God is a God of second chances.
I just want to get that out there right away. Jesus is the type of Lord who forgives and lets you try again.
Jesus is the hired gardener who asks the upset fig tree owner if he can have the chance to nourish a failing fig tree for another year to see if it will grow and bear fruit. “The tree just needs some manure and attention,” Jesus says concerning our own growth and our own future.
It is as if Jesus believes that second chances are inherent to the way that God works. It is as if Jesus believes that resurrection can happen after the deadly consequence of a cross. It is as if Jesus does not desire to throw anyone away.
God is a God of second chances.
I just wanted to get that message out there right away because I am not sure that we are always on board with Jesus on that message of second chances.
For example, there was a fatal shooting in the news recently. It was a terrible situation. It should not have happened, but it did. Initially, people’s hearts poured out for the victim of the shooting. Questions of how this could happen swirled in the air (Why did God allow this to happen?), and people wrote notes of sympathy to the bewildered parents of this fallen individual. That is, until it was reported that the victim had a past containing drug use.
Amazingly, this one simple fact from the person’s past changed the entire story for many people. As if that one fact was all anyone needed to know, the story went from a story of tragic confusion, to one of simple clarity. Why did this bad thing happen? Well, it happened because the person was a druggie. In other words, why did this bad thing happen? Because they deserved it.
Please note that in the news story there was no correlation between the shooting and the drug use. It is not like the person was shot because of a drug transaction gone wrong.
It was like saying, “Why did Pastor Jira have to die from being shot is such a tragic way?”
“Well, you know that he did gain 20 pounds from eating Reese Peanut Butter Cups.”
“Oh, well, that explains a lot.”
No, no it does not! It does not explain anything. Just because I have a weakness in the chocolate and peanut butter universe does not mean that I deserve to get shot. Eating too much chocolate does not necessarily mean that I deserve a death sentence and having a drug problem (current or in the past) does not necessarily mean that someone deserves to be shot in the street.
What ever happened to second chances? What even happened to the nutrient rich manure and the caring for the failing fig tree? Why does everyone assume that when bad things happen to the tree it must mean that the tree needs to be cut down by the gardener? What if the tree was cut down by a greedy lumberjack before the gardener even had a chance to haul the manure over to the tree?
Sorry to all the lumberjacks out there. I am sure that not all lumberjacks are greedy; I am sure that there are probably some good ones out there too.
Do you see what I mean? For some reason it is easy to condemn people and forget that God is a God of second chances.
But, “what about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Jesus answered quite unequivocally, “No.”
But, what about “those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” “No,” Jesus answered.
“No, they were not worse. They did not deserve these terrible tragedies any more than anyone else. No.”
Sometimes we do it to ourselves. Toward the end of her once healthy and extremely active life, she became ill.
Before the question was even asked, I thought to myself, “This right here is, unfortunately, what happens when we get old. Like used cars, our body parts start to shut down. Can you drive without a heater? Yes, you can, but it won’t be a great ride in the winter. Well, the same thing is true for our bodies when we get old.”
Even with the obvious truth of old age in the room, as she lay in her hospital bed considering her condition, she asked me, “Why is this happening to me? What does God mean by this? What did I do to deserve all of this?”
For some reason she assumed that she somehow, in some way, deserved her condition. She forgot that God does not work that way. She forgot that God is a God of second chances and new life.
I do have to tell you, on my next visit to her hospital room she was in a much better place mentally. She was happy and was looking forward to the next days in life.
“What happened?” I asked. “I’m glad your spirits are looking up, but what caused the turn around?”
“You see pastor. I was laying here asking ‘Why God, why?’ And, then out of nowhere I heard my name. I was like Mary hearing her name in the garden. I heard my name, but no one was in the room. I heard my name and I knew that God still cares.”
“I heard my name and I knew that God still cares.” Of course, God still cares. God is a God of second chances. God is a God who would rather see you grow and flourish rather than simply cutting you down.
This woman remembered when Mary, the friend of Jesus, was distraught in the garden where he was buried. She did not know what happened to Jesus’ body. She did not understand why these terrible things were taking place.
Now, understand that God did not show up and explain the nature of suffering to her. God did not come and give a three point lecture explaining the reasons that these terrible things took place. But, Jesus did show up and say her name. “Mary.” Jesus had not forgotten his friend. Her confusion in the garden was not the end of the story.
God is a God of second chances.
And, God did not forget the woman in the hospital bed either. Jesus called her name, Jesus enriched her soil, and because of that care, she saw her life in a new way, even though it was actually not too different.
When Jesus addresses the tragic tower that fell and crushed people to death, and tells those listening that the tower did not fall in some sort of divine retribution, Jesus continues with the words, “But unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
I actually do not hear those words as words of threat, though it is easy to hear them that way. Rather, I hear those words as words of invitation.
“You have a second chance! You do not have to be the victim of your circumstances. You have a second chance! You can live, and live well! You can live with God. You do not have to let your tragedies define you!”
No, you do not have to let your tragedies define you. Your past drug use does not define you. Your past Reese Peanut Butter Cup obsession does not define you. The bad things that happen to you do not define you. Rather God’s grace defines you.
God does not wish the worst for you. It is quite the opposite. God desires that you live a life free to follow Jesus. God desires that you live a true life; a life embedded in love and grace; a life that does not focus of death; a life that believes in second chances; a life that believes in the goodness of the Lord.
God is a God of second chances, and you brothers and sisters are people found in that grace.