Listening means being quiet.

Homily 415 – 8th Sunday of Pascha (Holy Pentecost)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 7, 2020
Epistle: (3) Acts 2:1-11
Gospel: (27) John 7:37-52; 8:12

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Since the beginning, part of the understanding of the Church regarding Pentecost is the tie to the Tower of Babel. That passage, found in Genesis 11 verses 1 through 9, is worth considering here.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Contrast that with the account of Pentecost in the Epistle reading from Acts. Everyone heard in their own language. They all understood one another.

And so, Pentecost is a reverse Babel – what was dispersed is now united. The exciting part is that the reason why the languages were dispersed is no longer a barrier for us.

We aren’t likely to build a tower to God – but, because we are one, with one language (the language of the Gospel), then “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

All things are possible. And we have achieved a lot – Christ is proclaimed to the ends of the earth. So, we have to ask – or at least I have to ask – why we’re not living in utopia? Why are even the most strictly Christian places, like monasteries, not perfect places?

Of course, we know that it is because we are all human. What is it about humanity that makes the “reverse Babel” of Pentecost, the unification of human communication, fail to achieve the impossible?

Lots of reasons, I suppose. First among them may be in order to understand, we must first hear. And in order to hear, we must first listen. And in order to listen, we must first be quiet.

We can look around us today and see this principle in action. We see protests. We see violence. We see property damage.

But what do we hear?

Some hear nothing. Maybe, because we are too busy trying to be heard. Perhaps that is what St. Paul cautions us about when he admonishes us to do everything in good order, to offer prophesy one at a time.

In order to be in good order, we first have to be quiet. Allowing the other to speak – like the Apostles on Pentecost. The crowds had to be quiet, in order to listen.

When they listened, what they heard astounded them. They heard in their own language. The Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke verbally but were heard by the crowd in the heart. The nous. The very center of their existence.

We can’t have a conversation if we don’t listen. We can’t do great things if we can’t communicate, two-way communication, with one another.

But more than that – if we aren’t quiet, if we aren’t able to be quiet and to listen, then sadly we cannot hear God. We cannot know our creator.

The Holy Spirit, God, will not silence us. God does not compel us to be quiet and to listen, either to each other or to Him. He will help us – but not compel us.

We have to decide that silence is OK for us – that we want to be quiet. Then, we can begin to listen.

I have this picture in my head of that day of Pentecost – frenetic activity, lots of people running around, shouting at one another. Maybe even past one another. A very intense moment.

Or, perhaps I was too influenced by what the Pentecostal movement did in the late 20th century. Or what I saw on TV of people describing themselves as Pentecostal.

The more I think about it though, the less that idea sounds right. While certainly St. Peter preached, along with others – proclaiming the resurrection – I get the idea now that perhaps the reason the people heard, in their own language, was that they were quiet.

Receptive to the Holy Spirit. Listening, and hearing that still small voice.

So on this Pentecost day, I’m going to try to be quiet. And listen. To others, and to God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.