Never Give Up!
When I was doing my seminary internship in Belfast, Northern Ireland I had to have some minor surgery. While I was in Hospital my friends bought me a humorous book to help we in my convalescence the book is entitled “The Book of Heroic Failures”.
In it there is a story about a woman golfer who finished last in the Shawnee Invitation for Ladies in Pennsylvania some years ago. When she teed off the sixteenth hole, her drive went directly into a nearby river. She gamely set out in a rowboat to play the ball. When she finally succeeded in stroking it out of the water, it landed in a dense patch of woods. From there she drove the ball into the rough, then into a sand trap, then back into the rough. Two hours later she arrived on the green, having taken 166 strokes on a four-stroke hole. She had spunk, and determination and she never gave up.
Many of us are perfectionist and the thought of failing in any endeavor is often more that we can stand. The fear of failing for many is one of the greatest forms of anxiety and if unchecked it can become debilitating.
In our Gospel lesson from Mark’s gospel, there are some useful lessons to be learned about failure. Let us look at what we can learn.
The first thing we can learn from these verses is to accept the fact that sometimes we are going to fail. Again, some people give the impression that failure is unacceptable. They make it hard for us to live with failure when it happens.
Some years ago, there was a story about a student at the University of Michigan who, having failed his courses, climbed into the attic of a church and stayed there for many months. He didn’t want his parents to know about his failure. At night, he would come down into the church in Ann Arbor to get clothing from the church rummage sales and food from church supper leftovers. He suffered terribly from loneliness. Eventually he was discovered, and experienced acceptance from the church. Somewhere he had gotten the notion that is all too prevalent in society that failure is unacceptable.
How many times in your life have you failed in something? How did it make you feel? Guess what? Even our Lord, Jesus Christ, failed.
When Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth, he stood up to teach in the synagogue, but the townspeople were offended that this one who had grown up among them should presume to teach them anything.
“Isn’t this the carpenter?” they said. “Don’t we know his family? What does he know about anything?” I’ve heard it said that an expert is someone who is forty miles from home who shows slides. Jesus was at home and had no slides. Familiarity with Jesus and his background made the hometown folks full of contempt for Jesus.
We read that Jesus could do no deeds of power there because of their unbelief. It was a noble effort, but Jesus experienced failure. His failure in this instance is the rejection of the very people who knew since childhood.
I think that we have to make peace with the possibility of failure, because there are times that we are going to meet up with it. I like the attitude of Harry Truman. When a reporter asked him if he were afraid of making mistakes, he answered: “No. If I were, I could never make a decision. I have to make a decision every day, and I know that fifty percent of them will be wrong. But then, that leaves me fifty percent right, and that’s batting 500.” “How do you handle the fifty percent wrong?” asked the reporter. Truman replied, “I laugh at them, and at myself, and so does Bess.”
A pastor shared that he once saw a banner hanging in a church sanctuary that gave him much comfort. It said, “You Are Free Today to Fail.” We have to accept the possibility that we may fail, and learn to accept the grace that makes it possible to go on.
When it comes to our own discipleship we fail to seize the moment to deepen our faith because we are so afraid of failure, of making a fool out of ourselves, frightened that we will be laughed at behind our backs.
A second thing these verses convey to us is that our failure is not always our responsibility. Jesus called his disciples together and sent them out two by two to extend his ministry. But he told them right up front that they might not be accepted. “If they refuse to hear you,” he told them, “then shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” In Jesus’ day, it was a sacred duty to be hospitable. The village was to offer hospitality to strangers. If they didn’t then they would be breaking the Law of Moses.
The Jewish law said that the dust of a Gentile and of a heathen country was defiled, and that when a Jew entered Palestine from another country, he must shake off every particle of dust of the heathen land. Jesus was telling his disciples that when they were not accepted by a town, they should brush the dust from their feet and never become deterred.
What I understand Jesus to be saying is that those who are his disciples are to do the best they can to extend his Gosepl, but that it is not always in our power to succeed.
A third thing we can learn from this passage is that when we experience failure, we are to move on. Jesus told his disciples that when they experienced failure in one place, they were to leave and embrace the next challenge.
When I was a little boy my grandmother always had a Saturday evening ritual. And that was to watch the Lawrence Welk show. His life was an interesting one. Lawrence Welk began life in a Dakota farmhouse with sod floor and walls. He was one of eight children born to parents of German ancestry. They were farmers, and expected Lawrence to take up farming as well. From his earliest years, Lawrence was interested in music.
His father played the accordion for the family’s amusement. When he was a teenager, Lawrence bought a cheap accordion, but it soon fell apart. He saw a more expensive one, and proposed to his father that he would work on the farm for four years without pay if he could have that accordion. The deal was made.
After years of practice, he rented the local opera house and tried to sell tickets for a concert, but it was a dismal failure. No one thought that the local farm boy could be very entertaining. He tried unsuccessfully several times later, but few tickets sold. Even his own family wouldn’t come to hear him play. His father told him that music was all right as a pastime, but not as a life work.
Lawrence decided that he would have to leave home to find a place where his music would be accepted. His father warned him that he wouldn’t last six weeks, but on his twenty-first birthday, Lawrence left his hometown to test his dream. It was only then that he found success as a maker of music. As Paul Harvey would say; “Now you know the rest of the story”.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is to learn from our failures and try a different approach from the one we’ve been following. Thomas Edison claimed that he probably had more failures than anyone ever did, yet we do not remember him as a failure. He patented 1,093 inventions in his lifetime, that would lead one to believe that he couldn’t have had too many failures. The truth is that he failed quite frequently. But he didn’t look on them as failures. When something didn’t work he would say, “Now we know one more thing that doesn’t work. We’re that much closer to finding one that will.”
What all of this says to me is that failure is a part of life, but God can redeem even failure and work it into the pattern that God is weaving. Jesus failed to turn the world or even his own people to his understanding of God and God’s place in our lives. His enemies seized him and killed him.
But God was able to use even Jesus’ apparent failure — his crucifixion — as a way to capture our attention, and to woo us toward reliance on God’s grace. If God could use such an apparent failure to accomplish his purposes, what may God yet do in those areas where we have failed?
Where have you failed in life? Has that failure stopped you from being that man and women that God wants you to be?
We may lose some battles, but God is able to use them to win the “war.” So, if you fail then fail heroically for Christ and he will redeem your circumstance and call you blessed! Amen