3/18/2018 Fifth Sunday in Lent The text is Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? A toothache, earache, tonsillitis, appendicitis? How about a bad breakup with a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a spouse? Have you failed a test or gotten a dreaded flag on your report card? Maybe it’s an auto accident, heart attack, cancer? Or, the death of a grandparent, parent or spouse? We have to admit that all these are bad, but you know even in the midst of these things, if you were to get a sliver, stub your toe, or get poked in the eye–at least for a moment–you would remember these other things no more. But what is the worst thing that could ever happen to you? Death? No! Not really. Virtually any parent will tell you that the worst thing that could possibly happen would be the death of a child. Whether by auto accident, cancer, war, miscarriage, murder, suicide, even abortion–the death of a child is something that you never forget. I think I can safely say that for anyone who has been through such a tragedy, not a day goes by in which they don’t think of that horrible experience.
A horrible, unforgettable experience – that’s what the Jewish people were experiencing during the time of Jeremiah. They were in the midst of one of those worst-case scenarios. It was a time of catastrophe for the people of Judah, the time in which the Babylonians were invading their land, burning Jerusalem, and carrying vast numbers of Jewish people into exile. Jeremiah was one of a small remnant left in Judah, living in the midst of the rubble. He was speaking at a time when the people who had been promised God’s protection and deliverance were in a place of desolation. It was a time of hopelessness and fear, a time in which the people felt abandoned by the God that they themselves had put on the back shelf. And it was during this time that Jeremiah spoke these words:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
It was during the darkest of times that Jeremiah delivered God message of hope. In spite of what they were going through at that very moment, God was not going to abandon them. In spite of all they had done to deserve God turning his back on them, God would remain faithful to them. Wow! What a gift God was giving to a people whose life with God was characterized by failure. God had bound himself to his people as a husband is bound to his wife. They had committed spiritual adultery by having relationships with idols and other religions and superstitions. They had bowed to Baal and others in spite of the fact that God had provided for them. God had protected them.
God remembered that he had made a promise, an agreement with the people that he would remain their God no matter what they did. And, the people failed to take the promise seriously. God had given them the gift of the law in order that they could live rightly with God and neighbor. And, yet, commandment after commandment were broken. But in spite of this, God would not simply cast off his commitment (although he had every right to do so). God could have started over again by wiping out the whole lot of us. But, God took his promise seriously even if the people did not. God looked down upon his people and had mercy on those who failed to keep the old covenant. And God decided to give people a second chance. God was willing to do something else, something new in order to keep our focus and our attention on what really matters. So, in the midst of struggle, hopeless and destruction…
“Jeremiah proclaimed to the people of his time that the Lord would make a new covenant with them. The new covenant would not be like the old one when God gave them a set of rules to live by. Instead, the new covenant had to do with an internal motivation to be faithful along with a standing promise of forgiveness. Historically they were given the law, now they were to be given the freedom to live in the grace of God. In other words, they were given a second chance.” (Keith Wagner and John Fitzgerald, A God of Second Chances)
For, God would not leave his people in this dark place. God would take it upon himself to make reconciliation possible and create a new relationship. God would give people a second chance.
Now, second chances can be hard to come by in this world even though they are something that most of us would like to have when we fall short of expectations and desires. Whether we make a blunder in a game, a job, a relationship and anything else, we would like to have do-overs. Yet, as adults, we get trapped by the consequences of our shortfalls and it’s not always easy to find a way out of the darkness. But, God doesn’t want that to happen to His people. God is always willing to give us another opportunity to do better. For, God gives second chances to those who seek it and to those who don’t know they need it.
We can’t go back and relive the past. We can’t erase what already has been done. But, we can live under the umbrella of God’s forgiveness and mercy. For, God doesn’t regard anything in all of his creation as useless. God doesn’t toss us away when we fail to do what is right and meaningful. God gives us second chances to improve our lives and in so doing, to improve the lives of those around us. But too often, we save our faith for a rainy day and act like Gracie Allen, who played the scatterbrained wife of George Burns in an old comedy team. One day Gracie called a repairman to fix her electric clock. The repairman fiddled with it for a while and then said, “There’s nothing wrong with the clock; you didn’t have it plugged in.” Gracie replied, “I don’t want to waste electricity, so I only plug it in when I want to know what time it is.” Sadly, many of us go about unplugged and plug into our faith when it is convenient or when it is necessary. We fail to live out our faith in daily life and don’t follow John Wesley’s Rule of Conduct:
Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.
It is amazing what can be done if we take our second chance and use it wisely. A non-profit organization named Second Chance Inc. shows what can be done. Second Chance, Inc. creates “green collar jobs” by taking apart buildings that would otherwise be demolished and dumped in a landfill. The reclaimed materials and other donated goods are then offered to the public at discount prices. The money is then used to help fund job training and workforce development programs that primarily serve those who face barriers to employment. This organization strives to give people, material and the environment meaningful second chances at new life. For the people involved believe that people matter more than profits and those who genuinely seek a second chance should get it. By equipping individuals with life and vocational skills, they hope to instill self-worth and help change families, communities and beyond. Another second chance organization, Second Chance Animal Services works to find homes for discarded pets. And they do more than this as they try to match homeless dogs and cats to elders who are in need of companionship in order to take away the loneliness and isolation that can happen to older folks that are discarded by society. In this way, both animals and people are served and lives are changed for the better.
God has given us a second chance so that our lives and the world around us can change for the better. Yet, sadly, often we live like the Jewish people during the time of Jeremiah. We become a people who fail to take the promises of God seriously and we squander and waste the second chance that God gives us.
May that not be so for us, but may we acknowledge that God has provided for us. God has protected us. God has made a promise, an agreement with us that he will remain our God no matter we do and may we take the promise seriously and not toss God and our faith on the back shelf. May we acknowledge that we break commandment after commandment and when the first of the commandments…that of having no other gods, falls into the trash heap, may we remember that God looks down upon us with pity and doesn’t give up on us. God forgives us and gives us a second chance. For in Jesus Christ God was willing to do whatever was necessary to keep our focus and our attention on what really matters. God was even willing to become one with us and sacrifice his very life for us in order to give us a second chance to live as his people.
Dear Lord, help us, when we become trapped in the darkness of our forgetfulness and sin! Dear Lord, help us to use our second chance wisely. Dear Lord, help us every step of the way to look to the cross of Christ and live as your beloved children. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.