What makes for success?
According to the models employed by this world success is usually measured in terms of size. If you are a successful company, you employ large numbers of people.
You are successful if your product or service dominates the market or at very least a select niche of the market.
You are a success if you gain “name recognition” or “product placement.”
You are a success if you beat out your competition, or have the “biggest” of something, whatever the status symbol happens to be,– house, car, factory, store, manufacturing plant, return for your investors and stock holders, etc.
That is the measure of success, or so we are told by this world on a regular basis.
If you want to see where success will get you, take a look at Oprah, or at Trump, or at Beyonce, or Cher.
We only need to the one name for them, successful at making their mark. It is their “Brand.”
The name says it all, power, wealth, resources, fame, the ability to act, influence and impact this world.
This is what we measure our own lives against far too often, isn’t it?
When we measure ourselves against that kind of success, guess what? There aren’t too many of us in the room that measure up, are there?
Some of us are depressed because we will never be like that.
Some of us are thankful that we will never be like that, never have to shoulder that kind of notoriety, that kind of responsibility, or be known as notorious for something!
Now I want to give you a different vision of success.
The measure of success found in today’s Gospel reading is quite different!
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The scene is a Sunday evening on the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
The people gathered are the disciples of Jesus, his core followers, minus two, Thomas and Judas.
Using the measure of success that this world employs we would have to say that Jesus himself looks like a colossal failure here.
On the day of resurrection, when the best, most successful thing to do—(which is what every church tries to do on Easter in some measure,) would be to make a big production of the event with trumpets and costumes and T.V. Coverage….He’s Back!
What Jesus chooses to do instead is to appear quietly in a little locked room to not even the full complement of his disciples.
Is this a success story?
Yes, yes it is. But to see it that way, you have to stop measuring it and yourself by the standards of this world.
The people in the locked room were the same people who had followed Jesus when he entered Jerusalem triumphantly with palm branches waving.
Jesus had looked like a classic success story then! He looked just like a King David, and these who walked beside him to the shouts of “hosanna!” waving their own palm branches would have been his right-hand men, his entourage! How successful they must have felt that day!
But the trial and crucifixion had changed all that.
No more triumphal displays of affection.
Everyone in Jerusalem knew who had won three days ago, and it was the same story that plays out all too often in this world and in the news.
The people currently in power and with the power had won again.
The old guard of the Temple, the Romans, Herod, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The “named people,” in the story, the famous and the infamous! They were the ones deemed to have succeeded in the end.
They held on to their power!
They had eliminated the threat, even a threat of this so called “Son of God.”
And although there were reports that were circulating now that this Jesus was now raised from the dead, they are still firmly in control of their temple, and of their city, and of their country and their Roman province. They are still calling all the shots from their halls of power.
No more crowds waving palm branches or threatening a coup.
The disciples had been driven underground behind locked doors, where they no doubt felt like failures.
They had given three years of their lives, and for what? To end up with reputations as people who followed a crucified Messiah? To be seen as failures in the eyes of this world?
They couldn’t even follow Jesus properly to the end! When the heat was on, when the soldiers came, when they had been questioned by torchlight or confronted by firelight from the shadows instead of joining and professing Jesus to die as martyrs by his side, they had deserted him one by one.
They denied him repeatedly and failed to trust in even one single thing that he had said.
And now, it is to these failures in the eyes of this world that Jesus appears.
If you or I were to read this account for the first time, we might suck in a breath of anticipation here.
Just what will the Resurrected Jesus say to those who left him hanging high and dry? Will he lash out? Will he berate them? Will he accuse them of faithlessness and cowardice? Dismiss them and find more suitable people to carry on his legacy?
That is what the standard mode of operation in this world would demand, blame affixing and dismissal, shaming and rejection.
But Instead, what Jesus does is breathe his Spirit into those who are cowering behind locked doors. He says to them, “as the father has sent me, so I am going to send you.”
He chooses them again! The failures, the betrayer, the ones who scattered like sheep.
Now, we tend to hear that as a gentle word from Jesus, (and it is) but it is also a word that should make one pause.
You will be sent in the same way that God sent Jesus.
You also will be sent not as some triumphant conqueror, not as someone who goes from success to success, from accolade to accolade, to gain acclaim or recognition.
You will not be sent to make some name for yourself, or to establish a brand, or to beat out your competition or to corner the market.
No, you will be sent out as Jesus was sent.
You will be sent out as one who ended his life and ministry not as a success story in the eyes of this world, but rather as a failure — so that you can bring closer God’s kingdom instead of anything you would build yourself or for yourself!
It is essential that you hear this because this is the central point to understanding the measure of success for the Christian.
Success is not what this world makes it out to be!
Success in God’s Kingdom is not about measuring up to this world’s standards at all!
Instead, success is measured by working in the hearts of people.
Success is about being able to breathe new life and Spirit into the defeated.
Success is measured by the ability to influence others in such a way that they will commit themselves to God and to God’s Kingdom despite any outward measures that this world holds up as necessary or desirable!
That is what Jesus is doing behind the locked doors!
He comes as a failure, among failures, and breathes God’s Spirit upon them.
He opens the eyes of the defeated disciples to see that the world does not need a quick fix, nor does it need yet another powerful ruler making promises.
What this world needs are disciples who will breathe the Spirit of God into the defeated, reminding those people to stop measuring themselves by this world’s standards.
I want to ask you an important question now, if you are skeptical about this as being your task.
Which of the apparently “successful” people at the end of the story of Jesus is still around?
Have you met a Sadducee lately?
Have you enjoyed a sumptuous dinner at the house of a Pharisee?
Do the Romans still rule in Palestine?
Is there a descendant of Herod still on the Throne in Judea? Or even a throne there anymore to rule?
Everyone who was seen as successful, as “winners” in the eyes of this world at quelling the rabble-rouser Jesus are gone. All those who believed that they had won, have since disappeared into history’s pages, and are remembered only because of the story of the carpenter from Galilee and his teachings.
People are still seeking Jesus out to follow him.
People are still reading the words of Peter and James and John – those failures who eventually came out from behind those locked doors and who went on to travel and to witness to the Son of God made flesh to dwell among us.
Who was successful in the end?
Was it those who had used this world’s standards and power most effectively, or was it the ones upon whom God’s Spirit had been breathed?
Don’t get caught in this world’s trap!
This world and its expectations of what is “successful” will lock you up tightly behind doors that you can’t open and can’t walk through. Jesus will blow right through them to find you!
You may never be a success in the eyes of this world, and God says, “that’s O.K.” because what God seems to want are disciples who will breathe God’s Spirit into all those who feel defeated.
What God seems to want are followers who will work from within, people who will love deeply, and who will admit their failings and who will then respond to the Spirit’s call when it comes upon them.
That is what makes this a success story!
It is how well we breathe the spirit of hope and new life into the defeated that matters.
That is what God is looking for, people who will come out from behind their locked doors of fear and breathe hope and life into those whom this world labels as failures, reminding them that God comes looking for such as these to give them new life, and to entrust them with purpose.
You will be sent in the same way that God sent Jesus.