1. Genesis 11, 1-9
- The Tower of Babel, where man proposed and God disposed on a massive scale. Our tradition tells us that the miracle of Pentecost symbolized
and foreshadowed the union of languages and peoples that was broken by human
- Here it begins: The
whole world spoke the same language. Hold it!
My scientific sense tells me that this was probably not the case at any point in history. So am I in the realm of fairy stories? No, I am in the presence
of a God story. We begin by sizing up the world on our terms, but God it is who
has the final word, who renders judgment on our actions.
- God is the generous giver of life and opportunity. The people came upon a valley.
Who do I think gave them that valley? They used bricks for stone. Who do I think gave them the intelligence
to build? Let us build ourselves a city
and a tower, and so make a name for ourselves. So the human race defines
itself, and it continues attempting to define itself to this day by such signs of material accomplishment. Do I hear anyone praying, asking God’s favor? I will pause after their arrival in the valley, to let my listeners imagine what those people should have
- We know that we share basic sentiments with every other person. The pictures exhibited in “The Family of Man” remind us of this. So on the one hand our yearning to communicate with others is a shared language, the same language. That language was
given at Pentecost, and God wants us to speak it everywhere.
- We also know that common languages are always imposed by conquering
powers: Greek, Chinese, Latin, Arabic, French, Spanish, English, and Russian. Some
of that understanding is also in my voice today because God is judging empires in this story.
Listen: Nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.
- Let us go down there
and confuse their language. God
speaks and it is done! It is the speech of domination that is confused. The Lord scattered them and they stopped building
their city. That is the climax: look for the judgment of God on our actions.
- Message for our assembly: I speak the words of the builders
in a milieu of silence. Many commentators have called Babel a challenge to God. I find rather a preoccupation with the human project.
These people have left no room for God and so do not pray to God. Do we
sense the presence of God even in Babel? If we do not pay attention to God, does
that mean that God is absent?
- I will challenge myself: to project vividly the march of empire builders
in that time, and how God overcomes them. Let us learn from the failed city of
Babel, and the ruins of all proud empires, to speak the language God loves to hear, the language of compassion and faith that
our father Abraham spoke all his days.
2. Exodus 19, 3-8 and 16-20
- It is a very loud and impressive sign of God’s presence, there at the mountain. I hear a trembling, fire, a trumpet blast that grows louder, thunder and lightning. These will make ‘good theater.’ And I see a heavy
cloud covering the mountain. Israel should remember that. And it has. I can do justice to this event. I will.
- When God’s presence is shown in nature, we should expect a reaction like this. It would be terrifying to us, and it was to them: All the people
in the camp trembled. I only hear it once, in all the noise. Why bother repeating it? What else would they do?
- But God speaks through all the external noise, with a purpose.
I bore you up on eagle’s wings and brought you here to myself. Words of invitation: You shall be my special
possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. They are addressed only
to Moses, maybe as a whisper or suggestion.
- The people were ready, though they were scared. First
they said: Everything the Lord has said, we will do. And then they followed Moses from the camp to the foot of the mountain.
- The two parts of this reading may be two interpretations of
the same event. In part one, God speaks to Moses about the covenant with the
people. In part two, the people see and hear the manifestations of power from
the mountain. The Bible is filled with such manifestations and with people who
can interpret them. That is what the Spirit brings us, if we are open to it:
the ability to see through the signs around us and hear the message. That is
what I want to achieve today.
- Central point: The voice of God is behind these manifestations,
and behind all the good we do in the Spirit.
- Message for our assembly: Are we ready to say, as disciples
of Jesus, Yes! to the invitation of God to be a kingdom of priests?
- I will challenge myself: to link the covenant words in part one to
the prodigious signs of part two.
3. Ezekiel 37, 1-14
- Here is the story of the dry bones and the promise of new life.
For the third straight reading, a primordial place is at the center. First
it was a fertile valley, then a thundering mountain, and now we are in the center of the plain filled with bones.
- I’m going to walk around with the prophet, in every direction, so that I could see how many
bones they were. Let me listen carefully to the pathos in his voice as he
exclaims: How dry they were! Let me avoid the irreverence of the tourist
in the museum. Today I imagine the people who have died, and I am their descendant. In that spirit I echo the grieving of the prophet for his people, dying far from the
land of their inheritance.
- God tells Ezekiel to prophesy: Son of man, can these bones
come to life? It is an invitation
to join God in celebrating life where only death makes its appearance. I have
seen pictures of death camps in Germany and Cambodia, of mass graves in Chile, Guatemala, Bosnia and Iraq. And they sadden me with their finality. What can come of them? How can they be raised? And I throw the
idea back upon God: Lord God, you alone know that.
- God speaks the creative words and it is done. First the bodies: I will bring spirit into you, sinews, flesh, skin and spirit. I think God speaks like a faith healer: Why are you lying there?
You are meant to be alive! Get up and be yourself!
- Listen to what Ezekiel hears: a rattling as the bones came
together. See what he sees as the bones take on flesh. I report in amazement, but understated, because we all know that God’s word achieves what it intends.
- The second word embraces spirit: From the four winds come,
o spirit and breathe into them. I will breathe the word ‘breathe’
and then I will look around me, across the assembly, to acknowledge the people coming alive and standing upright.
- The last word bestows hope for a people without hope: O my
people! It is the climax of the reading, because God brings us to life to
honor him and achieve his will. I want to say it so that my listeners will remember
it. They have no grounds for despair. We
are not to end in death. That is what the Spirit prompts us to say to each other.
- Message for our assembly: Spirit is God’s will for us. Out of many disparate countries, from the four winds, God wants to create one people. I will use my eye contact to unite them and mobilize them.
- I will challenge myself: to transport the people to the hot plain
and to recall the tragic events in our own days that have piled up the dry bones. And
I will repeat the voice of God that creates where we can only see final death.
4. Joel 3, 1-5
- The gift of God’s spirit in the last days, when everyone will prophesy. Peter began his first message on Pentecost day by citing this passage.
- I will pour out my spirit on all flesh: sons and daughters, old men, young men, servants and handmaids. This is not a reflective God of the plain, but a God of finality bringing our worldly
appearances to an end. And all of us, the greatest and the humblest, will declare
the hand of God in those days: prophesy, dream dreams, see visions.
- These wonders of nature, which are always with us, do not happen by chance. God calls it the day of the Lord, the great and terrible day.
- Finally there are words of rescue. They shall call
upon the name of the Lord. And as for the survivors, the Lord shall call
- Central point: It is all the work of the Lord. The elements see and celebrate the final triumph of God and the people shout their witness to it.
- Message for our assembly: We believe that this passage is fulfilled
in our day and every day when God pours out the Spirit on us. Tonight I look
upon everyone as I repeat the promise of God.
- I will challenge myself: to declare the words not in a spirit
of terror but in a spirit of expectation, because we await our fulfillment not from our accomplishments on earth but from
Epistle. Romans 8, 22-27
- The epistle sounds closest in tone to the last reading from the prophet Joel. In fact, I interpret apocalypse in general in terms of Romans. Creation
is groaning in labor pains. It is a time of adoption, redemption
of our souls.
- Our own groaning is in hope for what we do not see, and we wait with endurance.
- We are unable to understand what we experience, but the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. Even if we cannot say it, all is not lost. I
say that with full confidence, remembering the times when I myself felt lost. And
that reminds me of the hymn We’ve come this far by faith.
- When the apostle says that we do not know how to pray as we ought, he could mean almost anything
from forgetting God to asking for the wrong things. He knows that people fail,
and so do we, but that doesn’t matter. Our faith is not based on knowing
the right formulas, the right words, but on love. In the following verse Paul
says that all things end up good for those who love.
- Central point: The Spirit helps us to understand correctly the birth pangs we feel.
The Spirit teaches us hope. The Spirit sets us right according to God’s
- The message for our assembly: We are not lost, not adrift, because the Spirit intercedes. God knows our intention even if we cannot express it lucidly.
- I will challenge myself: To speak Paul’s opening words We know with the same conviction,
that this is truly the way it is.
John 7, 37-39
- This passage is about the source of living water, Jesus himself. I hear
echoes of the great feast described by Second Isaiah, in one of the readings of the Easter Vigil.
- The reading is very short, but it is not an anticlimax. I will read it
not so much very slowly but attentively.
- John has already referred to Jesus as the living bread. Now
Jesus invites his listeners to approach him and drink.
- The listeners of Jesus are thirsty for the water he can give them, and they also believe in him. The connection is not obvious, so let me find the way to make it.
- Climax: For the evangelist, it comes down to interpretation.
The fountains of living water were identified with the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. This interpretation is just as important in my reading as the original saying of Jesus
- Message for our assembly: Everyone who comes to Jesus and takes in his word becomes rivers of living water. We are all called, all invited, to come again and again, every Pentecost eve and every
- I will challenge myself: Even though Jesus spoke in a loud voice, according to the evangelist, I will understate the
voice of Jesus, and so make his message just as prominent as those messages in the readings that preceded the Gospel tonight.