On Maundy Thursday I cocked up. I’d made my lists for Holy Week. 14 people to readings at Tuesday’s stations of the cross, 12 people to have their feet washed on Maundy Thursday, 9 people to do the Passion Gospel drama on Good Friday, 9 people to readings at Saturday’s Easter Vigil service. Mass sheets copied, everything under control. So the Maundy Thursday service starts. Opening hymn. confession. kyrie, absolution. And then … a horrifying silence. I’ve screwed up. I haven’t got anyone to do the first reading. Even worse, I haven’t even got the reading written down in front of me. Have you ever had that sinking feeling? you’ve forgotten something important. You’ve failed. You are praying not toooo many people will notice your failure. And of course, the one thing you don’t do when you have messed up is make sure the whole rest of the world knows about it by broadcasting it in a sermon on Easter Sunday morning.....
Failure is such a horrid sounding word. We are quite happy to laugh at other people’s failures. There was a wonderful book in the 1980s called “The book of Heroic Failures”. It listed people who had failed spectacularly. One of my favourites was the worlds worst Guard Dogs. Two Massive Alsatians bought to guard a house. When robbers broke in, the ferocious beasts... came and slobbered all over them while the thieves looted all the valuables. Luckily for the owners the alarm had gone off and within a little while the police arrived, sirens blazing. Well as the Police armed response unit charged in, the Guard Dogs knew what to do - the leapt for the copper’s throats and pinned them to the ground - enabling their new friends the Robbers to escape with all the loot.
Failure is such a horrid sounding word. We are quite happy to laugh at other people’s failures. But the last thing we want to be thought of is as failures ourselves.
I’d like to share with you four stories of failure.
The first story is about Mark. Mark has a wonderfully successful career. In his twenties he trained with the big accountancy firm Arthur Anderson. He does well. He is promoted. he is soon earning good money. In his thirties he is made a partner. In his forties he moves out into industry, becoming the financial controller - number 2 to the finance director of a FTSE 100 firm. His career is doing well. Next promotion he’ll be on the board. He could soon MD of a major firm. Life is good. Just that next promotion. But that next promotion does not come. Some one else is promoted over his head to become the next Finance Director. Recession hits. Jobs are to be cut. He’s called into a meeting - he thinks to talk about who he should be firing. He discovers it is him being fired. Aged 51 he is out of his job. unceremoniously escorted from the building, no time even to say good bye. He’s full of confidence - there’s plenty of jobs out there for someone with his qualifications. he applies … and the polite letters come back - very sorry but the job has gone to a younger candidate. He tries applying for lower paid jobs - “ very sorry - you are over qualified”. He’s ashamed to tell his friends. Ashamed to queue up to collect his job seekers allowance. At 51 will he ever work again? His career that had begun so brightly - a failure.
Second story. Maggie is an attractive young woman. At school she’s the one all the boys ask out. She enjoys her twenties, moving from one bloke to the next. It feels free, liberating. In her early thirties she settles down. She marries Shaun. He’s everything she could ask for. Good looking, wealthy, great career prospects. Big house in chigwell. two 4 by 4s. The wedding is amazing. You can’t imagine a bigger or more romantic affair. after that come two beautiful Children. Life is good. And then on her 46th birthday she comes home to find an empty wardrobe and a note on the table. Shaun has left her for a younger model. A twenty three year old secretary from his office. She feels empty - even though its not her fault, ashamed. Her relationship that had begun so brightly - a failure.
Third story. Helen and Peter are happily married, with three beautiful children. They love their children and are very proud of them. Joan is doing so well at school. Nigel is grade 7 on piano. Matt is in the first team for football. And then, Nigel is suspended from school. Joan starts coming home late, and the boys she is with don’t seem the right sort. They discover she’s had an abortion. There’s a row. She walks out. They don’t know where she is. While they are waiting to hear, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the police - no its not Joan - its Matt he’s been arrested for dealing drugs. Joan won’t come home. They begin to hear stories, frightening stories about her - is she on the game. Please, if only she will come home. Matt is looking so thin. He promises them that he is off the crack, but things start to go missing, and they don’t believe him any more. Then one day the Police bring Nigel home - a caution for drugs. Not him too? The Family that looked so full of promise, that they were so proud of, a failure.
Career failure, relationship failure, family failure. And our fourth story - the story of a man whose family was a failure, whose career was a failure, whose relationships with closest to him were failure, the things he’d invested his time and energy in - failures. Our fourth story, the story of failure. The story of Jesus.
Jesus - rejected by his family, who called him mad, possibly even posessed. Jesus who’s career had begun so brightly, with so many crowds cheering for him. The same fickle crowds who would later cry “Crucify him”. All these people he thought he had been influencing. All those wonderful parables he told. All those amazing miracles and healings. And on a dark Friday afternoon his career ends in failure. Just another would be “king of the Jews”, executed by Roman, waiting for history to forget him. Even those he had invested so much time in, those relationships that mattered so much to him - failures. One - Judas - sells his where abouts for a small sum of silver. Another Peter, who promised to die with him, denies him three times. And the rest- the rest run away. After all those hours of teaching, eating together, travelling together, sharing together, and every one of them failed him. On Good Friday, Jesus failed.
End of story. End of sermon. End of hope.
Or is it?
On that Friday, Jesus freely embraces failure so that failure itself might fail. And on Easter Sunday God show us a new kind of success.
We choose to hide our failures. The ones that are not our fault and the ones that are our fault. Our failures to succeed and our moral failures. We try to hide them all, because we do not want to be thought of as failures.
But on Good Friday Jesus freely embraces failure, knowing that through his death failure itself will fail. The idea that you have one chance - and if you flunk it, that’s it, you’re a failure - That’s what the world teaches. That’s what it seems when he is nailed to a cross. But that is not what it seems when the stone rolls away and the astonished disciples see the majestic man with holes in his hands sharing bread and fish with them
Failure and death are not swept under the carpet - they are defeated. The flopped messiah, the failure - is back, big time, back from the dead. The church goes from 11 frightened failures running away, betraying Jesus, hiding in an upper room. Well those 11 frightened failures encounter Jesus raised from the dead, and the church is changed. It spreads like wild fire. We read of 4000 people baptised and added to their number in just one day. Soon the church is spread over the whole of Europe, Turkey and North Africa.
Saul of Tarsus - a Taleban extremist and a murderer - you can hardly get more a failed life than that. This failure encounters Jesus risen from the dead, and he is turned into he great Apostle, the writer of half the New Testament, the most prominent Christian thinker ever.
And so it continues down the ages. In the 16th Century Ignatius Loyola is a failure - a soldier who in his very first battle is wounded and almost killed, the dashing rake left ugly and disfigured. He spends ages trying to get his life in order. and in his 40’s he founds the Society of Jesus, one of the most successful missionary orders ever, taking the Gospel to India, China, the Philipenes and beyond. In his 40s - at a time when life expectancy was 41. You could hardly get more past-it, more failed, than that. But not when you meet Jesus raised from the dead. Then nothing’s impossible.
There is a story told of the relatively early days of IBM. A junior manager is put in charge of a project which goes spectacularly wrong. So wrong that he loses the company $10 million. He is summoned to a meeting with the boss, the founder of IBM. Nervously he enters the room. “I suppose you want my resignation?” “Your resignation? Don’t be stupid - we’ve just spent $10 million dollars training you!” [illlustration taken from assorted sermons on SermonCentral site]
Whether or not that’s true of IBM, it is certainly true of Jesus. Because the Easter Message is this. Our failures are never the end. If the ultimate flop - death itself can be defeated - what failure of ours can be so terrible, so permanent that the Risen Christ cannot over come it?
Whether it is a failure of character, a failure of morals Or a failure of Hope, a failure of expectation, a failure of career, family or relationships, Christ is risen and he has the Victory. Amen? There is no failure so terrible, so permanent that the Risen Christ cannot over come it.
ME: Christ is risen - alleluia
all: He is risen indeed Alleluia