Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
It seems rather obvious to say that Christianity is about second chances; forgiveness is central to our faith.
But expressions of our faith haven’t always lived up to that principle. Many people associate Christianity with being judgmental, with people who are unforgiving and rigid.
That’s a challenge we have to overcome as we deal with our history, as we challenge some of our past practices, as we challenge some current attitudes that are expressed in faith terms and that are still very exclusive and judgmental.
But we have a bigger challenge still: our whole society seems to be set up right now to create division and conflict. People won’t forgive; in many cases, they won’t even talk to someone they disagree with. We have watched as trolling has become a hideous and destructive art form. In ongoing ways we see people taking loud positions that will make it seemingly impossible for them to come to any kind of reconciliation with the people they are criticizing.
That’s a far cry from what our scripture lessons today teach us. Jesus gives us two parables that emphasize how much joy God feels whenever someone who has strayed from God’s love is restored to a good relationship. There are interesting factors here: in both stories God takes the initiative to find what is lost. There isn’t judgment on the lost sheep or the lost coin, simply joy at their recovery. It is also interesting to note that Jesus made a point of representing God by both a man and a woman, which was radical in those days.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had written off the tax collectors as traitors to God and to their nation since they worked for the occupying Roman forces. The sinners were people who failed to follow all the religious rules properly. Maybe their job prevented it. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they were too poor. In any event, the leadership had written them off. They saw them as bad enough that Jesus could be targeted just because he ate with them; spent time with them. It was as if Jesus were consorting with the enemy or contaminating himself with these “unworthy” people.
Jesus responded to this with those two parables with this clear message: God wants to connect with these people; God wants to bring them back into relationship.
Then we have Paul’s example as expressed in the letter to Timothy. We know a lot of Paul’s story: he used to be one of these religious leaders: he hated Christianity and tried to arrest Christians and bring them to trial in religious courts. On the way to a foreign jurisdiction with an arrest warrant he had a blinding vision and when he got to Damascus in Syria he was not only blind, but he was ready to change; to stop persecuting the church.
The Christians there knew he was the enemy. Paul was dangerous, but they let themselves be vulnerable. They took Paul in and taught him about Jesus and his teachings. While Paul regained his sight he made a complete turn-around and became the most successful evangelist in the history of the church, planting congregations in Turkey and Greece that are still functioning today, 2000 years later.
What if those early Damascus Christians had not followed Jesus’ example? What if they had been so afraid for their own safety that they had locked Paul out and let him fend blindly for himself? Paul was famous for being there at the stoning of Stephen in Jerusalem. It is said that he didn’t throw a stone himself, he just held the coats of the others who killed Stephen. But in our letter today Paul describes himself as a man of violence and there is no doubt if he had captured those Damascus people and taken them to Jerusalem for trial they might well have died. They had every reason to be afraid. We can only speculate that the church would be much smaller than it is today if they had avoided Paul.
Instead, they took him in; they gave him that second chance despite the fact that he was coming to arrest them. We owe them a great debt for their courage and for believing that even the worst enemy could become a friend.
What they did was exactly like Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners, only more dangerous because they didn’t have his public stature; they were just ordinary people.
We are ordinary people too. Sometimes the call to follow Jesus and to follow the example of Jesus gets intimidating, even overwhelming. It’s tempting to say: “Okay, but that was Jesus, how can I do what he did?”.
Here we are being called to do what these ordinary people did: to give others a second chance, even give our enemies a second chance which is sneaking up on that really challenging teaching of loving our enemies.
In a world that is quick to jump to judgment, in a world that seems determined to judge harshly, and in a world that often refuses to forgive, we are called to be different: to live out forgiveness, to offer that second chance that makes God so joyful.
God knows that the world needs this kind of example right now and it’s up to us to provide it.