Speaking Twice On An Indian Sunday

So yesterday I spoke on two very different occasions to two very different congregations about two very different subjects.

In the morning, it was at the United Church in Bhubaneswar, a city of 1.3 million people in northeast India. I delivered the morning sermon to a crowd of about 300 educated, polite, and urbanized Indians. Some things I noticed . . .

  • I guess the church world is flat, too: this congregation’s hymnal is the old (I mean old) Cokesbury version still in use in rural US churches and campgrounds. In fact, it’s the same hymnal we used at Midway United Methodist Church in the 1990s — the church’s name comes from its location “midway” between Monroe, NC and Pageland, SC. In other words, a world apart but a hymnal the same as Bhubaneswar. I kept hoping they’d pull out “Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!” but “Blessed Assurance” was as close as we got.
  • I’m not sure that people knew what to make of my sermon, which came from John 4:4-26 and featured a riff I’ve used before: Jesus exposes who you are so you will discover who he is. Like I said, the group was polite, but not overly expressive. I found out later that’s the DNA of this church.
  • The special music was God’s Still Workin’ On Me, another staple of rural American churches.
  • In all, the gospel in this church seems highly Anglicized & Americanized — Indian people celebrating forms of worship (and even church governance) developed here in the US about 60 years ago.

In the evening, I spoke at the graduation ceremony for the Orissa Follow Up Bible College in Balasore, about a three hour drive from Bhubaneswar. As soon as the Good Shepherd team arrived on campus, we were greeted with indigenous Indian singing, given a lei to put around our necks, treated to a foot washing, and handed a bouquet of flowers.

I later learned that this is the same honor-filled welcome the Christians at the Orissa Follow Up give to their friends from the Dalit caste. Why is that notable? Because Hindus regard the Dalits as untouchable So those the Hindus will not touch, the Christians lavish with honor. Is it any wonder the Dalits leave their Hindu gods to follow Jesus?

Some things I noticed from speaking at the graduation ceremony . . .

  • Graduation talks should be short and sweet. This one was short; I’ll leave it to others to decide if it was sweet. I used several verses from Proverbs to give one of my favorite “one points” ever (learned from another pastor): wise people know what they don’t know.
  • It was the first time I felt comfortable speaking a sentence at a time and waiting for my words to be translated by the man standing next to me.
  • The worship here was contextualized, not Anglicized. Meaning: it had all the hallmarks of Indian culture, from style of music to the cadence in speaking.
  • Most of the graduates will be heading back to their remote villages to lead house churches they have planted.

Long day. Good day.