Summary: God’s choice of people with significant failure in their past shows that failure is never final.
Americans love success. We celebrate it; work hard to achieve it; and honor those who attain it. Take the fourth of July as an example. Every year, we have parades, and speeches, and festivals and fireworks. On that day, all across the country, millions of people commemorate the birth of our nation, the date on which we declared independence from Great Britain. And why do we do that? Because we won! We won the Revolutionary War! If we hadn’t, then July 4th would not be a national holiday. Instead, we would all be driving on the left side of the road, eating scones with jam for breakfast, drinking tea at three in the afternoon, and singing "God Save the Queen". Baseball would be replaced by cricket, and the game called "football" would be played with a round white ball being randomly kicked around by men wearing kneesocks. We would have to use expressions like, "Pip! Pip!" and "Cheerio!" And whenever we came across a member of the so-called nobility, we would have to bow from the waist and address them as "Your Lordship". But thankfully, we avoided all that by kicking the redcoats out of America.
As you might expect, the fourth of July is not a big holiday in London, England. Nor do Southerners in the U.S. typically celebrate February 22nd. That’s the official birth date for the Confederate States of America. But there are no fireworks in Atlanta or Charleston on that day. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s too cold for fireworks in February. But more than that, it’s because the South lost the Civil War. No one shoots off fireworks, or holds parades, or gives speeches to commemorate a failure.
It’s the same in the political arena. Had a few thousand votes in Florida gone the other way, our President would be Albert Arnold Gore, Jr., instead of George Bush. The margin of victory was razor-thin, the race so incredibly close that it had to be mediated by the Supreme Court. But it doesn’t matter. George Bush lives in the White House, while Al Gore is back in Tennessee and out of government. When Bush walks into a room, the marine band plays "Hail to the Chief". He travels on Air Force One. He serves as chief executive of the Federal Government; as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces. World leaders answer his phone calls. And everything he does makes news. This morning, newspapers all over the country had a picture of George Bush in Kennebunkport, fishing. Nothing else. Just fishing. Because by definition, anything the President does is news. And Al Gore? What did he do yesterday? Who knows? Who cares? He lost!
My point is that we celebrate success, but we either ignore or condemn failure. We despise it; we fear it. And once someone has failed in a dramatic and public way, they seldom get another chance at success. As the author F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "There are no second acts in American lives." But God takes a very different approach. Many, if not most, of the people God chose had personal histories of failure. Moses committed murder; David adultery. Jacob was a con man who deceived his own father. Noah was guilty of drunkenness; Jonah disobeyed God’s command to go to Ninevah; Elijah was guilty of cowardice. In the New Testament, God chose Matthew, a corrupt tax collector. The apostle Peter, who denied even knowing Christ. And Thomas, a man of so little faith that he refused to believe Christ had risen from the dead until he saw the nail holes in his hands and feet.
This morning, we’re going to look at two of these "heroes of the faith with feet of clay," one from the Old Testament and one from the New. These are men who knew what it was to come up short; who knew what it was to make mistakes and fall into sin; who knew what it was to be overcome and overwhelmed. Men who knew what it was to fail, and fail miserably, but who found that in God’s eyes, failure is never final; failure is never the last word. I believe we can learn something from these examples. First of all, we can learn what kind of God we serve. A God of grace and mercy; a God of compassion and forgiveness. A God not only of second chances, but of third chances, and fourth, and fifth, and on and on. A God who delights in using ordinary, foolish, sinful people to accomplish his good and wise purposes, because that way He gets all the glory, as he should. A God who can use someone as flawed and imperfect as you or I to do great things, in spite of our weaknesses and failings. A God who looks to the future and sees what we can be, rather than just what we have been.