Thursday, August 11, 2016

Disappointed? It Goes With the Territory

photo by Adam Pomerinke / flickr

One Pastor tells that while he was on vacation he visited a church in Virginia. At the end of the service several people came forward and joined the church. As the Pastor was introducing the new members he said the strangest thing. “If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you.” Now how is that for beginning your membership in the church?

But as I think about it, I believe the Pastor was right on target. We don’t talk much about disappointment in the church. And we don’t talk much about disappointment in the world. But the mood of so much around us says that a whole lot of people are disappointed. 

We see it in church. Fewer and fewer people are going to church. Some are disappointed in church and some bring their disappointments with them—or just stay at home. Southern
photo by Quinn Dombrowski / flickr
Baptists have about 15 million. We’ve lost over a million members the last few years. And statistics say that 37% of our church members are inactive. That’s close to 6 million members. I wonder how many of those inactive members faced some kind of shattered hope that they had a hard time living with.

But disappointment pervades our whole culture. It’s everywhere. people say: “I don’t like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I’m just going to stays home or vote independent, maybe. It doesn’t matter who we send to Washington—nothing changes.”   

Our mood reminds me of the story of a father who was watching TV with his 12-year old son . The boy had gone out for football—but the boy never got to play.  So the father watching the football game said, “OK. Pick a position that you play. Watch that person on the field. You’ll learn a lot.”  In a few minutes the Daddy asked his son, “Are you doing what I told you to do?” And the boy said, “I would but they are not showing the bench.” We’ve all been there or will. Sitting on some bench just watching the game. Ever felt like that?  The Pastor was right: “If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you.”

The dictionary says that disappointment means to fail to satisfy some hope or expectation.  Sometimes it means to break a promise or experience some kind of defeat. All of us who have lived very long have come to know something about failure in one part of our lives or another. Most of us have been hurt or defeated by something or someone and we still carry the scars. Some of us have a hard time of trying to letting it go. 

The Bible does not use the word, disappointment very often.  But Scripture deals with the problem. Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. The children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. Their gripes and their revolt against Moses. King David and his bout with Bathsheba. God’s people dragged into exile. And the Psalmist wrote: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’’

 Disappointment is sprinkled all over the New Testament. And Jesus was not immune. In
photo by Christopher Brown / flickr
that Upper Room, knowing full well he wouldn’t be there long—In utter frustration one day Jesus looked at his disciples. Fewer and fewer were listening to him. He had enemies everywhere he turned. And in his disappointment he railed out at his disciples:  “Will you also go away?”

In the Upper Room, in that last meeting before his death, Jesus looked around at those he had worked with for three years. There were 12 disciples there—not much for all his work really. It was a strange fellowship. James and John jockeying for power and the others furious because these two brothers had Tried to  push ahead in the line before they did. Judas who would betray him and was at that very time working on the negotiations. Thomas who doubted until the end. Simon—cocksure Simon—who said, “I will never deny you!”

 If you trace your finger down that sad story, it says that “they all forsook him and fled.” Not only then but also after Calvary when the blood had dried and it was all over, Luke writes that the disciples said to one another after Easter, “We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.” You can hear the pathos and sadness in those plaintive words. “We had hoped…” If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you. Jesus knew it well. And so did his followers.

photo by bravelittlebird / flickr
There are two points here that I want to make today. The first point is that Jesus realized the reality of disappointments. So many times we think of Jesus of some kind of starry-eyed idealist who just did not quite see things the way they were. And here we encounter the rugged pragmatist Simon. Nobody more meat and potatoes than Simon Peter. Yet who is the realist here? Who is the idealist? Jesus is the realist. Old practical Simon did not quite have his feet on the ground.

“Simon, Simon,” Jesus said, “Satan will sift you like wheat.” And Simon said, “Not me.  Not me.” “I will pray for you that you do not fail…” “Lord,” Simon Peter said, “I will not do that. I could not deny you ever.” “You will deny me three times…” Still Simon shook his head. “Not me, Lord, not me.” The whole history of the church is the story of people who suddenly realized they had  ailed and were disappointed. Sitting on the bench.

I think this is why one of the last books that Dr. Seuss wrote made such a hit. It is entitled, Oh, the Places You Will Go. It’s still selling a lot of copies because it deals with the complications and failures of life. In the book the lead character faced lonely times , he lost games and he came face to face with monsters.  He went up in a hot air balloon and got tangled up in the treetops. He came to a hard place which he called the waiting place. He
photo by Chris Devers / flickr
said it is the hardest place of them all. But at the end of the book Dr. Seuss writes, “You are finally going to get there, but oh, the places you will go.” People resonate with the book because when children or jobs do not work out and we lose friends and the fabric of our lives is torn irrevocably we understand what the Pastor told his new members.
If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you. Disappointment goes with the territory. 

So we come to our second point. How do we move beyond disappointment? The Bible never said it would be easy. Judas never learned that lesson. He got stuck. He stood there with his thirty pieces of silver and threw them back at the feet of those who had set him up. And he killed himself because he could not stand what he had done. He never got beyond disappointment
We all need some direction on handling disappointment because most of us do not know how deal with disappointments when they come. The answered is not to vote. And the answer is not to move your membership or just quit coming. Somebody we love dies and we say: “I’m not going to get that close to anyone ever again. It hurts too much.” A friend betrays us and we put up this wall and it never comes down. 

 But back to Jesus and Simon. Jesus told him that he could move beyond disappointment. We don’t have to be stuck. “I have prayed for you,” Jesus said, “that when you turn again…” And we know that promise was true. Remember on Easter morning the angel came? She said the strangest thing to weeping Mary, “Go tell the disciples and Peter.” Why did she say that? A little later at breakfast, when the mist was coming up over the sea and they had fished all night and caught nothing. They came in and Jesus, the risen Lord, had fixed breakfast and after they had all eaten, he called Simon aside. Simon had denied him when Jesus needed him the most. And now Jesus asked three times, “Do you love me? Do you
photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, D.P. / flickr
love me? Simon, do you love me?” Three times he had betrayed, three times the Lord asked the question. Why did Jesus keep asking unless it was his way of knowing the wonderful possibilities that lay before old betraying Simon? Jesus said three times, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep, Simon.” 

Oh, yes , Jesus did say: “In this world you will have tribulation.” But that is not the end of the sentence. He added, “Be of good cheer—I have overcome the world.” Disappointment is not the last word, thank God.

Just yesterday I had a funeral. And they asked me to read that beautiful passage in Matthew where the disciples were in a boat middle of the sea J esus was not there. And a terrible storm came up. The water was raging and the winds blew the little boat in all directions. And they were so scared. And in the middle of the storm someone came walking toward them. On the water. And they thought was a ghost. As the figure came nearer--they saw it was the Lord. He got into the boat and whispered, "Be not afraid." And the winds ceased and the waves were calm and the disciples were safe once more. And what I said to that family
photo by Bill Rogers / flickr
sitting on those first rows--this is a hard, hard time. One of the hardest you will ever face--but in this storm you are not alone. Jesus would say to you: "Be not afraid." For he is here--in the middle of your storm--and you will be safe.

Now back to Simon Peter. If you turn to the end of the New Testament you will find two short letters that were written back to back around AD 64. They were written in a horrible time when it was very hard to be a Christian. Nero had vowed to stamp all the Christians. It looked like the end of the church in Asia Minor and in the capital city, Rome. And in that year when things were so bad, there came these two tiny letters that were words of encouragement, written to Christians who were suffering a great deal.

Do you know the man that wrote those documents? You know. It was the same man that had stood by a blazing campfire one night and said, “I do not know this man, Jesus.” It was the same man who heard Jesus ask him three times one misty morning:” Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”  We know who it was.
photo by Andrew Seaman / flickr

Later that same man preached with power on the Day of Pentecost and three thousand came forward to hear and to know. And then even later we are told that when  the shadow of this same man fell across the broken lame bodies that lined the road--they were healed because he passed by. You know the man. For years later, when the hearts of all those struggling Christians failed them he sat down--this same man--and wrote with shaky frozen fingers, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."(I Peter 4. 12-13) No wonder they named those two letters First and Second Peter.

Dr. Seuss understood this. The journey is winding and twisting. Sometimes there are dead-end streets and things that go bump in the night. If we live long enough, we are all going to have to run downhill.  But the man who wrote First and Second Peter was right. For you see, we can move, with the grace of God, beyond these disappointments of our lives to something better and something greater. “In this world,” Jesus said, “you will have tribulation—but be of good cheer—I have overcome the world.

Even after failure—Oh, the places we will go. Dear Pendleton, even after failure--oh, the places you will go!

photo by nrg_crisis / flickr

(This sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC, August 7, 2016)

--Roger Lovette /


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