In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. And every living thing that moved on the earth perished, except those who were saved through the ark.
The story of Noah’s ark is probably one of the first Bible Stories that children learn. It takes place in chapters 7-10 of the book of Genesis. Beginning with chapter 11 we learn of the tower of Babel. All the people of the earth had the same language, they came together to make a name for themselves, and built a great city. In this city they decided to build a tower that would reach the heavens. God comes down, takes a peek, and says, “This will not do.” He scatters them by introducing the various languages into the world.
St. Augustine provides an explanation for why the people built the tower. The people knew that God did not approve of disobedience toward him, regardless, the people knew that they were presently being disobedient. They also knew that when God disapproves of your disobedience, he has a tendency to punish you. Even so, they decided to remain in their disobedience, but as an insurance policy against another great flood they built a tower, so that they could climb to the top and save themselves should it begin to rain again. God smiled and said, “Thanks for playing, please try again,” and divided the people based on language.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus prays that we may all be one as he and the Father are one, so doesn’t this great dispersing of the peoples seem contrary to God’s overall plan? Answer: No.
The trouble is the way that God calls us to be one is quite different from the way we often define and understand it. We generally understand “being one” as being like minded. Agreeing on everything. Looking alike, walking alike, talking alike, etc., etc., etc. But that is what the folks at Babel thought. We’ve got this great plan, we know how we want to live our lives, and we will be united under it, even if it is contrary to what God wants. God’s response: “Thanks for playing, please try again.”
Within the church we also try to be one, but as we all know, there seem to be more reasons for division in the church than anywhere else. In this one congregation, how many of us can agree completely on a single issue? Once we’ve sorted out the Republicans and Democrats then we have to figure out if we should serve creamy or extra crunchy peanut butter. Bottom line: I don’t believe we could be one under this definition to save our skin.
Yet, God is not desiring this type of oneness. He is not asking us to be automatons. For being one in Christ doesn’t mean we are all going to look alike, think alike, believe alike, or even talk alike. Being one in Christ means that we are all united to the Father through the gift of the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
In becoming one, those things that make us different, those things that make each of us a unique creation in the image of God are not erased. Instead, those thing that make us different are united in one body through the Spirit, with Christ as our head, and God as our Father.