Sometimes You Fail, I Corinthians 1:18-25, Mark 6:1-13
Things do not always go as planned. Sometimes you fail.
It took 5 years and 5,126 failed prototypes for James Dyson to develop the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. Ten years later, Dyson set up his manufacturing facility, because other manufacturers would not produce his vacuum. Now he has the best-selling vacuum in the world.
When J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, she was at a challenging time in her life both emotionally and financially. After a dozen publishers rejected her manuscript, one finally agreed to publish it, but the publisher told Rowling that she needed to get a job because there’s no money in children’s books. When she spoke at Harvard’s graduation, J.K. Rowling spoke about failures:
“You might never fail on the scale I did, but it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”
George A. Buttrick, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, tells how he felt one day after a sermon did not go as he had hoped it would. There were no “Nice sermon, pastor” comments as he stood at the door and shook hands. Finally, the last person out the door said, “Thank you, pastor, for your sermon.” Buttrick responded, “I appreciate that, but it was too long.” The smiling person replied, “No, pastor, it just seemed long.”
Things do not always go as planned. Sometimes you fail.
Just ask Jesus. As Jesus began his ministry, he encountered success. People were being healed. Lives were made whole. Great sermons were being preached. Parables about God’s kingdom were being heard eagerly. New life was being given. All the boxes for success were being checked.
Now the time had arrived for Jesus to go back to his hometown and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. As was hie custom, Jesus began his ministry in his hometown by teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Many of the persons who heard him were amazed as they said, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands?”
Then, immediately after making such wonderful observations, the mood of the hometown crowd began to shift. Some of the people began to voice different opinions about Jesus: “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
It was hard for Jesus to be the Messiah in his hometown where people believed they already know who he was. Following these hometown observations about Jesus, the Gospel of Mark reads, “And they took offense at him.” Another way to translate this verse is, “And they stumbled at him.” Jesus was throwing them off – balance. They had already checked off the boxes and safely compartmentalized Jesus. Standing before them was the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the Son of the living God, the Christ, and the hometown folks stumbled over him. Inoculated by their preconceived notions, they could not recognize Jesus for who Jesus truly was.
As a result, for the only time in the Gospel of Mark, these words were written about Jesus’ ministry:
“And he could do no deed of power there.”
“And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
What a disappointment Jesus’ return to his hometown must have been. Jesus was being rejected by the people he had grown up with. Things had not gone as Jesus had planned. Sometimes you fail. Sometimes your dreams and hopes come crashing down around you, and all you can do is stand and be amazed. Failure happens to everyone, even the Savior of the world.
The question that must be answered when things don’t go as planned and as you fail, is “what do I choose to do next?” There are really two options available when you face the reality of failure:
1) You can sit in the present debris of failed expectations
2) You can live into the future of God-empowered possibilities
In the book, A Failure of Nerve, Edwin H. Friedman tells of counseling an unsophisticated man who exhibited a strong will for life in the face of great challenges. As they spoke Friedman told the man of the following incident that occurred near the end of World War II. After delivering parts of the first atomic bomb to the Marinas, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the idle of the Japan Sea. The ship went down quickly before a mayday message could be sent out, and eight hundred men were left helpless in the hostile environment of a salty sea, man-eating sharks, and a scorching sun. Although they knew it was to their advantage to stay close to one another, some of the men swam away from the safety of the group and, either willingly or out of madness, gave themselves up to the sharks, “How do you explain that,” he asked his client. “Unless you assume they were exhibiting extraordinary altruism, those men who sawm away functioned in exactly the opposite direction from the one you have followed with regard to the dangers to your own life. You responded with cool, with stamina, with perspective, and with courage.”
Without much reflection, the man to whom Friedman told this account answered immediately, “Those guys who swam away, they didn’t have no future.”
p. 152, A Failure of Nerve
Amazed at the disbelief of his hometown, Jesus could have allowed himself to reside in the present debris of failed expectations, but he did not. Mark records Jesus’ present response to failure as Jesus calls the twelve and empowers them for the proclamation of the gospel.
The rejection of his hometown was not the only time Jesus faced the reality of failure in his ministry. Ultimately, the story of Jesus’ ministry is the story of ultimate failure as his ministry leads him from the rejection of his hometown of Nazareth to the rejection of the cross of Calvary. But even in the ultimate failure of Jesus’ death on the cross, God-empowered future possibilities can become reality. This is why Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:18:
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The cross was considered to be a scandalous sign of God’s power because the cross was a sign of failure and rejection of Jesus. It is in the midst of the failure of the cross that people of faith in Jesus find hope in the midst of our failures.
This is why Paul wrote:
“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.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24)
We proclaim Christ crucified because it is in the failure of the cross that we encounter God-empowered possibilities for the future.
We proclaim Christ crucified because it is the path of the cross that leads us to the path of resurrection and new life in Jesus.
We proclaim Christ crucified because even in the midst of our stumbling failures God can raise us up from the debris of failed expectations into a future of God empowered possibilities.
Sometimes you fail. Everybody does, but when you do, know that there is a God who has the power to raise you up from the debris of failed expectations into a future of God-empowered possibilities.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
June 27, 2021