"There is no try." Really?
The Epiphany of the Lord; January 8, 2017
To the reader: The former "Presbyterian Church of the Master" and the former "Benson Presbyterian Church" were formally merged into one congregation on December 31, 2016. The new church retains the name "Presbyterian Church of the Master," at least for now. This sermon was my first for them after the merger, and it was on a Sunday in which we did much and so I kept it short.
The geeks among us know where the topic of the sermon comes from. In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Yoda directs Luke to raise his fighter out of the swamp where it has sunk. Luke says, "Okay; I'll try," to which Yoda replies, "No. Do. Or do not. There is no try."
It's a great line and I have always loved it. Even though I don't believe it. It's good encouragement to follow through, to do what you say you're going to do. When you make a promise, or a New Year's resolution, or take a vow, you do so with the intention that you are going to follow through, to "do."
But really: Yoda's "Do or do not" suggests to me that if you make a promise or a resolution or a vow then you are obligated to be successful. Luke failed to raise the fighter out of the swamp, but he didn't fail to try. You and I can guarantee that we will try; we cannot guarantee that we will succeed.
When you and I look back on the life of Jesus, on his work and his teaching, on what he accomplished on the Cross and in his Resurrection, we can be forgiven if it looks to us as if it was all guaranteed to succeed. Do. Or do not. There is no try. But imagine you are there on the bank of the Jordan River when John baptizes Jesus, and when you look at Jesus' face and can tell that he is seeing something that you are not seeing. He is seeing the Holy Spirit come to him. And he is hearing something that you are not hearing: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
The event sets Jesus up for what he is supposed to do. But it doesn't guarantee that he will succeed.
The key is in the words the Voice says: you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. You just are. It's not because you're good enough, not because you've earned it, not because you are destined to be astonishingly successful. You are because I have said it, I have made it so, I the Lord God Almighty.
Today our Session ordains and installs those whom God has called to serve as deacons and ruling elders in the Church of Jesus Christ and for this congregation, this renewed, united congregation. And God says: you are my daughters and sons, the beloved; with you I am well pleased. Not because you're good enough, not because you've earned it, not because you are destined to be astonishingly successful. You are because I have said it, I the Lord God Almighty.
One of those to be ordained today, as we studied together the vows they will take, said to me that the vows all ought to say, "Try." "Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?" is one of those vows; our new leader said that should read, "Will you try to fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ…" Well, yes. Because you and I cannot guarantee that will successfully fulfill our ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, but we can guarantee that we will try.
Although I'll read the words as they are in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), all of you who will take those vows – and you in the church, who likewise take vows – be sure to hear in your head the word "try." God declared Jesus Christ to be the beloved Son not because of his accomplishments but because of God's choice. In your baptism, God has said to you, "You are my daughter, my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased," and God has chosen you to serve God in the Church and the world not because of your accomplishments but because of God's choice. So ignore Yoda and try.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master