Couple in their nineties are both having problems remembering things. During a checkup, the doctor tells them that they’re physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember. Later that night, while watching TV, the old man gets up from his chair. “Want anything while I’m in the kitchen?” he asks. “Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?” “Sure.” “Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it?” she asks. “No, I can remember it.” “Well, I’d like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down, so as not to forget it?” He says, “I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.” “I’d also like whipped cream. I’m certain you’ll forget that, write it down?” she asks. Irritated, he says, “I don’t need to write it down, I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream. I got it, for goodness sake!” Then he toddles into the kitchen. After about 20 minutes, the old man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of eggs and jam. She stares at the plate for a moment. “I knew you’d forget something if you didn’t write it down. Where’s my toast?” None of us want to lose anything or to lose at all. We all want to be on the winning team. That’s why millions of people fill out brackets during arch adness, and it’s also why over 100,000 people gather at Churchill Downs in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. Millions of people watch the Super Bowl in hopes of seeing a winner. In our society being a winner is what symbolizes success. Victory is the ultimate goal. We don’t tolerate failure easily. If somebody fails in our society he or she is deemed unsuccessful. Everybody wants to be a winner but the truth is we don’t get everything when we win. In fact, one of the toughest things to understand in life is that quite often we win when we lose and we lose when we win. As Bill Gates wisely, if not ironically considering how successful he is, said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can’t lose.” Boy, he must have been taught really well by a whole bunch of failures for the amount of success he has had.
The truth is you can win too much, too soon, too easily. We need to accept the reality of losing before we can truly enjoy the sweetness of winning. It’s crucial to be baptized into loss in order to rise up to victory. Now here’s the thing. Most of us only heard me say the victory part, and forgot immediately about the loss part. What part about defeat, pastor? And when we hear Bill Gates say something about how success is a lousy teacher, we immediately take mental note that while he may have struck out a couple of times he definitely hit home runs, grand slams even, more than anyone else ever. Anyone will take those defeats to get those victories, those risks for those rewards. But the thing is we’re not trying to follow Bill Gates. He ain’t the Messiah, at least he isn’t according to those who are trying to follow Jesus Christ. And simply put, if Christ was all about the victory, he never would have gone looking to be baptized. Look, if you’re going to share the river with a bunch of people who are being baptized because they need to get clean and find the strength to live their lives in all its hardship and conditions, even if you’re aren’t exactly one of them, you’re still identifying with them. And baptism isn’t a bath. It’s a certain kind of washing, you could say. Baptism is a baptism into loss and defeat, and then a rising up. But the first part has to come first. As Paul said, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” osing doesn’t make one a loser. Being defeated doesn’t mean you’re done. God’s grace is in the loss. The love of the ord surrounds those who have battled and haven’t won. Be kind to yourself when others aren’t. There’s grace even when you’re lost. God has you still and especially in the palm of his hand. Christ was willing to identify with people who, traveling out to the Jordan River, had experienced such low points and losses that they needed to find a new start for themselves. Along with them, he knelt down and let the waters roll and wash over him. It’s been said that “experience is something you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” I can’t count the innumerable experiences I’ve had when I got less than I wanted but more than I could foresee.
But we don’t want to learn the lesson losing is meant to teach. Not only do we not learn the lesson that loss teaches but we systematically refuse to believe there’s anything we need to learn. We graduated from the school of hard knocks Summa Cum aude, but the problem is it’s a diploma that has only one signature on it—our own. Others might be thinking we’re not quite the number one student we take ourselves to be. The question is Who’s right? They are. So many people deny that life has done a number on them. But that’s not helpful. What’s cray is the idea that we’re supposed to go through everything we’ve gone through and all be finished and peachy. “No cracks in me. Thank you very much.” “e have issues? an, you need to take a look in the mirror.” “It’s not my problem. It’s yours!” We work hard to reject any loss or pain until they gather up into enough to overwhelm us. We ought to stop running in fear and anxiety from loss and defeat. We need to recognie where we simply don’t have it together. Stop avoiding weak spots. We ought to take care of ourselves better by accepting we’re only made of flesh and blood that’s been pushed hard and taken on a lot. You know, constantly having to be someone with enough or the right strength, smarts, wisdom, kindness, ability, ambition, gentleness, words, and so on is simply unrealistic. Whoever put you up to that perfectionism was joking. Whoever made you think you’re supposed to have it all figured out sold you a raw deal. Just look at the Bible. Even the best of them were clearly made up of a lot of clay. So many of the heroes of the Bible had serious flaws. Why? Because that’s all God had to work with. Consider the roll call of some of God’s imperfect heroes Noah got drunk. Abraham lied about his wife. Sarah laughed at God. Jacob was a deceiver. Moses murdered an Egyptian. Rahab was a prostitute. Gideon was fearful. Jephthah made a foolish vow. Samson had serious problems with lust and anger. Eli failed as a father. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Solomon married foreign wives who turned his heart toward idolatry. Elijah struggled with depression. Jonah ran away from God. Peter denied Christ. James and John wanted special seats in the kingdom. aul couldn’t forgive Mark.
The talent pool God has on hand at any one time has always been pretty thin, so God works with some pretty ornery people who fall short in many ways. But even so, good things happen when the Lord gets us to do the best we can. We all have our limits whether we like to admit it or not. We can go and go and go but sooner or later, life catches up with us, and brokenness starts to show up, like everyone else. We like to think we can handle anything. We can’t. We like to think we can go forever. We can’t. We like to think we can stand up to anything. We can’t. Scripture reminds us that “ we have this treasure in clay jars to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” We’re a bunch of ordinary clay pots. And that’s alright. The Bible says God formed the first human out of the dust of the earth, and the fundamental truth of that hasn’t changed. We’re all made from the same stuff. Often it’s hard to accept this. We want something more. We see in the Old Testament, God was leading the Israelites; nevertheless, the people got tired of this and wanted to follow something more visibly and obviously successful. So they went to the prophet Samuel and demanded he find a king for them. Saul was handsome, standing head and shoulders above everyone. He looked successful, a real winner. Everybody rejoiced. At first, Saul managed to win some victories. He defeated the Amalekites; he had an army that was well-trained. Everything seemed to be going fine until the Israelites were confronted with Goliath, a force too powerful for them, on their own. Saul was about to be baptized into defeat. It didn’t matter how tall Saul was or how heavy his armor was. He was going to lose. His looks wouldn’t help him nor all of his past victories. He had reached the end of his line. In the case of Saul and his army, their way forward was revealed through a teenage boy. One day, young David showed up in the Israelite camp, sent by his father with some cakes and cheese to give to his brothers. But a lot more would soon occur. The Bible tells us David chose five smooth stones from the brook. He put the stones in his shepherd’s bag, and with a sling in his hand, walked
toward Goliath. Soon David walked away with Goliath’s head in that hand. And that was just the beginning. The end of ourselves is the beginning of God. So in those moments when you feel weak or defeated, take courage, for you may actually be on the brink of the greatest victory that you have ever known. When God helps us, we are helped for good. Don’t give up thinking that a loss is where you will finish. ust because it came first doesn’t mean it is the end. Some have said God prefers losers. It’s true. By this I mean God prefers people who know their weakness, see their flaws, admit their mistakes, and cry out to him for help. God specializes in taking us in our losses and displaying his power through them. It’s alright to lose and to be defeated. Christ was baptied also. ust look to the Lord to give you strength when yours has run out. Seek for the good in facing something hard. See in your loss the start of something better for you. When God is in it, the end of something is always the start of something new. Can the church say Amen?
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