A Second Chance
First United Methodist Church, April 15, 2018
Toni L. Carmer
This morning's reading from the book of Acts is about second chances.
We’re thankful for the second chances we're offered in life:
How many times did one of our parents tell us: "Don't you do that again!" We did, we got in trouble for it (again), but love held on, life went on, and we were given another chance to do it right the next time.
Maybe you weren't accepted at your first choice of colleges. Maybe you didn't get that job that you thought fit you to a "t". But there was another school, another job, another possibility for you. Perhaps better than what your first choice might have been.
Maybe it's been a battle with your oldest child, or the relationship you thought would last forever that didn't. There are second chances: for healing, for restoration, for renewal…for the opportunity to try again, to begin again, to make things right.
The sermon preached by Peter in today's lesson is the second one we hear from him in the book of Acts. The first comes at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and is given to the church. This sermon comes soon after, as Peter and John are coming to the temple to pray at 3 in the afternoon. There are 3 times during the day when the faithful men of the city gather to pray at the temple: at 9 in the morning, at 3 in the afternoon and at sunset. There are a lot of people coming through the gate to the temple during these times; it is a perfect place for a man to position himself to ask for money.
This man has been lame since birth and he is brought each day to the spot near the temple gate called Beautiful to beg from those who are entering the temple. They're used to seeing him there; he can't enter the temple himself because of his infirmity, but he asks the faithful for money as they enter. Some respond, giving him a coin, others walk on by.
Today he holds out his hand, shouting out his familiar words—Who can help? Will you help?
Both Peter and John see him, hear him, and they stop. The man keeps scanning the crowds…Who can help? Will you help me? Peter speaks to him: Look at us! The man turns to Peter and to John, thinking he's about to receive a handout. But the disciples have been living together and sharing everything they have in common—they don't have any extra coins in their pockets for a cup of coffee or an ice pop. Peter says to the man, I don't have any money, but I have something else: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.
Peter reaches his hand out to the man, the man receives it and begins to stand as his feet and legs gain strength. He jumps to his feet and begins walking! He is so pleased that he enters the courtyard of the temple with the disciples, leaping/jumping, praising God. He doesn't even try to contain his excitement.
Of course people can't help but notice. This is the guy who was sitting out front a little while ago? I've seen him there for years! I've given him money before. I know he couldn't walk before—but look at this! Who are these men who healed him? What power do they possess? This is pretty amazing!
Peter, who not so long ago denied being a follower of Jesus—Peter, who was filled with the Holy Spirit along with the other disciples at Pentecost—Peter, who preached on the day of Pentecost when 3000 were baptized—preaches again to those who have gathered at the sight. Why do you look at us, as though it is by our own power and faithfulness that this man has been healed? Peter then points them to Jesus, leading them to him by way of their common history—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob… He is the one you handed over to Pilate…he is the one offered back to you, but instead you released the murderer Barabbas…he is the one who you shouted to crucify. And yet God raised him from the dead. And by faith in him, by his power, this man has been restored in your presence.
Peter then offers a word of grace, a second chance: You didn't know any better. Your rulers didn't know any better. By his death, the word of the prophets was fulfilled: our Messiah would suffer. So repent and turn to God so your sins may be removed.
A second chance: for the beggar, who is joyfully embracing his new life of mobility. And a second chance as well, for all of those who gathered to see what had happened to him, in wonder and curiosity. A second chance for all who had heard, but who did not yet believe. Here's another chance, so listen, Peter says to them. The Messiah has come. He died and he's been raised from the dead. He's offering a new life for you, too. Turn away from sin, from hate, from that which tears apart and destroys. Turn toward the one who brings new life…new hope…new possibility. Accept that second chance, Peter offers that day outside the temple.
Second chances. And honestly? God gives us more than that, thank goodness! God is always calling us into new life, always calling us away from that which hurts us and others and our world, always calling us to come closer…to the place where forgiveness is offered and where new life can be found.
Sometimes we're ready to hear it—to receive it—and sometimes we're not.
Brian Doyle tells this story in an article in Christian Century:
I went to a meeting with a friend yesterday. It was early in the morning at our town’s firehouse. The firemen have lent a room to this meeting for 30 years. My friend was rattled and defensive. It was the first time my friend had been to such a meeting. We sat in a quiet corner. Most people sat against the walls, but a few sat at a table in the center of the room. There were women and men of all ages. The young man next to me fidgeted the entire 90 minutes of the meeting except when it was his turn to speak. A woman across from us knitted a brilliant red scarf furiously the whole meeting, stopping only when it was her turn to speak.
People took turns speaking. There was no particular order. A slight man in a baseball cap spoke first. He was wry and funny about the hash he had made of his life. Most of the people who spoke were wry and funny. One man’s voice shook when he spoke, and the man next to him reached over and put his gnarled hand on his shoulder.
Even though many of the speakers were wry and funny, their stories were not. Their stories were awful. Wives walking out the door with children, and police cars and police vans and police officers and court judges and probation officers, and broken teeth and bones, and having to camp in city parks, and companions who froze to death in alleys, and waking up in strange rooms with strange people, and your own children quietly locking the door when they saw it was you on the front porch, and security officers escorting you off the premises as you walked along with all the stuff that had been in your office cubicle now crammed into a big cardboard box, and walking out of meetings like this because meetings like this were for losers, not for you, and you didn’t need this vaguely religious holding-hands crap, and then sitting by the door so you could leave when it got to be too much, and then later taking a seat all the way inside, and maybe someday you will even sit at the table, although sitting at the table means you have to be savagely honest with yourself and everyone else about what you cannot do without help, and being that kind of desperately honest is unbelievably awfully hard.
But I sat in a quiet corner of the firehouse yesterday and listened as one person after another was that searingly honest, did speak openly and ruefully about what one man called the delicious disaster, and I was so moved I could not speak for some moments after the meeting ended.
My friend was not moved at all and strode out of the meeting, glad it was over and dismissive of those poor people. I wish my friend was not dismissive of those poor people. It seems to me that those poor people are the wealthiest people I ever saw in honest humility. It seems to me they are battling ferociously to turn horror into some small shivering peace and maybe even someday somehow a shy stagger of joy. It seems to me that they are great because they know they are not, healthy because they know they are ill, admirable because they know they are not admirable at all by all the measures of the real world, as another man called the world outside the room in the firehouse.
There was something great in that room. There is something great in all the thousands of rooms like it in America, the millions of rooms like it around the world. I don’t have a good word for that great thing, but I saw it, staggering like a new foal, from where I sat silently in the corner. My friend didn’t see it, and my friend may never reach for it, and there’s nothing I can do to make that happen.
Part of the great thing that happens in those rooms, perhaps, is that no one can open that window for anyone else, though everyone can applaud when someone does reach for that crack of light, shyly, shaking a little. I heard that applause several times yesterday morning in the firehouse, and it sounded like the most wonderful painful music to me.
It was the music of a second chance. Or a third chance…
Through Christ, we're offered new life.
The lame man being healed outside the temple was an amazing thing. It interrupted what was expected to happen that day. It gathered people together and allowed them to see that God was at work in that man's life. It allowed them to hear what God was doing and how they could be a part of that.
God continues to work in our broken lives and world today.
That's good news.