September 15, 2019 Sermon
Old Testament Scripture: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
New Testament Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Sermon: “We Confess…”
One of the topics in those orientation classes that would have been helpful to me was the fact that in English upper level education, you don’t have the normal routine of assignments, quizzes, tests, that sort of thing. In fact, the way it worked, was, you went to class (or not, depending on your mood), and at the end of the semester, you wrote a gigantic paper using the lectures and reading materials as resources. I did not know that.
So, I went merrily to class, loving every moment of these really smart people with their funny accents and after a couple of months, I begin to feel a little uneasy that we hadn’t actually been required to read anything, or take a quiz or a test, or write a short paper, or anything. Just show up to class and listen. But I didn’t pay enough attention to this feeling, and at the end of the semester, I realized that I was supposed to write 4 major papers of around 15,000 words each for the four classes I had been attending, each of them using the notes from the class plus citations from ten different theological books.
Now, what I didn’t know, was that what most students at Cambridge did was to write the bulk of the papers during the semester, and finish them up during the month long break between semesters. But I had done no work whatsoever, and I was going be in Berlin for the next couple of months.
I tried to get some English language theological books on interlibrary loan from a library in Berlin, but I could only have them for a week, and they cost a lot of money to get, money that I simply did not have. I gave it a shot, but got about halfway through one paper and realized, to my very great shame, that I was not going to be able to do it.
It was a terrible moment. A lot of money had been spent on me to send me to Cambridge. Space had been made for me, accommodations had been made for me, and I had repaid those generous offers with nothing. Trust had been placed on me, and I had failed that trust.
Not only that, I was supposed to be one of the best and brightest of Columbia Theological Seminary, and I was going to completely and utterly fail. What a great example of the academic rigor of American Education. I was heartbroken, embarrassed, and ashamed.
When I got back to Atlanta, I had to go to the Academic Dean’s office and confess my failure. And to my very great surprise, I was forgiven. The reality was, the school never really expects the exchange students to complete the studies in Cambridge. The schedule doesn’t really allow for that, what with the fact that the students come right home after the semester and don’t have access to the resources they need in order to complete the assignments. The reality is, the point of the exchange is for us to live and work and play and worship in a different context, to see God at work through a different lens.
And so, while I didn’t receive any credit for my time in Cambridge, I certainly learned something. I learned that the next time I went into a new situation, I might take a little more time to find out the expectations. I learned that in English schools, they cook fish on Friday. And I learned that sometimes failing horribly is the only way to truly understand the meaning of grace.