“Failure Not An Option”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Failure is a word no one wants to hear or have to face. Names like loser, deadbeat, has-been, flop, and dud are all labels used for those who fall short. It is the reason why athletes train hard, students study, parent’s sacrifice, and people work together to get things done. Just like I am sure many of you were doing this week helping each other to get unplugged from the wintry blizzard. No one wants to fail. Granted, there will always be some that apply themselves better than others, but every single person puts a certain amount of effort into what they are doing. Americans are especially obsessed with making sure we have done everything physically possible to make our life not look like a failure. As one commercial for the medical drug Boniva said, “I got this one body and one life and I am going to do my best to get it right.”
In the same way, every Sunday in Lent is considered to be outside of the 40 days of our sackcloth and ashes. Instead, they serve as a reminder for all people that failure is not an option for God either. Unlike our lives that we work so hard at never truly knowing how they will turn out. The Lord fully succeeds and never fails at what He does. Sunday is our glimpse of victory; our promise that the season of Lent is only for a time. Just as Christians also know the suffering and struggles that we experience now with sin, death, and the Devil will soon come to end for those who are in Christ. The savior does not come to accept failure as an option. It is the reason why Jesus takes all things to the cross, so that by it He may go into our hearts and be confessed with our mouths.
Some would say people are numb to sin today, but I somewhat disagree. An article in the Worthington Globe a while back ago mentioned a man in the Green Bay-area who stole some ice cream 35 years ago. I know this seems silly to bring up, but it is the small sins at times that can hurt the most. Nevertheless, it went on to say that this man, “decided to atone for his sin by returning to the scene of the crime, his former middle school, and treating students to an ice cream party…” No one wants to be a failure, even when it comes to their sin. This man with the ice cream evidently felt the need to clear his conscience. Plenty of people in the world strive to make amends for what they did by going out and doing the right thing. There is nothing necessarily Christian about it, just the natural desire in us of not wanting to be a failure. Yet, St. Paul declares, “By the works of the Law will no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Christianity is not about doing the right thing. It is about what Christ has done for us. Granted, some people will twist this to mean uncontrolled freedom to do whatever they want, but this is far from the truth. Rather, the importance of emphasizing Christ’s Work is to go to the only source of salvation. St. Paul declares in our text, “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In other words, a man’s life rests solely upon Jesus. This means even when we make amends with our life, clear our conscience with another person, or try to do the right thing it still ends in failure. It will never be good enough, no matter how satisfying it feels or impressive it looks. Our salvation is not judged by man’s approval, but by God who has judged all mankind by the cross of His Son.
Such a salvation cannot be possessed with mere conformity on the outside. It lies with Jesus first and foremost directing His love and sacrifice at changing the heart, the source of man’s sin and death. St. Paul says it is, “…with the heart one believes and is justified.” In hearing the account of Jesus’ battle with Satan in the wilderness. How the Holy Spirit wishes to enliven our hearts to trust in the savior who has come to conquer what we cannot. Failure is not an option for Jesus as it is for us. And yet, as great as it sounds, that can easily push us farther away from Him, because we realize even more of our failure by nature to God. But, Jesus comes to save us and not show off. It is when He humbles himself and goes to the cross where we find God’s full desire to change our hearts. Failure was the only option not for us, but finally for Jesus. He went below the sin and death of any man so that all men might believe and be justified by His sacrifice before God the Father.
This is why the Word and Sacraments again and again make their appeal to us around the suffering and death of Jesus. The means of grace wish to enter into our hearts, so that our failure of life by sin might be turned into faith in His life of salvation. To hear the Word of God is to hear more than information on “how-to.” What is present is greater than the Law, but the Gospel pointing out for you to hear what He has done. To remember baptism is to center on more than a moment in time, but to remember Jesus dragging all your sin into His death each day. To take the Lord’s Supper is to take more than the body and blood of God, but the body and blood of the one sacrifice that stills flows out from the cross to us today. All these things go straight to the heart for here is Jesus humbling himself once again underneath these gifts in order to create a true faith that may find justification in Him.
St. Paul shows us that God does much more for salvation than put it in our hearts. He says, “and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Such grace and forgiveness in Jesus suffering and death on the cross overflows into our life. It has to, there is no grey area. It just does by the power of the Gospel. Martin Franzmann a Lutheran theologian wrote, “No man who has the Lord Jesus for his Lord remains a silent servant of his Lord but confesses Him before men.” Our Lutheran Fathers also wrote in The Book of Concord, “Paul says confession saves in order to show what kind of faith obtains eternal life, faith that is firm and active. No faith is firm that does not show itself in confession” (Tappert 166:384).
All these believing Lutherans understood that justification before God cannot be hidden in our life, but is expressed in action. To have the victory of Christ is to live in that victory fearless before the world fighting and declaring the truth. Notice the highest act of faith is nothing else but confession. What we say about Jesus; who He is, what He has done, and what He has given us. A person that has their salvation secured by the Gospel refuses to be silenced before a world that wishes to take away or distort God’s love and salvation. Failure is not an option for those who are in Christ. It is believed privately and spoken publicly. Certainly, this is directed away from our lives that fall apart and look pretty dismal at times. Instead, the foundation and confidence is in Jesus’ victory by the cross now raised from the dead. Here is what we hold fast to in our hearts during Lent. Here is the boldness declared in our lives hidden within the cross. Amen. Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding be with your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life eternal. Amen.