Preaching through Translation

Sunday, Feb 5th, 2012

    Preaching through translation invites humility.  As one who uses words much as a craftsperson uses tools or an artist uses color, I love to construct paragraphs that invite readers into an idea or experience.  I seek accuracy as well as beauty as I narrate encounters and insights.  So, when dependent upon others to speak for me, I learn again the limits of my presumptive wordsmithing.

    President Marshall Preaches at Maitrichit ChurchTranslated into Thai and Chinese, my sermon on forgiveness depended much more on the inherent power of the Gospel story than on any oratorical virtuosity or linguistic proficiency. I was reminded once again of God's use of the foolishness of preaching to convey the wonder of redemption.  As I sought to articulate (in what seemed to me a rather pedantic tone) the story of Jesus as God's gift of forgiveness, I realized afresh that no human words can encompass God's faithfulness to sinful, yet beloved women and men.  Although skilled translators made my English understandable to the congregation, it is always the Spirit who provides resonance and understanding in the heart.

    Celebrating communion takes on new depth when the bread and the cup become the way of knowing more than words spoken.  Served with patient reverence, the meal we received was the tangible expression of God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ and nourished us deeply.

    Lunch with Dr. Thawesak MahachavarojOur time with our friend Dr. Thawesak Mahachavaroj (the "Barnabas of Thailand" as he is aptly known) and his family was especially tender.  He hosts us while we are in Bangkok, smoothing the way with generous hospitality and logistical support.  After preaching himself in another church, he welcomed us to a veritable feast.

    It is the practice of each cohort to express gratitude to our esteemed hosts, and two representative students spoke of their profound awareness of what he was making possible.  Then together they arose to say thanks in Chinese, which gave him a good chuckle!  As one by one the students told him of their sense of calling and vocational direction, he beamed his delight at the promise and significance of their lives given to the way of Christ.  He put it simply:  "It gives me joy when you are here."

    It is a joy to be with sisters and brothers in Thailand once again.  We give thanks (the meaning of eucharist) for the tables that made us welcome on the Lord's Day.

 Molly T. Marshall