"Can I just say one last thing about this and then I swear I’ll shut up."*

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So I was talking with a new friend recently and I was recanting another conversation I had in my churchy line of work.  It was about how it’s not always important to be right, or at least to feel like it’s not always important to be right because relationships were more important. Blah blah blah- I was feeling eloquent and smug about my diatribe.

But she stopped me. “Actually for my job, it is really important to be right.” What does she do? She’s studying to be a anesthesia nurse, currently on a pediatrics rotation. So, I suppose, when you spend your days filling kids with just the right amount of medicine to put them asleep but not kill them, it affects how you feel about right and wrong.

And then I shut up. Because even though I work really hard at my job, a bad sermon will never kill anyone. When I make mistakes at my job, I can giggle and say “Ohhhh, Cortney.” and admit I was wrong without malpractice lawsuits ever entering into my brain. I can even jump into a reflection about how humbling it is to make mistakes and God is God and I’m not and perfection’s not in my job description.

No one ever dies on my table. I can talk about life and death in remarkably abstract and theoretical ways in my job. But that’s okay and it doesn’t change it’s importance. (paycheck, yes) It’s a luxury I’ll bask in because my brain works better with the nuanced art of community than with science.

And I can sit here and be truly thankful that there are people who devote their lives to studying and practicing medicine. That I can safely assume that if I wake up tomorrow with appendicitis, thanks to things that to my intellect might as well be magic, I can continue next week arguing inane details of theology and sharing the mysteriously good news that comes from one horrible death on a cross.

*- Title borrowed from the summary of Mindy Kaling’s soon to be released book Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me? (and Other Concerns) which I’ve pre-ordered and pre-recommended.

Sermon- September 20, 2011- Morning Prayer

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1 Corinthians 5:1-8:

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?
 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgement in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
 Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Dozens upon dozens of times, I’ve attended youth events at All Saints Episcopal Center, both as a youth and as an adult. At every single one of these events, the first night, we talk about the community covenant, which includes the “non-negotiables”: no firearms, no alcohol, no illegal drugs, no cigarettes, and no exposure, no touching or fondling of the breast, buttocks or genitalia.  If you are caught breaking these rules, you parents will be called, you will be sent home, your priest will be notified. All members of the community, bishop, adult or youth, were held to these non-negotiables.

This is more than just a liability protection for All Saints. Like I said, it’s called a community covenant. It’s another way of saying that as a beloved member of our community, we will hold you to a certain standard.  We believe we can meet that standard. (as a youth, what a radical thing to hear!)

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this morning, we hear about a rather salacious sin. One Corinthian is sleeping with his father’s wife (for clarification here, scholars agree that it was his father’s second wife- we aren’t dealing with an Oedipal complex here). But Paul’s disappointment is not just with that individual, but with the whole community and that they tolerated such behavior. Modern psychologists might use the term ‘enabler.’ Paul doesn’t differentiate between where one sin ends and the others’ (plural) begin.

Despite our best efforts, all of us have blind spots in our self-perception. It’s only through a community that we can hope to shine light in those spots and properly deal with them. There are books upon books written on family and community systems theory – very interesting, and not nearly enough time to talk about them this morning. Most of those books and Paul agree: truly loving relationships involve painful moments of “I know you well enough to know you can do better.” 

A Watched Pot Never Boils

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Often when I was younger, our wider family would meet at our house for Thanksgiving. My mom would spend that morning cleaning every surface of our home, insisting that I help. I didn’t. I felt any child had an inalienable right to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, and, conveniently, whatever west coast equivalent was aired after it was over. (Sorry, Mom.)

And then it was time for my cousins and aunts and uncles to arrive. Almost. So I’d check the driveway.

Maybe they came early.

No.

But maybe they came early, but not as early.

No.

(Any view of the driveway required going to a tv-less room.)

They always arrived eventually, probably right when they said they would, but that didn’t stop me from wearing down a path to the front window, checking for cars in the driveway.

I was excited. And hungry. Today, 5 weeks shy of my 27th birthday, my life feels like Thanksgiving mornings. Is it time now? No? Okay, how about now? No? So, what I have 5 more minutes? Longer? Seriously?

A watched pot does boil. Eventually. And then it’s boiling and you have to make sure it doesn’t overflow and make a mess which it sometimes does even if you did put the precautionary olive oil in the water. But there’s plenty to do in the meantime, waiting for that.  And [because I can’t resist over-extending a metaphor] a larger, fuller pot does take longer to boil.

But, really, life. I can smell the turkey roasting in the oven.

Sermon- September 13, 2011- Morning Prayer

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1 Corinthians 1:20-31:

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

I was reading another one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books the other day when he brought up the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. When solving a puzzle, we are given too little information and tasked to find that extra bit of information to make the puzzle complete. But in mysteries, we are given too much information and have to use our faculties and judgment to sort through the overload of clues.

Our faith is a mystery. And maybe that’s why Paul seems to have this less-is-more approach to wisdom. Maybe wisdom isn’t a means to know God more, but just a byproduct of striving to know God.  

When Jesus sought out disciples, he went to fishermen. Imagine today, someone wanting to spread a message and passing over the college professors and theologians and going for the, say, coal miners. Jesus had a wonderful way of flipping things upside down – inverting social pyramids.

This is what Paul is reminding the people of Corinth- that their lowly status (and this audience had quite the lowly status) would not impede their faith, but in fact strengthen it. Perhaps being born into a life where someone else is in control, it’s not hard to imagine something else in control. But for us (and for ‘us’ I mean myself and the stereotypical Episcopalian) we’ve been born to think that we – our brains, are our own source of wisdom and it’s much tougher to let go of that illusion of control.

This can lead us to believe that our faith is a puzzle: that with just the right bits of information we can put all of God together and perfectly know the whole of God. But, alas. Our faith is a mystery.