Embrace the Suck
August 18, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 5:1-7 Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2 Luke 12:49-56
What do you do when everything seems to be going badly?
You know what I mean. When your plans are falling apart, and nothing is going the way that you expected it to go. Worse than that, what do you do when the tide, and life itself, seems to have turned against you?
There is a famous phrase that has been incorrectly attributed to several well-known people but whose origins remain unclear that says, “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going” – Unknown
Simply put, don’t get stuck in a bad place because you gave up trying. Keep going. Keep moving forward until you get to a better place. But, at the same time, as we move forward, and as we find success and a better place, we must be careful not to think that we are responsible for what God has given us. In both extremes, in both good times and bad, we are often tempted to go our own way.
In Isaiah 5:1-7, God’s prophet tells a story about a lover (who is God) who has built a vineyard (which is Israel), but after all of his work to build, and to care for, the vineyard, the results were not what most of us would hope for.
5:1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
Isaiah says that God built his vineyard from scratch by carving it out of a fertile hillside, but no matter how much work he put into it, no matter how he protected it, all that it produced was bad fruit. Whether it was in good times or bad, Israel chose to go her own way and ignored the God that had done so much for her. And, as a result, God, after many repeated attempts to improve his vineyard, finally threatens to give up, plow the whole thing under, and allow Israel to be trampled underfoot.
God’s threat carries through the ages. It is as if he is saying that at some point, he is willing to cut his losses. And the loss that he is prepared to cut, is us. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, we are reminded of many times that God was faithful to his people, and the many times that his people were faithful to God, even when things were not going well.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God
At first, this sounds like a list of great heroes of the faith and the great stories that we heard where faith allows them, with God’s help, to conquer despite facing great odds. But then the tone of the story changes dramatically. Suddenly, with the phrase, “there were others…” we hear about people, who with great faith, were tortured to death, were flogged, laughed at, stoned, sawed in two, and killed with swords. Still others ran for their lives and wandered in the deserts, or mountains, and lived in caves. All of these, both victors and victims, are commended for their faith because whether they were victors or victims, neither received everything that they had been promised because God had something better planned for them than they could ever receive on earth.
In the military, there is a phrase that is often used when things are not going well, or when you find yourself in conditions that are unpleasant and likely to stay that way. The phrase that is used is, “Embrace the suck.” Now, I appreciate that this is the kind of thing that my mother would find to be inappropriate for a gentlemen to say, and certainly to use in church, but bear with me for a minute and I’ll explain what it means and why it fits here. “Embrace the suck” can be defined as an encouragement to consciously “accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable for future progression.” During World War Two, there was a period when the front was moving forward so quickly that logistics and supply could not move forward fast enough to provide the support that their leadership normally requires, but they did manage to keep the forward troops supplied with food and ammunition with what became known as the “Red Ball Express.”
From August until December of 1944 the Red Ball Express moved as much as 12,500 tons of supplies each day through France, by truck, to forward supply depots, until the port of Antwerp, Belgium was reopened, the rail lines were repaired, and portable fuel pipelines were constructed. As many as 5,958 vehicles, mostly trucks, were pulled from anywhere they could be found, and they were driven nearly 24 hours a day. Drivers were pulled from any unit that could spare personnel of any kind, particularly from administration, clerks, and even wounded who were waiting to be reassigned. These drivers ran almost nonstop for three months and many suffered accidents, and even death, from lack of sleep. More than 75 percent of the drivers were African Americans. In order for the Allied armies to continue moving forward and to prevent the German Army from having a chance to regroup and rebuild, the men of the Red Ball Express “embraced the suck,” they accepted that what they were doing was unpleasant, even deadly, but they knew that what they were doing was unavoidable if the Allies were going to win.
In many ways, this is what we see in the list of faithful saints that we read about in Hebrews. For some of them, things went well, God was with them, and they were victorious. But not all of them. Some of them, despite their faith, and despite God being with them, were not victorious, did not win the day, were not rescued, did not have enough to eat, and they suffered, and they died, in the wilderness and at the hands of their enemies. But, and this is important, they did not give up. They did not give up their faith, they did not stop believing in God, they “embraced the suck” and recognized that to get where they wanted to go, they had to pass through unpleasantness, pain, suffering, and death, to reach their goal.
And that brings us to an uncomfortable teaching of Jesus from Luke 12:49-56 where Jesus says this:
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
Jesus is clear that not everyone is going to want to follow him, and not everyone is going to want to live their lives for God. Some people will stand against God and go their own way. But Jesus also says although sometimes things go well, sometimes the world is going to stink. Watch for the signs. Know that the world we live in is in a constant battle between good and evil. Know that good doesn’t win all the time. Things don’t always go your way. Sometimes rescue doesn’t come in time. Sometimes the good die young and evil thrives. But knowing that God is in control, and knowing that ultimately, God is going to redeem the world and make everything right again, helps us to understand what is going on around us and keep things in the right perspective. Like those heroes of the faith, both the victors and the victims, know that we look forward to something that we will never receive on earth. Know that there is more to life than… life.
When things are going well, enjoy it, and give thanks to God. But don’t forget to give God the credit so that you don’t begin to think that you are solely responsible for your good fortune and begin to think that you no longer have need of God. At the same time, when things are not going well, look to God for your strength to stand up for what’s good and what’s right and against injustice and evil. Sometimes the world stinks. Or, to put it more crudely, sometimes the world sucks.
Embrace the suck.
Appreciate that although what you are going through is unpleasant, it is also unavoidable on the way to the future that God has prepared for you. Don’t give up.
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Stay strong in your faith no matter what.
Let us run with perseverance when times are good.
And let us run with perseverance when everything seems to be against you.
You know how the story ends.
You know that victory lies ahead.
Don’t be afraid to “embrace the suck” so that you can get from where you are, to the home, and to the reward, that God has prepared for you.
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