Opportunity in Failure
Text: Mark 6:1-13
By: Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
There are many words in our vocabulary that none of us like to hear. They are words we consider hurtful and degrading. They are words that sting and make us feel bad about ourselves. Especially when the word is used in a statement that is directed toward us for an outcome of something we have been involved with. The word I’m referring to in this instance is: Failure. The statement I’m referring to is: You are a failure!
How many of us live to hear those words, “you are a failure!”, said to us? Not a one. I don’t believe there is a person alive that wants to hear that phrase said to them. Plain and simple, we don’t like to fail. Failure is considered a “bad” or “negative” word in our vocabulary. Failure, as far as we are concerned, means we don’t measure up. Some how we are not able to do what we think we should be able to do or we are not as good as we were hoping we were. Yet, in some way, we all know what it means to fail. Each one of us has experienced failure in some form and we know the emotional sting of failure. And, if we failed in something once, we are twice as likely to not try it again.
As a matter of fact, a fear of failure, quite often keeps us from trying new things. Have you ever found yourself using the phrase, “I don’t want to try that. What if I fail?” It is a pretty common phrase. It is a phrase that we as Christians are way too familiar with. Often times we hear it expressed as, “We’ve never done it that way before”, which is the same as saying, “we better not try something new, what if we fail?”
Did you know it is that kind of thinking that limits the growth of the church and limits our growth as disciples of Jesus Christ? Think about it. Think about inviting a co-worker or a friend to come to church with you. Just the thought of doing that can cause people to break out in a cold sweat. “I can’t ask my friend that. What will they think of me? What if I ask and they say “no”?” I’d fail. I’d fail so I’m better off not asking. Yet, if we ask or tell others, and they choose not to respond or choose to say, “no”, we have not failed. Rather, they have failed to accept the invitation. Regardless, we still feel a sense of failure.
Do you want to know something that might be helpful? Even God understands this feeling. Jesus knows this feeling of others failing to accept His words.
Consider what Peter read to you this morning from the gospel of Mark. Prior to the passage he read, is a description of Jesus going about doing some pretty amazing and incredible things. He has cast out an unclean spirit from a man. He has performed some miraculous healings. He has done some incredible teaching. He has cast out other demons, healed a woman from a flow of blood, and raised back to life the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of a local synagogue. And now, as we enter Mark chapter 6, Jesus enters into his hometown where…the people are less than impressed with what he has done. They were not impressed with his heritage or with his education, in short, they were not impressed with him.
Their line of reasoning was, “who does this guy think he is? We know him, his family, he’s the carpenter’s son. He used to play with little Samuel and Reuban, and James when they were all children. Why should we listen to him?” What was the result of this reaction to Jesus? Verses 5 and 6 tell us, “Now he could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.”
If you were just to look at this segment of Jesus’ ministry you could say, “Jesus, why don’t you just give up?” From the world’s perspective Jesus failed to make a significant impact because the people of his hometown didn’t want to pay any attention to him. Nobody thought he was great, and nobody thought he was anything all that special. The thought seemed to be, “Who is Jesus that we should even care?”
The people refused to believe in the Son of God even though he was physically, right there, in their presence. They were offended at Jesus. At that moment, Jesus knew what it was to be ignored. Imagine being rejected by those who knew you so well. Jesus was rejected and despised. Jesus knew the feeling of failure in reaching those of his hometown.
We know failure, too. We know what it is like to have a good idea and have it slammed down like an egg on the sidewalk. Broken apart and wasted. And we are left looking at that brokenness feeling as though we are no good, worthless, a failure. We have already touched upon what we often do when we fail; and that is, we stop trying. “I’ve been burned once, I’m not going to do it again.” Yet, how did Jesus handle this apparent failure? He packed his bags, traveled to the airport, and took the Spirit express back home, right? No! Take a look at the second part of verse 6, “Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.”
Although Jesus was hurt and amazed at the people’s lack of faith and belief. Although he may have been hurt at their attitude towards him, he went forward with his work. He went around to all the villages teaching. He also did something else. Look at verse 7, “And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.” Do you see what is happening here? Jesus saw an opportunity in the midst of what appeared to be failure. For one thing, Jesus saw an opportunity to expand his teaching. First, by continuing on his own to provide teaching to all those who would listen. And secondly, by sending out his disciples to go and do the things they had seen him do, namely, to preach, teach, and heal.
He also saw another opportunity to teach his disciples what to do when they ran into a time when they would feel they had failed because others chose not to listen to the message of salvation. He wanted to teach the disciples what to do when they ran into this type of situation because he knew they would. If Jesus ran into it, he knew his disciples would too. So, he taught them what to do. Look at verse 11, “And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.” In other words, Jesus was saying to them, “Don’t let failure or the feeling of failure stick to you and don’t let it slow you down.” Go on with life, with the next challenge. Leave the place that won’t listen and go on to another. When you fail, and you will, be faithful to me and to my call upon your life to be my disciples. Keep on keeping on!
Keep on keeping on. Oh, that is so much easier said than done. Be faithful! Oh, my. I’ve failed at that too. And we get into the spiral of thoughts that say, “I’ve failed at my Christian walk, and at being the man or woman that God wants me to be. I’m a failure in my life so why would Jesus even want anything to do with me?” Maybe there are some of you who are battling these thoughts right now. You feel as though you have failed the Lord, yet again, and this time, there cannot possibly be any way he would want you back. You have just failed miserably and there is no hope.
The Good New is: in Jesus there is always hope! In Jesus there is always opportunity in failure. Whatever the failure may be in your life, whether of morality, of relationship, of purpose, of commitment, of hope, of vision, of intent, there is fresh opportunity. The fresh opportunity of experiencing God’s grace. The fresh opportunity of being washed by the blood of Jesus and being freed from the guilt and shame of sin so you can freely serve Him once again.
There is always opportunity in failure. Look at the cross. It was viewed as a failure, but through it God brought forth victory for all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the weakness of self-sacrifice God brought salvation. Out of what looked to be the failure of death, God brought life through the resurrection of Christ.
There is always opportunity in failure. The opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be molded in the likeness of Jesus. Amen.
Let us pray…
Oh Lord, we fear failure. We fear being called failures and yet we all know what it is to fail. And, as hard as it is for us to accept, we acknowledge that we quite often fail you. We fail living up to your standards, we fail in our love for you and in our love for each other. In spite of these times of failure, Lord, help us to see the opportunity that stands before us now. The opportunity to once again experience your grace and be renewed by your Spirit. The opportunity to be cleansed and made new in Jesus. Amen.