use this space for me?’ Church Council meetings mainly dwell on budgets and maintenance. Unfiltered opinions fly about carpet color, but very few concerns are raised about the straying. Personal expectations— like what the Pastor wears and what color hymnal to use— are emphasized more than God’s expectations. You see, we may not construct a tower that reaches the heavens, but, you (and I) can use our Christian knowledge to build a church the reaches self-serving interests. Yes, this building no longer becomes a place to know Jesus, to grow in Jesus, to share Jesus. Rather, this building becomes a haven of comfort where I demand all worship my interests.
God, in complete undeserved mercy, intervenes. [T]he Lord came down [and saw] the city and the tower, which the children of man had built… and in serious love said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” The Lord is not threatened by this independence; rather, independence threatens the group! This tower grows from stubborn disobedience. If nothing changes, their egos will soar as high as that tower, but they will never reach heaven. They will sink like a brick into hell. So, the Lord confuses their language so they will not understand each other. This verbal boundary stopped a proud pursuit and forced many to reconsider life’s real purpose: Giving praise to the Lord.
That is the reason you (and I) are here. Someone with a common language shared God’s Name with you. Maybe a stranger told you about a God who loved the world. Perhaps a mother read how the sinless Son of God was born. A Pastor might have explained that Jesus carried your (and my) pride to the cross and buried it. You (and I) believe this truth. That is what we call ‘faith.’ Because of faith, God leads you to the cross and in a language you clearly understand says, ‘I love you. I died for you. I saved you.’
What awesome words God puts into our hearts and on our lips! The language of faith is a blessing. You can take your faith and use your English words to communicate what God has done. Yes, use your English words to point to Jesus. Point each other to the grace of God. Point those outside this worship space to the love of God. Keep pointing— not to your preferences, but to God’s Savior. Use Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to share God’s Name. Use it to unite God’s kingdom.
Remember, God’s ‘kingdom’ is not heaven. God’s ‘kingdom’ is not some location with walls, armies, and a government. God’s ‘kingdom’ is God ruling your heart. For example, you might say that a loved one has your heart. Of course, they do not literally hold your heart in their hands. Rather, the thought of that loved one consumes your thinking.
In the same way, God’s powerful actions and guiding Word consumes your thinking, shapes your words, and guides your actions. So, when you pray in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy [Your] kingdom come,’ you are asking God to bring many more people to faith. One way God answers that prayer is through language.
[T]he Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Some leave angry and frustrated. Their ego did not tower as planned— at least, not in the way they wanted. So, some of these nations channeled their pride into idols. Those who craved pleasure made sex-gods. Those who wanted power made lightning-gods. Nervous farmers made gods to make crops grow. They failed to learn from Babel’s catastrophe that they are to obey God.
Others did learn. They turned from pride and turned to God. Immediately after this account, you see Abram listen to God (Genesis 12:1). Abram used his language to tell his son, Isaac, about the Savior. Isaac used his language to tell his son, Jacob, about the Savior. Jacob used his language to tell his sons about the Savior. They Used Language as the Blessing It Is and used it to unite God’s kingdom. God worked through language to create faith.
That is why you are here today. God worked through language to bring you into his kingdom. Consider how that happened. Congregations in Germany provided significant funding for the newly planted churches in America. When immigrants stepped into America, they had a familiar church home waiting for them. In fact, you have been directly impacted by those monies. The money from Germany funded American congregations. Those American congregations funded the founding of Michigan Lutheran Seminary (in Saginaw). Pastors from MLS served your congregation for almost 20-years. Those in Germany, with a different language, different culture, different jobs— you may never have met them and they have never met you, but you benefit from their efforts. They used their blessings to be a blessing for you.
God brought you into his kingdom through language too. For a while, your congregation [St. John] used German in worship. After World War I, emigration from Germany slowed, and most first-generation Americans spoke English. Americans still prefer English today. So, in the 1940s your church stopped using German! They switched to English! It probably felt strange at first! But your Christian friends thought about you! For those of you who speak English [all of you], you benefit from that change. They used the English language to bring you into God’s kingdom.
Now you stand in this line. You get to use your English language to unite God’s kingdom, to clearly communicate God’s love to each other and the world. You give offerings so your children may worship here, and their children, and children to come. One day those children will point to you as the ones who shared Jesus. The Vietnamese will point to the newly constructed center as the tool used to share God’s Word in their language. Faith Lutheran (of Harrison) can point to you as the reason a congregation opened in their city. Strangers will walk into your church building because they understood your invitation. Dear friends, Use Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to unite God’s kingdom.
It might be difficult because we still have sinful hearts. Those sinful hearts are selfish. We often act only when we benefit. We speak when we get something for ourselves. We refuse accommodating others because it forces us to change. We can use good blessings for self-centered purposes.
Yet, God rules our hearts. He has sent the Holy Spirit into our lives so that we can be his children. The Holy Spirit equips us to behave like people belonging to God. See how he Uses Your Language as the Blessing It Is! Use it to share God’s Name. Use it to unite God’s kingdom.