Rev. George Miller
2 Peter 3:8-14,18
Dec 7, 2014
We’ve all heard of “Christmas in July”; today we’re going to have July in Christmas.
If you subscribe to Highland’s Today you may have read the article by syndicated columnist Roger Simon titled “America’s Glorious Failures.” It ran on the 4th of July…of 1976 and was so well received that they’ve run it every 4th of July since.
Roger writes about spending three days with the contestants of the Miss Wisconsin Pageant in Oshkosh, WI.
He observed how they practiced 18 hours a day in evening gowns and swim suits, wobbled in high heels and always smiled…until the last night.
The finalists were announced and the eight losers ran offstage into a large, bare room.
For the past three days Roger got to know them, their names and the towns they represented. Now each of them was riddled with sorrow and a sense of shame.
“I just feel bad for my town…I feel I let all the people down,” said Miss Watertown.
“I don’t know how I will face the people who came here to see me,” said Miss Sheboygan.
According to Roger they had branded themselves as failures in a nation in which success is worshipped as a religion.
As dreamers of the American Dream they were paying for their failure.
Roger wrote “I wish I could have told them then what I know now…America was a country founded by failures who could not get along in the Old World and who came to a wilderness because they simply had no other place to go.”
He continues: pioneers settled the country because they failed at adjusting to the crowded life on the Eastern Seaboard.
Folk who failed at owning their own businesses were the ones who built the country by holding jobs in which their lives were ruled by alarm clocks and factory whistles.
History books may recall the great deeds of great women and men, but America was really shaped by the great deeds of ordinary men and women.
But “America has always been better than its government, that its people have always been more decent than their presidents and that the strength and greatness of this nation lies in them, the men and women who are not great and who never will be.”
“So,” states Roger, “on this Fourth of July- for Miss Watertown and Miss Sheboygan and for all the other glorious failures who have made and sustained this country-on this day, I stand for you.” (Roger Simon, July 4, 1976)
That is perhaps the single best term that can be used to sum up today’s reading.
What we just heard was a letter written to a group of people dealing with a crisis of their own. For approximately 30-50 years they have been living with the belief that Jesus was going to come back real soon.
That’s what the Gospels recall Jesus saying in the 30’s. That’s what Paul writes about in his letters, dated around the 50’s.
But now it’s somewhere between the 80’s-90’s and a whole generation of original believers have passed and Christ has not returned as promised.
This creates a theological dilemma. This new community of believers have been living out their lives and living out their faith with the understanding that they have been living in the Final Times and the Day of God’s Righteous Judgment is going to happen at any time.
This focus on the near future has shaped their understanding of who they are and how to live. Thinking Jesus is going to come back any day now they have done their best.
They have done justice, they have loved kindness, they have tried their best to walk humbly with the Lord.
Slaves tried to stay obedient to their masters; masters have tried to be better to their slaves. Virgins have tried to stay unwed and not give into their passions.
Men and women have found some ground of equality. Merchants have tried not to cheat their customers or to have faulty scales.
People have joyfully come together to share what they have, to not be so focused on material things and to act like the best versions of themselves they could possibly be.
Which is easy to do when you’ve been told (and you believe) that any day now Jesus is going to come back; any day now all the suffering is going to end; any day now you are going to be rewarded for all you’ve done.
Go to bed knowing “any day now.” Wake up trusting “any day now.”
Stick to your wedding vows and put extra money in the offering plate because “soon, very soon Jesus will be here.”
But one days turns into two. Two days turn into a week. A week turns into a month. A month turns into a year. A year turns into a decade, and still- no Jesus.
Soon one decade turns into two, into four, into five. The first generation has come and gone and still no Jesus to be found, arriving in the clouds or in the quaking of the hills.
Did Jesus lie? Was Paul wrong? Did they hear or remember incorrectly? Had they been deceived?
So despair creeps into the Christian congregations. They feel like losers. As a faith, they are failures.
Christ has failed them, the Holy Spirit has failed them, God has failed them.
The people think that perhaps they should go back to worshipping Zeus, or Baal or perhaps no god at all.
They have failed, so why not go back to injustice, to being bad neighbors, to acts of lust and gluttony and idolatry?
They have failed…
…but if that is what failure looks like, how glorious it is, because 2,000 years later we are still gathering, we are still worshipping, and we are still believing.
If this is what failure looks like, then it must not be such a bad thing, as we ourselves give testimony to what it looks like when people gather from the north and the south, the east and the west.
If this is what failure looks like, then it must not be such a bad thing as we come before the Lord bearing stockings overflowing with gifts to give to those in need.
If this is what failure looks like, then it must not be such a bad thing as we paraded along the streets of the city, showing that we have faith in Sebring.
If stocking a food pantry and feeding hungry folk is a sign of failure, then so be it. If gathering with those you’ve grown to care about around a table filled with bread and juice is failure, then let us say “amen.”
If gathering each Sunday in holy space and holy time to recall the life of a man who healed the sick, taught the masses, loved and welcomed all, fed the hungry and treated men and women as co-partners, then put a huge “F” by all of our names.
…if failure is waiting for the Kingdom of God to be realized with the sincere belief that somehow, someway, someday it’s going to happen, so therefore we sincerely do our best to play our part, then I say call us all failures….
…better yet, I say call us “FAITHFUL.” Call us one of the “FLOCK.” Call us “FEARLESS.”
Perhaps you may not have realized it, but the Bible, like our nation, is founded on failures. Abraham and Sarah never did get to see their own family become as numerous as the stars in the sky.
Moses never did make it into the Promised Land. Paul never did get to arrive at the church he had promised to visit. And Jesus’ ministry was cut short by the controversy of the Cross.
In the real world not a-one-of-them would be considered a success.
Yet here they are, in the pages of our Holy Book, reminding us of who we are and what being a Christian gets to mean.
Today’s letter was written to give hope to people who felt that if Jesus did not come back, then it means everything had been a folly and that they had failed.
But that’s not the case. The author encourages them; the author empowers them, to stay on track.
Now- if they were to go back to their old ways, if they were to go back to ego-driven lives, if they were to go back to unhealthy behaviors that hurt themselves, hurt another and hurt their neighbor, then they truly would have failed in a much different way.
And…as the author writes, perhaps it is a good thing that Jesus had not come back so soon, as he had promised.
Because what that means is that the Divine Judgment has not come.
That means we each have yet another minute, another hour, another day, another week, another month, another year, another decade to get things right.
True, Jesus has not returned, but perhaps that is actually a sign of grace: that as much as we have fallen and sinned and made mistakes we have another chance to get back up, to seek forgiveness and to do what is right.
According to columnist Roger Simon, the country was founded on failures.
In pop culture I think of how it’s because Disney’s “Fantasia” failed that “Dumbo” was made. Because Lucy could not succeed in movies she branched out in TV.
Because my 1st church closed, I am now here.
Failure isn’t so bad. Failure can actually be the fruit that a mighty tree grows from.
Perhaps Jesus did not return as promised, but still we wait.
We wait with trust, we wait with light, we wait with joy. We wait knowing that God does keep promises. We wait knowing that God is still working in this wonderful world.
We wait knowing that God is Still Speaking.
While waiting, we stand with all the others, knowing that even amidst perceived failures or flops, our God is still one who creates, one who saves and one who blesses us all,
regardless if you are Miss Watertown or Miss Sheboygan, regardless if you are Moses or Miriam, regardless if you are Mary, Peter or Paul.
We stand and we wait.
Amen and amen.