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Friday, October 20, 2006

The Latest Sermon

Late last year I was talking with one of my former students, Junghyun. She was in my classes at Kosin University, in 2001 and 2002. She always did her best in my classes, even though her English was not the best of my students. She was one of the few students who actually came to my office from time to time just to chat. The other thing that set her apart is that she was raised in an orphanage. In fact, she still lives there, though she will move out at the end of this year.

She graduated a couple of years ago, and has been working. Before this year, I met her a couple of times a year to have dinner and talk about life in general, but this year we've met more frequently. This is because when I met her late this past winter, she asked me for a favor. She wanted me to write and deliver a sermon in her church, while she gave a simultaneous translation.

There are a few things in this request the import of which many of you will not understand without a little lecturing. So now is the time to break out the spit-balls, cell phones and whatever other nonsense you get into when the teacher goes all pedantic on you.

I am not a pastor. In the States this would not get in the way of me delivering a guest sermon, but in Korea things are a bit different. Most Korean churches and church-goers are very chain-of-command oriented. One aspect of this is that Pastors give Sermons, and non-pastors don't. The mindset is such that when people heard that I regularly (once a month) delivered sermons (at our previous church), they assumed that I was a pastor. Even after explaining that we didn't have a pastor, and that preaching duties fell to the members who felt called to do so, it was hard for many Koreans to accept that kind of blurring of the lines. And to visit a strange church and give a sermon. Me, a non-pastor. There was a lot of pressure to be good.

There was also the pressure of the translating part. Simultaneous translation is one of those things that looks easy, but is actually the mental equivalent of juggling knives, flaming torches and kittens at the same time. The reason it looks easy is that the only people who do it in public are those who do it very, very well. I am sure that all of you agree that Horyon's English is good, even excellent. She's a fantastic student. Even though she disagrees with me, I know that her English has improved the entire time we've been together. It sometimes seems to get worse to her, especially when she's tired, but the people who don't talk to her regularly all testify that there has been steady improvement.

My point is this: Horyon is scared of simultaneous translation. She wants nothing to do with it. Small bouts of it while my parents were here tired her out quickly (I'm sure Maxine had nothing to do with that!), and when she has to go back and forth between Korean and English it is very easy for her to spit out funny mixes of both languages.

Junghyun was a good student, but nowhere near Horyon's level, and for something like this it was very important to do it well. So I decided that we had to do this in a manner most uncharacteristic of me: well-planned.

In the future, if a former (or current) student asks me to do something like this in Korea, my first response will be "Thank you for asking, but no." I like to think that before this incident I would have said "no" to most people, but undoubtedly the same ego that pushes me to Roblog would have pushed me to say yes.

But for Junghyun's reasons, I couldn't say no. As I mentioned, she was raised in an orphanage, which paid for all of her schooling expenses, including that degree in English Language and Literature that she received from Kosin University, where I was one of her professors. She wanted to show her family at the orphanage how grateful she was for her education, and how it hadn't been wasted. She decided that the best way to do this was by giving a simultaneous translation of an English sermon given by a foreigner at the church connected to the orphanage.

That's right. Christian orphanage, connected to the sermon-receiving church. Not a big church, either, but a dedicated one. Her translation was to be a sort of graduate recital which her entire family would attend. How could I say no?

So last winter we started talking about how to do this, with the idea of doing it at the end of winter vacation. (The fact that I am writing about this in October should give you some clue as to how that plan evolved.) I asked her to choose a scripture, because I figured that since she was the driving force for this event, and it was her church, she should have some say in the direction of the thing.

She told me that one of her favorite scriptures was Revelation 3:15-16.

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm, –neither hot nor cold, –I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

And I said, "Yeah, I've heard that one. I'm sure it will make a good sermon." I wasn't sure because I knew about the passage, I was sure because if someone feels strongly about a passage, there is a sermon in it. That's why you don't hear many sermons on the bits in the Old Testament about how many silver candle holders there were in the temple. It's not stirring stuff.

But this was stirring stuff, indeed. Very strong language, that spitting-out-of-the-mouth stuff. So I told her yes, and got to work on it.

I ended up opening the whole passage, from verses 14 to 22, because as I read, I quickly realized that this was in fact a letter to a New Testament church, telling them that they had gotten soft, and to shape up or ship out. And while it doesn't bother me very much to annoy people by saying true things, the idea of going into a strange church and implying that God wants to vomit them out was just not very appealing. ("Vomit" is actually a better translation than "spit". Look it up in a commentary if you don't believe me. That's where I found it.)

Opening it up to more than the two verses she chose gave me a lot more flexibility, and, in my opinion, kept the focus where John wanted it: on God's mercy and love for even the worst of us.

I've decided to post the whole sermon separately, so that you can see my (sort of) finished product. Check that post if you want to see that level of detail. I have just finished cleaning up the formatting, and it was interesting for me to see the difference in writing style between that and what I usually write for Roblog.

The sermon itself went very well. That morning we went to Horyon's parents' church so we could leave Maxine with them. We figured it would be a lot of traveling, too many new people, and a completely unknown situation. Not ideal for bringing the baby along. We left early enough that we could get some lunch before the 2:00 service time. Even after lunch, we still managed to arrive 15 minutes early. Not bad for going someplace where neither of us have ever been. Junghyun and I ran through the sermon one time before the service, with Horyon listening in. I think Junghyun was pretty relieved to have someone check her work. We cleared up a couple of minor points, and went on in.

The praise team was working hard. And loud. The kids there were really into it, but for me it was just loud singing in Korean with no words anywhere for me to follow along. Nice enough, I suppose. Then the leader prayed, and invited us up to speak.

We got off to a bit of a bumpy start, but soon we got our rhythm, and it started to work. I even through in a couple of extra clarifying bits that weren't in any of the drafts I had given Junghyun, but she picked them up just fine. By the time we got to some of the stronger bits in the last quarter, we were getting a few "amen"s from some of the crowd.

I have to tell you, it felt pretty good. There is definitely something in my personality that enjoys being in front of a crowd, making them understand my ideas, and perhaps getting them to think. I enjoy being a teacher, and at some point God will very likely push me into the ministry, since the subtle hints don't seem to be working so far.

After the service, Horyon talked with one of the senior members of the staff. She thanked us for coming, and asked if we knew any foreigners who would be able to come back on a regular basis, to work and play with the kids. We have passed that message on, and hope that one of the groups in our church will decide that God has called them in that direction: South-West.

I want to conclude this post by thanking Horyon for supporting me through this effort. Back when I was doing a sermon once a month, it was usually a week worth of pushing me, encouraging me, and occasionally kicking my butt. This one lasted longer than Maxine spent in the womb. There were times when we both wanted to give up on it, but Horyon doesn't give up on me easily. This one was a real learning experience for both of us, and God used it to touch our lives and strengthen our faith. Thanks for going through this with me, Honey.



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A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.