A sermon preached on Genesis 11:1-9 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD, on June 9, 2019.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 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. – Genesis 11:1-9
Should I stay or should I go now! In 1982, the English punk rock band, The Clash, released their hit single: Should I stay or Should I Go? Some say it’s about a couple’s indecision to stay together. Some say it was about the band’s decision on whether or not to split. Should I stay or should I go now? “If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double! So come on and let me know: Should I stay or should I go now?”
God has addressed that question more than you might think throughout history. Adam and Eve fell into sin were wondering if they should stay in the Garden of Eden or go. God answered – you should go. Leave the garden so you don’t eat from the Tree of Life and get stuck living forever in the devastating effects of sin.
After the flood, Noah didn’t even need to ask should I stay or should I go – God told him to go out into the world saying: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1b). It didn’t take long for Noah’s descendants to forget though. Our reading takes place around 100 years after the flood. God had told Noah and his sons – go, fill up the earth.
Instead, Noah’s descendants asked “should we stay or should we go?” And they decided to stay. Going would be so much work. And if they stayed together, trade and so many things would be easier. So they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city.” That honestly doesn’t seem so bad though. Even with God’s command to fill the earth, wouldn’t this help work toward that?
You can see how “should I stay or should I go” wasn’t on their minds, in fact, they were determined to ignore God when they said, “Let us build a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Hey come on! Let’s build a skyscraper to show off how great we are! Forget what God has said!
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. The LORD acts. It might be surprising that the LORD, all capital letters, acts. This is a special name for God – sometimes called the God of free and faithful grace. This is the God of the promise of a Savior. How is this free and faithful grace in our reading? God was merciful with them. They didn’t get what they deserved. They deserved another flood. They had completely turned their backs on God. But God didn’t give them what they deserved. No, he acted to protect his promise. If the people completely turned their backs on God in 100 years, a city united in self praise would only get farther and farther from God. So God didn’t let that happen. He forced them to obey his command and fill the earth by confusing their languages. Their plans came to ruin and they left a half-finished tower as a testimony to their rebellion.
So what does this story mean for you and me? One could certainly argue we have already filled the earth thanks to God. On Pentecost we remember another command of God’s that brings up the question, “should I stay or should I go.” Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave us this charge: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
That’s what we see on the first Pentecost. And we are called to continue that preaching. God has given us many blessing here. Do we use those blessings to share the gospel with our community? Do we share it with our neighbors and co-workers? With our own families? Do we even ask the question, should I stay or should I go or do we just say “pass.”
I’ve had a long day at work, why should I have to get up and help my spouse clean up? Church work day? I already don’t get enough me time. Tell my co-worker about Jesus? I don’t want to make things awkward! So often we think this way. Yet, it’s humbling to have an unbeliever point out how we’re acting if we act that way.
I once read a quote from Penn Jillette, from the magicians Penn and Teller. He’s a very staunch atheist. He doesn’t despise Christians, but he does despise Christians who aren’t willing to tell others about Jesus. He put it this way once: “How much do you have to hate [people] to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that… If I believe a truck is coming at you and you don’t believe it, there’s a certain point where I tackle you! And this is more important than that!”
God says “go, tell others what I have done for them” and so often I decide to stay and not. Just like at Babel, I deserve to have my plans go to ruin. For my apathy, I deserve to go to hell. But, just like at Babel, God does not give me what I deserve. He came down and he acted for you and me.
Jesus never had to ask “Should I stay or should I go?” The answer had always been that he would go – he would come into this world with all its pains and troubles and he would live for you. He never chose what was easy over what was right. Even when it came to the cross. The night before he died, he could have easily asked “Should I stay or should I go?” and decide not to go to the cross. Yet, he prayed to God the Father, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He happily went to the cross because he knew through his death, he paid for your every sins and failures.
On Pentecost, we see how God undid the confusion started at Babel. The Holy Spirit came and created faith in our hearts. Through the washing and renewal of baptism he washed your sins away. We may come from different backgrounds. Christians around the world might look different and speak differently but through the Holy Spirit, we are one in goal and mission.
Through the faith, the new person that the Holy Spirit has created in us no longer needs to ask “should I stay or should I go?” When I look to the cross, the natural answer is a resounding go! And serve God and those around me. I gladly want to serve my family. I gladly want to go to church and encourage you and be encouraged by you. I gladly want to be in God’s Word and grow in my faith. I will even gladly share my faith even if it makes me feel awkward socially. And for the places I can’t go and share the Word, I gladly give an offering to support mission work all over the world.
Start simple. Start at home by having a devotion with your family. Maybe it’s after dinner or before bed. Share that devotion or sermon online with a friend. We’re going to make that even easier this summer as we start sharing a daily devotion and the sermon on Facebook. This Fall we’ll be starting a new Bible Study ministry called Growth Groups and they’ll be an easy way to invite a friend.
Will it sometimes be awkward? Yup! But there’s too much at stake to shy away. There’s more than a bus coming for unbelievers. Should I stay or should I go? Go! Go in peace, knowing Jesus lived and died for you. Go, and share that saving message of Jesus living and dying for us with your friends. Go, and the Holy Spirit will be with you and will guide you. God never asks, should I stay or should I go. He always goes with you. Amen