Sunday, May 13, 2018

Homily May 13, 2018 Ascension of the Lord Cycle B

Homily   May 13, 2018    Ascension of the Lord  Cycle B   

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and godmothers!

          In our Gospel today we just heard this declaration from Jesus about us:  These signs will accompany those who believe:  [I am assuming we do believe,]  in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
          All of these are wonderful and fascinating signs, though I am not much into picking up serpents or driving out demons, but I am attracted to the promise that “they will speak new languages.”
          What languages?  French?  Urdu?   Navaho?  Some of you may be gifted with learning languages, but I am certainly not.  I think of my Dad, who for years tried to learn German, then tried for years to learn Spanish, then tried to learn Italian, then went back to trying to learn German, and then again he is now studying Spanish.  He never got anywhere with any of them.  I don’t think he had a facility for languages, (a lack I inherited,).  Added to that he has trouble hearing.  He was in a self-propelled 105 howitzer battery in Patton’s Third Army in the Battle of the Bulge, and the firing of the guns damaged his hearing.  Which makes learning a language really, really difficult. 
          Would it not be GREAT if we who believe really could, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, speak new languages?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
          Well, I think we need to look closer at what Jesus is promising us, because He may NOT be saying that we will all be polyglots and speak many different languages. 
Different translations of the Bible render this statement of Jesus differently.   The NRSV has: “the will speak in new tongues..”  And the Greek Orthodox Study Bible is very similar, stating “they will speak with new tongues.”   
          What does it mean to speak in or with “new tongues.”?    Perhaps this is a reference to the phenomenon of glossolalia.  If in the dim past you were in the habit of attending charismatic Christian prayer gatherings, you probably experienced the phenomena called “speaking in tongues.”  This is the gift of praying in a rapturous, unconscious, rather musical form of speaking in syllables and sounds that are not recognizable language.  This form of unintelligible praying is traditionally considered a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It was more prevalent and popular back in the 60’s and 70’s than it is today, and periodically through the history of the church glossolalia has erupted, if I may put it that way, at different times, especially times of big change.  Anyone here ever heard, or even prayed in, the gift of tongues???   I have heard it a few times but never experienced praying it personally.   But maybe this is what Jesus meant.
          However, I think there is another, even richer, way to understand Jesus’ declaration that “they will speak new languages.”
          The Jerusalem Bible translates this as “they will have the gift of tongues.”
          The gift I would like to have is to speak a new language of inclusion, instead of words of exclusion.  Would that not be a new language for our culture?   And would it not be beneficial?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that by the gift of the Holy Spirit we will speak words of hope rather than words of despair.  To have the gift to speak words of comfort instead of words that cut and hurt.  
To speak words of welcome instead of dismissal.  To speak with a new tongue of care instead of words of indifference and disdain.    To speak the language of healing rather than the language of causing harm.  Would not that be a wonderful new language to speak?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that with the gift of the Holy Spirit we will have the power to speak the new language of Truth to those in power who run roughshod over the rights and needs of the poor.  To speak boldly and full-throatedly for JUSTICE, for EQUALITY, for RIGHT, for the way God wants the world to be.  Would that not be an exciting new language?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that we speak words of healing, of tenderness, of forgiveness, of unity, of peace, rather than the same old language we hear over and over again on cable news of accusation and recrimination.  Would that not be refreshing and life-giving?
          Maybe what Jesus means is that we will speaks words of praise, glorifying God for God’s wonderful love for us, words of profound gratitude and thankfulness, rather than words of constant complaining, carping, of disappointment and whining for more and more stuff.  Now that would be a new language.
          I believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit truly can help us speak in these new ways.  If we open ourselves to this precious gift, allowing the Holy Spirit to reshape and remold us more and more into the image of Jesus. While it won’t be easy, we will be able to speak new languages:  languages of gratitude and thanksgiving, languages of healing and comfort, language of justice and right, languages of praise, a new language of love.    Now that is a language worth learning.
Happy Ascension! 

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