"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Holy Failure

Let the gentle reader from Carnegie beware.
Tomorrow in the Lenten series in my parish we'll be talking about failure.

The whole point of this Lent is for corporate self-examination and discernment. In this difficult season, who are we, and are we being the people God has called us to be? Where are we going, and is that the same as where God is leading us?

We've done the easy work. We've talked about our history and about our successes... the fun stuff. Tomorrow we'll talk about failures.

God uses our failures. That's the whole nature of God, that when we ruin it all, he redeems it; what we intend even for harm, he can turn to good. Or simply said, that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.

But admitting failure, allowing failure to work for our good, requires humility that most of us are loathe to exercise. A corporate environment is a difficult one for airing failure, even corporate failiure. We don't like to say we're not perfect, not good at something, not all right.

But there are gaps in every parish, brokenness in every community. And these things need to be acknowledged to be addressed.

We'll also be reading tomorrow from Revelation 3:1-6, a letter to a community on the brink of ultimate failure; a people who had marginalized Christ's followers within even the Church itself. There are rough words about being dead, needing to wake up, being soiled, needing to repent, being judged. The letter is full of contrasts, the soiled and those who will wear white, the dead and the living, victory and failure.

But are we willing to sacrifice our idea of victory in order to avoid ultimate failure? Do we abandon our idea of the good life in order to truly live?

I suspect that if I asked the congregation how many of them wanted the church to grow, every hand would go up. If I asked them how many of them wanted the church to change, how many hands would stay up? Growing means change, even as new people bring their faith to the community. Growing means change as God shapes us. But so many just want new contributors to their church, keep it the way it is, just add new donors. Let them give money, but not contribute themselves. Let us make new members, without the work of new believers. Let us have our victory, the future we desire, without price.

I'm dubious. I don't expect talking about failure to go easily with crowd of sturdy South Hills Pittsburghers.

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