Second Chances

ImageI believe in second chances.  And third, fourth, fifth …

Recently, we celebrated Easter which — this year — coincided with Passover on the calendar.

Passover is a time to remember God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt.  But the whole history of the Hebrews is filled with examples of God giving second chances to his chosen people: Noah and the flood.  Abraham and Isaac.  Isaac and Jacob.  Jacob and Esau. Joseph and his brothers.  The captivity in Egypt.  The 10 plagues each preceded by a plea from Moses to Pharaoh, “God says: Let my people go!”

In some ways, Easter is also about second chances.

God gave creation, humanity, a second chance through Christ Jesus.  And, through the power of his resurrection, God gave Jesus a second chance to accomplish what the suffering servant couldn’t do before his death on the cross and atonement for all:  Reconciliation.

A month after Passover is another special Jewish holiday known as the Second Passover … or Pesach Sheni.

Many of us probably never have heard about this holy day because it’s buried in several verses found in the book of Numbers (9:6-11), which – like Leviticus and Deuteronomy — is filled with lists of rules and regulations rather than the more memorable stories we find in Genesis and Exodus.

According to the story, a group of people were unable to celebrate the Passover with the rest of their community on the appointed day because they were considered ritually impure and unclean.

Why? Because they had attended a funeral and came in contact with a dead body.

Upset, disappointed and, I suspect, a bit resentful because they were excluded from worshiping with their family, friends and neighbors, they approached Moses and asked him to intercede on their behalf with God.  They wanted another chance. Moses responded that he’d consult with God and report back to them on what the Holy One had to say about the matter.

God told Moses to establish a “make-up” date, one month later, after the unclean and impure had the time to purify themselves.  The “Second Passover” thus became a second chance at keeping the feast.

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You know, sometimes it seems like life isn’t fair.  That we’re being treated unjustly because of stuff that’s out of our control.   Why should we be left out … excluded … or deprived?  What did – or didn’t – we deliberately do that’s causing us to be shunned by others?

Often, nothing!

In this case, some people had attended a funeral, paying their respects to someone who, presumably, had been part of their lives.  But, because they had come in contact with the dead, they were deemed unclean according to God’s explicit terms and conditions.

So they were left out, deprived of the opportunity to engage in communal worship.

Is this fair?  Is this our concept of social justice?

Think about it:  A bunch of people are dismissed because they were considered contaminated, outcasts, outlaws, socially undesirable … a group not to be welcomed, accepted, or associated with.

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Can you imagine how that must feel?

So, they complain and grumble – “Why should we be deprived?”– and they ask their leader to intercede on their behalf.

According to rabbinic commentary on these Scriptures, the Second Passover — celebrated one month after the appointed day for Passover — represents the power of teshuvah—literally, return or repentance.

In other words, it’s our God-given second chance.

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Remember when one of the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking him which of the law’s commandments was the greatest and most important?

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your mind and with all of your might.’This is the first and greatest commandment. But there is a second to set alongside of it:  Love others as well as you love yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Second Chances 6That said, brothers and sisters: I have three questions to ask you today:  (1) Do you give others second chances?  (2) Do you give yourself second chances?  (3) Do you give God second chances?

Not easy questions, huh?

Christians believe that they’re good at “forgive and forget” doctrine … but how often do we deny giving others a second chance?

Do we have the right to withhold forgiveness and second chances from people who’ve hurt us — even deliberately — once or even several times?

When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Until seven times?”  Jesus said, “I do not say to you until seven times; but until seventy times seven.”

The words of Jesus are clear: We have no right to withhold forgiveness from others, considering how often God continues to forgive us.

Jesus had a soft spot in his heart for the despised and rejected, the social outcasts, those who weren’t loved or accepted but considered criminals and sinners by society’s norms.  These were his “neighbors,” just as they’re ours.

Second ChancesWhat about you?  Do you give yourself second chances?

Perhaps you’ve failed at something in your life.  Not said “I’m sorry” to someone.  Or maybe you’ve just been afraid to take a chance.

Maybe it’s a bad habit – like smoking, drinking, or gambling – that you’ve tried to stop but continue to do.

Or, perhaps you’ve tried to lose some weight by dieting … only to put on even more extra pounds.  Could it be that you’d like to spend more time in prayer or doing good works, but tend to get side-tracked?

Whether it’s marriage, a job, a relationship, or your finances, God hasn’t given up on you.  So, please, don’t give up on yourself!

It ain’t necessarily Scripture, but you know the old refrain: If, at first, you don’t succeed … try, try again!

From my own experience, I can tell you that we worship a God who believes in giving us many, many second chances.

Right now I’m on my 47th or 448th chance … I lost track about 30 years ago and – you know what? – it doesn’t really matter!

Because God doesn’t keep score.

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How about God?  Do we give God second chances?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had many more “wilderness” experiences – times I’ve felt alone and away from God’s presence … than I have had “mountain top” experiences where I can feel God right there beside me, with me, within me, all around me.

Second Chances 5I’ve felt spiritually hungry and looked for God in all the wrong places: in religious traditions with their rites and rituals, sacraments and observances.  I searched for God in my Jewish roots, in the Roman Catholic mass, in Episcopalian … Lutheran … Methodist … Presbyterian … Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.

Whenever I encountered God, it wasn’t in any of these places.  It was in Spirit and in truth.  Because that’s where God resides: in our hearts and our souls, not inside the walls of a building.

So, yes, I give God second chances.  Countless chances.  And you know what?  God continues to be revealed to me.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” God says through the prophet Jeremiah.

Now, that’s a hard thing to do: to give of ourselves with all of our hearts.  To anything or anyone.  Even God.  But we do want to try!

We expect either too much or too little from God, imagining that he’s angry and carries a grudge against us.  That he won’t give us a second chance.  Or even that God is a “he.”  But that’s not the God of our Bible.  And that’s certainly not the nature of Jesus.

Jesus always reached out to people like you and me, people with problems and issues, aches and pains, people needing second chances.

Embrace that second chance and allow God to help mend your mistakes and disappointments.  That’s how we can find true “Shalom” – the peace that transcends understanding  – empowering us to forgive and give second chances to ourselves … to others … and to our God.