“Absalom Greer, the eighty something country evangelist had never pulled punches with the town priest. They had been two respectful equals serving from the common ground of one-God-made-known-through-Jesus-Christ, and having a pretty good time of it. The old man often spoke of the God of the Second Chance.”
In her Mitford novels, Jan Karon chronicles the life of Episcopal priest Tim Kavanagh in a tiny North Carolina town. We learn about Absalom Greer’s “God of the Second Chance” in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.
The God of the Second Chance.
In a story from Luke revealing Jesus’ unparalleled powers of healing, Jesus brings a young man back to life from the dead and gives him back to his mother. The God of the Second Chance. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Someone whom we hold dearest to our hearts dies, and we ask Jesus to bring her or him back to life, back to us. And it happens.
But how often does it work out that way? Have you ever seen it, experienced it? I have not. So what are we to say to ourselves about Jesus’ action here? Why that young man, that mother, and not us?
How many of us have had our hearts broken by the death of one we loved and wished, prayed, that he or she had not died, or once dead, could be brought back to us? I imagine most of us have experienced that agony. And if not, will at some point.
What do we say about the God of the Second Chance?
In the movie Love and Friendship based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, Susan, the manipulative center of the story, tries to goad her lover into worrying about his father. Without actually saying it, she says that his father is old, frail, and they won’t have much more time together. Fortunately, her suitor doesn’t buy it; he tells Susan that his father is not all that old, that he’s healthy and that, in any event, he is a Christian and does not fear or dread death. He looks to death as an eternal time of peace and joy.
The four gospelers vary in their approaches to Jesus’ story, the story of the good news, and they emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ ministry. But they all revolve around one core truth – the truth of everlasting life. The truth of life ongoing that Jesus has made possible for us and for all people. Life after death.
Luke‘s story is one such story, along with Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead in John. Being raised from the dead certainly qualifies as a second chance. But the gospelers chronicle another kind of second chance, too. The second chances that come to all of us through God’s mercy and forgiveness. The second chances we experience during our life on earth.
In Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, Tim mused about his relationship with the God of the Second Chance:
“ … God had sure used his axe to break the frozen sea inside Tim Kavanagh, who, as a priest in his forties, had not yet come to a living faith. He’d been given the grace of the Second Chance over and over again.”
What about in our own lives? How have we experienced the God of the Second Chance?
Years ago, I worked for a man who treated me like a true colleague – he shared power at the point of decision-making itself. He also had a norm for us to follow which involved our meeting every week to keep our working relationship clean, to make sure that we had the opportunity to say anything we needed to say to each other so that resentments and mistrust did not arise and fester.
Toward the end of our working together, though, our relationship disintegrated, and I no longer trusted the man I had considered to be my teammate. We spent a few years without seeing each other, and then, when I began to form what is now the Gabriel Center for Servant-Leadership, I went to my former colleague and friend and asked him if he could help me with it. Over lunch at a Mexican restaurant, I told him what I wanted to do. When I was finished, he looked at me and said, “I’m glad I’ve already eaten, because now I’m too excited to eat.” We got our second chance. And we became colleagues again, as he worked to co-found the Gabriel Center.
And so it is for all of us. As we continue to look to God for help, for guidance, for forgiveness, for continual growth, God will be there in all of God’s abundant mercy and love. And out of God’s open heart will flow to us again and again the Second Chance. And more Second Chances. We will once again know that we are somewhere safe with somebody good – that we are with the God of the Second Chance and the God of the Second Chance is with us this day and for all times.