“Success Story” Meditation for a New Year

This is a sermon I preached at Gethsemane Lutheran the Sunday before New Year’s Day and I keep reading it to remind me what’s important in this New Year.


        We’re looking at the new year and it is time for the Annual New Year’s resolutions! One of the keys to new year’s resolutions is to picture the ideal future you are shooting for. What it would look like, feel like, be like, to be a success story.

TV does this in really exaggerated proportions. It might be a weight loss or acne loss commercial but the before and after pictures are almost always the same. Before the light is dark, the people are frowning and generally looking miserable, slouching with hair messed up and huge close-ups on the body part they don’t like.

Then the after “success story” pictures are filled with sunshine and light, big smiles, tan, hair perfectly done, happy-happy-happy.

The message is clear, before life is horrible and lousy but after you’re a success story, you’re living the dream. Buy our stuff!

This portrayal of life can be so disheartening because you are always starting off as a failure, starting from weakness, trying to strive for that idealized success story. Success stories of course go beyond weight loss and acne, there is business success, social position, wealth, grades, etc.

Take for example, King Herod from the Christmas Story in Matthew 2:16 ESV

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

. King Herod ruled Judah during the time of Jesus Christ’s birth, called Herod the Great with good reason.

  •  He had crushed all military opposition to his rule.
  • He was wealthy, handsome, dynamic, politically gifted, an amazing administrator.
  • Excelled in famine relief for the masses.
  • Was responsible for building most of the 3rd Temple in Jerusalem that Jesus’ disciples walked past in awe of. He also built the temple mount a portion that still remains today and the port of Caeserea, all projects that were extravagant and massive.

By most worldly standards he had built himself up as a success story of the ancient world that even very few modern rulers have achieved as much as he did. But his success came at a terrible cost. His god was power and it led him to murder a wife and two children in cold blood, inflict terribly heavy taxes on the people, had such paranoia that he was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2 trying to kill Jesus he killed all male Jewish children 2 years old and younger.

A success story in the eyes of many but in the eyes of God and all that is good and right, a failure.

Yet there is so much that encourages us to try and follow in his footsteps in small and big ways:

  • The ends justify the means
  • You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet
  • Climb the ladder to success and step on a few people on the way up
  • Take a little off the top for yourself
  • Put down the other person so you look better
  • Dos Equis beer commercial slogan from the “world’s most interesting man” who was apparently a womanizer and alcoholic, “stay thirsty my friends.”

Worldly success does not mean that you are going to be a horrible person, but if you’re god is worldly success then that god will determine what a success story looks like for you and you will sacrifice much at that god’s altar and do much to prove how successful you are.

As Christians we confess that Jesus Christ is our God and so naturally Jesus Christ should also define for us what our success story looks like. But this is where Christianity does a funny thing and flips the ideas of failure and success on their heads. We started off talking about all of those TV commercials where you start off as a failure and have to build yourself up into a success and how lousy it can be because you are always starting off from weakness and failure.

But with Jesus it is so different. Jesus calls us through the hearing of the Word and baptism and creates faith that we respond to. This is something that is done for us and to us as a gift of grace. We do not have to earn it. In faith, in baptism, our God already sees us as holy in His sight, beloved, righteous, and good. That means that in JC you start off as a success story not a failure. You start off with the strength of God not human weakness. You already have all the riches of heaven that cannot be bought on TV. In God’s eyes, because of JC you are already a success story and the cost of this success are things we should rather be rid of anyways:

  • Slavery to sin
  • Selfishness
  • Sinful pride
  • Darkness, evil and brokenness

What happens then is that we get to learn to live within our success story that is given to us by Jesus, let His word teach us, His body feed us, and His church encourage us to be who God has already made us to be.

So I really want to encourage you, as we go into 2014, that whether you lose weight or not, fix the acne, succeed or fail, rise or fall, that in the eyes of God because of Jesus you are and always will be a success story to Him. Amen.


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