“Waking, Sleeping, and the Joy of Failure” May 5, 2019
“Waking, Sleeping, and the Joy of Failure”
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Yesterday morning, the world lost a wonderful heart with the death of the Rachel Held Evans after a long battle from complications of her treatment of infection. Even though she was only 37 years old, Rachel Evens has touched the lives of thousands of Christians and non-Christians alike through her books and writings. Her understanding of a life in Christ is refreshing and challenging at the same time, and she had a way of describing her faith journey with such humor and honesty that it was somewhat irresistible. In her book, “Searching For Sunday” she wrote, “This is what God’s Kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich and worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said ‘Yes.’ And there’s always room for more.” “Because they are hungry; because they said “Yes.”
Today, we read of the conversion of Paul – or Saul, which was his Hebrew name – and what a conversion it was. I mean, here is a man who had it all together: he was smart, he was educated, of Jewish descent, and a citizen of Rome. He was also really good at his job, which was rounding up folks who were followers of this Jesus fellow and sending them off to jail. That’s what he did and I daresay, it probably paid pretty well, too. But his career path was about to change and, as we know, Paul ended up spending the rest of his life establishing the church and bringing all people – even the oddballs and the outcasts – to the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. But here’s the thing: that had to have been tough. Here’s a man who was well known for persecution: vs. 1 reads, “Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” And then in a few short days he is preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the son of God. Sure, we get it that when Paul’s eyes were opened (no pun intended) it was a powerful thing, but how could he be effective, how could he be convincing, how could he keep from beating himself up knowing how bad he had goofed up; knowing he had missed the truth; knowing that he had failed? This is the power of the grace of God: that no matter how you have failed it is never final. When Jesus calls, he calls us to be real, not perfect.
In our Gospel text today we find Simon Peter along with Thomas and some other disciples on the Sea of Tiberias. They had been in Jerusalem when Jesus was arrested and killed. They had also been there when he appeared to them behind locked doors, proving that he had indeed risen from the dead. Jesus had told them over and over that this was how it would be but,…well, you know. That’s a tough pill to swallow. That’s hard to really, truly believe. But it was true, it was all true. And now Peter, who had denied the Lord 3 times, found himself going back to the only thing that he wasn’t a total failure at: fishing. But wouldn’t you know it, after fishing all night, he was a failure at that as well.
And this was the moment that Jesus called on Simon Peter and the disciples. This is the moment that he chose to show them that failure is not final. As the Psalm reads, “Weeping may stay for the night but joy comes with the morning,” and before long they were having breakfast with more fish than they knew what to do with. That’s what the Kingdom of God is like, a bunch of outcast and losers gathered on the beach not because they were rich or worthy and good, but because they were hungry, they had failed; they were gathered because they said “Yes.”
“Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
“Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Take care of my sheep.”
And a third time, “Peter, do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” And Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” Three times you have denied me and every hour of sleep has been plagued by that failure. Three times you denied me and every waking moment has been a reminder of that. I am calling you to turn that failure into joy. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord.” “Then feed my lambs.”
We who are called to be the body of Christ are asked the same question, don’t you think? “Do you love me?” And by the same token, if we are real and not perfect by answering, “Yes, Lord,” the reply is going to be the same: “Take care of my sheep.” It’s not glorious, it’s not glamorous, and it’s not a pass/fail proposition, but if we love the Lord our God, this is our calling.
Rachel Held Evans understood this well when she wrote, “There is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”
Like I said, it’s not glorious and it’s not glamorous, but we who love the Lord are called to keep saying, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord we will look after your sheep. There is always room for more.”
Amen & Shalom