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God’s Favorite Language

Ephesians 3:14-19;  Matthew 5:13-16

Something fascinating about the English language, in my opinion, is what we identify as slang, a very peculiar type of language within the language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal.

Now, English slang is not the only slang in the world, it’s a universal phenomenon  — all languages have their own slang. Spanish, for instance, has its own slang, with significant variations depending on the many countries where Spanish is spoken.

Same as with English – in fact, if you enjoy traveling across the English-speaking world, I’m sure you have already discovered the richness of the English slang as you went from one place to another.

In Argentina, our own slang is called lunfardo, itself a slang deformation of the Italian term “Lombardo,” which refers to the people from Lombardia, in northern Italy, where you find cities like Milan.

During the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, this term identified, in a rather derogatory manner, the many poor and disenfranchised Italian immigrants arriving in Argentina – folks running away from brutal wars, poverty, and even starvation. Uneducated, unskilled, now leaving on the fringes of big cities, those men and women struggled to assimilate to a new cultural and linguistic environment. In the process, their “low” language gradually found its way into colloquial Spanish.

Lunfardo vocabulary kept expanding with the arrival of new European immigrants because of the Great Wars and, later, also immigrants from the Middle East, and even Asia.

During the last 20, 30 years, both cultural globalization and the internet contributed to our Spanish slang a great number of English words as well.

Whether American slang, or Argentinian lunfardo, in these secondary vocabularies we find many words and idioms as exotic as entertaining, and quite often, as meaningful as revealing and inspiring.

Even God – listen well — from time to time even God loves to hear some of our best slang if that can help us grasp His good news on a day like today, when we gather around this table to share the same bread and the same cup Jesus always shared with others.


Over the past 46 years in America, I had to learn enough American English to find my way through a new culture. And enough American slang to feel truly at home! But it wasn’t easy –for at first, I couldn’t tell the difference between slang and “proper” English — everything sounded the same to me, and I often paid dearly for such an assumption!

Still today, when I hear a new slang expression, but I lack context for guessing it, I stare at you with a mix of bewilderment and panic, like this [gesturing].

A slang word that intrigued me for some time was spam — what a relief, then, when my church secretary spelled out for me and cleverly warned me: “Ariel, don’t ever spam your sermons!”

Another slang expression that gave me anxiety for some time was to hit the road — going out onto the street with a hammer, or a baseball bat, and literally start hitting the street? Eventually I got it, and I enjoyed it so much, more than once I used inadvertently as “proper” English: “Sorry, Bishop, would you please excuse me? I need to hit the road. Chau!”


It took me some time, yet I finally realized that American slang, very much like Argentinian lunfardo, has many expressions that come in handy when we are searching for superlatives, words that describe the highest, or utmost degree of something.

Thus, more than big is not necessarily bigger, but rather humongous, a word Americans coined in the 70’s, when “huge” was promoted to the same category with “tremendous” and “enormous.” Yet humongous may not be enough, especially when we need to move to the extremes of life and death.

I’ll never forget the day my younger daughter, then a Girl Scout Brownie, helped Mom make a cake so packed with chocolate and Argentinian dulce de leche (much sweeter and stickier than caramel), her older sister described it as death by chocolate. Which leads us to the ultimate truth in life, when something so good is so delicious, it is worth to die for?


This last observation, my friends, brings us full circle to Jesus’s message today, for this expression – to die for — translates so well that true love is always about total, unconditional love –or as the Gospel proclaims it, about shining forth our very best for others to see life the way we already see it, as children of God.

It is the same good news that we proclaim today as we share this bread and this cup, perhaps the most powerful symbols, together with this empty cross, of all that Jesus did for us. He went all the way for us – “while we were still sinners,” to quote the apostle Paul.


Going all the way for us says so much about the Risen Christ! Quite often our willingness to go all the way, to share all we are with someone we love dearly says everything about our extraordinary love for that person.

But who would go all the way, who would share his or her own life with a stranger, even worse, with some undeserving person? A lombardo, for instance, or a Central American wetback, or a suspicious Muslim, or a next-door neighbor who never smiled at us?

Thus, my friends, when we break this bread and drink from this cup, we are telling the whole world around that Jesus’s love for us has been so genuine, so generous, so delightful, he was willing to die for us, or, to put it in God’s slang, to die for us because he truly believed that we were worth to die for! Which is the most comforting message the apostle Paul has for his church in Ephesus, in those days a thriving city in Turkey, near modern-day Selcuk.

Paul prays in earnest that his congregation in Ephesus may truly get to know “the bread and length and height and depth” of the love Christ feels for them, a love “that surpasses all understanding,” so that they too “may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (3:18-19).


Where do we go from here once our service is over?

As true companions of the Risen Christ, today we are invited to walk out into the “real” world if only to shine for others this same love we experience and enjoy here today. At least for someone! Someone at home?

Let’s pause for a moment – is there anyone in our family that we could go to, and shine forth them? Maybe a neighbor? Or even someone here in our own church?

Notice the word companions, a word that for many centuries was a slang word among the Romans, people with whom Jesus and his disciples intersected every day. Companions is two Latin words, rather than one —con, meaning “with,” and panis, meaning “bread.” “With bread,” or “those who share their bread.”

Yes, my friends, like the two pilgrims on the road to Emmaus on Easter, who suddenly recognized Jesus by the way he broke, blessed, and then shared bread with them.

True companions of Christ here today as that day on the road to Emmaus — we are ready to share the bread of life with one another, and to shine forth God’s love wherever the Spirit may lead us.


On a bitterly cold winter day in the city, a woman walked by a shivering boy standing on a steel grate in the sidewalk — his clothes were a bunch of rags. After a brief conversation, the boy accepted her invitation to a store nearby where the stranger bought him winter clothes, including a hat, a scarf, and gloves. Imagine the boy –he could not thank her enough.

As they said good-bye, the elated kid asked the lady, “Miss, are you God’s mother?” The gentle woman answered, “Oh, no! I’m just a child of God!” “I knew you were related,” said the kid.

What can we learn from this story?

Many things, my friends, and above all, that we don’t need to try to be God to please God, that all we need to do is to shine forth, to reflect God’s light in such a way that we can be recognized as one his children.

And God will take care of the rest. That’s it, my friends.


So, what is God’s favorite language? You don’t need to answer now — in the meantime, may we pray like this:

Thanks be given to God who in his gracious love found us to be worth enough to die for! (Please repeat after me.)

May Christ’s humongous love nurture our love for one another. (Please repeat after me.)

May our Holy Communion today inspire us and empower us to share the best of ourselves, not the spam that often clutters our hearts and minds. (Please repeat after me.)

Last, but not least, may the Holy Spirit lead our way as we hit the road less traveled as true companions of Christ. (Please repeat after me.)