Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two Skunks in the Room

“If there had been two skunks in the room . . . .”

I was talking with my pastor-husband about my sermon on this past Sunday. I described it as one so bad that even I couldn't listen to it again and had refused to post it on the church website. I have a faithful following of all of five people who download my sermons weekly and didn't want to inflict this one on them. My beloved husband reminded me of our drive back to Krum Saturday night through the smell of skunk and suggested this description , “If there had been two skunks in the room to perfume the air, I'm sure my sermon stank more.”

OK, we all get a strike out every once in a while. Or actually, we get them pretty often. Saturday night, we had watched the SMU Mustangs take a terrible beating at the hands of the TCU Horned Frogs. By the beginning of the third quarter, most of the SMU students in attendance had already left the stadium. We managed to stay until early in the fourth quarter, and then we jumped ship as well. What had been almost a sell-out crowd at the beginning of the game had shrunk to a handful of SMU loyalists and a fair number of exuberant TCU fans.

So what did the Mustang team do on Monday? Did they all quit? Did they declare the glass half-empty and then see no place for hope or improvement? After all, they lost. We could even say they “failed.” Or, did they see the glass as half full? Did they show up at practice, watch the game films in all their painful honesty, evaluate their mistakes, and then get back to work? I'm guessing they went back to work.

We live in a world that shuns failure. We see it as the worst thing that can happen rather than something that may open up to us a whole new world of possibilities. We think we should avoid failure at all costs, and see success as the only thing that counts.

But in the Kingdom of Heaven, we've already all failed. The Bible makes this quite clear: we've all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Everyone one of us. Then we learn three words that transform failure into something very different: grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. By appreciating grace, receiving and giving forgiveness, and engaging in processes that lead to reconciliation, success is birthed through failure. By taking those three words fully into our lives, ordinary people do extraordinary things. Ordinary people, you and me: we are the ones who do these extraordinary things: we love our enemies, we do good to those who harm us, we forgive those who hurt us, we turn the other cheek, we go the second mile.

I work hard at my sermons. People who attend worship deserve to hear the best that I can offer. Sometimes I do manage the home run—and sometimes, despite determined efforts, much time, disciplined study and prep time, it just doesn't come together. I strike out. A failure. Either an opportunity to wallow in failure or to celebrate grace.

Each of us has significant failures in our lives. Each of of us has blown it multiple times. That's the nature of life in a broken world. The real issue is not the failure itself. It is what we will do with the failure. Will we beat ourselves up and label ourselves “failed”? Or will we get back in the game again, by the means of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation?

The invitation from God says, “Try the kingdom of heaven way. Here, and only here, does the half-empty glass turn into the place of promise and possibility.”


Angie said...

Kudos to the pastor who can laugh at herself and still face the congregation again on Sunday. And thanks for hearing the voice of your faithful following and posting the stinky sermon.

Southern Dreaming said...

I heard a sermon on the same Sunday that would easily beat yours. Go easy on yourself. All you can do is the best you can.