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Failure not Fatal 16 1-8 040807

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“Failure Doesn’t Have to be Fatal”

Mark 16:1-8                                                                         Pastor Bruce Dick – BEFC

Easter 2007                                                                                          April 8, 2007

            It is a scientifically provable fact that everyone fails.  It’s a 100% guarantee, just like death and taxes.  Everyone fails.  I have failed, many times.  We all know what failure is like.  Our family experienced that recently.  In Mid-March, I took our oldest children snow skiing to Frost Fire near Walhalla, where we joined others from Bethel’s student ministry for the day.  The weather was great and we had a blast that day.  Trudy and Sasha had stayed behind because Trudy had a painting project to do while we were gone.  In planning to be gone, our two oldest, Landon and Mikaela, had to make a backup plan; they both have paper routes for the Daily Journal so they made arrangements to have someone deliver their papers for them; no problem.  That person shall remain nameless but happens to be the other adult member of our family, if you catch my drift. 

            Well, as I said, we had a great day of skiing, the sun was shining and the day was warm; we stopped in Langdon on the way home to have supper with Grandma Gigi and then headed home.  We roll into Devils Lake, stop by to rent a movie and figure we’re going to just crash on the couch and watch a movie; hopefully Trudy and Sasha are home by now and we can all just veg together.  So we’re tired but in a pretty good mood. 

            We get into the house with all our stuff and I just check the answering machine; that’s odd; there are 8 messages.  Now either someone died and they can’t get hold of me or who knows why all the messages.  The first one said, “I’m 515 6th street and I didn’t my paper.”  Second one, “I’m such and such and was I getting my paper today?”  Two were blank, but 6, count ‘em, 6, people called to complain that they didn’t their papers.  And all of a sudden I went into panic mode.  I checked out the front door and there were all of their papers; 57 of them!  The nameless adult in our family that was not me hadn’t gotten the papers.  Now understand that the papers need to be delivered by 5:30; if they aren’t, we have had calls at 5:35 p.m. before and this was 7:45 and dark! 

            I called the three kids and said, “We’ve got a huge problem.  Someone who is an adult in our family and who isn’t here, forgot to deliver your papers.”  And they just groaned and agonized.  We went into attack mode.  “Get your papers into your bags and head for the van.  It’s 8:00 p.m. but we’re delivering all of our papers and we’ll do it together.  And we have to go to each door, ring the doorbell and when they come, give them their paper and apologize because we didn’t get their papers delivered on time.”  I was angry and they were beside themselves.  We began with Landon’s route of 28; no one chewed him or Mikaela out and most was gracious.  Then it was Mikaela’s; by now it’s about 8:30 and very dark and our stress is wearing thing.  I am trying to decide what I am going to say to the other adult in our family who shall remain nameless.  On and on they go; I track with them as we work our way down the street.  Mikaela has one lady who tells her she was already in bed; that didn’t help. 

            With 3 papers to go, a vehicle rounds the corner and parks just across the street.  A little blonde girl sticks her head out the window and says, “Hi daddy!”  And another one, a nameless adult gets out of the vehicle and comes toward me.  My Grace-meter was just about empty and all I could say was, “You are in big trouble.”  She knew.  She was there when Mikaela and Landon returned to my vehicle and somehow we just went home.  It was 9:00 p.m.  Someone failed and others had to pay.  We were exhausted and humiliated and felt like failures – all of us.

I am also sure that you have found yourself in situations, hanging your head in failure too, haven’t you?  And for you maybe it wasn’t a silly basketball game.  For you it was, well, more “real.”  Your failure was a marriage that started out fun and exciting and somehow fell apart – it really didn’t even matter whose fault it was anymore; it was over.  For some of you it was a date that went too far; you never planned for it to happen what happened, but the phone call that said, “I’m pregnant,” hit you like a ton of bricks.  Or this:   you did your best to be a good farmer and year after year you had to convince the banker that you’d do better next time; well, last year he finally said, “Sorry, I can’t loan you any more money.  You’re going to have to quit.”  Maybe you were taking the ACT test; you were all nervous; the school you wanted to get into required a score of 24; you did the best you could and when the envelope came back with your results, your hands shook as you slit open the envelope, looked desperately for the total score – 22.  No matter that other schools would accept that just fine; you were a failure because your dream education and all that went with it went up in smoke.  Failure.

            Is anyone feeling a bit blue right now?  You’re thinking, “Hey, I came to this Easter service to celebrate!”  Well, hold on; that’s coming.  But let me say this:  “You will never know how great a celebration Easter is until you understand how deep our failure was – and what it cost.  Some of the greatest failures come after some of the greatest highs.  But the richest victories come after the worst defeats.  I am here to tell you this morning that failure does not have to be fatal.  Just because each and every one of us fails, that does not mean that all of our hopes and dreams have to die too.  Just because we tripped and fell doesn’t mean we have to stay down forever. 

            2000 years ago, it all looked like a failure.  Everything had gone up in smoke, or with wood and spikes.  Jesus was dead.  There was no question about t it.  The beating that he took was so severe that some were surprised he was still alive enough to be hung on the cross.  Yet he had been; he must have been a tough one, that Jesus.  He had hung there on that cross for several hours, heaving up and down, trying to draw breath.  Other than a few women and John, his followers were gone.  His body, ugly and blood-stained and torn was taken down from that cross, wrapped with cloths, using a mixture of myrrh and aloe as a powder to absorb the mess that was his body, and put him in a new tomb.  They laid him in there and a huge rock was rolled in front of the low opening.   

            Somewhere in the city, 11 disciples and other close followers huddled in terror and tears as John and others returned to tell them that Jesus was dead.  But one particular disciple hid his head in his hands in the farthest corner of the house; he couldn’t even bear to hear what he knew they were saying.  He was so ashamed.  Failure?  It was not only his middle name but his first and last.  If he were here today, he would say that the failures I just described to you were nothing compared to his.  And then he would have run and hid again, crying. 

            But the death of Jesus becomes the most powerful reminder in history that failure does not have to be fatal.  Failure does not have to be the end of the road. And that’s what Easter is really about.  Friday finally ends; no one sleeps much that night.  Saturday, they simply stay out of sight.  It’s Sabbath for the Jews, but they are shattered; there is no song, no celebration, nothing. 

            At 6:00 p.m. the horn of a ram sounds to mark the end of the Sabbath.  Some of the women in the room have been talking a little bit during this time.  “Jesus was buried; we saw where they laid him.  Joseph and Nicodemus took care of his body, but he wasn’t washed or anointed.  We have to do that; no we must do that.”  They purchased some spices that evening and in the morning, they would take the oil and anoint his dead body. 

            This is where the gospel writer Mark picks up the story.  If you have your Bibles with you this morning, I want you to see this story that is a powerful reminder that failure does not have to be fatal.  Turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Mark, chapter 16, verses 1-8.  Mark 16:1-8.  For the sake of those of you who do not have Bibles, since we aren’t at Bethel where we have pew Bibles for you, I want to put the scripture passage behind me on the screen.  It is a familiar story but one that we will benefit from seeing again.  While all 4 gospel writers tell variations of the story, I chose Mark, because it is Mark’s gospel that we are studying these days at Bethel and will again next Sunday.  So here is Mark 16:1-8: 1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

            In 8 short verses, Mark takes us from total failure to total fear to total amazement.  He tells us in 8 short verses a story that could have volumes written about it.   The first half is sad and depressing; the 2nd half full of wonder, fear and excitement? 

            At the start of the passage, did you also notice how much faith these 3 women had?  Why are they on their way to the tomb?  Why are they getting up at 5:30 before the sun rises, trudging to Jesus’ tomb – to celebrate?  No; they’re going to anoint his body and finish a more appropriate burial.  Didn’t Jesus tell everyone over and over that 3 days he’d be in the grave and then rise?  Where was their faith?  It was gone with Jesus’ final breath.

            Then to show how scatter-brained they were, they’re on their way to the tomb and “duh!” they remember that a huge rock was rolled over the small opening into this tomb.  “Who will roll away the stone?  What will we do?”  They have no expectations that Jesus will be gone.  And did they forget that the soldiers would be there?

            Well, they round the corner to the tomb, talking quietly, and heads down and when they look up, verse 4 – amazement!  The stone, large as it was, had been rolled back and the opening to the tomb was right there in front of them!  How?  Why?  Where’d the soldiers go?  This just isn’t right.  Someone could get in there and…

            There is someone in there! Verse 5 says that a young man was sitting there on the right, inside the tomb, beside where Jesus had been laid.  He’s no ordinary young man; he is dressed in a white robe, which is long and stately; its fabric speaks of wealth and splendor, and he’s just sitting there.  Other than the heart attack that it causes, Mark writes that they were alarmed!  Well, that’s putting it mildly!  Where’s Jesus’ body?  What are you doing here?  These thoughts are racing through their minds but they can’t say a word.

            So this young man, an angel in human, royal form, speaks to them.  “Don’t be alarmed.  Stop being utterly amazed!”  He continues:  “You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, right?  The one who was crucified?  You have the right tomb in case you are wondering, but he’s not here.  He is risen!  He was raised up!  You can look.  See?  Right here is where he laid, but he’s not here! 

            Their minds are spinning – What are you saying?  What do you mean?  Where is he?  Who raised him?  Where did he go?  What did you do with him?  Their brains are screaming at them - overload!  Overload!  What had happened?  What had happened was that God the Father raised his own son from the dead.  Over and over in the books written after the gospels, every writer agrees, God the Father raised his son from the dead.  This Father, who had to turn his back on his son on the cross because he had become our sin, entered that tomb, took his son and gave him life.  Amazing.  The stone?  The angel did that according to Matthew.  And he didn’t do it so God the Father could get in or that Jesus could get out – they didn’t need any help!  He did it so the humans could see what had gone on inside that tomb!  Isn’t that amazing! 

            But his message isn’t done – verse 7 – here are his instructions:  “Go!  Go out there!  Get going!  Tell his disciples…and Peter…”  What was that?  “Tell the disciples AND PETER that he is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see him just as he told you.”  AND PETER.  What if the angel had not said, “And Peter?”  What if he had just said, “Go and tell the disciples”?  Peter would likely have said, “Well, he didn’t mean me.  Remember me?  I’m the one with the foot-shaped mouth!  I’m the one with who revs my mouth with my brain in neutral.  I know the jokes.  Yeah, I’m the joke.  He didn’t mean me.  I’m the failure of the bunch; you guys go ahead.”  But the angel says, “…AND PETER.” 

            The women high-tail it out of the tomb, fled from the tomb, trembling and shaking in astonishment.  They are confused and shaking; they’re not sure they just heard what they just heard or saw what they just saw, but they’re Olympic champions burning a path out of that garden tomb.

            Imagine the cogs in their brains as they ran back to town – “He’s alive!  No, he’s dead; no, he wasn’t there!  No, he must be somewhere! No, the angel said he’s risen, he’s alive!”  This entire gospel is about the GOSPEL, the “good news” and they have the greatest news in the history of the world to share – Jesus is alive! 

            Do you understand what that means today as we sit here in this beautiful auditorium?  It means that failure does not have to be fatal.  It means that while Jesus’ life looked like it ended in failure, it didn’t end and it wasn’t a failure.  It means that guys like a Peter have a chance! The message of the gospel – this good news – is that failures like you and me have a chance!  There is hope!   It means that as long as I have breath, I have a chance for a fresh start.  Suppose for a moment that you were the one who failed Jesus, not Peter.  Suppose it was you that denied ever knowing him or that you had done something horrific against him.  And suppose that the gospel writer, in sharing the good news inserted your name where Peter’s was.  Go and tell the disciples the good news, and tell Dave…tell Mary…tell Jim…tell Julie…whatever your name is, insert it into this story.  The good news of Easter is for every one of us here this morning, no matter what failure you have done.  As long as you have breath, your failure is not fatal – not your test score, your divorce, your affair, your unplanned pregnancy, your cheating on a test, your language, your addiction – not one of those things has to be fatal.  And do you know why?  Because it was already fatal for someone, and that someone was Jesus Christ.  My sin and yours were fatal in the sense that he died for each one of our failures.  Someone had to pay, and he did – willingly.  The debt was outstanding and God was waiting for someone who could pay it, and we couldn’t, but Jesus could.  It was fatal – for Jesus…

            You see, the failure that we can think of, like the ones that I named, are really the surface of a much deeper problem – we are by our natures sinners.  We were born sinners and our actions only confirmed what our nature was.  No one will argue with that.  What Jesus did that day and then as he was raised 3 days later not only forgave our cheating on our tests or our affairs or our money shenanigans, it went deeper into the very nature of who we are.  His fresh start is not just an external washing of the hands, it is the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.  It is changing from old to new.  It is changing ownership of our lives. 

            I said a little while ago that we will never know how great a celebration Easter is until you understand how deep our failure was – and what it cost.  Every one of us here this morning has failed.  No one will have trouble remembering any of a number of failures.  But few of us have really thought about how deep our failure was – it separated us from a holy God, forever and always.  And if it were not for Jesus, we would not only continue to live in our guilt, we would be eternally doomed, separated from God forever. 

            But all of that can change today.  Butterflies can emerge all over this auditorium and this city and around the world today because the message of Easter is one of victory – victory over death, victory over sin, victory over guilt and pain, victory over broken relationships, victory over disappointments…the list could go on and on.  The message of Easter can heal hearts, it can restore marriages and families; it can reconcile financial integrity; it can rebuild friendships; it can restore hope and joy to a height and depth that you have never known before.  All of that is possible today.  It is both a decision and a process.  It is a decision to trust that what he offers is true and it is enough. And it begins a process that will continue the rest of your life.  Easy? In some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t.  But freeing?  Yes, like nothing you have known before. 

            You might ask, “What do I need to do?”  There are really two things.  When Jesus was preaching, and as we have been seeing in the Gospel of Mark, he said two things:  Repent and believe.  To believe is to trust wholeheartedly; but trusting might be difficult for you.  You’ve been burned at every corner of your life and trust is very hard.  For you to trust is like standing at the window of a burning building and somewhere below a voice calls, “Jump!  We’ll catch you!  You can’t see us, but we can see you!”  You’re terrified, but you also know that to remain in the building is the end of you.  That’s trust.  If you believe and trust in what Jesus Christ did for you, you can jump through the smoke and land safely in his arms.  He never misses; he never fails. 

            But Jesus also said that we must repent.  To repent means that we change the course of our lives.  We begin to model ourselves after Jesus, the one who is worth modeling.  But it involves a change. 

            I read something recently that I found interesting.  See what you think.  It said that roughly 600,000 people have heart bypasses a YEAR in America.  That’s a huge number.  After their surgeries, the doctor will sit them down and explain that they must change their lifestyle; their bypass is a temporary fix; they have to change their diet, they must quit smoking and drinking; they must exercise and reduce stress.  In essence, the doctor is saying, “Change or die.”  And I am sure that every patient sits there, nodding their head and says, “OK, doc; I’ll do what you say.” But here’s what amazed me.  90% of heart patients do NOT change; 90%!  90% return to the same lifestyle that nearly killed them; instead of making choices for life, they chose death.  To repent is to change; to choose a different pattern or model for life.  Change is not always easy, but it is very, very good. 

            I got a note from a high school classmate of mine a few years back.  He wasn’t a bad kid, but he wasn’t, by his own admission, a good one either.  Here’s a bit of what he wrote:  In June of 1999, friends of mine dragged me kicking and screaming to their church.  I went only because I felt that was the only way I would get them to leave me alone and stop bugging me about going to church.  Well, it worked… I came to the realization that people who follow Jesus are not perfect, are not some fake person that is on a pedestal that looks down on others and judges them on wrongdoing.  Rather we are people that have found our true purpose in life and despite having God in our lives, we make mistakes.  All along in life I felt that if I gave myself to God, not only would He change me, but I would become some religious hypocrite.  That is something I could not do…  I still make mistakes, I still screw up, I still love the Lord.  And best of all, God Loves Me...  I am not perfect but I am coming to a true understanding that God loves me and made me the way I am.  I wish I had not had to go through all of the things in my life, but I know, I would not be the person I am today without the trials and tribulations that have occurred.   I know that my eternal home is in Heaven and I can't wait for the day that I go home to be with my Father.

            How about you?  Does that sound like how you think and feel?  Jeff found out that failure – and he had a lot of them – did not have to be fatal.  Jeff found what he was searching for deep down underneath his failures.  And you and I can have that today too.  But it is your choice, whether you are 5 or 95 – you have been given the opportunity to choose.

            I want you to open your worship folders that you were given when you came in this morning.  Inside is a separate little insert that says in big letters, MY RESPONSE.  In the middle of that page is a place for you to share what your response is; we suggest 4 possibilities; you might have another.  “I know am a Christian…I have trusted; I trusted a long time ago but we’re not close…I want back in; I’m not sure…I need to think about it.  I need some answers to questions.”  Or maybe today is the day you decide to get off the fence and you say, “I’m trusting him today.” You can create your own response and write it in the blanks.  What we would like is for every one of you to consider what your response to what you have heard this morning is.  Take a minute or two to think about it; maybe you want to talk to God about it.  You’ve got a little time.  Shaun Prince and the team are going to return and Shaun is going to sing for you while you consider this.  When she is done, the ushers are going to pass the offering plates and you can put your offerings and your response cards in the offering plates when they come around.  You sign your name and if you would like to talk to me, or Pastor Luke or one of our leaders, or whether you want more information, you can indicate that as well.  As Shaun comes, listen to what God is saying to your heart.

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