Sermon from Gwasanaeth Cymraeg, St Thomas’ Chruch, 14 May 2016
“Come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves;”
The recent warm weather has brought the bees out. The other day one had flown into our kitchen and was trying to escape from the room by furiously beating and banging itself against on of the windows. On the window sill was another bee that had already killed itself, doing the same thing. So I decided to rescue the creature that was dashing its brains out against the window. I opened the window, but the bee flew back into the room, I tried to catch the bee in a cloth when it was back against the window – and gently folded it up in the cloth; it continued to struggle furiously, but at last it I was able to shake it out of the window and it was free. For a moment, it was stunned, perhaps amazed, then caught up on a gust of wind – it flew off to its chosen destination.
There exist important similarities between the trapped bee and the story of the tower of Babel. In both accounts we learn of the subjects of the story attempting to do something that is harmful to them – the bee tries to fly through a closed but transparent window in an attempt to be free, the people of Shimar on the great plain of Babylonia, attempt to keep their common cultural identity by building a great city with a tower that would be so great it would touch heaven.
Both the bee and the people of Shimar desire something great, something good, but harm themselves in their futile struggles to achieve it. The story of the bee and the story of Babel are our stories. We, too, want to escape the chaos, and constant threat of annihilation that we perceive is to be found out there in the great wilderness of the world. We want to avoid the terrors of daily life, be it physical pain or hunger, or spiritual emptiness and we yearn to create for ourselves and our children a great and glorious future.
It is also the story of the apostles gathered in Jerusalem with Jews and other people for that great Jewish festival of Pentecost – fifty days after the Passover – to celebrate arrival of the Israelites on Sinai, where God gave them the Covenant amidst cloud and thunder, and they became God’s people. It is the story of the transformation of the apostles from selfish and timid men into giants of courage and faith. It is the story of the life-changing, life-transforming power that comes to those who wait in prayer.
Like the bee and the people of Shimar and the apostles we have someone trying to save us from ourselves. Do you remember the original Star Wars movie? It is a classic adventure story – a battle between good and evil; and there is the Death Star commanded by the evil Darth Vader and the Rebels, but what is most fascinating about the film is not the technology and the machinery that the film portrays with stunning success, but something called The Force. The hero of the film is called Luke Skywalker, he’s a young and impulsive man, eager to make a difference – in the end, he does make a difference and is able to defeat the powers of evil, because he remembers The Force. Concentrating on The Force and allowing The Force to guide his actions, Luke saves the Rebels from destruction in the first movie. But it isn’t easy, it isn’t easy to open up to The Force; it isn’t easy to believe that there is a better way than the only one we can see in front of us, the only one we feel able to control.
The Force at the heart of the Christian Faith is the power of the Holy Spirit. At first, the Force comes like a violent wind. Listen to the wind – at first you hear nothing, then it gives voice to voiceless branches as it blows through the trees; it slams doors and makes the chimney tops sing and blows neatly ordered papers all over the floor – it howls and it blows, it disturbs and it changes. Then the Force comes like tongues of fire. Imagine the world without fire. Imagine our lives without the power of the Holy Spirit. Fire which gives light in the darkness; fire, without which we are left shivering in the cold; without fire bread cannot be baked, fish cannot be grilled, vegetables cannot be transformed. Does the power of the Holy Spirit not feed our souls? Without fire silver and gold cannot be fashioned into objects of beauty; iron and steel cannot be forged into tools and utensils, does the power of the Holy Spirit not refine and shape our lives for the greater glory of God?
On this day of Pentecost, we are reminded that by the power of our Baptism, we have the opportunity to be released, to be taken up in a cloud of thunder and fire – to let the Force of the Holy Spirit pulsate within us and speak, through the conviction of our actions, a language that all can understand, the language of the Holy Gospel of Jesus the Christ: that we have been saved from ourselves by the God of love. Amen.