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The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker

The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker is pastor/head of staff of United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL

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United Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL


Failures Are Not Final

April 02, 2015

On Thursday of Holy Week, the disciples fail Jesus. Again. Thursday's story is one of a gracious meal, a desperate prayer, and an obedient son. But it is also a story of human failure: disciples who can't stay awake and keep watch, disciples who run, disciples who betray, disciples who deny, religious leaders who conspire to murder, and judges who miscarry justice. Maundy Thursday hits me harder than any other day of Holy Week because I know the story so well. I've lived it. I've failed, too. I've failed Jesus.

As we look back over Holy Week, we discover we are not alone. On Palm Sunday, the crowd failed to recognize Jesus as more than a political messiah and challenger to Rome.  On Monday, the Temple failed to live up to Jesus' expectations of fruitfulness. On Tuesday, the religious leaders failed to protect and support the widows they were called to serve. On Wednesday, the disciples failed to see who Jesus is and what is about to happen to him, and failed to respond to the reign of God in their midst. So far, the only one who hasn't failed is an unnamed outsider woman.

It's a theme in Mark: while the Kingdom of God is at hand, there is failure afoot. Those closest to Jesus constantly fail to hear, fail to trust, fail to understand, fail to follow. It's usually those on the outside who hear and see best. Is it because they are so desperate to hear good news that they actually listen? Maybe we, who believe we are close to Jesus, become so comfortable with our position that we stop keeping watch. We fall asleep, and we miss the Kingdom. We fail.

We've failed, but we can't admit it. There's a stigma around failure: failed marriages, failed businesses, failed classes, failed attempts. We believe admitting failure makes it final. "I failed, we failed," sounds like a stone sealing a tomb: dead and final.

If we admit failing, then that's who we are: failures. The story is over, the grave is sealed, it's time to leave the cemetery. Judas is forever the betrayer, Peter is forever the denier, and the rest of the disciples are forever deserters.  

But that's not how the story ends. Jesus does not abandon the disciples despite their biggest failures. Their story doesn't end on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, or even Easter Sunday, and neither does ours. Followers may fail, but Jesus does not.

God finds us in our failures and gives us new chances and new life. God constantly creates beautiful things out of human failure. You could say failure is God's best medium.

New life comes through failure. We can't have new life without death. We can't be raised without dying. Sometimes failure is the tomb we have to enter to be raised.

Holy Thursday reminds me that failures are not final. Failures are part of life, part of my life and part of yours. Failures are opportunities for us to experience grace and resurrection. Failures are not final unless we let them be. Jesus still has a great commission for the failing disciples. He has one for us, too. When we fail and enter our tombs, God calls us out and raise us up for something great and s beautiful, again and again and again.

 


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