Preaching the Deeps

I have to admit that I'm a little nervous about starting this new series on the Gospel of John. It is definitely the deepest, most profound of all the Gospels. Just look at those opening verses! Is anyone really capable of plumbing the depths of this thing? Not I, I can assure you! So keep me in prayer as we begin, won't you? I need God's favor or I'll just end up fakin' it. 

Which reminds me...

...of the phoniest sermon I ever preached:

It happened many years ago, over in Taiwan. I went with Sharilyn to a Chinese wedding, thinking that I was simply a guest, only to discover that I was the main speaker. 

I know. I know. It sounds outrageous. And I had come totally unprepared too. I literally had to fake it. 

To make things worse, we actually got there late and, when we walked into the church, the first thing I heard was: "Oh, here he is! At last!" The entire congregation was looking back toward the entrance at our arrival.  

You know that feeling you get on the roller-coaster, right at the very top of the climb, when the bottom drops out and the plunge begins? I guess you catch my drift. 

Not that I hadn't felt it before. I once lost the wedding ring while serving as Best Man. But that's another story. Moms and Dads, you really don't want me doing your daughters' weddings, I can tell you that much. Dave or Bob will do a much better job! 

But, back to this wedding: it happened in the wake of a simple cultural miscue. Moses Chiou, one of my students at Christ's College, had invited me to come to his wedding and asked me if I would "say a few words" (說幾句話).  Now, what does that mean to the average listener: "Say a few words"? Does that sound like a "sermon" to you? It didn't to me either. I thought I might be speaking at the reception, perhaps a "toast" or something like that. I didn't even think to clarify it. It sounded easy. I said I would. 

When we got there and found everybody waiting and looking at us, well that's when the plunge began! Somebody came up and said: "Teacher Schorr, you are preaching you know." 

"Ah yes!" was my reply. Which wasn't a lie, by the way. I insist to this day that I was being perfectly honest. I meant: "Ah yes, I'm preaching." Not "Ah, yes, I know." 

Because I didn't know: I was totally unprepared. Nobody spoke English there. It all had to be in Chinese. I had never spoken at a wedding before—not even an English one, let alone Mandarin. And so I didn't know what to say. 

To make matters worse, I hadn't even brought a Bible. I turned to Sharilyn and whispered: "Quick! Grab me a pew Bible!" And then, after she had sneaked that into my hands, I had to ask her: "That chapter on marriage! Ephesians what?" 

"Five" she whispered, "now get up there!" So I walked up to the front, bowed to everybody, said a few words to the couple about the happy occasion, then turned to a congregation of 100 people and said: "請各位打開聲經..." "Everyone please, open your Bibles: my message this afternoon is from Ephesians chapter five..."

For the next twenty minutes I did my best to pretend I knew what I was talking about; to pass myself off as having spent hours on that passage! 

It was the phoniest sermon I've ever done! 

And early last week, as I got ready with those bottomless opening verses in John, that same dread feeling came over me! I sure am glad I get to do it in English! But in many ways, it's still another language. God help me now. 

It is good, though, to read the deep things of Scripture, don't you think? In spite of the challenges they present. Or...let me put it this way: it is unwise, for Christians, to avoid the deep; to stay in the shallows! Believe me: in your Christian walk, you need the deep passages of Scripture. They are the ones that will keep you going when things get rough and obstacles start popping up.

Several years ago, one of our members gave me a copy of Chapman's "Piloting"—the celebrated ultimate handbook for sailors. By far, the most important chapter in that book is the one about charts; navigational charts and how to read them. A chart is the most important tool on the vessel, and you will not survive without it! A chart will show you where deep water is, and warn you about the shallow, where coral reefs lurk, or rocky points or sunken vessels just below the surface. Without that chart, the journey is always in peril.  

And do you know what every good sailor wants to do, once he has that chart in hand? You guessed it! Stay in the deep; avoid running aground; keep that keel over good deep water! 

Listen, dear family: Christians who only sail in the shallows are the most foolish people on earth!  You're not one of them, I hope! After all: with all the reefs and wrecks of this culture we're sailing through right now, you can't afford to be dabbling in the shallows! No! It's the "deep" for you if you want to survive!

So, get ready dear ones! Welcome to John! The deepest Gospel of all! Bring your Bible and start wearing it out! Stay engaged with the text! Come ready to think deeply! Because this is going to be one awesome voyage! 

Looking forward to it! 

See you there!                                       RAS

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