I met with an Anglican Bishop the other day. We had a great conversation about many things. In the course of our time together, he told me about a church that a friend of his started called the Church of Second Chances. Apparently, the founder and current pastor “fell” and was justifiably punished for his sins. I didn’t think any more about this until I was sitting in Sunday School class this morning reflecting on today’s Scripture readings. Then it hit me that this guy is onto something simple but profound.
When I got home, I googled “church second chance” and, sure enough, I found the link to the church – “Rivendale: The Second Chance Church.” I was intrigued. On the home page, the pastor, Sam Pascoe, tells his story. It’s not that juicy – but it’s worth a look. These sentences caught my attention – “Church is supposed to be a community where this human brokenness is taken seriously but still taken in stride. In the words of the ancients, church should be a spiritual hospital, not a holy hotel or a spiritual gymnasium. At its best, it is a place where our wounded souls are gently received, redeemed, restored, re-energized and returned to service.”
Today’s Scripture readings all speak of the “holy hospital” that brings new life in God. They are full of wonderfully hopeful words. However, what is painfully obvious in all the texts is that this new life doesn’t come without struggle and pain. Most of us can’t seem to embrace life in and with God until we’ve been broken down enough to open our hearts and minds to receive it.
Consider the ancient Israelites. God promised them freedom from bondage in Egypt, asking only that they follow God. However, their exodus didn’t put them on a short and straight road to paradise. They spent forty years in the wilderness – resisting, falling, complaining, and wanting to return to the familiarity of Egypt rather than risk the uncertainty of new life. Yet, by the time we get to today’s reading from Joshua, the people have made it through the desert –they’ve made it to the Promised Land and the new life that God had promised them. “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt” (Joshua 5.9). They didn’t go straight from “the disgrace of Egypt” to the Promised Land. How much easier it would have been if God had just transported them from one reality to the other. However, life doesn't work that way!
It certainly didn't work that way for the so-called Prodigal Son. What a shame that he couldn’t learn his lesson the easy way. No – life doesn’t always work that way. Instead, he squandered his inheritance, broke his father’s heart, disrespected himself, and ultimately “crashed and burned.” The boy who had everything, who had been richly blessed by God, ended up with nothing – no money, no friends, no way to support himself, and no self-respect.
Well, he did have one thing. He had the opportunity to go home – not as a privileged son but as a hired son. We know the story. His father embraces him, hosts a big party, and all is well. However, we don't know what happened after the party. I can’t imagine that everything reverted to the way it was before the son’s “fall.” Forgiveness, redemption, new life doesn’t exempt us from the consequences of our actions. It doesn’t mean that life is the same. What it does mean is that there is love, forgiveness, and the opportunity to create a new life – not to reclaim the old but to embrace the new.
Paul says it beautifully - “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
If you’ve had a “fall” of some kind and wonder where God is, know that there is a way home – not to what was but to the new creation that exists in Christ Jesus. I don’t know what that means for you or what it will look like for you. I do know, however, that Christ continues to make all things new and that God has a plan for your life. God never stops embracing, healing, loving, and molding us into the people that God wants us to be. Each one of us has a divine purpose as members of the Body of Christ. Where you end up may not be where you thought you were going. However, if you open your heart you’ll find that the new life is richer and more abundant than the old was because your heart has been healed by the one who brings new life. The desert doesn’t last forever. There’s a Promised Land on the other side! Amen!