Think of time of personal failure. That memory probably conjures up some not so wonderful feelings. The question is, what do we do with our failures or those feelings that accompany them? No one likes failure. We also might think the Church does not like failure if we see that today’s lectionary expunges the fourth verse of Isaiah, which reveals his own sense of failure. Isaiah says, “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, for nothing and for naught spent my strength” (49: 4). Why does he say this? Because he failed to accomplish what he set out to do; turn Israel back to God. The Apostle, Paul, fails in his attempt to establish a peaceful church in Corinth. He writes this letter to them because there are factions and divisions in the community of faith. Even Jesus fails. If he is the Messiah that John the Baptist testifies to in today’s Gospel, by the world’s standards, he fails in his death.
All of these failures, however, rest on looking at the product, the fruit of effort put forth. This is a concept put forward by the fourth century theologian, Pelagius, who claimed can we earn redemption through our own effort. If we follow Pelagius and rely on our own efforts, we will often be left in our failures and shortcomings. Fortunately, we are called to be followers of Jesus not Pelagius. We must always remember it is not our performance that matters, but our fidelity. Isaiah concludes his phrase about his own sense of failure with this, “Yet my right is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God. (49: 4). He goes on to say, “For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb . . . I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!” (49: 5). Isaiah is celebrating what God does in him, despite what he is able to accomplish. And so what is required of us is our fidelity to God, not any particular product or performance.
So how do we remain faithful? How do we do that? The first step is to remember that we are not our performances, our failures or what we produce. We are bound up in a journey of faith with Jesus in our baptism. We are on a journey of figuring out our mission in the world just like Jesus had to. Our fidelity is to that journey of figuring out that mission by following God and listening to God’s Word in scripture. Our journey may seem to lead with crooked lines through the desert, just like the Israelites leaving Egypt in exile. It may lead us to our own crosses. But it is our relationship and fidelity to God that will see us through. Despite what we achieve and in our fidelity, we will find that we are
-Honored in the sight of the Lord
-Made to be a light to the nations
- Made one with our God who is our strength à despite our deepest darkest failures.