Second Chance

dismas copy

Sermon offered
Nov. 24, 2013
Christ the King Sunday:
Jeremiah 23:1-6;
Psalm 46;
Colossians 1:11-20;
Luke 23:33-43

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Do you ever wish you could have a second chance?  A second chance to say something different … or maybe not say whatever it was at all?  A second chance to repair a broken relationship  — or to pursue a relationship that you avoided or pulled back from . . . A second chance to make the most of some missed opportunity … to chase a dream you may have pushed aside …   . . .a second chance to follow through on a responsibility or committment that you neglected . . .

I don’t know about you – but I can think of more than a few things I’ve said or done in my life —- or failed to say or do — circumstances that I regret.  And if you’re anything like me, you probably wouldn’t mind a second chance … a chance to try to make amends and set things right.

I thought of this when I read the gospel for today — Luke’s depiction of the crucifixion.  I noticed just how many second chances Jesus hands out here:

The obvious one, of course, is that Jesus prays for forgiveness for those who crucify him – “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus forgives all those who crucify him.  The active participants are the Jewish leaders who asked for his execution and the Roman political authorities who go along with them.  And there are the Roman soldiers who carry out the death sentence. . . .

But there are also the passive bystanders who need forgiving – the crowd — Jesus’ followers who stand there silently – watching because the don’t know what to say about what’s happening – or maybe they’re scared to say anything – and maybe they’re just disillusioned . . .

Jesus has taught forgiveness and offered forgiveness all the way through his teaching ministry.  In fact it was forgiveness that first got Jesus in trouble with the Jewish leaders — made the Pharisees question who Jesus was – They asked “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

And Jesus stories about forgiveness are legendary . . .  He spent much of his ministry describing the kingdom in terms of forgiveness.  He said that the kingdom of God is like the love that a father gives when his son asks for his inheritance – and then the son takes the money and squanders it all . . . yet when he comes home, his father forgives him and celebrates his return.

Jesus had taught the disciples that if another disciple sinned against them, they must forgive him if he repented – and if that disciple sinned seven times and repented seven times – the disciples were to forgive seven times.

However, from the cross Jesus asks God to forgive people when there is no sign of repentance.  Those who are killing him show no faith in Jesus, and they’re definitely not showing any remorse for what they are doing.  In response to Jesus’ pray of forgiveness  — they mock him.

The leaders scoff at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers mock him — “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  And one of the criminals who was also being crucified said:  “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!”

And then there’s the other thief – we’ll call him Dismas; that’s what the early church named him.  Dismas names his own sins —  acknowledges his own guilt. He declares Jesus innocent … and he declares his faith in Jesus.  Dismas doesn’t ask to be saved from death – instead he asks to be remembered.  “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom . . .”  In the Jewish tradition, to “remember” was something that was asked on behalf of the dead – it was a prayer to God for someone who had died.

Dismas seems to understand that Jesus has power . . . maybe he understands Jesus as being from God – or even Jesus being of God.  He sees Jesus as a King, not of this world but of another kingdom.  And so in faith he asks for a second chance . . .

“Today you will be with me in Paradise”  this is Jesus’ promise — and this is the moment when God’s salvation, God’s kingdom breaks into this world.  At this point, the penitent thief is already living in the reign of Christ.  This is the power of forgiveness in this world – the blessing of a second chance.

I think this is one of the key themes of Jesus’ death and resurrection: not only do we have a second chance or a final chance — instead we always have available to us another opportunity for life, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

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Jesus’ death happens according to the rules and expectations of this world – he was seen as a threat to the norms of this world by religious and political rulers.

But actually, there is nothing terribly unusual about his death —  people die unjustly all the time.   Death is a very usual event in this world – a very ordinary happening.  Where Jesus’ death becomes extraordinary is in his resurrection – it ushers in a new realm and order altogether – a new kingdom where death does not have the last word . . . and where our mistakes and regrets no longer limit us and define us.

Jesus was not born into this world to be just one more king (or ruler or president or whatever).  Rather he is ushering in an entirely new order — a world and reign and kingdom built up by new life and hope and grace à -and above all by love — the kind of love that never stops forgiving – never stops giving us second chances.

We don’t experience the fullness of this kingdom in this life — and that’s what makes all of this so hard.  Forgiving and accepting forgiveness do not come easily for us most of the time.

But we do get glimpses of God’s kingdom in this life.  Every time we hear Jesus’ words of absolution in the liturgy, we can remember that the promise of paradise is directed to us as well.

Today I invite you to call to mind one of those times, one of those instances — that leaves you wishing for a second chance … What regret or disappointment are you carrying?   And then remember that Jesus offers us a second chance and new life from the cross.

Christ the King grants us a second chance and sends us out from our worship today free to live into a new reality — repairing relationships that need repair — amending our speech, correcting our actions — and living without the burden of regret we have carried for too long.

As it turns out, Jesus in not just challenging the ways of the world but he’s overturning them altogether.  His kingdom is not governed by might, and power and judgment — but instead by love, and mercy and grace.

He is the King of glory – and he continues to grant second chances to us all.

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