Monday, November 25, 2013

The King of Second Chances

In January, when Barack Obama called for the US nation to put pressure on politicians to pass gun control legislation, he warned: "Every day we wait [the number of Americans who die at the end of a gun] will keep growing." While legislation lay orphaned in Congress, 20-year-old Michael Hill walked into Ronald E McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, with an AK-47-style assault rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and "nothing to live for”.

With 870 children inside aged between five and 11 years and Hill confessing that he had not been taking his psychiatric medication, the nation was, in all likelihood, staring down the barrel of yet another horrific school shooting.

Luckily for everybody, Hill took as his hostage the school bookkeeper, Antoinette Tuff. 

"We're not going to hate you," she said, referring to him first as "sir" and later as "sweetie" and "baby". "My pastor, he just started this teaching on anchoring, and how you anchor yourself in the Lord," she recalled admitting she was terrified. "I just sat there and started praying.”

And so in between updates with the 911 dispatcher she shared her own travails with Hill, telling him about her divorce and disabled son, all the while reassuring him. "I love you. I'm proud of you. We all go through something in life. You're gonna be OK. Sweetheart. I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me." Eventually, while keeping police at a distance, she persuaded him to give up his weapons, lie on the floor and give himself up - giving that gunman and herself a second chance.

And we’d all like to have another go at bits of life - things we wished we’d never said or done, people we’d like not to have hurt or isolated.  We’d all like a second chance to say something different…or maybe not say something. A second chance to repair a relationship or make the most of some opportunity. A second chance to chase a dream you deferred or follow through on a responsibility you avoided.

Luke’s account of the crucifixion that we hear this morning is peppered with second chances. The obvious one, of course, is that in this Gospel alone Jesus forgives those who crucify him – all those who crucify him - both the active participants and passive bystanders alike. And then there’s the thief, who names his own sins and yet then asks to be remembered, to have a second chance, only to receive Jesus’ promises that he will join him in paradise.

But that’s not all. Earlier in the story Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him and told him he would have a second chance to return and strengthen the other disciples. And after Jesus is tried by both Pilate and Herod, they receive a second chance at their relationship, actually becoming friends. And, when you think of it that way, Barabbas is also given a second chance when he is released in place of Jesus. Later the crowds who have followed him, at times admiring him and at others jeering him, receive Jesus’ words of consolation and warning and are given another chance to perceive in him God’s active love for the world. Later still, the centurion who put him to death will seize the second chance offered and declare Jesus innocent, and all the world will receive another chance to encounter God personally and directly as the curtain in the Temple separating the ordinary people from God’s most holy presence is torn in two.  

You see every regret we harbour, every, every harsh word to another, every time we are frozen out or lied to, every time we betray someone - every time we look back and long for a second chance - it rends the heart of God…

But Jesus’ death and resurrection don’t just offer us healing and hope a second and final chance from God’s wounded heart of love, but rather that we always have available to us another opportunity for life, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Jesus’ death is according to the rule, order, and expectations of the world. There is nothing terribly unusual about it. People die unjustly all the time. But his resurrection invites us to see it both as ordinary – like our death in all respects – and simultaneously as extraordinary – unlike our death in that it ushers in a new realm and order altogether where death does not have the last word and where our mistakes and regrets no longer define us.

Jesus is not coming to be just one more king, another means of power and rule, but rather that he is ushering in an entirely new order – a world and order and reign and kingdom characterized by new life, hope, grace and above all love – the kind of love that never wearies in extending and receiving second chances.

We do not experience the fullness of this kingdom in this life, but we do get glimpses of it – foretastes of the kingdom, as our hymns and liturgy sometimes remind us – each and every time we hear Jesus’ words of absolution and promise of paradise directed not only to the crowds of his day but also to us.

I’d like you to invite you to call to mind one of those things for which you long to have a second chance so that you might take seriously whatever regret or disappointment you harbor and then take just as seriously the second chance and new life Jesus offers us from the cross…
This One, you see, strung up by the Empire for treason and insurrection is, as it turns out, not merely challenging the orders of the world but overturning them altogether and establishing a new reign governed not by might, power and judgment but rather by love, mercy and grace. For he is the King, reigning from his unlikely throne, granting second chances to us all.

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