29 Jan 2017
“… so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor. 1:29)
In the name …
This past week I donated blood. I’m not boasting. Paul warns about that this morning. It’s no big deal. I donate about every couple of months. I’m used to it. I have low-normal blood pressure. This means that my blood donation usually takes a bit longer than most. I’ve gone to the table, been hooked up, someone else will start donating after me, and before I’m finished they’re over having a cranberry juice and grabbing the last bag of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. But this past donation was different. A very nice, skilled nurse, one who has taken my blood a number of times before, hit an artery instead of a vein. I thought blood was blood, but I guess there’s a difference. And it also makes a difference for the donor.
My usual extended stay on the table instead turned into a quick 3 minutes. The artery has a lot more pressure pushing the blood than the veins do. I thought all of this was good news: quicker donation. Then the nurse started talking to me, that she was going to remove the needle and then apply extra pressure herself on my arm. Then she was going to use some sort of pressure bandage wrap to make sure I didn’t start bleeding again. And then it got worse. She started telling me about what to look for just in case, like the arm would swell because the blood would be flowing beneath the skin. She said something about hematoma. That didn’t sound good. I had to watch to make sure my hand didn’t turn blue because the blood wasn’t getting down there. And then, on top of all this, she showed me how to take my pulse so that I could make sure I had one. I told her if I don’t have a pulse how am I supposed to tell since I’ll be dead. She told me not to freak out. I’ve got no pulse!
Well, after all this, there were no problems. After I donated I went over and started talking to Jack Cooper from town. That’s when this very nice and concerned nurse came over to give me the $5 Dunkin Donuts coupon that she forgot to do before in all the commotion. Jack says to her that I should get two for all the trouble I went through: just got the one. When the Red Cross called the next day, as the nurse told me they probably would, I answered and apologized for taking so long to get to the phone because I was dragging my dead arm behind me. The woman got all excited on the phone and that’s when I told her I was only kidding and that everything was fine.
But I guarantee that if this had happened when I was back in college and donating for the first time, this would have freaked me out even if the nurse told me not to freak out. I would have been seeing my arm grow fatter even if it wasn’t changing. I would have seen my hands turning shades of blue even though they weren’t. Experience makes a world of difference. And it’s experience that Paul calls upon when he writes to the Corinthians in today’s reading. He begins this morning’s selection by telling the members of that early church community, “Consider your own call.” Think about your own experience, in other words. And when he sends them down that road, he gets them to start realizing that it wasn’t so much about how prepared they were, how moral they were, how many good things they had done, and this leads him to conclude with the statement that no one can boast in the presence of God.
This prepares the congregation to think differently, gets them to realize the central importance of Jesus. It’s Jesus that we must boast about, says Paul to the Corinthians and to us. He’s the one who can make the unbearable bearable and the impossible possible. Life can be hard, but Jesus is stronger. Boast in Him says Paul. Think back to this morning’s Gospel; it was the reading of the Beatitudes. Blessings are not defined by Jesus in the ways a lot of people would expect. There are some preachers who insist that prosperity is the sign that we are blessed. I don’t know where they find that in the New Testatment. The Beatitudes are the first preachings of Jesus to the crowds. This is Jesus’ introduction; this is Christianity 101. And they are anything but what a normal person would expect. Not blessed are the rich, the connected, the healthy. Instead, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the righteous, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers and the persecuted. Jesus holds these unexpected traits up as blessings because they give evidence that the blessed see things not only as they are right now. The blessed have the gift of being able to look at life as if they really, sincerely, honestly, concretely, believe that Jesus is beside them and that eternity is real. To be among the blessed in this way is to be stronger than we ever could be on our own, and this is why, says Paul, consider your own call. The experience of Jesus changes everything.
One of our parishioners shared with me an interview with Simon Sinek. He mentioned that one of the vulnerabilities of people today is an addiction to technology. It has left too many too often unable to build genuine relationships and this leaves them lacking in coping mechanisms. They’re not prepared to handle difficulty and failure because they don’t have personal experience. A machine can’t do it. The Beatitudes lay out a faith that can only be based on the experience of Jesus, and Paul, a first generation pastor, says consider your own experience. This means faith is not the content of what we belief; it is relationship. And relationships take work. It means actually coming to church. It means listening and praying, singing and Communion, and it also means consistency. This here is our experience of Christ. Faith isn’t like Polar Bear Club swimmers, in and out of the water in a brief second. Faith is like a kid from Westfield years ago at Youth Retreat who stayed in the lake from the first to the last moments of free time.
Experience made a world of difference when the nurse hit my artery, and experience will make a world of difference when we hit the unexpected and the unwanted in our lives because experience will let us build a relationship with Jesus so that we need to boast in none other. That we may be blessed with such a faith, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo