Pastor Sherry’s message for July 4, 2021
Scriptures: 2 Sam 5:1-10; Ps 48; 2 Cor 12:2-10; Mk 6:1-13
I came across a number of stories this week in which folks turned defeat into victory:
1.) Originally, Will Rogers’ stage specialty was rope tricks. As his luck would have it, in the middle of his act one day, he got tangled up in his lariat. Instead of getting upset, however, he drawled, “A rope ain’t so bad to get tangled up in if it ain’t around your neck.” The audience roared. Encouraged by this, Rogers began to add humorous comments to all his performances. It was his jokes rather than his rope tricks that eventually made him famous.
2.) Some years back, a guy named Jim Burke was promoted to head up a new products division at Johnson & Johnson. One of his first assignments was to develop a children’s chest rub (perhaps a forerunner of Vick’s Vapo-rub). His prototype, however, did not live up to expectations and Burke anticipated that he would be fired. When he was called in to see the CEO, though, he was very surprised by his reception. “Are you the one who just cost us all that money?” asked Robert Wood Johnson. “Well I just want to congratulate you. If you are making mistakes, that means you are taking risks, and we won’t grow unless you take risks.” Some years later, when Burke himself became the chairman of J&J, he continued to operate by that philosophy.
3.) After the horrible carnage and the Confederate retreat at Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee wrote the following report to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy: “We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.”
When we are experiencing a failure of some sort, we tend to look only at the immediate fall-out. Our instantaneous responses are probably grief or anger. We may blame others or our circumstances. We may be embarrassed or feel like a failure. I know that I felt like a failure during and just after my divorce. I thought to myself, “Obviously I don’t know how to make a marriage work.” I felt defeated and embarrassed. But as I have come to know God better, I think that He—like the persons in the 3 examples I just provided–invites us to view defeat or failure in another light.
Let’s see how the individuals in the Scripture passages appointed for today respond to frustration, and what God appears to be teaching them and us through our disappointments.
The context of 1 Samuel 5:1-10 is that David, anointed king by the prophet Samuel back when he was a teenager, had been chased down for years by a jealous and paranoid King Saul. By the time of our passage, Saul has finally died, so the logical assumption would be that David would now reign. He does, but over his tribe of Judah only (1 of 12 tribes of Israel). He has settled Hebron, south of Bethlehem, as his headquarters. Up to the north of Jerusalem, an important general loyal to Saul, Abner, puts Saul’s only surviving son, Ish-Bosheth on the throne of the 11 remaining tribes. Thus ensures civil war for 7 years!
Finally, in the 7th year, David’s cousin, Joab (acting on his own as a loose cannon), ambushes and kills Abner. Then two of Abner’s underlings, Rechab & Baanah, take it upon themselves to murder Ish-Bosheth in his sleep (a vicious and cowardly act). Like the goofball who claimed to have killed Saul, these two bring Ish-Bosheth’s head to King David, expecting him to reward them for ambushing Saul’s last son and roadblock to a unified Israel. Instead, David is outraged by their crime and has them executed.
By this point, the other 11 tribes realize it is foolish to continue to resist David’s kingship. (Did anyone think 7 years earlier to check in with the Lord to see what He wanted? No.) A delegation from the eleven tribes approach David, waving a white flag of peace. They remind him that they are his extended family, a fact they could have remembered earlier. David accepts their allegiance and becomes, finally, the King of Israel. He is 30YO when this takes place. His first act as king is to move his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. The arrogant Jebusites, the clan with control over the city, taunted him saying he would never breach their defenses. They underestimated him and they underestimated God. David sent his troops up their water supply, an underground cistern, surprised them, and took over the city.
What are we to learn from this? David was anointed the new king, in place of Saul, when he was about 15-16YO, a teen. But he has had to wait on the Lord’s timing (15 years) to take the throne. Many times, he seemed defeated, but he persisted, in faith, and relied upon the Lord. During his wait, he also gained experience in leadership, military skill, popularity with the people (because he was a winner), and he clearly knew his kingship was granted to him by God–not due to his own efforts. You see, David had developed humility.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we see Paul come to a similar understanding. Paul reveals, indirectly, that he had been taken up into heaven. He calls it “the third heaven.” The first heaven is our sky, the environment of clouds, birds, bugs, and apparently UFO’s. The second heaven is outer space. The third heaven is God’s dwelling place. I find it interesting that folks say our spacecraft have never encountered heaven during their pioneering ventures into the second heaven. My response is that they didn’t find it because they weren’t invited in! Do we really think human beings can storm the third heaven?
Only three persons in Scripture have ever returned to earth from the 3rd heaven: Jesus, the Apostle John, and later, the Apostle Paul. Both John and Paul had been “beamed up” into God’s throne room. John was told to write what he saw, which he did in the Book of Revelation. Paul, however, had been told not to relate what he saw there. But imagine what seeing heaven would do for your faith. No wonder Paul was such a long suffering and highly motivated zealot!
So, Paul writes, in verses 7-9 (according to Eugene Petersen’s modern paraphrase, The message ) Because of the extravagance of these revelations [what he learned from seeing heaven], and so that I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Santa’s messenger did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then He told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. In other words, Paul realizes that God is using the “thorn in his side” to keep him humble. God has answered his prayer with a “NO!” and yet Paul comes to view his “thorn” as a gift! He sees setbacks and disappointments as a way God uses to keep him dependent on Christ. Truly, the weaker he gets—or we get—the stronger he and we become in Jesus. Wow, If only we could each learn the same thing! Sometimes I have it, then I forget it for a time. Perhaps you do too. Paul’s attitude reminds me of the a college football coach who once said regarding how to deal with failures: “When you’re about to be run out of town, get out in front and make it look like you’re heading a parade.”
Last, but certainly not least, let’s look at Jesus’ example in today’s Gospel, Mark 6:1-13: In what is apparently a 2nd trip back home to Nazareth, Jesus is again rejected. The 1st time, recounted in Luke 4:14-30, He read from Isaiah 61, His job description prophesied some 700+ years before His birth. His former neighbors and friends spoke well of Him until He chastised them for their lack of faith. Then theytried to throw Him off a cliff, but He miraculously escaped.
This time, they were again amazed at His teaching, until they reminded themselves that He was a hometown boy. Apparently they didn’t believe the Messiah could come from their town—in a way, they thought so little of themselves, that they could not afford Him the benefit of the doubt. They did not believe. Look at the results of their unbelief: The Great High God of the Universe could only heal a few sick people and could do no miracles there. He would not override their free will. In effect, their unbelief handcuffed His power to heal them.
Now critics would and did say that Jesus was a failure in Nazareth. And I am sure that Jesus was saddened that folks He’d grown up with and did business with would consider Him a fraud. But what do you think God the Father was teaching Him–and us–through this?
Jesus says, (v.4) Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house, is a prophet without honor. He recognized that it is difficult to change people’s perceptions once they’ve formed an idea of who a person is. He also realized He would not succeed with everyone. Sadly for us, our unbelief, our lack of faith, also limits what Jesus and the Holy Spirit can do in our lives. And for those of us trying to lead others to Christ, it means that if Jesus Himself did not succeed with everyone, why would we expect to either? We know that not everyone we share with about Jesus is going to come to faith. Nevertheless, our failures teach us wisdom, patience, endurance, faith, and strengthen our character.
This week, let’s remember that both Will Rogers and the Johnson and Johnson exec learned that growth and success arise out of making mistakes. As Robert E. Lee said, our mistakes also teach us humility, patience, and caution. God knows all of this and redeems our defeats so that we learn to lean on His strength, and to keep it humble, Honey!
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams