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God’s Language Spoken Everywhere

From Babel to today.

In May 2018, my wife Rose and I travelled to the Netherlands for a week-long boat and bike. After completing the tour, we took the Saturday morning train to Dordrecht to visit my second cousins and the home of the 1618 Synod of Dort. That afternoon, we visited the site of the long-destroyed “Kloveniersdoelen,” where the Synod met for six months of theological fireworks. Ironically, that large multi-purpose building was most commonly used as a target range for musketeers from local militias.

The Synod’s opening worship service in November 1618 met four blocks away in the still intact fifteenth-century late-Gothic “Grote Kerk,” built as the Roman Catholic “Church of Our Dear Lady.” We walked there and were welcomed with free coffee and cookies. In the gift shop, I bought eight slate coasters fabricated from pieces of the church’s original roof; I trust they are as advertised. We decided to meet there the next day for Pentecost worship.

A LIVELY LITURGY
When we showed up at 10:30 AM, I never imagined that we’d join more than 400 mixed-generation worshipers in those ancient pews. We heard well-known organist Cor Ardesch accompany the choir and congregation, witnessed a young man’s profession of faith and struggled gamely to understand the Dutch sermon. The crowning touch was watching 11 children return from their worship time to send paper airplanes soaring through the congregation, reminding us that the Gospel flies all over God’s world. 

With the liturgy, readings and songs all printed in the 12-page bulletin, the whole service was as accessible as possible to this third-generation Dutch-American-Canadian who knows enough Dutch to get into trouble, but not out of it. The service moved familiarly from the choir’s Call to Worship through to Prayers of Confession. This was followed by an antiphonal reading of Psalm 68 and the brief, stirring Song of Grace, “Hallelujah, God’s breath fills the whole earth, so all people understand every word” (translation my own). After Pastor Paul Wansink prayed, he read Genesis 11’s Tower of Babel account in a somber tone of impending doom. His pitch climbed half an octave when he moved to Acts 2’s glorious Pentecost report. When the sermon began, my cousin Ada handed out peppermints. Some things never change.

FROM BABEL TO PENTECOST
Pastor Wansink’s sermon reminded us that the people of Babel were not alone in their desire to “make a name for themselves;” comparable contemporary evils enslave us today. We still try to make names for ourselves through our accomplishments and wealth, often naming God in vain for our purposes. Regardless, God showed all people, tribes and tongues the greatness of his name by being the only master of all cultures and languages. Thus we live, “all together” (Acts 2:1) today in the world’s great diversity of languages and cultures, all gifts from God, all hearing God’s Word in our own tongues. 

God’s church and people spread God’s name by “building a city,” a reference to US Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry’s challenge to Prince Harry and Megan Markle in his wedding sermon the day before. But building such a city requires a new vision of seeing Jesus who gives his Pentecost Spirit and shows his wounds as a new vulnerable way to live. God’s mighty deeds grow when we respond in compassion to God’s one language for all.

When the children returned with their airplanes, we could hear echoes of God’s language in the congregation’s joyful laughter. I won’t worship in Dordrecht this Pentecost, but I’ll never forget that God’s language speaks everywhere every day.

  • Jim is a semi-retired Christian Reformed pastor and missionary who now works for Resonate Global Mission ten hours a week as "Member Care Coordinator," which means "Pastor to Missionaries," because where lots of our missionaries work it's inadvisable to use pastor or missionary publicly. That cool job puts a framework to his week, keeps him in contact with hundreds of even cooler servants of Jesus all over the world, compels him to travel to visit them once in a while, though he connects with them via email and Zoom most of the time. The rest of the time Jim reads books--lots of free ones that he "pays for" with reviews. He was acclaimed President of Christian Courier Board of Directors while on his way to that meeting from a long ophthalmologist appointment. As long as God gives his wife Rose and him health, they ride a tandem bike around Niagara and other places in the bikeable months, paddle canoes and kayaks, visit children and grandchildren in the distant places they live because their parents provided them poor role models for stability of residence.

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