Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Dealing with the world with a full knowledge of resurrection can be awkward. If we truly believe in a world of “second chances” does this mean that we no longer believe in failure at all? Or maybe just maybe we believe that failure and death are not the final answer. Not believing that failure is the final answer is freeing and scary.
It needs to be said that the whole Christian community was built upon a failure who died at a public execution. Jesus’ enemies won in the political sphere and got him executed. The whole idea of Jesus is built upon his failure to get it right in the political sphere. However, we now find that Jesus took a very unexpected turn, there was a real twist in the plot. We know that Jesus did not fail but carried out his mission which was to change the world forever. Jesus found a way to ignore death and failure and it was the wonder of resurrection. Jesus shows us that death is no more and failure when it comes to God’s love never happens.
When it comes to failure, we need to think about what we see as failure. Failure means for some being second in the class as opposed to first. To others it means not earning a million dollars a year. We tend to define failure in our lives in very narrow terms. It is almost as if we were programed to see failure more quickly than success. Even worse when we do have a small amount of success, we remind ourselves that our next failure is around the corner. This may be the reason why we often do not see our knowledge of the resurrection, the second chance just ahead as something clearly about to come about. Instead we follow our normal trudge down the path to failure.
Most commentators do not consider chapter 21 to be an original part of John's gospel, but rather an appendix that was added on later by some editor. Nonetheless, it continues the evangelist's traditions and teachings. The text consists basically of a third resurrection appearance of Jesus to a group of seven apostles. The story contains elements familiar to us from the synoptic gospels; namely, a miraculous catch of fish, a delayed recognition of the risen Jesus, Peter jumping into the water, a meal with Jesus, a reference to Peter's threefold denial, and a sign of reconciliation by a commissioning of Peter to lead the church. Some new elements are a prediction of Peter's martyrdom and a discussion about the beloved disciple's death. George MacRae proposes that many of these elements probably had "implications for the life of the Johannine community and its relationship to the larger Christian church, of which Peter is seen as the leader or representative." MacRae also sees significance in the fact that the beloved disciple is the first to recognize the risen Jesus in John 21. (George W. MacRae, Invitation to John [Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1978] pp. 231-232)
Carroll Stuhlmueller sees in John 21 a reminder "about Peter's three-fold denial of Jesus and the necessity now of pledging his love to Jesus three times. Church leadership evidently must maintain a humble stance; it too remembers its own faults and denials. To bring sinners to the redeemer, leaders must know thoroughly their own need of Jesus from their personal weakness." (Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., Biblical Meditations for the Easter Season [Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980], p. 170)
We can't help but admire our Lord's human touch and tact in dealing with Peter and the other apostles after his resurrection. The apostles knew that their designated leader had denied Jesus three times during the Passion. They themselves had abandoned their Master by running away. When the risen Lord first appeared to them, they probably expected, and would have deserved, a harsh scolding. How relieved they must have been when Christ's first words were, "Peace be with you." He even repeated this greeting in case shock caused them not to hear the words. (John 20:19-20) Jesus not only immediately recommissioned them to preach the good news, but also gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit then and there by breathing on them. Without directly saying to the apostles, "I forgive you," his very gestures symbolized his forgiveness.
Our Lord's human touch and tact were also evident during his second appearance to them. Again, his opening words were, "Peace be with you." Then, knowing of Thomas' hesitancy in believing in his resurrection, Jesus gently invites Thomas to touch and examine his still scarred hands and side. When the risen Jesus appeared a third time to the disciples, it should not surprise us that he treated Peter in particular with the same kindness he had demonstrated in his earlier visits. No one knew better than Jesus how badly Peter must have still felt because of his triple denial. Taking into account the depth of Peter's guilt, Jesus adopts an indirect approach. Instead of even mentioning Peter's desertion, Christ asks him three separate distinct times, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Each time Peter responds, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you," Jesus reaffirms his disciple's leadership role by saying, "Feed my sheep." Alfred McBride comments, "Peter's public declarations of love put behind him once and for all his triple denial during the passion." Indeed, with these indirect and positive methods of healing, Christ was a good practitioner of psychotherapy long before the profession came into existence.
We read much today about a "collaborative leadership model." McBride sees in John 21 a "vision of leadership" that balances what he terms a "love model" with an "institutional model." The latter is illustrated when Jesus makes Peter the rock upon which he will build his church. (Matthew 16:13-20) The former model is illustrated in the third post-resurrection scene of John 21. "The Easter scene at the beach discloses," McBride writes, "a vision of leadership that flows from an adult view of loving union, trust, and respect." Without demanding apologies for his denials, Jesus simply requested from Peter a re-commitment to friendship and loyalty. "Peter caught the precise dignity of the moment, the fresh opportunity to be born again." Peter was able to let go of his past failures and mistakes and embark on a new adventure with Christ. (Alfred McBride, O.Praem, The Divine Presence of Jesus: Meditations and Commentary on the Gospel of John [Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Inc., 1992] pp. 189-190)
John Marsh shares his insights with us. Now that the Passover was over and Jesus was no longer with them, it seemed normal for Peter and the other six apostles to return to their secular job of fishing. Marsh suggests that this might be an example of Johannine irony. "Although Peter thinks he is to return to the catching of fish, he is to learn all over again what he had been told at the beginning of his discipleship...that he was to become...a 'fisher of men.'" Another aspect Marsh detects in this fishing scenario is the paradox of how God reveals himself precisely "in the doing of a secular job, even at a time of desertion..." This establishes a critical link between Christians of any period of time with the apostles who experienced Christ firsthand both in his humanity and divinity. We can encounter the risen Christ within the very routine and ordinary circumstances of our lives; we can experience the sacred within the secular; we can discover the presence of God even in the most dire and difficult conditions imaginable. (John Marsh, Saint John: The Pelican New Testament Commentaries [Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1971] pp. 661-666)
Discovering Christ in our world, particularly in those things we consider to be failures and successes as well as in the humdrum days of our lives is at the very center of how to deal with this last part of John. To place Jesus in every part of life is the hard and easy thing we should do each day. It is hard to make sure Jesus is in front of us in fear and failure, and all to easy in the midst of success and happiness.
These insights are the reasons why we chose the title Second Chances and the theme Failure need not be final. What the risen Lord did for Peter and the other apostles after they had abandoned him during his Passion, he continues to do for us in our own time and place. Jesus is a "second-chance God" who gives gifts and graces even when we've done our worst, and who surprises us with his mercy even in the most unlikely situations.
There are all kinds of political failures some people would say that they occur daily. However, in the context of modern-day politics those failures are often quickly labeled as such but often turn out to be the opposite. It is often hard to see what a true political failure is today amid the dust of President Trumps constant fight with the Democratic Party or amid the confusion of Brexit. However, we do know that Jesus’ political failure turned out to be an outstanding success for the history of human kind.
The theme this morning is not about success but about how do we understand failure. In light of the resurrection we need to adjust our definition of failure. Jesus saw even death as a way to a new beginning. We need to see failure and death in the same light.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Government failure, in the context of public economics, is an economic inefficiency caused by a government intervention, if the inefficiency would not exist in a true free market. It can be viewed in contrast to a market failure, which is an economic inefficiency that results from the free market itself and can potentially be corrected through government regulation. The idea of government failure is associated with the policy argument that, even if particular markets may not meet the standard conditions of perfect competition required to ensure social optimality, government intervention may make matters worse rather than better.
As with a market failure, a government failure is not a failure to bring a particular or favored solution into existence but is rather a problem which prevents an efficient outcome. The problem to be solved need not be a market failure; governments may act to create inefficiencies even when an efficient market solution is possible.
Government failure (by definition) does not occur when government action creates winners and losers, making some people better off and others worse off than they would be without governmental regulation. It occurs only when governmental action creates an inefficient outcome, where efficiency would otherwise exist. A defining feature of government failure is where it would be possible for everyone to be better off (a Pareto improvement) under a different regulatory environment.
Examples of government failure include regulatory capture and regulatory arbitrage. Government failure may arise because of unanticipated consequences of a government intervention, or because an inefficient outcome is more politically feasible than a Pareto improvement to it. Government failure can be on both the demand side and the supply side. Demand-side failures include preference-revelation problems and the illogic of voting and collective behavior. Supply-side failures largely result from principal–agent problem.
Why are political decisions often unfortunate? In replying to this question public‐choice theorists fail to distinguish individual conditions from systemic ones. Instead, they make sweeping claims about the egoism of man and the failure of politics. But the real problem is that we often experience government failures despite the best, the most benign motives on the part of, citizens, politicians, and bureaucrats. Better than the theory of man's innate self‐interest is the theory of the unintended consequences arising from the inherent shortcomings of the political system. To wish well but to do evil—that is the dilemma of politics. Christ failed at politics and thus succeeded in his life by his failure.
The series Second Chance follows the life of Jimmy Pritchard, a 75-year-old former King County, Washington, sheriff (Philip Baker Hall) who was morally corrupt and eventually disgraced and forced to retire. After he is murdered, Pritchard is brought back to life in the improved body of a younger man (Robert Kazinsky) by billionaire tech-genius twins Mary (Dilshad Vadsaria) and Otto Goodwin (Adhir Kalyan). However, despite having a new life and a chance to relive his life and find a new purpose, the temptations that led to his career being tarnished continue to haunt him.
The whole series failed quite quickly because not only was it a re-tread of Frankenstein but also really was not about a second chance. There is a difference between a fresh start in life and a re-treaded second chance.
Generally, people ignore failures. It's the human tendency. But take a look at these failures, you'll inspire you: Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time, was devastated when he was cut from his high school varsity basketball team sophomore year. Good thing failure only inspired him to work harder. Here’s what he said about failure: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded – Apple. He also failed with NeXT computer company and the Lisa computer. When Jobs returned to Apple, he led the business to become the most profitable company in the US.
No one wanted to hire Walt Disney as an artist. In fact, he couldn’t get hired elsewhere either. So, his brother got him a temporary job. Walt’s first animation studio went bankrupt. He went on to co-founder of The Walt Disney Company, which had over $40 billion in 2012 revenue. (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
Steven Spielberg was rejected both times he applied to attend film school at University of Southern California (USC). That didn’t stop him. Spielberg has grossed $8.5 billion from films he directed.
Oh, and after Spielberg became famous, USC awarded him an honorary degree, and Spielberg later became a trustee of the university. (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
The Beatles were rejected by numerous record labels including Decca Records, which said, “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” The Beatles did wind up getting signed by a record label. The Beatles sold more singles in the UK than anyone else, and the Beatles have moved more units in the US (more than 177 million) than any other group. (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
Mary Kay Ash sold books door to door while her husband served in the military. When her husband returned from duty, they divorced. Ash was left with three children at a time when divorce wasn’t acceptable.
Ash was frustrated when passed over for a promotion because she was a woman. So, she and her second husband planned a business, Mary Kay Cosmetics. One month prior to launch her husband died.
With a $5,000 investment from her oldest son, Ash launched her business. Forbes reported 2014 revenue as over $3.5 billion. (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
Jack Canfield was rejected 144 times before he found a publisher for his book, Chicken Soup for the Soul. When Jack told the publisher he wanted to sell 1.5 million books in the first 18 months, the publisher laughed and said he’d be lucky to sell 20,000.
That first book sold more than 8 million copies in America and 10 million copies around the world. Canfield’s book brand is now a $1 Billion brand.
Canfield’s advice: “So the reality is that you just have to say, ‘I’m more committed to my vision than I’m committed to your doubt or my fear,’ and just go for it…” (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
Milton Hershey’s chocolate business was his third. The first two went bankrupt. His perseverance led to enormous wealth and philanthropy. Hershey established the Milton Hershey School for at-risk children, and a foundation to provide opportunities to residents of Hershey, PA. (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
“You might never fail on the scale I did,” Rowling told the new graduates. “But it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”
When Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, she was divorced, bankrupt and on welfare.
After a dozen publishers rejected her manuscript one finally agreed to publish it. But the publisher told Rowling that she needed to get a job because there’s no money in children’s books. She’s now a billionaire. (https://www.quora.com/Are-people-ignoring-me-because-I-am-a-failure)
Failure is the most important step to reaching success, but it can still feel like it's crushing your soul. To make failure your friend and not your enemy, you must overcome it. Here are some strategies for moving on after a tough break.
Failure is defined as a lack of success, but its true definition is really up to you. Small things can be failures. Maybe you blew an easy sale today at work, or forgot to grab something important when you were at the store. We all make mistakes, and the mistakes we make that have some weight to them—big or small—make us feel like we've failed.
Normally, though, we reserve the word failure for the bigger things. The times when we've let others down, and, more importantly, ourselves. Trying your hardest to do something important and failing is when it really stings and shakes your confidence. Maybe your startup business idea failed, you lost the big game, or you let someone you care about down. Sometimes failure can leave a mark—but it doesn't have to.
Failure can take a hefty emotional toll, and that's okay. What's important is getting the negative feelings you have out of your system so you can regroup and tackle what's next. Don't keep how you feel trapped inside of you like a shaken up soda. Bottling your emotions can lead to two things:
An emotional outburst: Eventually the pressure will build and it will be too much for you to contain. In a moment of weakness, everything you've kept inside could explode and set you back even further. This not only affects your mental state, but it can affect your relationships too. When you have an outburst, the people you care about often end up in the crossfire.
Creeping negativity: If you only loosen the cap, the negativity will slowly and persistently enter your mind. You need to openly confront the mistakes you made and give yourself the chance to feel it all. Otherwise, anxiety will start to linger in the back of your mind and the soft hiss of failure will continue. Constant anxiety is incredibly unhealthy and can lead to even more problems.
So, how do you let it all out? There are a few ways to get the bad, and—most importantly—retain the knowledge you gained: (https://lifehacker.com/how-to-move-past-failure-1597951611)
Every great artist was once an amateur. The sooner you get comfortable with practicing and making mistakes, the quicker you'll learn the skills and knowledge necessary to master your art. You'll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won't work. So get out there and try again. Either you succeed or you learn a vital lesson. Win – Win.
It's okay to fail at something over and over, but as soon as you give up altogether—that's the real failure.
Remember, failure is inevitable, but it's not something that has to define you. It's actually good for you, and setting yourself up for it can be good for you too. Make failure a tool, a stepping stone, to get you where you want to go. It's okay to feel defeated when it happens, but losing the battle never means losing the war. (https://lifehacker.com/how-to-move-past-failure-1597951611)
Like a chef who decides to try a new recipe on the night of his big opening and fails to account for clashing food pairings, I made the last-minute decision to try a novel approach to a lecture at a conference on alcoholism at Texas Medical Center—and it bombed. I took a big swing...but I missed. I have a thousand excuses that could temper the pain and perhaps stop the voices of self-doubt and criticism in my head. But at the end of the day, Huey Lewis and The News were dead-on when they sang, “Sometimes, bad is bad.”
Sometimes, like Michael Jordan, we fail. But it is still hard to take. I’ve given lectures after which people lined up to shake my hand and tell me how moved they were. Other times, the response has been good, with at least a few audience members motivated to speak to me afterward. But on this day, neither the audience nor the speaker was really sure where the presentation was going, or even when it was finished.
The silence was deafening. In the parlance of standup comedy, I died up there.
I’m in the middle of a massive project. After my recent speaking debacle, the thought of tightening my shoelaces and pulling myself up by my bootstraps so I could finish curating new research, complete a PowerPoint, and fine-tune my presentation seemed an overwhelming prospect.
When we feel really bad, we aren’t especially motivated to do much of anything. On the other hand, following a big win, it’s quite easy to move on to the next big thing. For me, such a large fail once would have easily been followed by days, weeks, or months of sadness, anger, helplessness and copious amounts of cookie-dough ice cream. The last thing I wanted to do after my failed talk was to go to work on another set of presentations. I'd have preferred to skip town. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-abstinence/201502/3-ways-get-past-any-failure)
The legendary life of Pocahontas illustrates several second chances. She was the daughter of Powhatan, a powerful chief of some 30 Indian tribes in the Virginia area. When Captain John Smith, the leader of the Jamestown colony, was captured in 1607 by these Indians, Powhatan sentenced him to death in spite of Pocahontas' plea that he be spared. Before Indian braves could beat Smith with their clubs, the 16-year-old Pocahontas broke away from father's side, put her arms around Smith, and laid her head against his over some stones. She again begged her father to let Smith go free, and this time he relented.
Two years later Pocahontas learned of an Indian plan to destroy the Jamestown settlement and risked her life to warn Smith about the plot. After John Smith returned to England in 1613, an English sea captain captured and held Pocahontas as a hostage. While she was imprisoned, she met John Rolfe who converted her to Christianity and married her in 1616. During a visit to England in 1617, Pocahontas caught smallpox, died, and was buried in Gravesend, England. She was only about 26 years old.
Pocahontas intervened to obtain from her father-chief Powhatan a second chance for Captain John Smith. During her imprisonment, John Rolfe was instrumental in bringing her second chances, first through Christianity and then through marriage. The legend of Pocahontas lives on, not only in the hearts of Virginians but in all who believe in the marvelous, though mysterious providence of God.
Joey Green's book, The Road to Success is Paved with Failure, is a collection of brief anecdotes about famous people who triumphed over inauspicious beginnings, major failures, crushing rejections, humiliating setbacks and other "speed bumps along life's highway to success." The author himself is an outstanding example of not allowing oneself to be defeated by failure but giving oneself a second chance by pursuing other opportunities. Joey Green was expelled from Cornell University in 1979 for selling fake programs at a homecoming football game. He lost his job with National Lampoon for writing an article in another publication on why National Lampoon wasn't funny anymore. Since then, Green has authored more than 19 books. It is interesting to note that 12 publishing houses rejected his book; The Road to Success is Paved with Failure.
Joey Green's philosophy of triumphing over failure is simple, yet spiritual; one of its key characteristics is a positive outlook, and this is also a basic biblical value. For example, our Lord's teaching that whoever loses his life for his sake will save it (Lk 9:24), is a paradox, claiming that what often seems to be a negative is really a positive, and what appears to be a loss may actually be an important gain. In a similar way, Green sees how any failure can have good outcomes, in contrast to a pessimist who views it only as bad: "But failure also builds character, helps you hone your skills, tests your determination, fortifies you with eight essential vitamins, and gives you the inner strength and courage to go back out there and fall flat on your face all over again."
Green found similar traits in people such as Barbara Streisand who began her stage career at age nineteen in a show that opened and closed in a single night, but later became a top-selling recording artist and film star; Michael Jordan who was cut from his high school's varsity football team as a sophomore, but is considered today as one of the greatest basketball players in history; Charlotte Bronte whose first novel The Professor was rejected by several publishers and not printed until two years after she died, yet continued writing and gave us the classic novel Jane Eyre; Regis Philbin who was fired from his job as a stagehand at a San Diego television studio, but went on to become a popular host on television talk and game shows; Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was not offered a position by any major law firm in N.Y. City in 1959, even though she graduated from the Columbia Law School tied for first in her class, but went on to become in 1993 the second female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court; Fred Smith who received a "C" at Yale in the 1960s on a term paper outlining his business plan for a reliable overnight delivery service, yet continued pursuing this vision and in 1973 founded FedEx. For these people and many others, failure was not final, because they sought and found second chances. (Joey Green, The Road to Success is Paved with Failure [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2001]
The Return of the King movie is the third and concluding film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic novel, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien had fought in World War I and later became a professor of English at Oxford (1925-1959) His The Lord of the Rings trilogy (first published in 1954-55) represents "Tolkien's struggle to create a mythic metaphor for man's search for sanity in the wake of World War II ." (Jack Garner, film critic) The major theme of the trilogy is the battle between good and evil. "Good is seen as positive, creative, and natural; evil is seen as negative and destructive. Some characters are entirely good (the Elf-queen Galadriel) or evil (the wizard Sauron), but most have a mixture of good/evil and must struggle against their evil side."
Tolkien's work is a complex mix of allegory, myth, epic adventures, lightheartedness, romance, tragedy, and triumph. Although he makes no explicit references to formal religion in his trilogy, Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic who clearly incorporated Christian themes and values in them. On the one hand, his characters often show effects of Original Sin-pride, selfishness, greed, deceit, cruelty, and the lust for power. On the other hand, his characters frequently manifest movements of redeeming grace-unselfishness, generosity, kindness, honesty, courage, self-sacrifice, and mercy. Similar to the Bible, the trilogy begins with themes from the book of Genesis (the Garden of Eden and the Fall), and ends with themes from the book of Revelation (epic battles between the beasts and the angels, the ultimate victory of good, and the new creation)
In The Return of the King, the gates of Gondor are finally broken by a fierce siege when King Théoden arrives with his army from Rohan. The war continues to rage and Théoden dies in combat. The tide of the battle turns when Aragorn comes with reinforcements to save Gondor and then lead a band of soldiers to attack the evil stronghold of Mordor. After the flames of Mount Doom destroy the Ring, the War of the Rings ends. Aragorn is officially crowned the first King of the Reunited Kingdom, thereby regaining the throne of his Dúnedain forefathers (hence the novel's title, The Return of the King) Aragorn marries his beloved Arwen (princess daughter of the king of the elves), and a new era begins. After thousands of years of war, Middle-earth gets a new, second chance for its inhabitants with all their diversity to live in unity and in peace with each other. This was Tolkien's dream and desire for lasting world peace. (W. John Campbell, The Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics [New York: The Wonderland Press, 1997] pp.486-494)
The recent film, Something's Gotta Give, is an energetic romantic comedy about two "smart and sassy characters" ably played by Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Nicholson performs the role of a wealthy, 62-year-old bachelor (Harry Sanborn) who boasts about his playboy lifestyle of never having dated anyone over 30. Diane Keaton plays the part of a divorced, 50-plus playwright (Erica Barry) who is working on a new play to sooth her heartbreak. The film opens with Harry coming to the Hamptons to spend the weekend with his latest "babe," an attractive 20-year-old (Marin), who turns out to be Erica's daughter. Harry and Marin expect the family home to be vacant, but are surprised when they awkwardly bump into Erica while raiding the refrigerator in their underwear. Harry suffers a heart attack during the weekend, is rushed to a nearby hospital, and then has to recuperate in the Barry home. The entanglements and unavoidable proximity at first irritate Harry and Erica. Predictably, however, as barriers are let down and familiarity increases, a sexual attraction between the two middle-aged adults develops. The initial sparks of hostility between the two soon become sparks of romance. To their surprise, both get a another chance for love, but this time on a deeper and more meaningful level.
We can find other illustrations of second chances in books such as Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul-a collection of 101 stories about people who survived cancer; at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where men and women find a way to live a life of sobriety and productivity; in half-way houses where ex-convicts learn how to use their new freedom; and in organizations that help immigrants start a new life. Indeed, our God is a "God of Second Chances." Whether we experience losses or disappointments, failures or mistakes, God will always provide second, third, or however many chances we need to write a new chapter in our life. There is a saying that goes something like, "If God closes a door on us, he will always open a window somewhere else." It is up to us, however, to look for and use the second-chance opportunities God provides for us. Equally significant, the Lord calls us to be his instruments to give other people second chances whenever possible. "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep," is not a command Jesus spoke only once to Peter in the gospel. It is a timeless command and charge our Lord addresses to us in every time and place.
Jesus was far enough away to be audible but not entirely recognizable, asking those fishermen the age-old question "have you caught any fish?" Just as we would know the voice of a loved one not yet visible, so some part of Peter's soul is awakened by the Voice's encouraging advice, "Try the other side of the boat;" This same Someone, this same Voice, addresses Paul on the way to Damascus. Jesus got close enough to look Peter in the eye, an exchange that demonstrated in the moment the power of love; this may not be a love we understand but it is a love we recognize. It is the only love worthy of the name; Jesus gently but directly inquires if Peter's heart is still powered by such a love, then he sets about inoculating Peter against whatever regret, guilt and shame might still cripple him.
The story is legendary. When asked, "how much money have you raised for charity?" Bob Hope would always reply, "Not enough." Coming from a family he described as "too poor to be British," Leslie Townes Hope kept up a grueling schedule of television specials, benefits and tributes. For example, at age 86 he had 190 nights booked on the road. It is estimated he traveled over 10 million miles to entertain American GI's during his career. Bob Hope gave tons of people a second chance on life by visiting them in places of extreme need with that disarming smile and ready quip. What made him so effective was the glint in his eye and resonance in his voice - it told you he had not only seen the dark side of despair but also that such despair not the last word of eternity. His name is eternity's last word: Hope.
You've probably not given the popular ad a second glance. But it speaks of second chances. A uniformed police officer stands erect with his hands clasped behind his chest. His badge shines over his heart and below it a double row of medals. The caption reads, "Took two bullets to the chest. Ruined a good shirt." The advertisement is for plastics. The good news is this: the vest enabled the officer to transform a place of violence and death into the a place of justice and hope. [Newsweek, June 23, 2003, pg. 19]
Physicists regularly talk about elementary particles as bundles of potentiality. The same could be said of all human beings.
In James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1933], we are left with a tantalizing mystery at the end: will Mr. Conway, who has jumped ship in Honolulu, ever find his way back to Shangri-la? What he is seeking, we must presume, is a return to that paradise of eternal youth and spiritual purity, where kindness is the highest law. What he left behind was worth any risk to regain. He yearned for that second chance.
Parents often despair, through the inevitable conflict of adolescence, of ever regaining a close relationship with their children. However, all four of our sons, who thought we were benighted and clueless when they were adolescents, have come to us as adults and apologized, seeking an adult to adult relationship of deeper love and understanding.
Although society often rarely offers a second chance to those who fail, the disciple Peter and Mack Sledge both discover that God does provide such an opportunity-the very title of Bruce Beresford's film Tender Mercies, an oft-used phrase from the King James Bible, suggests this. It is the post-Easter Christ who offers the failed Peter forgiveness, and it is the pious motel owner Rosa Lee who stands in for Christ in giving the alcoholic Mack a new chance at the abundant life. After his divorce from fellow singer Dixie, Mack had spiraled into a life of dissoluteness, winding up drunk on the floor of a motel in Texas. He works off his debt and falls in love with Rosa Lee, assumes the responsibility of a father to her young son, and through her discovers a faith that will be sorely tested before the film concludes. His love for wife and son rekindles his desire to write and sing his songs, setting him again on the path to a life of hope and service to others.
If the Revelation passage is used in the service, Horatio Bonar's uplifting "Blessing and Honor," inspired by this text (and others) from the Apocalypse, would be an appropriate hymn of praise at the beginning of the liturgy. Born in 1808 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bonar left the Church of Scotland and became a prominent leader in the Free Church of Scotland. During his long and productive life as a pastor and theologian he wrote over 600 hymns. The first three verses summarize the scene of the angelic hosts praising the triumphant Christ in heaven. In the fourth stanza is the invitation for us to give "the glory and praise to the Lamb" and to take up "the robe and the harp and the palm" as we "sing the song of the Lamb that was slain, Dying in weakness but rising to reign." The stirring melody "O Quanta Qualia," adapted from the French, cannot but help to stir the soul and provide us with a foretaste of the glorious music sung in heaven mentioned in the Revelation passage.
Some people in American society don't get a second chance-and sometimes they don't even get a first chance-because of their race. In Hellfire Nation The Politics of Sin in American History, James Morone cites a study that found that of youths who end up in court, black kids are six times more likely to go to jail and 48 times more likely to get sentenced for drug offenses. Black youths also receive jail terms that are on average 61 days longer than white youths who are convicted of the same offenses. One study in New York City found that 84% of the motorists who are stopped by police were black or Hispanic, while those two groups account for only about half of the city's total population.
Australia is attempting to provide some convicted criminals with a second chance. A Reuter's story (11/18/03) tells about how some of Australia's most violent criminals, including murderers, are being taught "non-criminal thinking." As many as 70 serious offenders in the prisons of New South Wales are participating in the program with a staff of psychologists, alcohol and drug workers, educators, and prison staff. The course seeks to help the prisoners to admit to their violent behavior and then to take responsibility for it. The sessions involve subjects like anger management, empathizing with victims, and learning how to break out of the cycle of crime.
The early desert father named Abba Anthony was asked, "What must one do to please God?" He began by responding, as most church leaders would, by telling his questioner to be aware of God's presence and to always obey God's Word. Yet Abba Anthony added a third piece of advice: "Wherever you find yourself-do not easily leave." Perhaps those first disciples needed to hear that bit of counsel after the events of Easter. Not only had they left Jerusalem, but based on the number who were gathered together at the Sea of Galilee, perhaps they had begun to leave one another.
Maybe the disciples had departed to the Sea of Galilee because they assumed that their adventure with Jesus had ended in failure. Soon, however, they recognized that what might have seemed like a temporary let-down was in fact the prelude to great new things. In If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg notes that five of the best-selling books of the twentieth century were each rejected by dozens of publishers before someone finally accepted them. Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H was turned down by 21 publishers; Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki was rejected 20 times; Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull got the thumbs down 18 times; Patrick Dennis's Auntie Mame was rejected 17 times; and the record setter for the group was Dr. Seuss's first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which received 23 rejections before finally being published.
In the midst of loss and in the midst of our down times, we most need to be reminded that Jesus is still with us. In many ways, the life of our church communities today is much like the life that the community of those first disciples experienced-a life seemingly filled with loss. In Ichabod Toward Home: The Journey of God's Glory, Walter Brueggemann observes, "The life of the church-and the work of the pastor-is saturated with loss....You know the list: Gene's nonsmoker's lung cancer; Barbara's malignancy; little Michael; Tim's forced departure from the parish; the vanished child; the paralyzed athlete; the lost job." Yet in the midst of our losses, Jesus still comes to us.
Many people in India and other Asian countries would love to have a second chance, but they find themselves trapped in debts that they cannot free themselves from. A National Geographic (September 2003) article tells about how poor people in nations like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal borrow money to pay for medical care or for a funeral. Yet because of the exorbitant interest rates they are charged, and because of how little income they have, they find that they can never free themselves from those obligations. Many children, in fact, find that their parents' debts often get passed on to them. It is estimated that there are about 15 to 20 million debt slaves in those four Asian countries.
Some former alcoholics in Edmonton, Alberta, were seeking a second chance. In order to escape their addiction to liquor, they were frequenting a new non-alcoholic bar called Keep It Simple. The establishment sought to offer the ambience of a bar without subjecting the patrons to the temptations of alcohol. But the business ran afoul of the local no-smoking laws, which forbid places like that from allowing patrons to smoke. Smoking, of course, is a common substitute that many recovering alcoholics turn to in order to help them stay away from drinking. The irony is that under Edmonton law, smoking would be allowed at Keep It Simple if they served alcohol.
Much of the world followed events in Nigeria as a woman was finally given a second chance. The Associated Press (9/25/03) and many other news providers closely reported the outcome of legal proceedings against a Nigerian woman who was potentially facing death because of adultery. A court had originally sentenced her to be stoned to death, following strict Islamic law, or Shariah. The woman was brought to trial when she gave birth to a daughter two years after she had divorced her husband. A five-judge panel eventually reversed that decision and allowed the 32-year-old woman to live. The trial drew sharp criticism from around the world, and Brazil even offered to give the woman asylum. Prosecutors had pointed to the child as living proof that adultery had been committed. A defense attorney, however, pointed out that under some interpretations of Shariah law, babies can remain in gestation in a mother's womb for up to five years, leaving open the possibility that her ex-husband might have fathered the child. The defense attorneys further argued that there were procedural errors, in that the woman had no access to lawyers during her initial questioning and did not understand the questions that were being posed to her. Subsequently the woman identified her sex partner, and he agreed to marry her. He was not charged with any crime, as authorities said there was lack of evidence to bring him to trial.
A mother of a murdered 6-year-old girl wants her daughter's murderer to have a second chance. According to an ABC News report (3/12/01), the mother is trying to forgive the boy, who was 12-years-old at the time of the crime. Lionel Tate killed Tiffany Eunick when he tossed her around as he tried to imitate some professional wrestlers. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole after he was tried as an adult and convicted of first degree murder charges. Life without parole is the minimum sentence for first degree in Florida, which is where the death occurred. If Tate had been 16 at the time of the killing, he could have been subject to the death penalty. The girl's mother says that she thinks it is sad that the boy might never get a second chance to make something out of his life. She regrets that the boy's mother had turned down an initial plea bargain that would have put him in a juvenile detention center for three years and then placed him on 10 years probation. But the story is not yet over. There are a growing number of advocates for Tate who are seeking clemency from the governor. In December, an appeals court finally decided to overturn the decision.
Haddon Robinson preached a sermon titled "The God of the Second Chance" on the radio program, 30 Good Minutes (2/2/96) He begins by telling about a college student who had approached him one day, firmly believing that God had given up on him. The student pointed to how he had grown up in a religious home, but once he was on his own at college he repeatedly had gotten into trouble for some pretty serious things. What bothered him the most was that he kept doing the same wrong things over and over again. He was convinced that God had given up on him. He was convinced that he was beyond hope. Robinson goes on to illustrate how God never gives up on people. As a first example, he points to Peter, the disciple who Jesus most relied on but who abandoned Jesus in his hour of need when Jesus was arrested. Yet after the resurrection, Jesus went to Peter and gave him a second chance. The second main example that Robinson offers is that of Jonah. Instead of giving up on Jonah when he runs away the first time, we are told that God's Word came to Jonah a second time.
Georgia Tech and the University of California played in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day of 1929. One of the more memorable plays in the history of college football happened toward the end of the first half. Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California and began to run with the ball. But in the process of eluding tacklers, Riegels got confused about what direction he was running, and he began racing 65 yards toward his own team's end zone. Finally, just a yard short of the end zone, one of his teammates tackled him and stopped him. On the next play, when California tried to punt the ball out of its own end zone, the punt was blocked and Georgia Tech scored a safety, which eventually ended up being Georgia Tech's margin of victory. When halftime arrived, everyone wondered what coach Nibbs Price would do to that player. When the California players got to their locker room, all the players sat on the benches and the floor around the coach, except for Roy Riegels, who went into a corner, covered himself with a blanket and cried. The coach was rather quiet there in the locker room. At last, the time keeper came in and announced that there were three minutes until the start of the second half. Coach Price looked at his team and said, "Men, the same team that started the first half will start the second." With those words, the players ran out onto the field and got ready. But Roy Riegels didn't budge. The coach walked over to him and said, "Roy, didn't you hear me? The same team that started the first half will start the second." Riegels looked at the coach with tears in his eyes and said, "Coach, I can't do it. I've disgraced you. I've disgraced the University of California. I've disgraced myself. I couldn't face that crowd to save my life." The coach replied, "Roy, get up and go on back. The game is only half over." Roy Riegels did just that. He went on to the field and played with an intensity that most of the other players had never seen before. His coach had given him a second chance, and he wasn't about to let the coach down.
"Ghost, apparitions, and various psychological hallucinations may do a lot of things, but they don't fire up the charcoal grill and cook fish for breakfast" (Pheme Perkins)
"The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness" (William Blake)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
We have fished all night, blessed One, and not caught a thing. We are tired. We are worn. Sometimes we are just plain bored. We imagine ourselves unlucky.
Grace us today with an explanation or two, blessed One. Point us in luck's deeper direction, that road called gratitude. Let us live in the land that is the opposite of fate, the land where we take responsibility for what we do and don't do - and where we leave the rest to You. When we are ready, help us cast our nets on the other side. Amen.
Sometimes we think like pelicans, that the point of life is just fish. And all we want to do is eat. Slow us down, O God. Let us not race to full or relax in empty but let us pace ourselves so that we know the difference between too much and too little, between fish to eat and fish to nurture us spiritually. Clarify us. Deepen us. And grant us your peace. Amen.
Let us find something grand and worthy and put our names on it, like a pipe organ or an endowment of light paperbacks to a heavy library or a garden of daffodils or a stone labyrinth or a beautiful child, fully grown, fully adult, fully alive. Let us last, somehow. Let these gifts last too. Amen.
Help me know, Great gift Giver, how to understand this elegant universe, with its quacks and its jaguars, its Lexus and olive trees, its 10 or 11 dimensions, its wriggling strings, its deep black notes, and membranes, where waves act as particles and particles as waves, where only the seers and sages write books with titles like "The Universal in a Nutshell." Help me understand Your majesty and why You think people who have fished all night and caught nothing can still learn to fish. Help me understand why You stick with us, when and as we so miserably fail you and ourselves.
Are we too meant to carry salvation, feed the children, cure cancer, bear history, open minds, redeem Your world? Have You really looked at us lately?
You're not kidding, are You? We, the ones with no rest for the weary, we the ones with no rest for the cheery, we who confuse riches with wealth, knowledge with wisdom, defense for security, we are to carry Your creation forward with You! You originated our species for partnership with You! We are to cast our nets on the other side and come up with something!
Wow. Forgive us while we stand amazed and renewed and in wonder. And then help us lift those nets to the other side. Amen.