In the beginning all people were as one and “The whole world had the same language and the same words.” (Genesis 11:1)
However, as always, we see human pride creep in. In verse 4 we read this: “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.” Notice in this statement that it was all about “us and ourselves,” and what the people thought they could do and not about God and what He could do.
So God dealt with this pride; Genesis 11:7-8 “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another. So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.”
Fast forward to today. Here is a greeting: Hello, مرحبا, bonjour, hola,שלום, Xin chào, salutare, hallo, salve. Even in the simple greeting of “hello” we are separated from one another. Most of us only know our own language. Did you recognize the languages of Arabic, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Italian, Russian, and Latin in the greetings above? Language no doubt separates us but much more separates us as well. I will address more on this in a minute. But before I do let’s see how Jesus longs for us to be.
In John 16, which takes place just before his arrest, Jesus foretells the coming of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after saying this, Jesus offers up a very important prayer to His Father. There is so much contained in His prayer in John 17. Jesus affirms that He came so that we could have eternal life. He attests that He came so that we could know the one true God and also know His Son. Jesus acknowledges that His death is imminent but He also reveals that He will be returning to the Father. In His prayer He confirms that His words which He left us are TRUTH. But then in verses 16-26 He prays fervently for something that we need to pay close attention to. He prays that we can all be ONE!
“Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
After Jesus’ death we see the fruits of this prayer in Acts 2:5-8; ” Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?”
Have you ever traveled to a foreign country where they spoke a different language? How did you communicate? Perhaps you knew just a few words in their language. Maybe they knew a few words in your language. Perhaps you had to resort to pointing and gesturing to communicate.
Jesus prayed that we could all be one. On Pentecost the people were brought together as one when they heard the Apostles in their native tongue.
As I stated earlier language is not all that separates us and causes division. More often division is caused by harboring radically different points of views from one another. Each person can become so grounded in their point of view that they almost refuse to acknowledge the other person’s views exists.
We see this played out continuously on the evening news. We know that Palestinians and Jews struggle to communicate. We know that Christians and Muslims often fail to communicate. Just when we thought that the United States and Russia were improving communications it appears communications are once again strained. Throughout the Middle East lack of communication and great division is seen between the Sunnis and the Shia.
Today, however, I want to concentrate on the smaller stage of life, the one that is not on the evening news but rather the one in which we are the main actors. Do our firmly held attitudes towards others and our words and actions cause division?
Do you personally contribute to any division in the list below? What words or gestures are you using that cause separation within these various parings of people?
Husband and Wife
Parent and Child
Sibling to Sibling
Coworker to Coworker
Neighbor to Neighbor
Church member to Church member
Church member to Priest or Minister
Does our language and choice of words cause division and disharmony between: Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and other Christian denominations? Do we reflect the Love of Christ when we speak of or to our fellow Christians?
What about when you are confronted with others who are different from you, do you drive your stake in the ground and refuse to budge an inch in the communication process? Do your actions and words communicate Christian oneness with or disgust towards gays? Do your actions and words communicate the love of Christ or hatred and condemnation towards an abortion doctor? Do your words depict animosity towards those whose political views are different than yours? When you are watching the evening news do you express your thoughts like this: “let’s just nuke those radical terrorists?”
Jesus prayed for “oneness.” He desired to see complete harmony amongst the members of the body of Christ. This oneness is brought about by the knowledge that we are ALL SINNERS and in need of His mercy. Though we are many, He prayed that we would be in total and perfect union as He and the Father and the Spirit are one. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and is with us today giving us the ability to communicate with others who are different than us.
The oneness we too often seek is a oneness of “me.” I am all that counts. We become self-focused and the words “I” and “me” dominate our language and gestures. This type of “oneness” is captured in the song “ONE IS THE LONELIEST MUMBER.”
My friends our words can really hurt someone; Look at these verses from the song “If I Could Turn Back Time.”
I don’t know why I said the things I said
Pride’s like a knife it can cut deep inside
Words are like weapons they wound sometimes.
As I close today, can I ask you to reflect on these two questions? Which language do you and your actions speak?
Do you speak the language of love and oneness?
Do you speak the language of hate and division?
If your answer to the first question is yes, give glory and thanks to God. If your answer to the second question is yes, invite the Holy Spirit in to soften your heart to teach you the universal language of love, which is understood in all languages by all people.
Dear Heavenly Father, I know you long for us to be one. This is only possible with the power of your Holy Spirit so therefor I pray; Veni, Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit. Come and fill me with the desire to be one with my brothers and sisters in Christ, amen.