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“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out . . .” –Acts 3:19

We watched Will Smith’s movie “Seven Pounds” last night on DVD.  I suppose it was only a coincidence that my sermon title this week is “The God of Second Chances”.

 

Will Smith in "Seven Pounds"

Will Smith in "Seven Pounds"

In the movie, Smith plays a man responsible for a terrible accident in which seven people die, but he survives unscathed.  (One of my worst fears, by the way–may God be merciful enough to only let me die when I do something stupid.)  Smith begins to methodically plot his suicide, choosing the potential recipients of his organs based on whether or not they are good people.

 

I actually liked the movie, even if I disagree violently with the theology.  I ached for  Smith’s character, with no apparent knowledge of a God who forgives even when we’re unable to forgive ourselves.   And I ache for a world that dispenses mercy only to the “deserving”, only to those who prove themselves worthy.

It’s important to know the background behind Acts 3.  Peter seems to come down hard  on the crowd  for their participation in Jesus’s death. Some called for Jesus to be crucified.  Many more, probably, were good people who did nothing.  Good people who decided not to get involved.  

But the real reason Peter’s sermon has impact is because he bears a greater burden for Jesus’s death than they do.  They acted out of ignorance, he tells them, unaware that Jesus is the Son of God who fulfills the prophecy of the Messiah.  But Peter?  Peter knew Jesus.  Broke bread with him every day.  Personally heard his teaching.  Swore he’d defend him–right up to the time the soldiers drew their swords to arrest Jesus.  Then he and the other disciples fled like scared puppies.  Peter denied knowing Jesus–three times.

But God came back for Peter.  Peter didn’t deserve a second chance.  Turning your back on the Son of God is pretty unforgivable. (And don’t forget the Apostle Paul’s second chance, who, in a former life took great pride in persecuting Christians.)

The world might demand a pound of flesh in exchange for our wrongs.  Jesus offered all of his flesh on behalf of the wrongs we’ve wrought. God doesn’t show up to condemn anyone–God only shows up to offer us a second chance.

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And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.–Philippians 4:7

Last night the History Channel aired a documentary about the Dirty Thirties, and the suffocating dust storms that pounded occupants of the Midwest during a drought that lasted for five years. The normal weather patterns were aggravated by a mentality that all land could and should be cultivated for profit. Wind picked up the loose soil in overworked fields.  The dust in the air blocked the sun, which causes a natural evaporation that fuels rain clouds.

Dust Storm in Cimarron County OK--Library of Congress photo

Dust Storm in Cimarron County OK--Library of Congress photo

 

 

It was soil specialist Hugh Bennett who convinced Congress to fund the forerunner of the Soil Conservation Service, as a dust storm approached Washington DC.  He dedicated his life to teaching farmers about practices like contour farming, which cut dust erosion by more than half.  Today no-till farming is the norm, a practice that leaves crop residue in the field, not only cutting wind erosion, but saving precious moisture as well.

Immense tragedy and hardship had to occur for millions of people before the nation could be convinced that our quest for “more, more, more” must be tempered by common sense and responsibility. The very good principles of soil and water conservation practiced today were born only of tough times. Through the years I’ve had many conversations with people who lived in the 30s.  They acknowledge the hard times, the doing without, the stories of people who lost their farms and their fears that they would join them.  But with the perspective of time, many of those people exhibit the truth that hard times didn’t make them bitter, but better–more resilient, less fearful, less dependent on material goods, more focused on their relationships with other people.

In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul writes to encourage a congregation torn by arguments, opposition, and apathy to the message they wanted to share–that Christ is a savior for all people.  He wrote the letter from prison, yet he told the Philippians that the hardships he faced had been for good.  Roman guards and prisoners had the chance to hear about Christ and see Paul’s faith in action.  Other Christians, knowing that Paul was prevented from spreading the gospel outside of prison, took up the responsibility.  And that little, struggling first century church–the first known to be established in Europe–through its hardships help nurture and feed the flame of Christianity throughout the centuries.

Worried about your stock portfolio this week?  The world economic crisis?  Global warming? Your health, your marriage, your family, your career? No one travels through this life without facing hard times.  The question is whether you let those hard times make you bitter or better.

Take the advice of the Apostle Paul for dealing with hardship:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”