What do we do when we fail?

Homily Marlborough College Chapel 13th January 2019
The Baptism of Christ: Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

with the help of godIt’s the middle of January, the middle of mock exams for those sitting their GSCEs this year, and although we’ve been only back for a few days, it already feels much longer. So, I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one whose long list of new-year’s resolution has dwindled down to a few remaining items. Being ahead a day’s worth of planning: off the list. Unbeaten season in sport fixtures: off the list. Being kind to everyone at all times: off the list. You get the point, so I won’t go on with the things I have failed at already.

It could well be that it is different for you. Maybe you have made it to the firsts in netball, the firsts in hockey, maybe you have aced those mock exams as you thought you would, but what if not? What if we have not managed to keep the commitment we made? Should we just give up? Try to focus on the few things that are still on our new-year’s list?

Of course you know what the answer to that question is. No, we should not. And of course we should not wait until next January to make a fresh start: every day can be a new start. But how do we do that? How do we gear up for the second maths exam, when the first one was much harder than we expected? How do we motivate ourselves if instead of the first team, we have ended up in the VIth?

Although I don’t have the magic answer to that, I think there are a couple of things we can do to help us. Or maybe better, there are a couple of things we can remind ourselves of to help us to keep going. The first one is to acknowledge that we are not perfect, and that we can’t control every situation. That is true for me, for you, and for each of us. We have lots of things we can do, we are good at, but we are not perfect, and not the best at everything.

Also there are circumstances outside our control. If you happen to be in a year with very good hockey or netball players, very good scholars, you may still be excellent at what you do, but not be the best. If you have only a limited time to revise, you may end up with that question you did not have time for. Those things happen.

So, we’re not perfect, and we can’t control everything. That’s the first thing we need to realise. The second is a bit more positive, and it is in a way related to the reading this morning: the Baptism of Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, being baptised was a bit more like confirmation is now: it was making a public commitment to your faith after which you were submersed in the waters of the river Jordan.

Making a public commitment is a scary thing to do. Imagine you had told everyone your ambitions for this year, and then failed: that would have been even worse. But, and here is the second thought for this morning, no matter how well we do, we are still loved. As long as we try, and keep trying, we don’t become a worse person for not succeeding: we may even become a better, more resilient and understanding person.

That thought is encapsulated in the words Jesus hears at his baptism: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with  you I am well pleased’. Those words, ‘you are my child, you are loved, with you I am well pleased’, are there, not just for Jesus, not just for Christians, but for each of us.  And it is saying those words to ourselves, reminding ourselves of that message that can and will help us try again, and again, and again.

We’re not perfect, but we are loved, we are cared for. That is the essence of today’s story, and it is something that we all need to hear at times. So to leave you with a question: what is it that you are going to try again this week?

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