Second Chances

Bible Text: John 3:13-17, Jonah 2:1-10 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: A Christmas Carol | Well this morning we are closing our Advent sermon series titled, “A Christmas Carol”. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is a timeless one with lessons about not only Christmas, but also humanity and our place in the world. When we use the lens of Scripture on works of literature such as this, we not only see the story in a new light, but we also are offered the opportunity to see Scripture and our faith in a new light. In addition to all of this, we have been able to study the lessons that Scrooge learns in how they may still apply for each of us in our world today, both near and abroad.
Now last week we looked at Christmas Future, or “Christmas Yet to Come” as it is often times referred to, and the words from Lamentations and 2nd Timothy. We talked about potential futures and how things in life may play out based on certain paths followed. We talked about Scrooge begging for mercy from the Spirit who parades him around a future full of sadness and regret. While not quite the typical dystopian scenes we have come to know from modern science fiction films, for Scrooge it might as well have been.

So, this week, as we close out this series, we are going to be looking at the idea of second chances. Scrooge begs the final Spirit for a second chance, ,crying out that he can and will change, and, actually, already has just in that night alone. He saw the legacy he was leaving and the impact it had on others and wanted to make things right, if only he could secure another opportunity to do so.

When we look at our selected Scripture passages for today, we find two clear examples of second chances. But these second chances were not granted by some Christmas Spirit or lifelike nightmare. No, instead these second chances are granted by God, through love and grace. Let’s begin first with our passage from the second chapter of the book of Jonah.

In our reading we find a psalm of thanksgiving as Jonah prays to God while still in the belly of the fish. When we look at verses seven through nine, we find, “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. 8 Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. 9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Jonah, much like Scrooge, owns his errors and asks for that second chance, one more opportunity. And, also just like Scrooge, Jonah is granted another shot, “Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.” Jonah then goes on to follow God’s commands to him and carry out his mission to speak to the people of Nineveh about their evil ways and to return to God.

But what about all of us? Are we able to secure a second chance? Well, let’s hear again the words from our reading from John’s Gospel: “13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’”
To say we are given a second chance through the love, grace, and the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is really a bit of an understatement. We aren’t just given another chance to change our behavior or attitude. No, we are given a second chance at eternal salvation! We are given a second chance with God, the one who loves us and wants to be in relationship with all of us. We are given a second chance at love, a love beyond romantic feelings or platonic relationships, but instead agape love. Agape love being of the highest form of love and charity, as well as the love of God for humanity and of humanity for God.
I must admit, that’s a pretty sweet deal. And this gift of a second chance is offered to us freely. We don’t necessarily have to go through a night of strange visions and dreams about our past, present, and potential future. We don’t necessarily have to be haunted by Spirits trying to help us to see the realities before us. And I keep saying necessarily here because these things may not be necessary for us to become aware of our second chance, but who knows, for some it might help. But again, only about our awareness. We are freely given this second chance.

But in this same line of thinking I feel we must stop and look and ask ourselves the question, “Do we give others a second chance?” And I think we can ask this question on many levels. Do we give our friends or loved ones a second chance when they have hurt us or sinned against us? And I want to be clear that I am not talking about staying in abusive or harmful relationships. But rather, if someone does something that hurts our feelings or breaks our trust, are we at least willing to try to give them another opportunity to be in relationship with us?

Or what about in the life of the church? Are we as the body of Christ willing to give second chances to those who are mean or overbearing or self-focused? Are we willing to give second chances people who have gossiped about us, pushed us away, or even tried to push us out? Let’s be honest, none of those things may be easy to forgive and get passed. But we are called to forgive are we not?

Let’s take this question a step even further? Do we, as a society, and even deeper out into the world, offer people second chances? When someone has finished serving a sentence for a criminal act, do we loving welcome them back into our communities and offer that second chance? Or, are we more likely to continue to hold things over people for the rest of their lives? I am not saying to ignore obvious signs of danger or put others in potential harm here. But are we guilty of continuing to punish people well beyond their required sentences, refusing to offer them a second chance?

Where would we be if God did that to all of us? I don’t think we’d be sitting here with the confidence of our salvation. I think we might be more likely in a place much like the Israelites found themselves in, trying to live up to impossible standards and rules. We are often so quick to accept the second, and third and fourth and fifth, chances from God, but at the very same time just as often to hesitate, if not outright refuse, to give others a second opportunity.

How many people have made one small error, one bad decision, fell to one simple temptation, and will continue to pay for it for the rest of their lives? How is allowing this reality to continue any kind of reflection of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness? We cannot on one hand tell people how great God is and loving and such, while on the other hand continue to hold people down and punish them for eternity. I’m sorry but that is just not how it works.

In the end, we can be assured that we have been given a second chance, just like Scrooge or Jonah. We have the words of John, we have the stories of Jesus’ ministry, and we know of the great sacrifice he made for all us, that we might be forgiven and saved. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” On that, all our hope depends, and on that, our love grows from.

But in accepting and receiving that second chance, we are called to extend it to others. We are called not just to share the Good News of God’s second chance to us, but to also extend a second chance to others. We are called to emulate the love and grace of Jesus Christ, not just pay lip service to it. Think of how this world could be changed if we gave people a second chance.

Yes, there would be some risks. And yes, some people would continue to take advantage of those chances, possibly never changing their ways or their hearts. But what about the ones that would? What about the people who if given a second opportunity would make a real effort to change and to live lives that emulate God’s love? Do the potential risks really not outweigh the potential rewards? Do we not believe that we are changed when we are shown love and given grace? How can we then deny it to others?

The story of Scrooge, or for that matter Jonah and so many others, is nothing new and as old as time. There are literally countless books, stories, poems, movies, plays, musicals, comic books, and so on about how people can change when given a second chance. And despite our trepidations towards the potential of someone continuing to do evil or harm people, there must be something to this idea of people changing for the better when given the chance. The vast examples we hold in our popular culture, our historical traditions, and in so many other places are too overwhelming for this idea to be just some fantasy that someone concocted so long ago.

So, I as you today, as we close out this series and look ahead towards Christmas Eve and the celebration of the birth of our savior, take an extra moment these next few days. Take that extra moment to consider those who have given you a second chance somewhere along the way. And look around you for those who are in desperate need of a second chance and give it to them without cost or guarantee. Give them love and grace. And take a risk on someone. Who knows, they just might surprise you in a way that only God truly knows can happen. Amen.