Foreign Languages Week Sermon
The Rev. Molly McGee Short
Feb. 4, 2019
I recently spoke with a friend who just returned from three months in India where he lived in a Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha achieved Enlightenment.
To prepare for his trip, my friend attended a workshop on culture shock. The workshop helped to prepare him for the roller coaster of immersing one's self in a totally new experience: the excitement in the anticipation of the trip, the thrill of drinking in the newness of it all, the growing discomfort of being cut off from one's native language, familiar foods, close friends, and cultural norms, and the eventual feeling of being overwhelmed, isolated, and disconnected, before one finds new ways to communicate, interact, and connect in new surroundings.
As we spoke, I became increasingly aware of the experiences of the nearly one-sixth of the students in our community who experience and prevail over culture shock every day. They learn and socialize in a language that is not the one with which they are most familiar. They live thousands of miles from home. They eat dining hall food which, while good, is not the comfort food of their families. They navigate social norms which may be different from those with which they grew up. Even for many of our domestic boarding students and for some of our day students, the culture and norms at SAS can require adjustment.
I am so impressed with all of the students who have come from all over the world to be part of our community. I am grateful that they bravely applied, interviewed, and worked hard to join our community, and I am grateful for the many ways they continue to work each day to make their time here successful.
This week is our annual celebration of Foreign Language Week. The national celebration, which is held in March, was begun in 1957 as a celebration of language study in the United States. Over the years it has grown to be a celebration of the diversity of languages and cultures that we study, live among, and experience.
We kick off the week with a chapel service that celebrates the different languages within our community. This morning we hear prayers and hymns in English, French, Chinese, Latin, Spanish, Arabic, and German. We take this moment to honor the mother tongues of our diverse community knowing that these seven languages are only some of the languages spoken by our students. As we hear languages unfamiliar to some of us, we also come to appreciate for a brief moment what it is like to try to live in a language that is not our own.
As we commemorate Foreign Languages Week, we especially want all of our international students to know that their presence makes our community life richer, and closer to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls God's dream for the world or ubuntu, a vision of the world in which harmony and unity conquer alienation and loneliness, a unity created by God's transcendent love for all people. God's dream is made complete when people of a diversity of languages and cultures come together into one community.
In the Christian church, a diversity of people, languages, and cultures has always been essential to making the community the true body of Christ. We believe that God speaks to all people. In the Book of Acts, we see the importance of gathering together different peoples and cultures. After Jesus was crucified, rose again, and ascended into heaven, His followers gathered:
2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
When people heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard God speak in their own language. The diversity of the group did not go away, but the barriers of understanding and connection were obliterated. The unique gifts of each language and culture remained, but there was now connection and understanding.
In the Christian community, we believe that God speaks to each of us in our own language. But how do we discern what is God's voice?
Some say it is the still small voice within us that draws us out of ourselves to want to do good for others. Some experience God's speaking as a feeling of profound peace. God can speak to us in the words of healing or hard truth from a friend or a trusted mentor. God speaks in a song that resonates in our souls, hitting a note of truth and connection that we have been longing to find. And, God speaks in the holy texts we've inherited from the generations before us.
In the passage we heard this morning, God speaks to us about LOVE (1 Corinthians 13). This is not the love of Valentine's Day and the countless songs about trying to find love, understand love, and get over love. According to God, love is not an emotion, it is action. Love is choosing to reach out instead of holding back. God so loved the world, that God acted. God sent us God's son to reach out to us, to befriend us, to teach us how to love, to help us turn away from wrongdoing and instead choose the good.
God still speaks, and God speaks in YOUR language. As we hear the variety of languages spoken today, and in our world, remember that God speaks your language and everyone else's too.
Écoute, escucha, audi, listen. Je t'aime, te amo, ich liebe dich, 我爱你, I love you.