Are You Building A Name For Yourself?

Text:  Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21

In the name of Jesus. Amen.
We, humans, are quite stubborn and prideful. We certainly do not like to be told what to do by others. We like to be our own boss, without anyone over top of us.
And so, when we get knocked down by someone else, a defiant spirit can quickly arise in us so that we get up, plant our feet firmly, and stand tall against any future challenges. 
It is tough to know exactly why we act this way. Maybe we are fearful of being knocked down and thrown into the mud by others, or perhaps it’s just our pride of wanting to be better than everyone else. Regardless of our exact motives, we all spend a tremendous amount of energy, work, and determination to make a name for ourselves. We all want to be known by others – to be mini Hollywood movie stars. We want to be on the top of the ladder with everyone else beneath us, so that we can step on their fingers, keeping them from climbing higher than us.  We all want to be the focus of attention in conversations, where everyone is a little bit jealous of us but not too jealous where they won’t talk to us.
Yes, we want to make a name for ourselves. We want to acquire fame and a good reputation and a lasting legacy. So, greed, pride, fear, and a thirst for power lead us down this path of making our name great.
But we are not content when we have made a name for ourselves, though.  We need to do more.  And so, we like to make things that communicate our greatness and determination.  We throw our energy into building things that visibly show our greatness. The higher that our projects can reach to the heavens the better it is because more people can see it. 
The things that we build can be almost anything. They can be awards, monuments to ourselves, buildings, financial endowments, job advancements, social media popularity, farming operations, businesses, and so forth. The point being, we build and make things that we rally around. We make things that communicate our greatness to others, and we hope that the things that we create will not only last the test of time but be things that other people will gather around too. 
To summarize, the things that we create are not only a defiance against those above us, but they are also symbols of our name.  And our names, we want to make them great.  We want to have fame and glory. We want to be at the top with everyone else beneath us.
Now, all of this is precisely what happened in our Old Testament reading from Genesis. You see, following the great flood, the descendants of Noah failed to spread out and fill the earth as God had commanded. Instead, they exalted themselves with one language and a similar mantra. They spoke proudly and arrogantly with the hopes of making their name great. They knew full well that God had just destroyed the earth through a mighty flood and the flood either irritated them or made them fearful of being beneath God. And so, instead of laying bricks loosely, they planned to set bricks firmly together to make a tower to defy Almighty God. They wanted to make a city with a tower that would protect them from any potential future floods. Frankly stated, the tower was a symbol of defiance to God, while also being a symbol of their so-called great name.
Now, in case you haven’t noticed, we are no different than Noah’s descendants in the book of Genesis. Human nature doesn’t change; it just expresses itself differently in each generation. But the point remains, these ancient people, you, and me, arrogantly sin against the First and Second Commandments. 
Let us make a name for ourselves. Let us make this. Let us do that. I’m going to do that. I’m not going anywhere I don’t want to go. And I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do.
Sound familiar?  This is the ancient people of Genesis 11, and it is you and me breaking the First and Second Commandments. 
Dear friends, when you and I fear, love, and trust ourselves above all things, including God, we are breaking the First Commandment. And when we seek to make our name great, we are breaking the Second Commandment – we forget the Lord’s name, which is greater than ours.
You see, when God tells us to put no other gods before Him, He is doing this because nothing is greater than Him, which includes you and me.  When we attempt to make our name great, we fail to realize that our names are really not that great, for we are sinners in thought word and deed.  Furthermore, when we make our names great, we fail to realize that we have already been given the Lord’s great name upon our heads and hearts in baptism. 
Think of it this way.  The people of Genesis 11 had built a massive tower to the heavens.  It was so big and magnificent and awe-inspiring that they possibly had the impression that they were above God – that they were above reproach.  “And then God comes along and makes it clear that man’s efforts are smaller than a flyspeck.  God’s language [in Genesis 11] gives the impression that God has to go down and squint to see this pathetic little construction [that they made].  ‘Come, let us go down and see this thing.  Let us go down so that we can see this thing.’”[1]  And, the same is true for our little projects and creations that we do for the sake of our own little names – they are flyspecks. 
Dear friends, repent of making a name for yourselves. Yes, you and I need to repent of making a name for ourselves and all the projects that we do as tokens and monuments for the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I.  Yes, repent, and hear the good news the Gospel! The Lord has placed His great name upon you in baptism marking you as one of the redeemed.  God gave His name to you so that you might know who created you, redeemed you, and sustains you. He gave His name upon you so that you might call upon Him personally as a child does to a father.
And all those projects and towers and creations that you and I make to be symbols of our greatness? All those credentials people wave around as something special, well, tear them up and throw them in the trash – along with everything else that you and I use to make our name great, for you and I have Christ’s name and Christ has us.
Compared to the name and person of Jesus, all of our creations and makings are nothing.  They are insignificant. They are inferior righteousness compared to the righteousness of Jesus that is given to you and me as gift.[2] 
This is why God confused the language at Babel.  The people at Babel did not need towers, and they did not need to make a name for themselves. Not only were their efforts sinfully foolish, empty, and small, but their efforts were unnecessary.  That is why the Lord confused their language and unraveled their plans. 
With that said, though, in our second reading from the Book of Acts, we hear the exact opposite.  On that Pentecost Day when the Holy Spirit rumbled into Jerusalem with a fiery appearance, He drew the people together and clarified their languages so they could hear the name in which all are saved – Jesus Christ.  In other words, the Tower of Babel is a picture of human pride being undone.  Whereas Pentecost is the power of the Holy Spirit lifting up not a tower but Christ-crucified for you, me, and the whole world. 
Indeed, Pentecost is the opposite of Babel.  And you, dear Baptized Saints, you do not belong to the ways of Babel but the way of Pentecost which is the message, name, and work of Jesus for you.  A message, name, and righteousness that comes down to you and lasts forever. 
In the name and work of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Jason Zirbel, “True Oneness – Part II,”, (accessed June 8, 2019).

[2] See Philippians 4:7-11.

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