Pentecost and the Divine Purpose of Diversity: Genesis 11, Acts 2
Make Babel even better? Barely. There’s a reason this monocultural empire failed. This is because God desires diversity for both human and earthly community!
Here are ideas for reading and preaching Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21 through a “green” lens on Pentecost Sunday. It is part of the EcoPreacher 1-2-3 series to equip pastors and congregations to engage the Bible and God’s creation.
Eco-exegesis is a method of interpreting biblical text through a green lens using the principles of ecological theology. For this passage, we turn to the ecological bible, a Jewish ecological commentary on the Hebrew texts.
Genesis 11:9—“The Lord confounded the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them over the face of all the earth.
According Eco Bible: An Ecological Commentary, Evan Eisenberg writes that “the Tower of Babel, in the Mesopotamian kingdom of Sumer, represents the arrogance of the world’s first farmers who thought that their own labor cultivated their prosperity” (26).[i] Their desire for dominion was exercised through a unique language, the mastery of technology (artificial building materials, v. 3), and the imposition of worship towers to rival the mountains of God.
Dr. Jeremy Benstein sees a correlation with “recent trends in corporate globalization, pointing to a global monoculture – unity through uniformity” (27). This results in an “alienation from the earth, from the other and from the divine” and threatens the “delicate fabric of diversity, cultures and their habitats” (ibid). When God confuses the language of empire and scatters the people “over the face of all the earth,” it serves as a warning to mankind.[ii] When we worship our own technology and hegemony, the consequences of violence, pollution and environmental degradation soon follow.
Acts 1:11 – “(In)our own tongues we hear them speak of the mighty acts of God.
Unlike those who built the Tower of Babel, the Pentecostal story in Acts 2:1-21 elevates God’s purpose for diversity. God does not make all those gathered around the disciples speak the same language. Rather, each disciple is equipped to speak the gospel in a different language. Thus, the lasting diversity initiated at Babel is carried by the foundation of the first Christian community.
From this we can conclude that God loves diversity! God has created an amazing diversity of habitats, plants, animals, birds and fish. This diversity is meant to be reflected in human society through the multiplicity of languages, foods, skin colors, cultures and religions. The more diverse we are, the more we are able to build resilience as a human community, just as ecosystems maintain resilience with a variety of plant and animal species.
The Eco-Idea is a succinct statement that tells us who God is and/or what God does in relation to Creation and how we should respond as people of faith. The eco-idea for this sermon is:
Just as God created diversity in the Genesis origin stories, God desires diversity for the human and earth community today. Thus, believers should celebrate and encourage diversity within their communities and local ecosystems.
Eco-questions are what we can ask to help a congregation draw out the implications of eco-exegesis and eco-idea.
- How diverse are the foods you eat? Do you primarily consume the consistent ingredients of the fast food industry – meat, cheese, wheat, corn, oil and sugar? Or do you vary your diet with a plethora of plant-based foods? Could your church organize a vegetarian kitchen to allow people to taste (and show) their favorite recipes?
- What is the diversity of neighbors your church interacts with? Do you have space to hold a cultural food festival? Or an immigrant congregation that speaks a language other than English? Could your congregation support a refugee family seeking a new life in your community?
Eco-actions are ways in which a congregation could respond to the eco-idea and eco-questions. One of these possibilities may be relevant to your preaching context.
- Diversify your diet. Try a new fruit or vegetable, especially locally grown varieties from organic farms. Or plant heirloom seeds of your favorite vegetables that will offer different tastes and textures to your palette.
- Diversify your cultural skills through community gardening. This blog post for Baylor University by Zane Peng describes the efforts of a garden planning committee to foster a culture of inclusion and diversity: https://blogs.baylor.edu/thi/2021/02/04/south-texas-juvenile-diabetes-associations-garden-finding-success-through-inclusion-and-diversity/.
- Protect diversity within the animal kingdom. Organize a day for members of your congregation to call your members of Congress (202-224-3121) and encourage them to stand up for the Endangered Species Act.
[i] Eco Bible: Volume One: An Ecological Commentary on Genesis and Exodus, citing Earth Torah, flight. 1, Arthur Waskow, ed., Evan Eisenberg, “The Mountain and the Tower,” 30-33.
[ii] Jeremy Benstein, The Path to Judaism and the Environment (Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008), 64-66.
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EcoPreacher 1-2-3 is a partnership between the Rev. Dr. Leah Schade and the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, publishers of ecological bible, a Jewish ecological commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. EcoPreacher 1-2-3 provides creation-focused sermon preparation that is short, accessible, and grounded in a solid biblical foundation. To see more EcoPreacher ideas and to sign up to receive future EcoPreacher 1-2-3 installments, click here.
The Lengua de Dios: Pentecost and the language of God
Pentecost is political – Thank God!
Will the white churches find their Pentecostal courage?
The Reverend Dr. Leah D. Schade is an associate professor of preaching and worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; his opinions are his own. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Division (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-preaching of crisis: ecology, theology and pulpit (ChalicePress, 2015). She is co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in Times of Climate Crisis (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019). His latest book, co-authored with Jerry Sumney is Apocalypse When? : A guide to interpreting and preaching apocalyptic texts (Wipf & Stock, 2020).