The Curse of Success

A sermon, based on Mark 6.30-34, 53-56, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018

Who, at some point in time, perhaps all of the time, wouldn’t want…doesn’t want success? As dwellers in time and space, thus, in materiality, I define “success” in the expressly worldly terms of “more.” More opportunity for the exercise of vocation and the enjoyment of avocation. More creativity in the expression and expansion of our native talents and spiritual gifts. More, yes, money. Yet, coining a variation on that old saying: Let us be careful of that for which we ask (sorry, by training, I refuse to end a phrase with a preposition!), for we, to our delight and, at times, perhaps equally to our dismay, might get it.

Jesus inaugurated his ministry, proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” He recruited disciples, those whom he called to come to him and learn from him the discipline of the wisdom of the ages of who and how God is and what God does; so, to be sent out as apostles, as an extension of his ministry, to share with all the good news of the kingdom.

Jesus is a hit! A star! A chart-topper! And, because of his success, nowhere can he go without recognition. Nowhere without a following. Nowhere for rest. He who patterned his life on the cosmic-rhythm of engagement and retreat, of activity and refreshment, of time and attention given to God’s people in their need and needing time with God to pray and recharge his depleted powers (for, though, yes, he is God, he, too, is fully human, thus, subject to the frailty and fatigue of mind and body), is inundated by never-ending human want. But how else could it be? For this, proclaiming in word and deed the nearness of God’s kingdom, is his raison d’être.(1)

This is our common experience, is it not? We strive to achieve our appointed aims, our committed callings, whate’er they may be. Yet there comes a time, at least, annually, we call it vacation, when we take a break. There is an inherent and unchangeable connection between vocation, from the Latin vocare, “to call”, and vacation, from the Latin vacare, “to vacate.” These are tandem, inseparable realities, the yin and yang of human living.

However, this day, I suggest that the call of Jesus (as was…is his response to his call) is never-ending. Every thought, every feeling, every word, every deed of yours, of mine, of ours, whether in labor or leisure, is toward one end and one end only: To reveal to the world the nearness of the kingdom of God’s love and justice for all.

From this labor, there is no rest. Not for Jesus. Not for us as followers of Jesus. And here’s more good news. Jesus does not ask that we be successful. Jesus only asks that we, empowered by his Spirit, are faithful in bearing, in being the kingdom fruit of love and justice.

In this, remember that when we, at Eucharist, receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, this is not physical nourishment (indeed, no one ever satisfied bodily hunger or gained weight taking Communion!), but rather spiritual food to feed and strengthen our inner spirits that we, in word and deed, maycanwill share the good news of the gospel of God’s kingdom.

In one of our hymns we sang this day, I find words that convey this truth:

Christ for the world (who?) we sing!
The world to Christ (who?) we bring
with one accord (for it is our only labor);
with us the work to share,
with us reproach to dare
with us the cross to bear,
for Christ our Lord!(2)

(1) During a solitary moment of prayer, Jesus was interrupted by his disciples, saying, “Everyone is searching for you,” to which he replied, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for this is what I came out to do” (Mark 1.35-38; my emphasis)
(2) From the hymn, Christ for the world we sing!; words by Samuel Wolcott (1813-1886); my italic emphases and my (parenthetic) emendations.

2 thoughts on “The Curse of Success

  1. Ahhhhh, success!! One of those things, that as you pointed out, we have to be careful what we wish for!! Success can be overrated as well, especially if we have gotten off track with the work God intends for us to do.

    This sermon is perfect for me today, because this week I had the misfortune of having three speaking engagements cancelled. I was shocked and a little upset, because this was interfering with my success. In one case I was “bumped” by a famous actor who has a relative with Alzheimer’s so I understood that (I guess… LOL). But seriously, after I got over the initial shock and looked at my calendar and realized I didn’t NEED those events. It was lost money yes, BUT it gave me an opportunity to rest or recharge for the next thing. I immediately started to pray and thanked God for the many opportunities I’ve had already, AND those I will have in the future. I’ve made a name for myself at this point, but I have to be careful with that as well, so that I stay grounded. I printed out this sermon as well and added it to the collection I have of our 2018 sermons that I take on the road.

    One of the things I’m likely to do on one of those days I won’t be traveling as planned is to do another LEGO art class for my friends at Collington, which I have determined is part of my ministry. Doing the work I’m supposed to do for God!

    Thank you for these words today Paul! They have helped me to put my week into perspective. I’ve learned that even on vacation, I am to do my vocation for God. I did that by meeting my “sister” while camping who like me has been a widow for two years. It was her first camping trip alone and I helped her get set up just as those had helped me on my first trip. After we found out how very much we had in common, as I shared in a Facebook, she said to me “God put us together”!! YES, If I had stayed at my picnic table and minded my own business and not offered to help her, I would not have been welcoming to her as God would have wanted. Not everyone wants to go through life alone, and my first instinct when I saw her was to get up, smile and be welcoming. She looked so relieved to see me coming towards her. I believe that this is part of the success that God wants us to have.

    Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loretta, in this your response, you demonstrate (literally! I’ll get to what I mean in a sec!) something important to me. In the past, I’ve oft written/said how you (and Karen), in your comments, share an insight, an idea, a perspective that hadn’t occurred to me. In this response, you grant me a view, indeed, a vision of how my sermon applies to your life. Verily, you, literally, flesh out my text and bring it to life with the concrete examples of your life. (All preachers and speakers, I believe, want or hope that those who listen will engage what hath been said/offered by applying it to their lives. That you have done for me. Thank you.

    Now, I certainly can understand your initial reaction to having had engagements to speak canceled. I know what it feels like…is like to prepare and to be prepared and to have that preparation (well, not wasted, but) laid aside. I take heart with you that you saw and see an opportunity (like Jesus!) to try to recharge. I also applaud your success in making a name for yourself and for so grand a cause as the support and encouragement of those who care for our sisters and brothers stricken with dementia. Carry on!

    As for meeting and serving with hospitality your newfound friend, what a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it!


    Liked by 1 person

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