A God of Second Chances

April 8, 2007
Rev. Victoria Weinstein

I was one of the preachers at the Good Friday service at the Paulist Center in town, and the Rev. Anne Fowler, an Episcopal priest in Jamaica Plain, started her homily by saying, "I greet you in the name of the God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine."

That was the best thing I' d heard all day.

So, I greet you in the name of the God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine.

How do we know that God loves us? That depends. Do you regard life as a party, or as a wake? Maybe a little of both. Up and down. Kind of a rollercoaster. Even so, how can we deny a sense of love coming from whatever a creative energy is at work in the universe that arranges is so that the human heart can feel what it feels, can experience awe, and can be madly in love with life, even though it hurts so much sometimes it just flattens us?

We don' t have proof of any aspect of God' s nature, actually. God is a human nickname given to a sacred reality that is indescribable, one that feels imbued by love and soaked in awe. Limited in our human way, have not certainty but faith. Best of all, I think, we have lots of stories told over thousands and thousands of years by our most grand-grand grandmas and grandpas that try to describe why human life has meaning and why our hearts are made for awe. The Bible is chock full of these stories. And a lot of those stories, if you really pay attention to them, tell about a God who loves us a lot.

In the early Bible stories, actually, God is just like a new parent, making rules and disciplining us kids, getting all insecure about it at times, making huge mistakes and sometimes spanking the children so hard they fall down and cry and can' t get up. When that happens God says, "There, there, I' m sorry, I was too rough on you. It' s just that I made this world for YOU, and you' re just behaving like little beasts!" And then God learns how to do it better, and so do humans. They teach each other, actually, in the oldest stories.

Like Adam and Eve, the firstborn kids, and Abraham – all of whom behave badly and give God a lot of sass. They get punished, they get blessed, they get punished again – everybody falls down and gets up again – even God. There' s always a second chance. In the story of Noah and the ark, the same thing: the humans mess up so badly so they get 40 days and nights of rain dumped on them. When the rain stops, God puts a rainbow in the sky to say, "You get a second chance. If you behave yourselves, I' ll never do this again."

The Book of Psalms is full of dozens of hymns about how God loves us enough to allow us to sin, to fall, to get back up, to learn, to get better at being human. "Weeping may endureth for the night, but joy cometh in the morning." There' s no one here who hasn' t lived that phrase. Second chance.

And even the Jesus story. In Jesus, we have a messenger of peace, love and justice who comes to teach way to live as individuals and as communities. The powerful people of his day can' t handle his whole scene and try to get rid of him. But that' s not the end of the story. Second chance. For everyone. The resurrection is maybe the Bible' s greatest second chance story. "You didn' t want to hear this message?"God says. "You didn' t think it was important, true and urgent? Here' s a second chance for you to hear it, and to get it. Listen up, because we pulled some major strings to get Jesus back to make a second impression."

One version of the Christian story starts with the words, "For God so loved the world…" I keep thinking about that lately. I just heard Paul Coolidge talk about the North River and how much it means to him as a man who has spent a good portion of his life living on its shores, and I think, "For God so loved the world, and yet look what we' re doing to it." I know the Bible is full of second chance stories. Are we going to get a second chance in the 21st century, or are we supposed to be smart enough by now to figure out how to stay out of major trouble?"

There' s that Bette Midler song, "From A Distance," where she says, "God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us… from a distance." Is that supposed to be comforting or threatening? I could never tell. All I know is, historically-speaking, we' re not children any more. We shouldn' t need watching. This is our planet. We don' t get another one.

I wonder what sacred stories humans will be telling two thousand years from now. Who will the characters be? I don' t know. I just hope they don' t have old copies of the Bible on hand and have cause to ask things like, "What' s a poplar tree and a flowing stream? What' s a cedar tree, and where was Lebanon? This thing that this guy Jesus says about the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed – what' s a mustard seed? I' ve never seen one. How about all these animals they talk about? The lion and the lamb? What were they like? I' ve never seen one. Does anyone have a holograph image of one of these things?"

I have mostly thought of Jesus' life, and the Easter story, as being about a new way humans should treat each other. When Jesus says things like, "Greater love hath no man than this, that he shall lay down his life for his friends,"or when he says that we must lose our lives in order to gain them, I never connected those teachings to the ecological crisis we' re now in. I am beginning to now.

The life of simplicity and living for others isn' t just about being kind and compassionate. It can' t be any more. In our time, it must also be about sacrificing some of our comforts and letting go of some of our privileged expectations so that we may have a more just and compassionate relationship with creation itself, not just with the human members of it. That' s a tall order. I' m sorry that it' s so tall. We' re called to some serious moral work in this generation, my friends, and on many levels.

Today we have been invited to consider that the Easter message does not just speak to human relationships one with the other, but to our human relationship with our planet. The Easter resurrection is not just the story of one man who appeared again to his friends after his death, it is also the story of how our planetary home behaves, season unto season, seed to flower and back to seed, fallow then blooming, in a cycle we revere but have come to take too much for granted. Life is a party to which God has invited every one of us, and we have collectively been very bad guests at that party, trashing the house, littering the yard and accidentally burning down the garage.

Like a loving parent, the creative spirit that make all things new has given us many second chances, has kept her arms open to us even after we have made a mess of this beautiful home.

On this day of light and gladness, we take our cue from the Earth itself, who regenerates and renews herself constantly, generously, and without recrimination. Following her lead, and in the spirit of the sacred story of Easter which tells us that God is a God of second chances, may we resolve to be reborn ourselves – reborn in reverence, rejuvenated in awe, rising from the tomb of ignorance and denial and coming into the light of moral responsibility for all that we have been given.

Let' s be better guests at this party so that our children and their children' s children, and all their relations to come for many generations, can feast and rejoice and live and love at it, too. For God so loved the world that we may love it back. Let us live into that love more fully, let us make that our own act of resurrection, in the name of a God who loves us more than we could possibly imagine. Friends, you are the resurrection and the life. Amen.