HOMILY: Speaking the Words that Must Be Heard

Pentecost Sunday – Mass During the Day | June 4, 2017

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons

PROTIP: You can take a look at the readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

So one of the questions that I get often is how many languages do you speak?

And I never have a good answer to this question.

Because on paper, I guess you could say I speak three.

But when I dig a little deeper, it is not that simple.

See, I basically have English down.  Though there are moments when I question myself.  Like when people are using words that I swear are not English, despite the fact that the dictionary and my students say otherwise.  Words like jawn and yolo and goat.  I mean really, if I called anyone a small, furry animal that eats tin cans you would assume that I had lost my mind.  And yet, I’m told, that this is the evolution of language.  Who’d of thought, 32 and my English is already outdated.

Then there is Spanish.  Where I usually understand what is being spoken to me.  But my attempts to reply are simply a textbook lesson in terrible grammar and Spanglish.  I can always tell when I am failing because the person I am speaking to gets this bemused expression on their face, which broadcasts to the world that they have no clue what I am saying, but it’s cute that I am trying.

And then there is Sign Language in which I end up simply devolving into a painful game of Charades.  

Yes, speaking a language is never as easy as it appears.  And it is easy to get frustrated with our inability to communicate with another.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could speak like in the Acts of the Apostles and everyone understand us?  All of our problems would be solved.  Right?

But what if our inability to communicate with each other had much less to do with the words we speak and much more to do with the love that we are trying to express?

This was a lesson that I learned a few years ago when I was in seminary.

It came from an Oblate priest I know, Fr. Michael Depcik who is deaf.

After a particularly humiliating afternoon of trying to translate for Michael, I slumped down next to him and apologized.

I was terrible, I said.

He smiled at me and signed.  Brian, I have come to find that there are two types of people in the world.  Those who are comfortable being with me and those who are not.  Those who are comfortable, I will always understand.  And those who are not, I will never quite comprehend what they are trying to say.

It was a profound insight and one that offers us lessons for this day.

For in many ways, our journey as disciples is about learning how to communicate. Learning how to express ourselves to one another.

And if we are to do that we need to be comfortable.

We need to first and foremost be comfortable listening.

Listening to the whispers of the Spirit speaking through people.

People who will often appear as other.

Those who speak a different language or come from a different neighborhood.

Those who have known the sting of poverty or the cruel lash of prejudice.

Those who vote differently than us.  Those who pray differently than us.

Those who run in different social circles or sit in different pews.

People who will speak to us in jumbled language of words and gestures.  Of sighs and tears.  Of screams and curses. Of laughs and hugs.  Of clasped hands and pleading eyes.

For it is in this feast that we are reminded that the Spirit is at work in each of us, purposefully working in and through our diversity to build up the kingdom.  No wall or locked door can prevent the Spirit from speaking where she will.  From working where she desires.

But if we never bother to stop and listen to the Spirit or worse assume the Spirit is only speaking through people that we already like and agree with.  Then we will never truly learn.  We will never truly understand our God, our fellow sisters and brothers and ultimately ourselves.

And then, once we have learned how to listen, we must also learn to take the risk to speak.

To speak the words of the Spirit that are contained within our own heart.

Words that must be heard.  Even if these words are counter-cultural.  Even if the repercussions of these words may result in real consequences for us.  Even if the power of these words frighten us.

For within them are the power to transform this world.

To heal what is broken, whether it is a heart shattered by loneliness, a relationship rocked by infidelity, or a planet weighed down by human greed and consumption.

To defend what must be defended . . . whether it is someone’s dreams that are being mocked by another, someone’s rights that are being denied, or someone’s life that is being threatened.

To forgive what must be forgiven . . . whether it is the mistakes of our youth, or the failures of the ones we love, or the cruelty of the stranger that we may never comprehend.

To teach what must be taught . . .  The truths about who we are and whose we are.  Even if these truths are uncomfortable or unpopular.

To love . . . Ourselves as we are and as we will grow to be.  Our family and friends. Those who have formed and mentored us.  Those who have hurt and betrayed us.  Those whose stories we do not understand and those whose stories we have helped write.  Those on the margins and those right beside us.  Each and every person formed in the image and likeness of God.

And so, let us go forth my friends into this world.  To listen with open ears and open hearts.  To speak with open mouths and with open arms.  

Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful.  And let us be your instruments by which you renew the earth.

May God be Praised.

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